Tree and Stone

by Lothithil

Chapter 11: The Forming of the Fellowship

Legolas looked at the ring in Frodo’s hand. It glittered brilliantly, spinning slowly on the end of the chain that was worn around his neck, that he held aloft for the Council to see. Frodo’s face showed his discomfort, a loathing for handling the Ring and embarrassment at being the focus of the attention of everyone. Everywhere he looked he saw eyes showing hunger and desire, fear, distaste and pity. His small hand shook and to Legolas he looked as if he was torn between the wanting to fling it away from him and a desire to put it back inside the collar of his shirt.

The Ring affected everyone in the Council. The Elves turned their faces away, filled with uneasiness, unwilling to even to look upon the evil thing. The Men who were gathered about gaped openly, awed by what they were hearing and seeing. The Dwarves shifted, feeling the threat and grouping together to support one other. Even after the halfling had replaced the Ring within the folds of his tunic, still the malice lingered and darkened all faces and hearts.

Glóin’s eyes had glittered as he looked upon the One; he was thinking of the Ring that Thrór once possessed and resenting Elrond’s reticence to discuss the Elven Rings. Gimli watched his father with a troubled expression, handling his axe and not realizing the he had cut his finger testing the sharp blade. Blood ran down his wrist unheeded, and he wondered what mighty hero would claim the right to destroy the Ring. He looked up and saw Legolas’s determined face; suddenly Gimli felt great worry. What if the woodelf volunteers to take it? Elrond would permit it! Or one of these Men, who wore their greed and desire for power so openly? It could not be abided! Gimli stirred and Glóin placed a firm hand on his shoulder, holding him to his seat.

Legolas listened carefully to Mithrandir speak. Glorfindel, Erestor and Elrond bantered about all the possibilities of what could be done with the One, and how the destruction of it might be accomplished. The Elf’s heart leapt at the thought of sending it away across the Sea; it seemed a safe and reasonable quest. To try to go into Mordor was madness; it could not be done! Legolas remembered the sight of that Black Land, what other eyes had seen, though his own feet had never stood there. He knew the direction where it lay, the path his people did not take. His heart leaned westward; let it go with the Exiles away, and bother Middle-earth no more!

It was not to be. Their only hope lay in the darker road, Elrond said. Mithrandir reinforced this and all came around slowly to agree. It would put the Dark Lord out of reckoning, if they seek to destroy it. But who would take it? Who could be trusted to bear this thing, and who would allow themselves to be placed in the very jaws of death, seeking to undo this terror fashioned many thousand years ago? He could not imagine who would sacrifice himself to do this. The Elves were unwilling to touch it. The Men could not be trusted, except maybe Aragorn, but he remained silent and removed. Boromir was openly in support of using the Ring to win the war against Mordor. He did not seem to understand why it could not be utilized so. The power of the Ring was working on the Man; a fire burned within him to touch it and use it. Frodo stirred uneasily beneath his hungry gaze.

The talk went round and round, coming again to the same place; hide or destroy. Boromir accepted finally that it was the only way, exercising at last the wisdom for which his house was known. But no one stood and claimed the Ring when Elrond defined their only hope. No one that anyone expected to claim it, anyway.

It was Bilbo who first stood and volunteered to take the Ring, astonishing all the Council. Boromir nearly laughed aloud, but mastered himself when everyone took the hobbit seriously. Glóin smiled gently at his old friend, recalling memories they had shared on a similar road of little hope. Youth may flee from Men, Dwarves, and Halflings, but courage was immortal.

The council had lapsed into silence. Eyes were downcast and faces long. Legolas felt a kind of panic hardening inside him, a stone in his heart. Something must be done, someone must be chosen. He knew he had not the strength to do this deed. He had failed in his responsibilities in the past. He could not trust himself in such an important task.

Gimli placed his bleeding thumb in his mouth, his eyes flicking to faces to measure them for worthiness. He felt urgency growing within, also; the Elves should not be placed in charge of this deed. They had failed before and surely would again. It was because of them that the Ring had been forged. It was their responsibility to dispose of it, but they could not be trusted again. They had had the power and opportunity to destroy it before, and had failed to do so. One solid push… Gimli’s thoughts recoiled from this image. If it had been Glóin who held the One, and Gimli stood in Elrond’s place, could he have pushed him into the Fire?

Only the hand on his shoulder kept him in his seat. Glóin recognized the signs in his son that warned of an approaching outburst. The elder Dwarf was praying that his son would not volunteer to carry the burden of the Ring. Too many of his folk and kin had he lost to the Rings.

Silence filled the garden; even the rushing water sounded muted and pensive. Hearts ticked off the passing time, until the bells rang at midday, startling everyone.

It was Frodo who stood; Frodo who broke the silence and accepted the burden that the strongest could not bear and the wisest dared not claim. It seemed to Legolas that something moved within the body of the small mortal, speaking with his voice. That brilliant light that illuminated the hobbit’s soul was yet visible to the woodelf, who had never seen such a presence in any other than another Elf or a Wizard. His breath caught in his throat as he heard the soft words.

Frodo stood, his head coming no higher than Gandalf’s shoulder as the Wizard sat in his chair, and he said, “I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way.”

“If I understand aright all that I have heard,” said Elrond, doubting his own wisdom but not the courage of the halfling, “I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will.”

Elrond’s other words were lost to Legolas, as his heart was filled suddenly with pity and amazement, and also a strong desire to shelter and protect Frodo. It took all of his strength to remain seated and silent; his hands gripped the rests of his chair. He could feel the eyes of Glorfindel on him, and he wondered what his father would say when Finoglos returned to Mirkwood without him; he knew in that instant that he would not be going home after the Council.

Gimli’s heart was all in flame as he watched Frodo claim the task. Anyone else he would have protested, but maybe Gandalf or Glóin. The hobbit’s determination and sacrifice impressed Gimli, but he still looked so frail and thin. Surely, he would not go alone….

These words were spoken aloud, not by Gimli but by Samwise. No longer able to remain silent, the small hobbit had leapt to his feet, braving the formidable fortress of Elrond’s face to offer his protest.

“No indeed!” said Elrond, with a smile, “You at least shall go with him. It is hardly possible to separate you from him, even when he is summoned to a secret council and you are not.”

“No indeed,” thought both Legolas and Gimli, echoing Elrond’s words. They did not know at that time, but at least two others heard those same words in their own heads, though both were motivated by entirely different goals.

The Council was ended then, and Elrond rapidly departed after placing a blessing on Frodo’s head. The hobbits were gathered in hand by Gandalf and whisked away. The Men and Elves and Dwarves each departed to discuss and digest all that they had learned, and to prepare to return to their own lands. As Legolas lingered, hoping to have a word with Lord Elrond, he saw Aragorn and Boromir in earnest speech together, but the muttering of the Dwarves drowned out their voices.

“Madness!” one Dwarf was saying. “How can a halfling be expected to accomplish what the bravest and strongest cannot dare to try? I know you are fond of the creature, Lord Glóin, but seriously… is this Frodo mined from the same ore as Bilbo?”

Glóin was steadfast in his support. “Frodo Baggins is the best choice. He will live up to his family legend; I have no doubt. But he will need much help to accomplish his task.” Gimli met his eyes and knew that the decision was his. He gripped Glóin’s shoulder and turned away without a word, seeking Elrond’s chambers.

Walking down the hall, he felt a familiar presence and without turning, he said loudly, “I tire of showing you the paths, woodelf! How is it that your people are so fleet and light-footed, and yet slow on the outset? Will you follow me all the days of my life?”

Legolas snorted in derision but laughed in his heart. “The foot who thinks before it seeks a path is not slow or shy but scrupulous. And the view of your back is not so lovely that I would relish contemplating it overlong.”

“Well, if I had brains in my feet, then I might not get anywhere! I think with my head and listen to my heart. My feet just get me where I want to go.” The Dwarf paused and the Elf stepped up to his side. “Where do your brainy feet lead you now, woodelf? There is room for you to ride round on this pass, so I will let you go on and seek your pleasure. I have no time to be idle today.”

“Not that it would interest you, mountaindwarf,” retorted Legolas, annoyed that Gimli refused to use his name even now that they had been introduced. “I seek words with my Lord Elrond. This matter we have discussed needs more speech yet. Where are you bound? Have you blunted your axe already? A sharp blade in an idle hand is of no more use than a idle words on a sharp tongue.”

“What are you talking around, woodelf? Speak plainly, if you can. I am in haste.”

“I am saying, blunt one, that if you would use that hunk of metal that you lug around to a good cause, then perhaps we should lay aside our personal grievances and act where others have hesitated. There is a halfling going into mortal danger, and he is going to need help. I am planning to go and ask Lord Elrond to consider letting me go with him. You could do as much, if your father permits it.”

Gimli was rather surprised that the barb in Legolas’s comment failed to arouse him to anger. “There is only one obstacle barring my way to doing just that, Elf. Kindly step aside or fall in. For the sake of Frodo Baggins, I will countenance even an Elf as company, so long as he is one that has proven himself as worthy. Arrogant and longwinded you are, but you at least still have heart within you. These other Elves seem to me already departed for the West. You might prove useful yet.”

“There are many more worthy than I,” said Legolas. “Many more powerful and skilled, wiser and braver. But they dare not go and I understand why, now that I have seen the Ring. Do not mock them, I ask you,” he added quietly.

Gimli hesitated slightly, then nodded. “I, too, am less worthy than many Dwarven heroes. My father would be a better choice, but his is now too old to take on such a quest. He has given me his blessing to seek the honour of accompanying Frodo, if Elrond finds me an acceptable companion.”

Legolas grinned, “If he chooses by merit and heart, you shall win title; also if he chooses by stubbornness and pride!”

“Those being the prerequisites, then surely the entire party will be comprised of Elves!” retorted Gimli with a booming laugh.

“I think a compromise of those characteristics would be more useful.” Elrond appeared beside them. They had in their banter passed the door of the chamber where he had been and he had overheard their conversation. They turned and bowed, somewhat abashed and yet not shamed. In Elrond’s company, the pressure of maintaining their racial feud was absent.

“Lord Elrond, we have come…” began Legolas, but the Edain interrupted him with a raised hand.

“I know why you have come; I was waiting for you. Come inside, both of you, and speak with me now. There is much to do in the short time we have left. Let us make the most of it.”

Chapter 12: Truce

Elrond gestured for them to be seated but he walked toward the open view of the waterfalls that fell past his chamber. The spray of the falls could be tasted in the air, moist and cool. The chatter of the water made a constant singing around them.

Elrond was silent for some time, staring out of the window. Gimli and Legolas glanced at each other. For some reason, both had a feeling this was not going to be as simple as first they thought. When the Edain began to speak at last, both started as if stung.

“The world is in great danger, though my saying so does not surprise either of you. Your homes have long been besieged by the Shadows, and ever have you continued your fight, though aid and allies have become few.” Elrond crossed the room and sat down. His long face was seamless and ageless as the sky. Gimli wondered if he had always looked so. In the Hall of Fire he had seen Elrond smile, and even heard him sing, but always about him there was a brooding air.

Gimli shook himself slightly, attending to Elrond who was now speaking again. “Now that the Enemy has moved openly against us, we can best protect our lands by returning and aiding in the defenses. However, this quest is our best hope, and also our last hope. All the strength of arms and arrows in Erebor and Mirkwood are not enough to stem the tide. We are all threatened. Together we must try to preserve our folk and lands until the quest can be achieved or fail utterly.”

“Lord Elrond, can you not see any hope?” Legolas asked, shaken to his heart. Always he had heard of the wisdom and foresight of the halfelven lord. That Elrond could not tell what would happen scared the wood-elf as he had not been frightened since his childhood.

“All I see is hope, Thranduilion. But I cannot see the ending of this, nor beyond. I know that this attempt must be made, and I feel,” Elrond paused to stress the word, “that Frodo Baggins is our only hope. He was chosen for this burden, by powers higher and mightier than the Wise can know. It is our duty to aid him however we can, with hope or without, to see him safely along his road as far as can be. For that purpose, I plan to choose companions to accompany him on his journey. The number will be small, for the company must travel swiftly. There will be need of skill and of strength and courage. Each race should be represented, to demonstrate that this is a cumulation of the efforts of the Free Peoples.” Legolas and Gimli both raised their heads, eager to be included in this number. But Elrond glowered at them, and both felt a fear that they were not considered worthy.

“I do not know that you two are the best suited for this endeavour. You are both accomplished warriors and your loyalty and honour cannot be doubted. But your personal conflict will endanger this quest. I cannot countenance any risk to Frodo’s success by saddling him with two quarreling companions. His burden is heavy enough, and it will grow heavier.”

“My lord Elrond!” burst out Gimli, rising to his feet. “I swear to you I will serve Frodo well! I will let nothing interfere with protecting him and seeing this task done. I swear it on my life, and the honour of my family!”

“I, too, do swear,” announced Legolas, also rising. “Any petty differences that this dwarf and I have aired shall not be weighted upon me. I shall cast them aside, and be set to my purpose. I will offer my woodcraft and weapon-skills to Frodo, to further his success.”

Elrond looked at them both, standing flushed and earnest before him. He motioned for them to be seated again. He seemed unmoved by their display, resolved to deny their commitment.

Legolas wondered how he could return home if he failed now. At his father’s side he would fight, until the Shadows devoured the forest at last, and his shame would never die, even then.

Gimli felt desperation rising inside his heart. Who could go in his stead? Who was better trained, young enough to endure and strong enough to persevere? He could not be found lacking now, after all that he had endured to come to this point. Was this some elvish plot to cut the dwarves out of the glory to be had if this war was won? Bitter tasted that thought, and Gimli rejected it. He took a deep breath and waited, ready to demonstrate whatever skill or task that Elrond might suggest to prove his worthiness.

After a time of watching their faces, Elrond rose and motioned for them to depart. “Time we have in small amount, but some time still we must wait. Scouts must return and their reporting be heard before any final decisions can be made. I suggest you use this time wisely. Resolve your differences or at least come to terms that will allow cooperation. I will give you this time to prove to me that you are suitable for this quest. I will let you know my decision.” And they were dismissed.

Gimli and Legolas walked down the corridor, each lost within his own thoughts. At their side walked the obstacle that barred their way to a desired responsibility. Neither could find words to begin their compromise.

After a long while, they came to the end of the corridor in a garden. The river flowed away nearby, and further along opened a mead where had fallen a tree, aged past renewal. It stooped over the ruin of its shadow, now a home for birds and beetles, its limbs cut for wood and carved for tools. Even in the hour of its death, it served.

Gimli broke the silence first. “I don’t suppose you would consider withdrawing your request to join the company?”

“You are wiser than you look,” answered Legolas bitingly, swiftly regretting his words as the passed his lips. “Forgive me… this is not easy for me, either. We must find some way to come to an agreement, so that we can work together. If we cannot, then neither of us shall go, and perhaps Frodo will suffer for our foolishness.”

Gimli’s ire died in ashes. He stooped and picked up a sharp stone from the path. To release his anger and frustration, he flung the stone at the dead tree and was rewarded with a solid thunk as the missile struck the bole, sending the birds spiraling in alarm. This gave him an idea.

“Once we intended to prove to each other our skill. Let us continue our debate.”

I will not quarrel with thee, son of Glóin,” said Legolas. “Hear you not Lord Elrond’s words?”

“I have heard them. He said we need to find a respect for one another. I propose that we do so. There is no need to shed blood nor exchange harsh words. Let us have a contest.” Leaning up against the woodpile near the dead tree was an axe. Gimli picked it up and tested the edge with a thumb.

“What do you propose that will not get us evicted from Rivendell?” asked Legolas, eyeing the Dwarf nervously. He did not doubt he could outrun him, but turning his back on a dwarf with an axe was something he did not want to do.

“You do something that I cannot do, and I shall do something that you cannot do. Thus we will prove our usefulness to each other, and show Lord Elrond that our differences are also our strengths.” Gimli tested the strength of the axe-handle in his big hands. “You go first, son of Thranduil.”

“I think a good beginning would be for us to use each other’s correct names,” commented Legolas dryly.

“Very well, Legolas. What can an Elf do that a Dwarf cannot?”

Legolas’s lips bent in a smile. “Well, I have never seen a Dwarf do this…” and he ran swiftly like an arrow from a bolt, to the dead tree and up its smooth barkless bole. With a great leap he sprang to a nearby tree and ran lightly along its upper branches, stirring barely a leaf in his passage.

“Very good!” Gimli said as Legolas returned, landing lightly at his side without a sound of leaf or twig rustling. “You are swift and silent, and if we ever need apples from the top of the tree, you shall be chosen to harvest them!”

“Show me what an Dwarf can do that an Elf cannot, Gimli. This is the riddle that I cannot solve now.”

“Not much, I am sure,” said Gimli as he walked toward the dead tree, still a tall and solid growth. He was swinging the axe, testing the balance of the head. He stopped and faced the bare trunk. “This only, maybe…” and he swung the axe in a great over-handed grip and hewed the ancient wood with a great thock that shook the birds from the boughs of nearby trees. The tree split from root to broken head and fell separately, cloven in one swing by the Dwarf’s mighty arms.

Legolas was impressed. “That I cannot do, Gimli. You are strong indeed.”

“Then perhaps we both have something to offer this quest, even as different as we are?” Gimli sat down on one half of the split tree, turning to face his Elf. “Our trial is not over, but this is a good beginning. In the time we have, let us prepare for our quest. It must be that Elrond finds us suitable. I will not waste what may be my last hours with my father trading japes and insults with you. Go and spend time with your people and forget not your skills. There will be much need for them in the days ahead.”

“My people will be away soon, returning to my father’s kingdom,” answered Legolas with some sadness. “Here I am as much a stranger as you. But do not fear; if I have not forgotten my skills in two thousand years, two weeks shall not cloud my mind.”

They parted in that garden, separated as the halves of the lifeless tree. Above their head, unobserved, Elrond watched with a wry smile.