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Disclaimer: This story is non-profit and written for purely entertainment purposes. All recognized characters and places are property of J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line Cinema.
A/N: My sincerest gratitude to you reviewers! :) I decided to test out the Author Reply button on this site, so we'll see how that works... :)
* A little note: Because credit is due where it is deserved. In ‘The Hunting Trip’ by Ithilien (I could go on and on from here, and then mention several other positively incredible authors, but that would completely take us away from the point of this), Ithilien makes mention of Gimli being viewed as a bit of an oddity among his own kind. I found myself very intrigued by such an idea, as I’ve always thought Gimli could be the Bilbo Baggins of the Dwarves. To give the poor guy some angst of his own, I’ve gone with a slight “He’s A War Hero But Off His Rocker” twist. Plus it serves as a nice background for a light-hearted scene in later chapters concerning a female Dwarf, Rìs.
* * *
~ Chapter 10: The Night Unleashed ~
It came; the split second before the floodgates burst, when thunder ceased to crack and lightening no longer split the storm-bruised sky. Air was greedily sucked up by the shadows. Even the pounding hearts of the Man and Elf could not be heard. Time no longer existed and all came to a standstill.
The storm quelled against itself: winds, lightening, thunder, and rain slowly building, pressing, against the heavy clouds and inky sky. The pressure grew until the night could no longer contain it.
And then the storm broke.
Legolas rolled back, dropping the stone to the floor. He sprang forth as thunder shook the land to its very core, shuddering through foundation and tree trunk. Lightening ripped the sky in two, releasing a furious rain and wind as Aragorn spun forward and tried to catch the Elf with the flat edge of his blade. Legolas ducked and grabbed the man’s sword arm in one motion, using Aragorn’s momentum to his advantage. Aragorn was unable to counter such a quick response and suddenly discovered his back to the Elf, sword hand useless in Legolas’ vice-like grip. He never saw Legolas reach for the glittering Elven knife. Lightening flashed as its pommel met the base of his skull; then all went black.
A sickening crack echoed throughout the room and Narsil clattered to the floor. Legolas caught the former Ranger as he sagged and collapsed. The Elf could do naught but stare at the limp form in his arms. The man’s head lolled to the side and rested trustingly against his shoulder; Legolas could feel the steady drumming of Aragorn’s heart and the gentle rise and fall of the man’s chest as he breathed. He seemed frail and innocent as a sleeping child. Tiny rivulets of blood spilled down the man’s neck and stained the shoulder of Legolas’ tunic-- blood from a wound by his hand. Legolas continued to stare in mute horror. What had he done? Thunder growled and lightening flashed white across the sky. “Forgive me... Forgive me...” the Elf repeated over and over again, his voice hoarse and pleading.
Legolas did not know he had slid to the floor, still cradling Aragorn within in his arms, until gentle hands on either side of his face and a soft voice pulled him from his numbed shock.
“Legolas! Hurry, Little Brother, you must flee!” Arwen’s grey eyes captured his as she held his face within her hands. He could see the fear in her eyes, though she did her best to mask it.
“Arwen, I... he...” He searched her face desperately, seeking some form of reassurance.
Arwen gave his forearm a gentle squeeze and gathered her fallen husband into her arms. She tenderly brushed away the dark hair from the former Ranger’s neck and began examining his wound. “Fly, Legolas,” she whispered, eyes still bent on the prone form of Aragorn. “You must fly to Gimli.”
“Gimli?” Legolas asked numbly, unable to tear his gaze away from the unconscious king.
“It is the most obvious course of action for you to take. It will show him you do not wish to flee —that you have nothing to hide.”
Lightening caused the jewel to spark as Legolas bent to retrieve it from the floor. Its weight seemed to have increased by tenfold as he placed it into the pouch about his waist. The burden was now his to carry alone. He fervently prayed he had the strength to do so.
He cast a final glance over his shoulder ere he fled for the stables. Arwen remained bowed over the prone form of Aragorn, their two bodies appearing sharp and angular in the white flashes of lightening.
* * *
Findalen nickered warmly and nuzzled the Elf’s shoulder. “We must depart, swift one,” Legolas whispered shakily. He entwined his slender fingers into the horse’s mane and leapt upon Findalen’s sleek back. Sensing great agitation within his rider, the horse galloped into the pounding night without protest.
From the moment he struck Aragorn, Legolas felt as though operating under an inner control he did not know he possessed. His mind had yet to register what occurred within Aragorn’s study, but he welcomed the numbness for it meant he did not have to face the emotional consequence of his actions.
* * *
The wind howled and bellowed ceaselessly. Sometimes there was a driving rain; sometimes hail. Occasionally his path would be nothing more than a quagmire of mud and grime, but always the storm came to block the sun or moon with its bruised clouds, blinding lightening, and earth-shattering thunder. Legolas rode frantically onward in a stupefied haze, oblivious to everything save the notion he must reach Gimli, and soon.
* * *
Several loud knocks at the chamber door startled Gimli from his slumber. He groaned as he picked his head up off the desk—it was the third time in as many days he had fallen asleep while at work. Grimacing, he called to whomever it was at his door while attempted to massage the giant kink out of his neck.
A copper-haired Dwarf only five years younger than himself, bearing an old mining lunch pail and lantern, came bustling in. “You nodded off again. I thought as much.” The Dwarf shook her head and muttered something about sleep deprivation and Elves. “Here, I brought you your supper. The others have long since retired and I’ll not have you wasting away.” She turned and shot Gimli a scrutinizing look as she set the pail on the floor next to him. “Not that there is any danger of that.”
One of Gimli’s bushy eyebrows shot up. “I thank you for your concern, Rìs, though in the future please refrain from calling me fat.”
“Of course, my Lord,” the maiden responded off-hand. She busied herself at the room’s large fireplace-- stoking the fire, which had long since died away. “If you freeze to death, Gimli, it will not matter whether the blueprints are finished on time.”
Gimli grunted as he took a swig of ale. “Éomer expects them by next month, and he shall have them by next month. Aaah, I see you have brought some of Lór’s soup.” He rubbed his hands together in delight before reaching into the pail and grabbing the thermos of soup.
Pouring some of the hot liquid into the thermos lid, he blew on it before bringing the steaming cup to his lips. Rìs finished poking at the fire and came to lean against the side of his desk. She reached for one of the blueprints and frowned while examining it.
“They appear in order to me,” stated the Dwarf maiden. “Mithril and steel composition. I see you are using Thror’s framework. He always did have a flare for the intricate metal weavings. Some claimed he was too elaborate, but I always found them pleasing to look at.”
“Yes,” muttered Gimli, stroking his beard. “It is the weavings that give me the most trouble. I cannot seem to think of a suitable design for the section above the transverse rod here.” The Dwarf pointed to a spot on the parchment, which appeared to have been erased several times over.
Rìs squinted at the spot. “Why not use the same one as that on the gate you made for King Elessar of Gondor?”
Gimli shook his head. “I cannot put it on both gates.”
“It would save you much time,” protested Rìs. “And neither King will be the wiser for it.”
“But I would. And besides, Rohan does not use the symbol of the Tree.”
Rìs snorted. “It is just a tree! I think perhaps you have spent far too much time than is healthy in the company of your strange Elf. Last week you tried to convince me your dreams were a forewarning of some evil, and now you claim there is significance in a tree.” The copper-haired Dwarf shook her head sympathetically. “You are an odd one, Gimli. They say--” She broke off and merely shook her head again.
Gimli sighed. He knew what ‘they’ said. It was whispered that his travels had left him tainted, that a powerful Elven witch had cast a spell upon him. And then there was his friendship with Legolas, which even he could not fully explain the nuances of. He knew the Elves viewed it as a charming curiosity, for Legolas was still young and could not be faulted for the impulsive, childish fancies of his heart. Gimli sometimes got the impression, especially from the fair folk of Eryn Lasgalen, that he was seen as Legolas’ exotic pet.
At least the Elves accepted him, for the most part. That was more than he could say of his own kin.
They revered him for the great war hero he was, though it was with sympathetic respect. He knew they pitied him for what he had become, and Gimli hated it. He hated the way they spoke of him—as though his sanity had somehow been lost upon the battlefield. He had lost his prejudices on the battlefield, not his mind, and in return gained a wisdom seldom reached amongst his kind.
Perhaps, had circumstances been different, he would have one day married Rìs. She was fairly pretty, as far as Dwarven standards went, and came from a wealthy family. They would have made a good match, and Gimli knew his father Glóin would have been pleased to be a grandfather. Yet Gimli realized his experiences had made him far older than his years; at times he felt downright ancient. He could no longer view the world in simple terms of black and white, right and wrong, as was the Dwarves’ wont. In this aspect, Rìs was but a child. She, as all female Dwarves, would never travel above ground and see Middle-earth for the complex shades of grey and semi-rights or slightly-wrongs it was.
It saddened Gimli to realize he would never again have the privilege of a mate or close friend among his own kind. Each of the Fellowship had sacrificed something along the way, some more than others. Gimli had given up his place amongst the Dwarves.
The two Dwarves debated over various different designs for the gate, and would have continued well into dawn, had not a second knock at Gimli’s door interrupted them.
“Come in,” called Gimli, his voice tempered with annoyance. Rìs had just sarcastically remarked he ought to rework Éomer’s gate with flower stems and blades of grass.
A black-bearded Dwarf, wearing a tough leather jerkin underneath a heavy coat of mail, and the thick cape of an outer tunnel guard, stuck his rain-swept face through the door. “Lord Gimli?” he asked again, shaking the rainwater from his eyes.
“Yes?” answered Gimli, pulling the blueprint in question from Rìs’ hands before she could make another mocking suggestion as to the gate’s design.
The Dwarf sniffed. “You, ah, have a guest, my Lord.”
“At this hour of the night?” Rìs picked up the empty thermos and screwed the cap back on. “Who in his right mind would be about in such weather? And at this time of night, no less!”
The Dwarven guard made a face. Gimli recognized it immediately: it was the look he always received when Legolas arrived.
He quickly strode to the door. ‘So, he finally comes to apologize for his ridiculous behavior,’ mused the Dwarf. ‘Though he could have waited until morning. Then again, this is Legolas I speak of, and he is prone to impulsiveness more so than any I know.’
“I suspect Legolas is waiting at the Caves’ entrance?” asked Gimli as he, Rìs, and the guard walked down the cavern tunnel.
The black-bearded guard shook his head. “No. The Elf is in the Main Cavern.” There was slight disdain in his words. Rìs pulled a face.
Gimli blinked and nearly stopped walking. “What?” To the best of his knowledge, Legolas had yet to overcome his claustrophobia. “He is in the Main Cavern? He came freely?”
“Yes,” responded the guard somewhat sourly. “We did not beat him and drag him down here as you might think.” He gulped and quickly offered an apology in response to the look Gimli leveled upon him.
Gimli dismissed the two at the main cavern doors, ignoring the whispering voices, which bounced off the walls and reached his ears as Rìs and the guard walked down the hallway.
“Well strike the hot iron,” he exclaimed as he strode into the spacious cavern. “If it isn’t the arrogant, flighty, tree-hopping Elf come to—“ The Dwarf stopped abruptly when he noticed the appearance of his friend.
Elves were immaculate by nature, and Legolas was no exception. Yet there sat the son of Thranduil: rain-slicked and plastered with mud, hair hanging in wet knots while his slender frame shook uncontrollably. Gimli could feel the cavern’s cheery atmosphere wither and curl like burning leaves as the Elf’s mood touched all. “Legolas?” inquired the Dwarf, his voice colored by concern. “My friend, what ails you?”
He inhaled sharply as the haggard Elf lifted his head and pinned his gaze upon the Dwarf. Try as he might, Gimli could not long endure the anguish they held. ‘Mahal,’ he thought in alarm, ‘I have not seen such a look since Gandalf’s fall at Khazad-dûm.’ He approached the shaking Elf and placed a calloused, albeit gentle, hand upon his friend’s shoulder. “Let us first clean you up, Master Elf, and then you shall tell me what so troubles you.” He took hold of Legolas’ arm and pulled the Elf to his feet.
‘Perhaps there has been a death,’ thought Gimli as he marched through the winding tunnels of the Glittering Caves. His stomach clenched at the thought. He had seen enough bloodshed and destruction to last his lifetime and beyond. He paused to glance over his shoulder. Legolas followed him, head bowed in listless defeat, allowing Gimli to lead him forth by the hand. Gimli cleared his throat. “Master Elf, we shall soon reach the bathing pools. I trust I need not watch over you while you rinse?”
He watched the trembling Elf expectantly, hoping Legolas would lift his head and reply in turn with a jibe of his own. He did not.
Gimli tried again. “I would be most concerned were you to accidentally drown. I fear you may mistake the blueness of the water for that of the sky and attempt to breathe it while you...” he trailed off into an uncomfortable silence. “Legolas. Legolas, look at me.”
The haggard Elf at last lifted his head and regarded Gimli in woeful silence. In the soft light of the lanterns lining the cave walls, he appeared even more tattered and beaten. “I know not what has occurred,” spoke the Dwarf in gruff, soft tones, “but no harm shall come to you while I stand at your side. On my life do I promise you this.” There was a tiny flicker in Legolas’ eyes, though what it was Gimli could not say. He cleared his throat and turned to the small stone archway in front of them, embarrassed at showing such heartfelt emotions.
“The bathing pools are just down this corridor.” He removed a lantern from the wall and held it forth to illuminate the passage. It was wide enough for two Dwarves to squeeze by one another, if one pressed against the wall. Its height left much to be desired: a taller Dwarf might find himself ducking as he walked along. Smudges of black dust were smeared along the walls, traces of hard-days’ work in the mines. The corridor contained all the beauty of a hastily constructed tunnel; Dwarves viewed bathing as a necessary task and nothing more. They found no need to decorate or add “useless pomp and frills” to the undertaking.
One glance back at Legolas, elven eyes wide in unmasked terror, caused Gimli to wonder whatever had made him think the Elf would willingly enter such a place. ‘It is enough that he managed to enter the Caves in such a state,’ the Dwarf silently berated himself, ‘and now I attempt to shove him down this old coal chute!’ It dawned on him that Legolas’ shivering was borne out of emotional strain and not of cold. “Let us instead go directly to my quarters,” he hastily suggested. “I will set up a more comfortable arrangement.”
Placing the lantern back in its place on the wall, he again took the Elf’s hand and the two turned back to the main cavern.
Gimli bade Rìs help him, and the two Dwarves borrowed a newly forged cauldron from Flàin the Ironworker, hoping Flàin would not notice its disappearance. They carried the heavy iron pot to Gimli’s quarters and filled it with hot water. As it was intended for mixing various alloys, which in turn were poured into molds for the crafting of support beams, the great cauldron was large enough for a single Elf prince to bathe in.
Rìs bustled and fussed over the listless Elf, even going so far as attempting to wash and brush his tangled hair. However, the hot water seemed to return some of Legolas’ lost faculties, and he promptly waived her off—though in a manner rather unbecoming of an Elf lord.
“Thank you, Rìs,” called Gimli as the slighted Dwarf left the room in a huff. He turned to his friend, who sat huddled in the center of the room wrapped in several towels. “I thought I detected a few choice words of the Rohirrim in that last sentence. Éomer would be most impressed, though you always did have a gift with languages.”
Legolas stared at the crackling flames dancing in the fireplace and said nothing. “Confound you, Elf,” cried Gimli in exasperation. “You will not continue to mope around! I have tolerated your behavior thus far, and now it is only fair you offer me some form of explanation!”
Wordlessly springing to his feet, Legolas retrieved the pouch he had carried with him from Gondor. Undoing the drawstring, he turned it upside down and allowed the contents to spill to the floor. Gimli’s jaw dropped as Galadriel’s leaf broach and the Silmaril hit the floor and bounced to his feet.
The Dwarf picked up the jewel and stared at it in disbelief. It had been cut and polished to utter perfection; he had never before seen such an exquisite piece and doubted he ever would again. “Legolas,” he gasped. “Where on Arda did you find such a specimen? The craftsmanship is flawless. See how the light hits it from every angle? It almost appears as though it is glowing.” He shook his head in ecstatic disbelief and held the stone closer to his eyes, squinting. “In fact,” he muttered, “I almost believe it is glowing.”
“It is a Silmaril,” Legolas replied hoarsely. “I did not ‘find’ it... I... I took it from Aragorn.” Gimli’s head came up sharply. Legolas’ face contorted in painful effort as he continued to speak. “He refused to relinquish it, and so I, I had to... He drew his blade and so I was forced to...”
Speaking of the incident suddenly made it real. Legolas felt his mouth grow dry and the bottom of his stomach drop out as his words caused the numbness to vanish.
Gimli held his washbasin in front of the son of Thranduil as the quaking Elf heaved and wretched.
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