Tree and Stone

by Lothithil

Tree and Stone, the Story of Legolas and Gimli

Chapter 1

Legolas walked the bridge that crossed the Forest River as he exited the caverns that made up his home and breathed deeply the pine and loam scent of the forest. A brief errand he would accomplish before setting out on his mission, for which he risked his father's wrath but cared not. Thranduil had never understood his son's need to visit the place where her monument stood.

"She is not there," he would say. "Why do you linger there, as if waiting? She will return from Mandos as she will. She is no longer your mother."

Legolas knew his father did not say these things to be cruel. Elves do not die; though their bodies can be killed their spirits remain, a collection of memories and wisdom to inhabit another body, in time. Such is the blessing and curse of immortality. Still, it had hurt to hear him speak so. The glade where her monument stood was a peaceful and beautiful place, and Legolas went there to think and reflect more than to mourn; he was long past grief for her, yet he missed her terribly. When would she return? Would he ever come to know her again?

It was late autumn in Mirkwood and the trees that reflected the seasons were arrayed in splendid garments of orange, brown and yellow, red and gold. They gave dry whispers and fell singly to drift over the roots that gripped the earth in knotted fists. In Losingriol's Glade summer still lingered, leaves of green sighed as the wind moved the boughs lazily. A spring bubbled over a flat stone where many small white rocks had been placed carefully. It made a rill that trickled happily down into the earth where it was drank by the thirsty roots of the trees. A shaft of sunlight grew like a pillar in the center of the glade, permitted by the miserly foliage to nourish a bed of fragrant flowers. Legolas threw himself in the
middle of the bed and daydreamed.

Horns calling from the bridge roused him from dreaming and he stopped briefly to drink from the spring before hastening back to the fortress. It was time to go. A long ride it would be to Rivendell, the House of Elrond Half-Elven, where he must bear tidings from his father to the Wise. Strange it seemed to send so many to deliver but a message, but in truth, Legolas looked forward to the adventure. Since the night of the orc attack when the prisoner had escaped, Legolas had watched the forest grow more perilous for his people. The spiders were agitated and orcs and wargs prowled. Northern Mirkwood was Thranduil's domain and no evil dwelled therein, but their borders were beset.

Legolas had not been on duty when Smeagol escaped, but he felt that he was responsible in some measure. He had implored his father to allow the creature to be brought out of the dungeons occasionally to feel the free air and see grass and trees, lest he fall back upon his dark ways. Little did he reckon the guile of Gollum, who wore two faces and spoke debatingly with one mouth. Pity for the wretched being had urged him to take a gentle hand, for perhaps someday it would remember kindness and forgo evil by choice.

Now he was gone with the aid of orcs who had slain his guards and spirited him away. A great hunt revealed that Smeagol had then eluded his orc confederates and disappeared westward. Legolas had taken satisfaction in wringing that truth from the orcs before they were dispatched to wherever darksome place the twisted spirits of orcs were bound. Now he felt that Mithrandir must know, some foresight or premonition was upon him; he had to go to Rivendell. He asked of his king for leave to bear the tidings.

Thranduil had given his leave reluctantly, but he too could see that Legolas must go. Three elves he would take with him as an escort, for it was to be assured that they would encounter danger. The forest must be
crossed, and even by the Wood-elves' paths there would be peril, the valley of Anduin and the Great River to be forded, and then Hithiaglir lay across their path with its steep roads and narrow passes. All the land
between crawled with every manner of foul creature; not a light journey nor a hopeful one. Legolas wondered how he would come to return. Less important, it seemed, to preserve an heir to a kingdom than to join in the resistance against the growing Shadow. If the Dark Lord won, all kingdoms would fall.

Legolas raced to where his companions were already mounted and waiting. "Let this journey be started and bring us home swiftly," he cried. "Already I miss the beeches. Their branches will be bare, leaves bud and renewed ere we return hither, I fear." Legolas leapt onto the padded back of Feavano, a palomino stallion that had been a gift from his father. They had ridden many leagues together already.

"Is not thy father coming to bid thee farewell, my prince?" asked Finoglos. Baranhen and Randundo and he each bore bundles upon the backs of their horses, the goods and gear they would require for their journey.
Legolas checked his own gear, though he had packed it himself earlier and knew that all was in readiness; in spite of his bold words, he rather hoped that his father would appear to send him off.

The King had bid his son farewell the night before, when this errand had been appointed to him. "Look not for return paths until your errand is spent, my son," Thranduil had said. "Greenleaf, let not your hasty heart lead you on unnecessary paths. Rein in your impulsiveness and employ wisdom, if only this once in your long life." Though his words were stern his face was smiling, and he saluted his son and embraced him. Legolas had spent long hours in thought since that moment, traversing the terrain from ambition to reluctance. He knew that his path was laid now, and
hesitating would only prolong his absence from his beloved forest.

"Come, kinsmen! Rivendell grows no closer lingering here! You shall all be watching Feavano's tail for the length of this journey!" and he spoke to his horse a soft word and Feavano sprang away as though in a race. His companions laughed and hurried after him.


In the watchtower above, a tall elf watched the four messengers ride away, a small smile on his face that told of fondness, and a crease of worry on his noble brow.


~~~~

The journey was indeed long and dangerous, but the Elves of Mirkwood travel well-equipped, are skillful and wood-crafty. Not until they were riding through the narrow pass cut high in the mountain did they come at last against an obstacle they could not outrun or cut down. Legolas gritted his teeth and halted Feavano.

A group of Dwarves were in the road ahead of them. So narrow was the pass and treacherous that they could not ride past them. The Dwarves were aware of them and were careful not to stare back at the Elves, but seemed casually to be adjusting the lay of their baldrics and counting their axe handles. They moved steadily but slowly, and did not seem inclined to allow the Elves to pass round them.

Legolas sighed and dismounted. He wished not to speak to or confront any Dwarf, as he found them alien and incomprehensible. Better to let them go ahead and make the pass before them. Then they would cross and hope to find a way round once the mountains rose at their backs. Legolas had once tried to befriend Dwarves, seeking to understand their differences, as his mother had once instructed him; but always they were curt and unfriendly, and finally openly belligerent. That had been during the Battle of Five Armies, and Legolas remembered it well.

As usual, it had begun with an argument with his father...

Chapter 2

~~~~sixty years earlier~~~~

Legolas was stunned. "My Lord, as captain of your guard, it is my job to follow you into battle. What have I done to earn this amercement?"

Thranduil looked at him, but did not see the captain of his guard. He saw only his son, the living memory of his wife whom he missed and loved still. He shut those feelings away; it would not do to have Legolas know that he grieved still, when Thranduil himself had chastised his son for visiting her monument. Nor would it be well for Legolas to learn that Thranduil feared for his son in battle. Elves should not feel these things; this was the weakness of Men and Peredhil.

"It is the captain of the guard’s duty to perform the will of the king," said Thranduil. "And it is my will that you maintain the protection of this kingdom in my absence."

"This fortress can be defended by Finoglos or any other warrior with but a handful of Elves, my Lord," Legolas perceived his father’s true feelings in spite of his impassive mask. "You dishonour me in this," he added quietly.

Thranduil turned away from Legolas. The dart had struck the mark. Softly he said, "This fighting is not for honour, but pride. All my army I would risk for it, but not my only son." The king gazed at the whorled fresco painted upon the walls of his chamber. He recalled that Losingriol had frequently complained about the lack of windows. He shook his head to clear away the sound of her voice. "If you had taken a wife and produced an heir..."

Legolas’s word was hard and swift, "You are my king, lord, as well as my father but in this, I will be ruled by none. Let us not weary our hour with useless chewing of an old debate."

Thranduil sighed. Only once before had he met a spirit as stubborn as his son, and he loved her still, though she walked the Hall of Memory in Mandos.

Legolas’s heart burned. He knew that his father spoke with wisdom but his own pride was stirred. "I will do as thou hast dictated, my lord," he said with stiff dignity, "But when thouest return, we shall have further discourse." Legolas bowed to his king and left the chamber.

But Legolas had no intention of remaining behind while his father and the entire army went forth to war. Swearing Finoglos to secrecy, he disguised himself and went forth also, as a common soldier. He had obeyed Thranduil to the letter, for he appointed the best warriors to the protection of the fortress, and fortified all the watches and reserves. But he would not stay in the safety of stone while his people fought for their king; his king.

On the battlefield he had met a Dwarf, though the fighting was thick when the goblin army had descended, outnumbering the three armies of Elves, Men, and Dwarves. Together he had fought against the black river of foes, his back against the Dwarf’s, until a mound of enemies lay slain at their feet. He had turned to compliment the Dwarf on his skill, but found that he had been slain by his last opponent, locked together in death. Legolas would then have grieved, but another Dwarf had appeared and threatened him.

"Scavenger!" the Dwarf had shouted, for Legolas had removed the Dwarf’s armour to try to render him healing. "Carrion-crow! Leave the dead in peace and for his own people to mourn. I shall pay you in blood if you do not release him!"

Legolas had been so astonished that he had backed away, letting the hostile Dwarf tend his kindred. The blood that stained Legolas’s hands had been as red as the blood shed by his own people. He never learned the brave Dwarf’s name.

~~~~High Pass, present year~~~~

Legolas laughed grimly as he stripped off woven blanket and headstall, giving his horse a rubdown while Feavano nosed the grain that Baranhen had placed before him. The Elves tended their horses and took a small meal, killing time while the Dwarves took the pass.

Noise of steel on stone and cries alerted them and they ran swiftly toward the pass, spreading out and moving silent as intent shadows. Legolas and Fingolos took one side, Randundo and Baranhan the other and they came to the conflict through the rocks piled high around the pass. Below, the Dwarves were fighting against a large party of goblins and they were numbered three times that of the Dwarves.

The Elves did not join the fighting however, because the Dwarves needed no help, even so outnumbered. They moved like spinning wheels of sharpened steel and the cries of fear and pain were uttered by the orcs. Half their number were felled in a thrice and the rest fled, gibbering.

One Dwarf who had caught Legolas’s eye with his fierce offensive style was bent over, prying his axe from the cloven skull of one brute, when another orc raised himself from a pool of black blood and charged him with a scimitar held high. The other Dwarves saw this in a flash and cried out, but so quick was the orc that none could come between them.

Legolas did not hesitate; his bow was already drawn and an arrow notched. He loosed the shaft and it sped truly, striking the left eye of the orc. It fell at the Dwarf’s feet, who had just turned with his freed axe raised.

The Dwarf looked at the feathered shaft, then raised his eyes to seek the shooter. He scanned the rocks from where the missle had come but could not spot the elves, clad in colours that harmonized with their surroundings. On impulse, Legolas stood up and nodded to the Dwarf; the salute of an ally.

The features of the Dwarf were gathered in a scowl when he spotted the Elf. He raised a gauntleted fist and shook it at Legolas. "Dwarves do not need the help of Elves to fight their battles! That kill was mine!"

Legolas allowed his smile to remain on his face, though his heart was chilled. "Is this so? And what of Erebor, Dwarf? Did not the Elves serve you well on that field? Or was that before your time, shortbeard?"

The Dwarf’s face grew red with fury at the insult and he might have tried to climb up the steep cliff to cleave the smile from Legolas’s face, but for the hand of a Dwarf clad in white that took his arm. "Peace, son of Gloin! You do not thank your allies with steel." To Legolas, the Dwarf bowed. "We appreciate your timely arrow, good Elf. We are used to taking care of ourselves, but it is a good thing to know that we have an ally unlooked-for." To his son, Gloin spoke softly in an aside whisper, "Just because you shouldn’t trust Elves, doesn’t mean you should kill them!"

Gimli grunted and shouldering his axe, turned his back on Legolas.

Legolas heard that whisper as clear as if it had been spoken in his own ear. He felt his ire fall from him, struck by the ridiculousness of the tableau. He saluted the Dwarf in white with a closed fist over his heart. The Dwarves gathered their equipment and continued their journedy, leaving the orcs where they lay.

Legolas spoke to his companions. "Fetch the horses and follow swiftly. I will scout ahead and seek for ambushes. Perhaps those orcs have not given up completely." He wanted this chance to study the Dwarves more closely.