The Old Forest

by samwisegirl

I.

Glóin opened the case slowly, with great care. It was quite old, and cried out in protest upon being opened. He lifted out a long object wrapped in heavy furs. Gimli crowded in close to his father as the object was unwrapped and he could see the bright glint of an axe blade shining in the firelight. He exhaled sharply, and smiled up at his father.

"Yes, young one. This was my father's axe, and his father's before me. Now it is mine. One day, it shall be yours..." He paused, trying to fight back the sudden lump in his throat. He laid the axe gently down on the tabletop, and suddenly left the room. Gimli stared after his father, knowing that the older dwarf was trying not to cry. His grief was still close; an almost tangible thing. Gimli understood this. He knew the grief of losing a parent. He contemplated following his father, and then thought better of it. The axe was calling to him. He lovingly ran a finger over the etching on the handle. Their family crest. One day, this axe would be his, when he was old enough. His beard was not yet grown, and he knew it would be many years before Glóin would allow it to pass into his keeping. And so, he waited... 

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They were sitting by the fire, silently working on the tasks at hand. Glóin was sharpening and polishing his axe, and Gimli was
wood carving. Under his delicate touch, the block of wood he had found on the streets of Dale gradually took shape. "What are you carving, son?" Glóin asked.

"It's something for mother's cairn," he replied softly, still concentrating on the shape that was emerging beneath his steady hand. His mother had been dead for many long years, but he and his father still visited the cairn every year. Dwarves did not bury their dead. They burned them, and scattered the ashes in the mines. They believed it gave them good fortune. They erected cairns to honor the fallen, and would visit these hallowed shrines to honor their lost loved ones.

"May I see it?" Glóin asked, reaching out his hand. Gimli placed the object in his father's outstretched hand with trepidation. What if he did not approve? Glóin looked at it for a long time, then handed it back to his son. "I think it's perfect," he said with a pleased smile.

"Thank you, father. You honor me."

"No. You honor her with that gift. When will it be ready?"

"I will be finished tonight. We can take it to the cairn tomorrow," Gimli replied, already back at work with his knife and his sharp eyes.
"Good. Tomorrow it is." Glóin put aside his axe and the polishing rag and stood up; stretching and arching his back. Gimli could hear little crackling pops of the spine as his father reached down and touched his toes, his white beard curling up in a pile on top of his boots. "I think I shall turn in. I have something else for us to do tomorrow as well. Something involving the axe..." He nodded in the direction of the axe he had laid down by his chair. Gimli's eyes gleamed with the firelight reflected in the axe's blade.

"You mean....?" he trailed off, too excited to continue.

"Yes, son. Time for your first trial of manhood. Time to earn your axe. We will talk more of this tomorrow. Right now, an old dwarf is tired, and I'll let you get back to your carving. Goodnight, son." He crossed the room, and laid a kiss on Gimli's forehead before retiring to his bedroom.

"Goodnight, father," Gimli called out softly. He stayed up for a few hours more, finishing the carving, and contemplating what events would transpire the following day. He was thrilled beyond all measure. Finally, he finished the wood carving, laid the knife and the object on the table, and went to his bedroom. He glanced back at the object one last time, and realized his father was right. It was perfect. It was the nickname his father had given his mother when he had found out she possessed a gardener's touch. It was a rose.

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II.


The following morning dawned with a blanket of fog draped over the mountain. It was cold and damp, and Glóin was in a foul mood. His old bones ached, and he missed his wife. He barely spoke to Gimli as they made their trip to the cairn. Gimli laid the wood rose on top of the cairn, and neither of them spoke. They were lost in the memories of her. Gimli remembered how soft her beard had been; she used to tickle him with it when she would kiss him after he woke up from a bad dream. Glóin remembered the touch of her hand on his face, the feel of her the night they decided to make a baby. He remembered how happy she had been the day Gimli was born.

"Let's go for a walk in the forest," Glóin suggested suddenly. "It will take away the hurt."Gimli nodded, not really caring where they went. They wound their way out of the mountain and through the town of Dale towards the old forest. Glóin found that the aches in his joints were easing as the morning fog dissipated. It was nearly lunchtime when they finally reached the shade of the old, overgrown trees. Gimli had remembered to bring salted beef, a hunk of cheese, and a loaf of bread, all wrapped in a large handkerchief. They drank water from a nearby stream, and after the meal they smoked.

"So, father, what else are we going to do today?" Gimli asked curiously.

"Well, son...I thought we might..." Suddenly, something blurred past Gimli's vision, striking him hard and casing him to hit his head on the ground. Before he lost consciousness, he could hear his father struggling with something large. He heard growls, and his father's scream. Then, darkness.

He awoke to a splitting headache, and the scent of blood in the air. He sat up, and the world tilted on its axis. He gripped his head in his hands, and waited for the vertigo to pass. He stood up slowly, and moaned low in the back of his throat when he saw a pool of blood on the ground not far from where he hd fallen. It was all that was left of his father. He had disappeared into the forest, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. Gimli was afraid. Should he go back to Dale for help? There was no time. He would have to do this alone. "I'm coming, father," he whispered.

As he ran deeper into the dark, old forest, he saw a glimmer of something in a small shaft of sunlight. It was the axe. His father's axe. Something that he never would have left behind unless....Gimli felt tears sting his eyes. He howled in anger and fear and picked up the axe. His thick fingers curled around the hilt tightly, and he ran after his father.

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III.

He stood at the edge of the heart of the deep, tangled forest with his father's axe in his hand, staring into the darkness between the trees. All was silent in the old forest, not a bird sang or a creature stirred. He could not hear anything over the sound of his own harsh, ragged breathing and the blood singing in his ears.  He could not even hear the little patters of blood dripping off the handle of his axe onto the ground, creating a puddle the color of dark crimson.

Dare he go in there? He stood there for what seemed like an eternity, frozen by the fear that washed over him like waves of icy cold water. He had to go in there. Had to go after the monster that had stolen from him the one person that mattered, the one person in the whole of middle earth that he depended on. That monster had stolen his father. Took him deep into the old forest, where the sunlight did not penetrate, where any sane creature feared to tread.

He was not ready for this......this trial.......this test. He was not yet grown by dwarven standards. He realized now that this was why he was here. Trials came unbidden and without reason, but they should be recognized and dealt with....perhaps his father knew something like this would happen. Perhaps they were meant to be in the old forest on this day....and perhaps he was meant to save his  father, using the axe that had been passed down in his family for generations.

He took a deep breath, and stepped into the heart of the  forest. The darkness enveloped him. Dwarven eyes were keen in the  dark, and it only took a moment for his to adjust. The smallest  slivers of the fading sunlight penetrated the dense canopy of trees  in certain spots, but in other places shadows moved, fooling the  eyes into thinking they were living creatures. The wind didn't help  things either. It howled and sang as it made the dead leaves dance  and cavort in between the trees, and it gave the shadows their  voice. Gimli shuddered and forced his legs to move forward. There was only one word running through his mind. Father, Father,  Father........

His axe at the ready, he slowly inched his way deeper into  the old forest, hands shaking, head darting from side to side. Sweat  poured down his face into his beard, making it glisten. He was badly  frightened; his heart was racing madly in his chest.

"Why oh why did  we ever come here today?" he whispered into his chest  despairingly. "None of this would have happened if we had not  come......if I had been more vigilant....if only....." He stopped. A low moan whipped through the trees, carried by the wind, and it  caressed his face like a lover's kiss. He swallowed hard, and  advanced further into the darkness. It was still daylight, but the  sunlight would not penetrate here, deep in the heart of the forest.  He felt a spider on the back of his neck; he swatted it away angrily  and shuddered in revulsion. "Father?" he whispered, taking one  halting step after another. The moan came again, and it was closer  this time. It sounded like it was coming from straight ahead. It was not a moan of fear or pain, it was a moan of satisfaction...and  desire. Like someone, or something, was about to feast on a succulent morsel.

He could see a low thicket ahead of him, and he got down on  his haunches and crawled towards it on his hands and knees, the axe  gripped tightly in his hand. He parted the thick branches ahead of  him, and saw the creature bending over his unconscious father. It  was a large spider-like creature, something he had never seen  before. It cradled his father in its many legs, and it was sucking  up the blood coming from his father's wounds with some sort of  proboscis. It had glowing green eyes, and large black bristling hair  all over its body. Gimli began to growl low in his throat, and his  anger simmered in his veins, threatening to overtake him. He was no  longer afraid. He howled, a deep and primal battle cry, and broke  into the thicket, axe raised above his head.......