11. Revelations and Complications
Nothing decided! Then what were you all doing? You were shut up for hours.
Talking. There was a deal of talk, and everyone had an eye-opener. Even old Gandalf. I think Legolas's bit of news about Gollum caught even him on the hop, though he passed it off.
Pippin and Bilbo—The Fellowship of the Ring (The Ring Goes South)
Gimli would be the first to admit that when it came to finding one's way around an unexplored cavern, there were better dwarves for the job.
Not that Gimli was unskilled in such matters. Far from it. He was leagues ahead of any man or elf and far more adept than most hobbits. But among his own people, Gimli's talents beneath the earth were considered average at best. He had a discerning eye when it came to the potential of virgin lodes, but the actual exploration and excavation of a mine were things that had not interested him as a child. Instead, he had spent most of his youth accompanying ore shipments across Eriador, protecting the goods from thieves and negotiating prices with prospective merchants. A dwarf of "many journeys" was how he had once described himself, and Gimli considered the long years of travel to be years well spent. But he now wished that he had paid better attention to his instructors when they had spoken of the subtle nuances in stone that could enable one to forge a path through uncharted territory.
Glaring up at the dark, dusty walls around him, Gimli lifted his torch and studied the hallway carefully. He took note of the size and quality of the stonework as well as the width and height of the passage. He even spent a few minutes inspecting the blackened wall sconces where torches once sat in days long gone. He examined everything he could and made a guess about everything he couldn't, but in the end, he lowered his torch with a sigh, his spirits as dark as his surroundings. He had yet to come across anything that looked familiar, and the further he traveled in the hidden passages of the King's House, the more this concerned him.
He still felt that he was going in the right direction. That was a comfort of sorts, though it would have been a greater comfort had Legolas been at his side. The elf was altogether hopeless beneath the ground and had once confessed that the only reason he could navigate his father's subterranean halls was because he had lived in them for centuries. If Legolas's bewildered instincts had been available for comparison, Gimli's vague notion that he was on the correct path would have felt like a near certainty. There was sometimes much comfort to be drawn from the incompetence of others.
But Legolas was not here, and therein lay another problem. Gimli's attention was divided between himself and his fear that somewhere a lost and frantic elf had succumbed to the dark and was now beating his head against the stone walls. It might have been an amusing thought under other circumstances, but given the extent of these passages, it could easily take hours to find Legolas once Gimli reached the mains halls and enlisted help. By that time, the elf would have driven himself mad. Madder than he already was. And though Legolas had insisted upon joining the dwarf in these passages, Gimli still felt a measure of responsibility for him. If Legolas removed himself even further from the land of the sane, it would be upon Gimli's head.
Scowling at the implications, the dwarf stomped around a corner and found himself at a crossroads adjacent to an ascending staircase. He needed his concentration to decide his next path, so with an embarrassing amount of effort, Gimli pushed Legolas to the back of his mind. There was no use worrying about the elf until he could actually do something to help him, and he would not be able to help him until he found his own way out of the passages. Once Legolas was safely removed from his thoughts, Gimli considered his choices and tried to determine where he currently stood. Calling to mind a mental map of the King's House, he decided that he was probably one level below the nursery, which meant that he should take the stairs. But he was far from certain of this choice, and there was a very good chance that he was already on the nursery's level. He had lost track of the number of stairs that had been climbed, and he was not entirely sure of how many had been descended.
Absently tugging at his beard, he walked over to the steps and raised his torch, hoping to see something in the darkness that might help him. But the shadows were loath to give up their secrets, and the dwarf found nothing. Pursing his lips, Gimli wondered what his old instructors would say if they could see him now and decided to hazard one more set of stairs.
At the top of the stairs, Gimli was faced with corridor so narrow that he was obliged to turn sideways in order to walk it. Fighting off a disturbing bout of claustrophobia—it was almost elven in nature—he hastened forward and burst into a wider corridor. Stopping to clear his mind, Gimli closed his eyes and sagged against a wall, suddenly grateful that Legolas had decided to become lost on his own. The elf's absence would undoubtedly cause problems later, but at least there had been no witnesses to Gimli's sudden panic.
Composing himself, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes, focusing once more upon the stonework. His torch was beginning to sputter, but it still burned brightly enough for Gimli to see something that made him pause. The stonework here looked very similar to the stonework that had lined the walls of the nursery. It was not the same but it was close, and Gimli felt a tremor of excitement race through him. With one hand tracing the patterns upon the wall, he started forward again, scarcely noticing his failing torch. After a few minutes had passed, he came to a crossing hallway, and his eyes were immediately drawn to something in the dust upon the floor.
And with them, scarce to be seen, a slight distortion in the dust that could only be an elf's footprints.
He had done it. He had found a way back to the nursery without the infuriating elf and without taking the same passages they had used when leaving the nursery. Feeling immensely pleased with himself and deciding that he had not needed to pay attention to his old instructors after all, Gimli quickly backtracked along the trail. The torch was dimming quickly now, but Gimli was not concerned. The stonework had begun to look very familiar indeed, and he was convinced that he could reach his goal before the torch failed completely.
And a short time later, with his light reduced to no more than the red glow of embers, Gimli stumbled over a pile of unused torches.
Even as he tripped, he let out triumphant cry, for he recognized this pile. At least, he thought he did. There was not enough light remaining to be certain, but Gimli felt sure that this was the same pile of torches he had discovered upon entering the secret passages. Dropping his own torch as it fizzled into darkness, he seized one of the new torches and reached into his tunic for his flint and steel. Within moments, the dusty passages were brightly lit once more, and Gimli proceeded to study the walls around him.
What he found made him smile. He was correct. This was the same pile of torches that had supplied him with his first torch, and this meant that the nursery was just beyond the walls. Gimli paused to wonder why there was a collection of torches here and not elsewhere, but he pushed that thought aside for more practical concerns. He could ponder the mystery of the torches once he was back in more approved hallways.
A quick analysis of the stones in the wall revealed the nursery doorway's exact location, and having discovered that, Gimli looked around for the switch to open it. He expected it to be opposite the stone he had used to close the door, but after a cursory search yielded nothing, he realized that he was working with something a bit more sophisticated than that. With grudging respect for those who had built the King's House, Gimli went back to basics and examined the depressed stone that had closed the nursery door. An experimental push and a tug resulted in the sound of a rattling chain, and Gimli nodded to himself. He was dealing with a locking mechanism and a set of opposing weights. If the door was open, pushing a certain stone inwards—as he had done earlier—raised a weight and a chain that allowed a lighter weight and chain to pull the door shut, whereupon it locked in place. If the lock was released, the heavier weight fell, dragging the door open. It was a simple enough device, and Gimli was familiar with the engineering. There were a few doors in Aglarond that employed a similar design. All he needed to do now was find the stone that released the lock.
For a dwarf specifically trained in hidden doorways, this should have taken about two or three minutes. For a dwarf of Gimli's caliber, it should have taken about five minutes. And for a dwarf of any caliber, it should have taken no more than ten minutes.
Fifteen minutes later, Gimli was still searching.
He had searched the base of the door. He had searched the wall around the door. He had searched the wall opposite the door on the off chance that those who had engineered the lock had run the release over the ceiling and down the other side as a perverse joke. In an act of desperation, he had bodily thrown himself against the door several times, hoping to force the lock. But after all this, the door was still shut and the dwarf was still trapped.
Stepping back and giving the immovable stone a baleful glare, Gimli once again felt grateful that Legolas was not here to witness his failure. Or his next actions. For when faced with problems like this, where all attempts had met with defeat, the best recourse was to yell for help.
Children were among the most confusing and confounding creatures that Elladan had ever met.
The previous evening, he had joined Arwen and Estel in the Queen's Gardens and watched with bemused fascination as Eldarion ate a bug despite his mother's best efforts to prevent it. Elladan now watched that same child adamantly refuse far more conventional fare on the basis that it was repulsive. The bread and dried fruit Elladan had purchased in haste had been all but thrown aside, and even though his stomach was rumbling loudly, Eldarion resolved to have nothing to do with such things. It was only after Elladan bought some especially smelly cheese and complimented it with his own stash of elven bread that Eldarion agreed to eat.
By that time, it was almost too late. Watchful for approaching Rohirrim, Elladan caught sight of Lord Elfhelm and a small contingent of Riders entering the Second Circle, and he immediately began looking for places to hide. The markets were still crowded enough that there was little chance of being seen, but he was not about to take chances. Not after Prince Elfwine had managed to find him so easily.
"Eldarion?" he hissed, pushing his way to the edge of the streets.
Perched on his uncle's hip, Eldarion looked up expectantly, his cheeks flaked with a cheese so strong that Elladan's stomach rolled over.
"Eldarion, we are going to play a game," Elladan said, forcing himself to ignore the smell. "But I need you to give me your food for just a moment and climb onto my back. And I need you to be as quiet as possible. Just as you were when you were hiding from Gimli this morning. Can you do that?"
Eldarion studied Elladan with solemn, gray eyes that seemed far too old for his four years of age. But then his face brightened in a wide smile and he nodded eagerly, handing over his food and shifting around until his arms twined around Elladan's neck and his legs pressed tightly against his sides.
"Good," Elladan said, glancing back at the Rohirrim. They were blocked by the masses but making surprising progress, and Elladan hurriedly ducked into an alley where he had noticed some vines growing down the side of an inn. "Now hold tightly," he whispered, stuffing Eldarion's cheese into a belt pouch as he made his way to the wall. "We are going to do a bit of exploring in an upward direction."
Eldarion seemed to approve of this activity, and he giggled softly, spewing cheese across Elladan's shoulders. Deciding not to breathe for the next few minutes, Elladan gauged the distance between himself and the tangled vines, took a few steps back, and then leaped.
Forgetting the earlier admonition to be quiet, Eldarion squealed with delight, but Elladan did not stop to hush him. He could feel the vines trembling under their combined weight, and he hastily began climbing, hoping that no one bothered to glance down this alley and that if they did, they would pass this off as an oddity of the elves. Valar take you, Elrohir, he thought darkly as he struggled up the wall. Had you any respect for me at all, you would have allowed me to see distract Elfwine while you cared for Eldarion.
A wild shriek in his right ear jerked him from his thoughts, and he suddenly realized two things: he was choking and Eldarion's feet were no longer against his side. Instead, the crown-prince of Gondor was swinging from his uncle's neck and laughing excitedly. A jolt of fear enabled him to hurriedly scramble up the rest of the vines, and with a gasp of relief that involved inhaling a large quantity of Eldarion's cheesy breath, he hauled himself over the edge of the flat roof and collapsed.
"Again!" Eldarion commanded, releasing his stranglehold on Elladan's neck and clapping his hands.
"In a moment," Elladan said, pulling Eldarion away from the edge. "This is the part of the exploration where we must hide."
"Because there are men looking for me and I would rather they did not find me."
Elladan was suddenly reminded that aside from the infamous pout of Isildur, Isildur's heirs were also notorious for incessant interrogation sessions. "Because there is a game of sorts going on, and some of those playing the game have been less than kind," he explained patiently.
"Legolas, for one, though I suspect that Gimli was also involved."
"Legolas and Gimli weren't kind?" Eldarion wore an expression of disbelief.
"Nay, they were not," Elladan said, crawling to the edge of the roof so that he had a view of the street below. The Rohirrim were now marching by, but fortunately, they seemed unaware that the subject of their anger was less than a stone's throw away.
"You're lying," Eldarion declared.
Elladan frowned at the accusation but did not look away from the street. "And what cause have you to say that?"
"Because you said Legolas and Gimli weren't kind, but that's wrong. Gimli is always kind."
The omission of Ithilien's elven lord caught Elladan's interest, and he glanced back at his nephew. "And what of Legolas?"
Eldarion folded his arms across his chest and assumed a look of supreme indignation. "He won't let me touch his bow."
Elladan hastily turned back toward the streets and transformed his laugh into a cough. "Ah. Yes, well, I understand how that could be seen as terribly unkind. My condolences. But now I am curious: What of Gimli's axe? Does he allow you to play with it?"
Elladan could sense Eldarion's scowl deepening. "He says he would if mother and father would let me. And the nurses, too. But they won't."
"I see. Therefore, it is not Gimli's fault that you are unable to wield the axe." Elladan shook his head, impressed in spite of himself. Gimli, of course, would never let such a young child near such a dangerous weapon, but by shifting the blame, he had earned himself a place of high favor in Eldarion's eyes. Elladan had not thought the dwarf capable of such devious maneuvering, but then, he had been spending quite a bit of time with Legolas of late…
"Can I have my cheese?"
"May I have my cheese," Elladan corrected absently, his eyes following the last of the Rohirrim as they departed up the street, finally clear of the crowded market place. "And yes, you may. I think we shall wait here for my brother. We have a good view, and we shall see him the moment he emerges."
"It is indeed a good view, but I doubt you will linger long enough to enjoy it."
Elladan froze, his eyes widening, and then he spun around, leaping to his feet and feeling for his belt knife. "Legolas!"
On the side of the roof closest to the towering wall that separated the Second Circle from the Third, Thranduil's youngest son stared back at Elladan, his face unreadable but his eyes burning. "Is not this an interesting meeting?" he observed coolly.
Elladan immediately stepped in front of Eldarion, determined to keep his prize. "It is," he answered, matching the other's tone. "This is also an interesting place for a meeting."
"True enough," Legolas said with a slow nod. He took a casual step toward Elladan and Eldarion, the latter of whom seemed fascinated by this new development. "I am amazed that a creature of Imladris was able to venture so high without mishap."
Firmly bridling his temper, Elladan did not move from his protective stance. "And I am amazed that a creature of Greenwood was able to venture so high without the coddling assistance of trees."
Something flashed in Legolas's eyes, and he took another step closer. "I am reassured, at least, that Rivendell is not bereft of all its traditions. You have managed to cleverly conceal yourself in a place where all looking down from above might see. My congratulations."
Elladan frowned and struggled to understand this insult and also to answer it. This inn was among the tallest buildings of the Second Circle. There was no opportunity to look down from above unless… "Did you just come from the Third Circle wall?" he demanded, surprise getting the better of him.
"I did," Legolas said.
Legolas arched one elegant eyebrow. "I jumped."
"From the wall?"
The archer shrugged. "It is a reasonable jump if one knows what one is doing."
Elladan looked up at the towering wall of the Third Circle and blinked, deciding that it was a reasonable jump only if one was a Wood-elf who cared nothing for the safety of his own neck.
"But enough of this," Legolas said, tearing Elladan from his thoughts and assuming a purposeful look. "Where is your brother? I must speak with you both."
Wondering if this was a test of sorts and well aware of the fact that Legolas was more comfortable with heights than he was, Elladan attempt to craft a safe answer. "I fear that Elrohir is away at the moment, but he is within calling distance should need arise."
Something that might have been a smirk flashed across Legolas's face, and he glanced toward the streets. "Would I be wrong in assuming that you are both avoiding the Rohirrim?"
Elladan checked his temper sharply by promising himself that vengeance would be sweet, satisfying, and extensive. "You may assume whatever you wish."
The smirk returned, tugging at the corners of Legolas's mouth. "Very well. To business, then, since you seem loath to call Lord Elrohir. I have come to collect Eldarion, and I would rather you give him to me than I force him from you. Are you willing to concede?"
"Concede?" Elladan's anger dissolved into an outright laugh. "My dear Legolas, the morning has clearly wearied your mind. In order to concede, one must be defeated, and I am not."
"I can see to that shortly if you insist upon it," Legolas replied with unnerving confidence.
"Truly? If you refer to the actions you have taken upon the Pelennor, then allow me to point out that one crown-prince is of far more importance than a few brood mares," Elladan answered.
"Perhaps," Legolas allowed, the smirk becoming more pronounced. "But your own dignity coupled with the respect that Minas Tirith accords Imladris may be worth more than one crown-prince."
Now somewhat nervous, Elladan decided that Legolas was too sure of himself and that a prudent retreat was in order. "If you can offer naught but vague threats, then we are done here." He turned to his nephew, careful to keep one eye upon Legolas. "Climb on my back again," he instructed. "It is time for us to depart."
"Stay, my lord prince," Legolas commanded when Eldarion started forward. "I have somewhat more to say to to your uncle, if you will allow it."
And much to Elladan's surprise, Eldarion stopped. Apparently pleased by Legolas's sudden formality, he responded in kind and nodded gravely. "You can speak to him," he announced with every ounce of dignity that a four-year-old child could muster.
"My thanks," Legolas said with a deep bow. Elladan suspected the bow was primarily to hide a growing smile than to show respect. "Lord Elladan of Imladris, a word in private?"
"If you believe that I am so foolish as to—"
"I ask for no more than a short discussion," Legolas interrupted, raising his hands to show his good intentions. "You have my word on my father's realm that I wish only to speak with you."
Elladan frowned, but there was not much he could say in response to that. A refusal to take Legolas at his word constituted a breach of trust and an insult to his honor. Such insults were not born lightly by those of Thranduil's line, even on light-hearted days. After a quick look back at Eldarion to see that he was both out of Legolas's reach and not too close to the edge of the roof, Elladan moved forward. "And what have you to say to me?" he demanded, attempting to regain control of the situation.
"I propose an exchange," Legolas whispered, his eyes straying to Eldarion for a moment. "You surrender the crown-prince to me, and I promise to forego certain actions this evening."
"Certain actions?" Elladan echoed. "If seems to me that we are dealing with vague threats again. Or perhaps you refer to further activities among Rohan's horses?"
"Nay, nothing so banal at that," Legolas said with a dangerous smile. "Rather, I had an idea to speak to the minstrels that will be present at the feast this evening. It occurs to me that their repertoire of songs might be enlarged."
Elladan blinked in surprise. What did Gondor's minstrels have to do with anything?
"The king and queen have been very helpful in supplying old lays remembered only within the House of Elrond," Legolas continued, his eyes gleaming. "But there have been some grievous omissions. I believe it is time to correct that."
Now thoroughly confused, Elladan could only stare at Legolas and wonder if there was a point to all this.
"Tell me if you are familiar with this song," Legolas said. "O! Where are you going with beards all a-wagging? What brings—"
The shout escaped ere Elladan could stop it, so great was his horror at hearing part a song that was regarded as one of Rivendell's most closely guarded secrets. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Eldarion jump in surprise, but Legolas seemed to have expected his reaction and was now smiling serenely.
"Nay, I think more is required," Legolas said. "For after all, the valley is jolly. Ha! Ha!"
Attempting to restrain his anger, Elladan took a deep breath and fixed Legolas with a glare worthy of Glorfindel. "Where did you learn those words?"
"Bilbo Baggins," Legolas answered. "Just ere he departed, I asked if I might have a copy of some of the songs he heard while in Rivendell. He was only too happy to share, and on the topic of this particular song, he decided to share more than what he included in his book. Truly fascinating, I must confess. Of course, many of us in Greenwood had long suspected the existence of a balancing song. Something that offset all those dour laments of the First Age and your eternal pining for the Undying Lands. But never did we think to hear of a song so inane as the one recorded by our esteemed hobbit friend." Legolas shook his head, his expression one of unfettered glee. "Really, Lord Elladan. Tra-la-la-lally?"
Torn between a desire to curl into a ball and disappear and a desire to throw Legolas off the roof, Elladan settled for a burning glower and clenched fists. "If you breathe one word of this to Gondor's minstrels, I will—"
"But that is the point! You can ensure that Gondor's minstrels are never subjected to such nonsense and that Rivendell's madness is kept safely contained within its own borders."
Elladan stared at Legolas, bringing to bear everything he had ever learned from his father on the subject of intimidating looks. Legolas responded by calling up one of Thranduil's most infuriating expressions: smug victory. And unable to think of an alternative offer or threat, Elladan was forced to admit that the Wood-elf was right. Keeping Eldarion for the rest of the day would be enjoyable, but Rivendell's dignity came first. Thanks to Bilbo's records, a few verses of the infamous Tra-la-la-lallly song were already common knowledge among hobbits, but until now, Elladan had believed that the full scope of the song remained mercifully unknown. If Bilbo had shared the other verses with Legolas…
"Take him," Elladan snapped, stepping aside and nodding to Eldarion.
"My thanks for your cooperation," Legolas said, inclining his head with a smile. "Though I will miss hearing that song tonight."
"See that you do."
Legolas's smile grew, but he said nothing more on the subject and walked toward Eldarion, dropping down on one knee in order to speak with the prince. Disgusted with himself, with Legolas, with Bilbo Baggins, and with the world in general, Elladan fumed silently and headed for the vines. He sensed the beginnings of a large headache and felt it would be best to leave before anything else happened.
It was only when he was halfway down the vines and he heard Eldarion's voice suddenly rise in a demand for his food that Elladan remembered a certain smelly chunk of cheese still hidden in his belt pouch. Deciding it should remain there, he quickly dropped the rest of the distance to the ground and hastened away. Petty, yes, but at the moment, Elladan would take what he could get.
It did not take Pippin long to discover that Meriadoc Brandybuck was much heavier than he looked. Even with Imrahil's assistance, Pippin was exhausted by the time they dragged the inebriated hobbit into his quarters. He was ready for a nap himself, and he probably would have curled up right there on the floor had it not been for a sudden rumbling outburst from his stomach.
"Are you concealing a small dragon, Master Took?" Imrahil asked, turning down the blankets on Merry's bed.
Pippin scowled and shot a glare at Merry, who was propped against one wall and blissfully unaware of his surroundings. "No thanks to him, I haven't had anything to eat since breakfast."
"Then it sounds as though lunch is in order. It is certainly time for it, and I feel the need for nourishment myself. Help me put your friend to bed, and once he is settled, we shall seek out the butteries in the Tower. Afterwards we can search for Legolas and Gimli. Once we are assured of their whereabouts, we should probably go together to search for Elladan and Elrohir. It may be difficult to find them, even if they are still in the Second Circle."
"I suppose that will have to do," Pippin sighed, bending down and pulling Merry's left arm over his shoulder. "But I was looking forward to the feast down on the Pelennor. I had some choice words to say to Strider about Arwen. If we hurry and find Legolas and Gimli, do you think we can still catch them on the fields?"
Imrahil had been taking Merry's other arm, but he stopped at this and flashed a sharp look in Pippin's direction. "You mean to say that you do not know?"
There was a slight pause, barely noticeable, and then Imrahil shook his head. "Naught. I am merely surprised that word of this has not spread. The citizens of Minas Tirith are not usually so discreet." He gripped Merry beneath his right arm and pulled the hobbit to his feet.
"Discreet about what?" Pippin asked, forgetting his exhaustion in the face of his curiosity.
"There was an accident upon the Pelennor this morning," Imrahil answered, moving Merry toward the bed with Pippin's assistance. "I will not tire you with the details, but the king and queen are currently in the Houses of Healing tending to one of the accident's victims."
"Do I know this victim?"
"You have met before. Here, lay him against the bed and we shall lift his legs."
Pippin obediently let Merry's upper body flop forward onto the bed. "So where have I met the victim?" he asked, not about to let Imrahil divert the conversation. "And what kind of accident was it?"
"It involved…horses," Imrahil said, gasping slightly as they maneuvered Merry the rest of the way onto the bed. His face creased with pain, and one hand went to his side.
"Horses?" Pippin blinked, thinking back over what he had heard just ere he left the Pelennor with Merry. "Did something happen during the race between you and Eomer? Is Eomer hurt? And are you hurt, too?"
"You are perceptive, Master Took," Imrahil murmured, straightening and pulling the blankets up over Merry. "As for your questions, yes. Something did happen during the horse race, and Eomer was injured. Thanks to his actions, though, I am only bruised."
Pippin gave him a rather skeptical look. "How badly was Eomer hurt? And how certain are you that you're all right?"
"I am reasonably certain of my own health. As for the king of Rohan…he suffered a blow to the head. We are convinced that he will recover in time, but for the moment, he is in need of rest."
Imrahil sounded confident and Pippin wanted to believe him, but experience had taught him that just because someone sounded confident didn't mean they were telling the whole story. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, in particular, were quite good at claiming one thing when the opposite was true. Sam thought that it had something to do with being a leader over a large group of suspicious-minded people, and if he was right, then Imrahil was probably equally skilled at deception. Which meant that Pippin would have to press harder for answers. "So how much rest does Eomer need?" he asked.
"As much as King Elessar deems necessary."
"And how much is that? How severe was the blow to his head? Did he fall and hit it on something? Or did something fall and hit him?"
Imrahil's face took on a bemused expression. "A little of both, I believe. Are all hobbits so inquisitive?"
"Both?" Pippin echoed, ignoring the last part. He started to ask more, but his stomach suddenly let out another loud growl.
"Perhaps we would be better served discussing this over lunch," Imrahil observed.
With a grimace, Pippin nodded. "Probably. I feel as though I could—"
Pippin flinched violently and spun around. "Merry!? You're supposed to be asleep!"
"Am I?" Merry blinked and rolled over, tangling himself in his blankets. "Have I been awake long? Wha's the time?"
"It is time for you to sleep again," Imrahil said. "You have already been awake far too long."
"Can't tell what time it is!" Merry said crossly. "Everything keeps changing."
"That's what happens when you drink Mirkwood wine, you ninny," Pippin scolded. "Now close your eyes and—"
"The wine's made in Greenwood," Merry corrected.
"The wine is aged. It was made when Greenwood was still Mirkwood," Pippin answered, wondering why he was bothering to argue with a drunk.
"But it's still p'lite to call it Greenwood."
"Of course it is," Imrahil said. "And we shall certainly do that in the future. Now close your eyes and go to sleep. We will be returning later to see how you fare."
Merry's eyes had already begun drifting shut, but he opened them wide at this news and hiccuped. "You're leaving?"
"Just for a little while," Pippin assured him. "I promise that I'll be back as soon as I can."
"No!" Merry said, shaking his head violently. "Have to watch on you. S'pposed to keep you out of trouble."
Pippin stared at him. "And who will keep you out of trouble? Honestly, Merry, you can barely walk! And I don't need a minder. I'm a grown hobbit with a wife and a—"
"Always same ol' Pippin," Merry interrupted, somehow managing to roll to the edge of the bed. He peered over the side and squinted at the floor. "Why's it still moving?"
"Perhaps we should slip away now," Imrahil murmured, moving towards the doorway.
"No!" Merry cried, promptly falling out of the bed. Stunned, Pippin could only watch helplessly as Merry tried to sit up, fell over, and then began patting the floor soothingly. "S'alright," he whispered. "You can hold still now."
"Or perhaps I should slip away while you remain here," Imrahil said.
Pippin bit his lip and stared at the other hobbit. "But Legolas and Gimli—"
"Are better left to others."
"But I need their help to…" Pippin trailed off and decided that telling Imrahil he needed to do something horrid to Arwen was probably not a wise decision. "I need to talk to them. And I need food and—"
"It will be easy enough for me to send food to you," Imrahil answered, his tone growing firm. "But I would rather not have Mastery Meriadoc wandering about without supervision. He has already attempted to start a fire in the storerooms. Who knows what he shall attempt next?"
Recognizing defeat, Pippin nodded reluctantly as his stomach let out a petulant growl. "I'll look forward to whatever you send, then," he sighed. "And if you don't mind, could you send something for Merry, too? He may not want food now, but he will once he properly wakes up."
"A wise idea, Master Took." Imrahil turned to leave but then paused for a moment. "You will be able to handle him?"
"Yes, we'll be fine," Pippin said. "Usually the situation is reversed, but I've had to help him out of a few taverns back in the Shire."
"Very well, then. I will send a guard around with a plate presently."
Pippin nodded and bowed slightly as Imrahil left the room. Then he turned to Merry, who was still patting the floor solicitously. "Well, you've now decreased our chances of getting into the pantries downstairs. I hope you're proud of yourself."
"It's calming down," Merry answered. "Don't you think so?"
"I…suppose," Pippin said slowly.
"I think so," Merry said, laying his cheek on the ground.
Pippin shook his head and decided that all discussions could wait until Merry was more coherent. "Yes, well, do you think you can get back into bed now?"
Merry looked as though this was the most ridiculous idea he'd heard all day. "Bed? But it isn't night! The time's all funny, but the sun's still up."
"Yes, but you need to take a little nap," Pippin said. "I know the floor would appreciate it."
Merry giggled. "All right. But if it acts up, you might try singing to it. I think that would help. It likes Imra'il, and he sings."
Not knowing how to respond to that, Pippin said nothing and helped Merry to his feet, bracing him when the other hobbit swayed dangerously. With a bit of coaxing, he was able to push Merry back into bed and straighten out the blankets. "Now," he said, "go to sleep. You'll feel much better when you wake up."
"I'm ‘wake now."
Pippin bit back a groan. If Merry insisted on babbling throughout the duration of his inebriation, it was going to be a very long afternoon. Pippin had once been forced to listen to several hours of drunken prattle during an evening's ride home from the Golden Perch, and though amusing at first, it had become tiresome quickly. "You might be awake now," he reasoned, "but perhaps you shouldn't stay awake. Don't you think you'll have nice dreams if you sleep?"
Merry considered this for a while, and Pippin held his breath as the silence began to stretch into minutes.
"Would you tell me a riddle?"
Pippin almost choked. "Excuse me?"
"A riddle. You were going to earlier, but I ran away."
Shaking his head, Pippin tried to adopt a soft and soothing tone. "If you go to sleep, I'll tell you all the riddles you want when you wake."
Minutes ticked away again in silence, and Pippin held his breath once more.
He sighed. "Yes, Merry?"
"What if I tell you a riddle?"
"I think you ought to be sleeping."
"No, this is a good riddle. I think you told it to me b'fore, but maybe you'd like to hear it again. Do y'know how many Bolgers it takes to light a torch?"
"No, I'm afraid that I don't. And given your current condition, you probably don't know either."
"None!" Merry announced triumphantly with a wide grin plastered across his face. "They don't care ‘bout the torch. They just need the food."
"Well, this particular hobbit doesn't need any food whatsoever. He needs sleep!" Pippin said firmly.
"But I'm not tired!" Merry protested, lifting his head and staring at Pippin with wide eyes.
"Yes, you are. You are very tired. You just don't know it yet. But for my sake, I hope you figure it out soon."
Walking briskly before an armed contingent of Rohirrim, Lord Elfhelm of Rohan threw open both doors to the Houses of Healing with a thunderous crash. Years of laboring against Wormtongue's lies and deceptions had taught Elfhelm the value of a good entrance, and a quick glance around at the startled healers told him that his entrance had been more than adequate.
Elfhelm gave the entry chamber a swift but thorough glance, taking in how many shocked healers stood between him and the hallways most likely to contain the king. His first reaction was one of surprise, for he had expected to find Elfwine arguing with the healers about seeing his father. Yet the prince was nowhere to be seen. Was it possible that some healers held sympathy for the young heir of Rohan and had surrendered to his wishes? Studying the bewildered but stern faces before him, Elfhelm decided this to be highly improbable. The more likely scenario was that Elfwine had sneaked in another way, and Elfhelm nodded in silent approval. The boy showed promise.
But whatever the reasons behind Elfwine's absence, it was clear to Elfhelm that he and his men would not readily be admitted entrance. Already the expressions of surprise were turning to anger, and the advantage gained by an impressive entrance would soon be lost. Moving quickly, Elfhelm stormed across the threshold with enough speed to make his cloak billow behind him.
"I am here on business for my king," he announced, coming to a stop in the middle of the chamber. Seizing one edge of his cloak, he pulled it back around him with an authoritative snap and gave the healers an imperious look, daring them to challenge his presence. "It would expedite matters if one of you revealed the way to his rooms," he continued. "However, should you be otherwise occupied, I will take what measures I must in order to find him myself."
His words were met with incredulous stares, and deciding that he would need to provoke a reaction, Elfhelm signaled the other Rohirrim forward. The results were immediate. Galvanized by the presence of armed warriors in a healing ward, the attendants threw off their shock and moved to block the entrances to the hallways. "Who are you to issues orders in this House?" one of the older healers demanded, walking forward until he stood but a few feet away from the intruder.
"Lord Elfhelm of Rohan, and I mean to speak with my liege lord immediately," Elfhelm answered coolly. "Now am I to be given an escort to his rooms, or shall my men forcibly conduct a search?"
Elfhelm could see a multitude of arguments marshalling in the healer's eyes, and he closed the remaining distance between himself and the man, releasing his cloak so that it could billow outward again. Appearances could sometimes be far more persuasive than logical reasoning.
"My lord," the healer stammered, and Elfhelm had to fight back a snicker. It would not due to ruin his ominous visage with an ill-timed laugh. "I am sure that your errand as urgent, but I cannot disturb the rest of any patient unless I am satisfied that there is sufficient cause."
"You doubt the word of a lord of Rohan?" Elfhelm hoped that the growing tightness in his jaw would be interpreted as anger rather than his desperate attempts to hold back a grin.
"Certainly not, my lord!" the healer exclaimed. "But if you would take into consideration the needs of—"
"My only consideration at the moment is the safety of my king and the welfare of his kingdom. And that should be more than sufficient for you." For emphasis, Elfhelm let one hand stray to the ceremonial knife hanging from his belt.
Another warrior would have immediately recognized the implied threat, but the healer simply stared at Elfhelm, oblivious to the fact that he could be gutted within seconds. With some exasperation, Elfhelm repeated the action and exaggerated his movements, allowing the dagger's jeweled sheath to flash in the sunlight that streamed down from high, arching windows. This time his efforts met with success, and the healer stepped back, his eyes widening. "The guards—"
"Will not wish to provoke an incident between Gondor and Rohan," Elfhelm interrupted smoothly. He studied the man just long enough to create an uncomfortable silence, and then he spoke again, his voice low and deep. "All I ask is that you take me to my king. My men will stay here if it will ease your mind, but I must be allowed to pass. Surely you will grant me that much."
Another uncomfortable silence ensued, but Elfhelm made no effort to break it this time. He kept his eyes upon the healer, intense but not quite challenging. And after a bit of restless shifting on the part of the other attendants as well as the waiting Rohirrim, the older healer nodded slowly. "Your men will wait here, my lord?"
"If that is your wish, I will so order it."
"Please do, and then follow me. I will take you to your king."
And they say the Rohirrim are unskilled as negotiators, Elfhelm thought wryly as he gave the healer a gracious smile and a quick bow before turning to his men. Snapping off a few commands in Rohirric, he watched as his men drew together before the entrance, somewhat offended at being kept from their king but obedient nonetheless. Satisfied, Elfhelm turned back to the healer and indicated that he was ready to proceed.
They traveled down one of the wider hallways, and as they walked, Elfhelm fought off the urge to throw back his head and shout in triumph. He had been practically helpless all morning. Helpless to aid his king, helpless to control Shade, and helpless to corral the elven stallions. But now he was acting. He had overcome the healer's reservations. He had gained entry where other Rohirrim had failed. He was on his way to see his king, and he would learn exactly why Eomer was confined to the Houses of Healing! These victories more than made up for the morning's frustration, and it was all he could do to keep from proclaiming his excitement to the world. When the healer finally stopped and knocked quietly on a door, Elfhelm could contain himself no longer and pushed the door open the moment he heard a voice call from inside.
His euphoria died almost instantly.
A wave of silent tension hit him with enough strength to make him gasp. Reeling with shock and struggling to right his churning feelings, Elfhelm shook his head and stopped on the threshold. Triggered by the animosity that seemed to fill the chamber, battlefield instincts flared to life, and Elfhelm's hand fell to his knife as he cast his eyes about the room, searching for the source of the tension.
His eyes came to rest upon Eomer, who lay still and listless upon a healing bed.
"Lord Elfhelm. It is good to see you again."
Elfhelm blinked and turned to find the queen of Gondor at his side. Bowing more out of reflex than anything else, he moved his attention back to Eomer and took one step forward. "We…we received word that—"
"He is sleeping at the moment," another voice said, and Elfhelm looked over at Lothíriel, who hovered near the bed alongside a very haggard-looking Eowyn. "Have no fear. He is merely in need of rest."
Deciding that this statement was very much at odds with the amount of tension in the room, Elfhelm turned around to confront the healer who had accompanied him. "And your opinion?"
"I…do not know much of his condition," the healer said.
"Lord Elfhelm, you have my word that Eomer is in no immediate danger," Eowyn said, rising from her chair. "He requires time and rest. And unless I am very much mistaken, I gave orders that this rest was not to be disturbed," she added with a stern glare for the healer.
"My lady, he was most insistent and—"
"Oh, I am certain that he was," Eowyn interrupted, turning her glare upon Elfhelm.
For his part, Elfhelm was doing some rapid thinking. Eowyn never gave her word lightly, and if she insisted that the king was in no immediate danger, then he was in no immediate danger. But this did not explain the tension, and Elfhelm was beginning to wonder if he had been mistaken about the cause. He could not help but notice that Arwen was staying at least an arm's length away from Lothíriel at all times, and Lothíriel seemed to avoiding eye contact with Arwen. Eowyn was pointedly ignoring both of them, and on the subject of ignored persons, Elfhelm now realized that Elfwine was missing, a rather suspicious absence considering how anxious the boy had been to see his father. Yes, something was happening here that had nothing to do with Eomer's injury, but Elfhelm did not have time to decipher what that something was. At the moment, he needed to deal with Eowyn, who looked as though she had just reached the end of her tether.
"My ladies," Elfhelm said with a deep—and hopefully appeasing—bow. "Please accept my humblest apologies if I have caused harm. But on behalf of the Rohirrim, I wished only to assure myself that our king was yet whole so that I might comfort those still anxious for news." Elfhelm paused, debating about what to say next, and then decided to forge ahead. He had an opening. He would take it. "I am certain that the prince can vouch for my intentions, for he knew of my coming. Where is Lord Elfwine?"
Three blank stares met his eyes.
Feeling as though he had just stepped into a stable that had not been properly cleaned for weeks, Elfhelm swallowed and rephrased the question. "Is not the prince here?"
Eowyn frowned, Arwen pursed her lips, and Lothíriel's eyes hardened. "Did you expect him to be here?"
In the hallway, the healer said something about needing to see to other patients and hurried away. Pushing aside the urge to follow him, Elfhelm tried to think of a good answer to Lothíriel's question, but his mind drew a confounding blank. "I sent Elfwine ahead of my men, my lady," he eventually said. "He should have arrived ere we did."
"Did he know that his father was here and not in the Citadel?" Arwen asked.
"Yes, my lady, he did," Elfhelm said, his mind racing.
"Then you mean to tell me that my son is lost in Minas Tirith!?"
Lothíriel did not lose her temper often. As Imrahil's daughter, she was confident almost to a fault, and this confidence took the form of a maddening serenity in times of crisis. She could be stern and commanding if needed and she had raised her voice upon occasion, but until now, she had never been provoked into shouting. When this shouting was coupled with flashing eyes the color of storm clouds and a glare cold enough to freeze the Anduin, the end result was quite intimidating, and Elfhelm found himself on the verge of a tactical retreat.
"Peace," Eowyn said, stepping in to save her former conspirator. "Peace, it could be that Elfwine merely stopped to find something to eat. He was up quite early this morning, and I doubt he has had aught in the way of food since breakfast."
Lothíriel turned a murderous look upon Eowyn. Elfhelm might have pitied her had he not been so relieved at escaping the look himself.
"Is that possible?" Arwen asked. "Is there somewhere that Prince Elfwine could go where your men would not see?"
"Perhaps," Elfhelm said slowly. He was now very certain that the tension in the room had little to do with Eomer and everything to do with the three women standing before him. "The streets were quite busy, my lady."
"Or perhaps something else has happened," Lothíriel snapped, transferring her glare to Arwen, who took a discreet step backwards.
"There is a simple way to end this," Eowyn said, pitching her voice to carry over the intensity of Lothíriel's glare. "We need only send forth a team to look for Elfwine."
"An excellent idea," Elfhelm said quickly, sensing a chance for escape. He still knew very little about his king's condition, but his thirst for knowledge and assurance had waned in the face of a problem that he was certain he did not wish to investigate. Beyond that, the search for Elfwine could prove just as useful to the welfare of Rohan. "I will gather my men and—"
"You will remain here," Eowyn interrupted sharply, her eyes flashing with something that could not be readily identified. "I will not have you upon the streets with your mind in an uproar over all the incidents down on the Pelennor."
Elfhelm blinked. "Lady Eowyn, I assure you that my mind is clear."
"So clear that you sent a gelding iron to the Houses of Healing?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Elfhelm saw both Arwen and Lothíriel withdrawing from the conversation. He wished that he could do the same. "It was intended as a message," he said weakly. "In the days of Wormtongue, Eomer and I devised a means of—"
"I have no wish to hear it," Eowyn said, interrupting once again. She moved to a table near Eomer's bed and picked up the gelding iron. "You may personally deliver this to your king when he wakes. I will take the Rohirrim and search for Elfwine."
Elfhelm frowned and looked at the brand in Eowyn's hands. "Surely your healing talents would be of better use here. It would be a simple thing for me to—"
"If I do not leave now, I may find cause to use this," Eowyn snapped, shoving the gelding iron into Elfhelm's hands.
Elfhelm flushed and hastily dropped his eyes, wondering if the stifled laugh from Arwen's direction was his imagination. "Lady Eowyn, if you are intent upon going, I cannot stop you. But I do not believe it is within your rights to command my actions."
There was a hiss of anger, and then Eowyn seized Elfhelm by the arm and pulled him into the hallway. "One of us must remain here," she said, lowering her voice. "And since I am more familiar with Minas Tirith than you, it stands to reason that I should look for Elfwine."
Elfhelm's eyes narrowed. "Your reasoning is sound with but one exception: why must one of us remain here?"
Eowyn said nothing for a long moment, studying Elfhelm intently, and then she sighed, seeming to come to a decision of sorts. "What I say now must not be repeated. I do not entrust you with this information lightly. Eomer is in good health given the circumstances, but he suffered a serious blow to his head upon the Pelennor. He does not remember who he is."
"He does not remember?" Elfhelm echoed blankly. "What do you—"
"Just what I said. He has no memory of Rohan, of Gondor, of himself, or of anything else. And when he woke earlier…" She paused and glanced back into the bed chambers where Lothíriel had returned to Eomer's side and Arwen lingered near an open window. "When he woke earlier," she continued, dropping her voice even more, "he decided to declare his love for the queen of Gondor. Lothíriel has taken exception to this, as well she might, but Queen Arwen is more amused than anything else. And because of this, it was decided that a third person be present to act as a mediator. I trust I can rely upon you in this matter?"
Elfhelm stared at her for a long moment, taking in everything she had told him and making a fairly good guess at some of the things that were being left out. "The king's sleep is not natural, is it?"
Never one to back away from a challenge, Eowyn met his gaze evenly and nodded. "You are correct. King Elessar has ensured that Eomer will sleep for some time."
"And where is King Elessar? Surely he has taken more than a passing interest in this!"
"At the moment, he is mixing a draught that might help. He will not be back for a while."
"And he left you here as the mediator."
"A task I am now delegating to you," Eowyn said, and judging from the gleam in her eyes, she was as anxious to escape as Elfhelm was.
"So you would countermand the orders of your king?"
Eowyn's eyes flashed. "I would go where I am most needed while you will remain here and suffer the consequences for sending Thendril to the Houses of Healing with a gelding iron!"
Elfhelm winced, glanced down at the brand in his hands, and then decided to make one last effort. "But what of your brother? Are you prepared to leave him in another's hands?"
There was a brief moment of hesitation in Eowyn's eyes, and Elfhelm thought he might have won. But then she looked back into the room at Lothíriel and Arwen, and the hesitation vanished. "If Faramir were here, I would not leave," she said quietly. "But he is gone, and I do not trust my temper. Were I to stay, I would do more harm than good." She flashed a quick smile at Elfhelm. "You are not the only one to be threatened by the gelding iron."
"I am…comforted," Elfhelm said slowly.
"Good," Eowyn said, her smile growing. "Then are we agreed?"
Elfhelm sighed and nodded. "Were it anyone else, I would refuse. Béma lend you speed."
"Thank you, Elfhelm," she said, already moving away. "If Eomer wakes, send for Elessar or one of the healers. And if you can convince Arwen to leave the room, I think Lothíriel will become better company."
"I will certainly make the attempt."
Eowyn's smile turned sympathetic, but she said nothing else and hurried down the hallway. Left with two angry queens and an unconscious king, Elfhelm decided he would have been better off staying on the Pelennor.
Author's Notes: Gimli's claim that he is a "dwarf of many journeys" comes from a debate he had with Legolas and Aragorn. You can find it in the chapter "The Riders of Rohan" in the Two Towers, page 33 of the Ballantine paperback 50th anniversary edition. The bits of song that Legolas uses to blackmail Elladan are part of a rather strange song that the elves of Rivendell use to taunt Thorin's company in the chapter "A Short Rest" in The Hobbit, page 48 of the Ballantine paperback 50th anniversary edition.