Tree and Stone

by Lothithil

Chapter 15: Farewell We Call

The days crept forward toward the hour of departure and yet seemed to fly past, also. Too little time for those who had dear ones that would be left behind; too short for they who were stepping blindly toward darkness. Those named companions set themselves early to prepare, then had to endure long anticipation, often feeling great loneliness even amid the fellowship in the Hall of Fire.

Legolas was impatient. So long already had nothing been done and the world seemed to deteriorate around him. He did not wish to rush the venture, but he longed for action still. To move, to fight, even to run would be a relief to him, rather than sitting and watching the fear grow in faces around him, and the shadows lengthening.

The woodelf dwelled for long days on the practice ranges, spending arrow after arrow, until his targets were utterly destroyed. His temper became so short that he avoided speaking, and only appeared for the evening meals to dine with the Companions. Aragorn noticed his mood, but was involved in a struggle of his own and could offer no assistance other than stalwart friendship.

The time crept by for Gimli as well, now alone in his chambers after his father had departed, gone back to Erebor. To fill the endless hours he honed his axes and sang in his echoing chamber the ballads and histories of his people. The hobbits came often to keep him company and he sat with them at mealtimes, enjoying their simple jests and appetites.

His respect for Frodo Baggins increased with every meeting. The hobbit was very much as Glóin had described Bilbo, Frodo's uncle; he was more like Bilbo than Bilbo was himself. He was quiet and attentive when listening to song or conversation, mirthful and merry in voice and manner, polite and correct and yet also honest and direct. He seemed to know the words to every song played, and could tell a tale rousing or hilarious upon asking. The Elves adored him and often drew him into the Hall of Fire after meals, when he could be prized from Bilbo's side for a few moments.

Yet he was also unlike Bilbo. He was more reserved in his storytelling, especially involving himself and his companion's recent adventures. He reduced his own valour or bravery and enlarged upon rather the involvement of his kindred and the deeds of the Dúnadan, taking as little credit to himself as possible for any accomplishments. He did this subtly, so that no protest could be voiced and he took pleasure in the proud glow in his friends' faces.

As merry and cavalier as he was, Gimli could still see that Frodo was concerned about the journey ahead, and that he eagerly filled his waking hours with cheer and pleasantries to avoid thinking about that dark road. Gimli never saw Frodo when he wasn’t well attired and presentable, but there was little Samwise could do to conceal his master’s eyes, dark-smudged from troubled sleep. Nor could he quiet the soft sound of pacing that whispered through the stone floors of Imladris from the Ring-bearer’s chamber, as nightly he felt the growing fear and danger that reared up from the East and spoke to him through the chill winds of the hopelessness of his quest.

Gimli could hear the murmuring of the stones of Rivendell, which rang with history and echoed with long years’ tales. Though it was not in words that the speech of the Earth came to his understanding, the Dwarf could tell where and which direction a given individual walked, if he was familiar with their gait or location, so long as their feet brushed the stone. He could hear the vibration of breath, smell the dampness that spoke of morning. He felt the slow formation of crystals buried deep within the granite; alive as no living beast or plant was alive, and yet growing and possessing slow thought, containing hope for the failing of the darkness.

At last, the day ordained arrived, and that evening they assembled in the courtyard to take their leave. Legolas impatience now left him feeling unprepared. He stood for long moments in his chambers, feeling that he was forgetting something important, but he knew this fear for what it was. He hurried out and down the steps of the House to find that others had proceeded him.

Sam was already there, standing next to his sturdy pony. The hobbit was stroking the little horse’s nose and speaking softly to him. Meriadoc and Peregrin were also there, sitting on their packs and speaking with Gimli. Boromir stood nearby, slightly apart from the others. Legolas realized then he had seen little of this Man in the weeks since the council, and in those few times he had noted him, he was ever in Aragorn’s company. Since he had been gently reprimanded by Elrond for winding his horn before the onset of their journey, he had been obstinately silent and moody. He kept his eyes fixed on the ground before his feet, closing and opening his hand over the hilt of his long sword.

On the steps Legolas found the Ranger and the Ring-bearer. Frodo was standing beside his uncle. Bilbo was wrapped in a blanket, for the evening had grown very chill. Aragorn sat on the steps with his head bowed. Of Gandalf there was no sign.

Legolas gravitated toward the Hobbits and the Dwarf. Their conversation was light and general, touching upon nothing of their eminent journey. Though uncertainty and fear were in the faces of the halflings, they set that aside. They would not remain in security while their cousin walked open-eyed into danger. They greeted Legolas, now at ease in the tall Elf’s company. He nodded in return and stood nearby, not joining their speech but listening.

The evening deepened and the Hobbit’s chattering faded. Boromir shuffled his feet. Though truly only minutes passed, it seemed a time intolerably long before Gandalf finally appeared, coming out of the House. Elrond was with him, and the Edain called them to come forward out of the grey shadows and hear his final words.

“The Ring-bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid…”

Gimli listened to the Half-Elf’s words, and his pride was stirred when Elrond spoke of strength of hearts and roads unforeseen. “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,” he said.

“Maybe,” said Elrond, “but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.” Elrond returned each of Gimli’s protests gently and refused to bind the Fellowship with any word of his. He blessed them and bade them farewell, and Bilbo stuttered with the cold, his eyes on the pale face of his nephew.

Frodo bowed to Elrond and turned slowly away, his eyes seeming to search over the House and the fair valley as if to commit it all to his memory, before he took a step on the road he knew had no returning. He was clad in his faded travel garments again, mended by the skill of the elves and yet still stained from his previous adventure. At his side hung a small sword of an Elvish design.

He walked slowly, the other companions falling in behind him. Voices called soft words of farewell, but Frodo did not seem to hear them. His eyes were downcast and he moved forward until he became a grey shadow, lost in the twilight.

Legolas saluted Elrond before turning away, catching a vision of Arwen standing in the open doorway of the house. Her fair face was full of hope, even if her eyes were wet with tears. Seeing her in her sadness caught his heart, and he, too, lowered his eyes and watched the path that led them away.

The tardy winter seemed to arrive as they left the valley. The wind blew from the east as if daring them to come forth, and the dark clouds overhead were being snagged and shredded by its relentless fingers. Behind them, the Valley of Imladris lay silent, its songs withheld as if robbed of breath.

Chapter 16: Leaf in the Wind

They journeyed south and the wind seemed to wish to drive them backward with its breath. None of the companions complained; they plodded onward and, if at all, made the off-hand remark, ever in a whispered voice, of a pleasure or comfort they missed. The halflings suffered the most, though they did not slack their efforts nor fall behind until they were very weary. They buoyed each other with cheerful words and jests, even as they limped or tightened their belts. Legolas felt a great admiration for them.

Especially for Frodo. He uttered no word of desire or need, but allowed himself to be guided forward, putting all of his energy into keeping up with the long stride of Aragorn and Mithrandir. His eyes were often down-cast, watching the rough road, but on clear nights he looked up at the stars, and to Legolas's eyes he seemed to shine faintly with that light, even as one of his own people might.

What Legolas himself missed the most, once the journey began was not hot food or smooth drink, but trees and the company of other Elves. He had gone on ventures before; alone, stealful mission where he had risked his life without aid for his King and father, as well as dangerous errands in the company of the guard. But he had not traveled with other races before, and never with such a mixed group. He became aware quickly of their limitations, and it brought him worry at first.

And nowhere had he traveled before where there were no trees. Even the desolation of the Dragon had offered small copses of worried shrubs and wind-bitten pines, with the leafy sea of Mirkwood on the verdant horizon.

Like all Eldar, Legolas did not need to sleep, not as Men or Halflings or Dwarves needed it. To lie helpless and without senses seemed a dangerous and foolish pasttime to the elf. Legolas could rest even as he walked the lands, his mind dwelling on peaceful things while his eyes and ears and nose served him in vigilance. When the first day came and lots were drawn for watches, Legolas drew first sleep.

He laughed. "I have no need to lay in the dust. Let another take such rest as they need and I will watch instead."

Gandalf came to him and spoke softly. "We must each become accustomed to the needs and responsibilites of our companions. The young hobbits look up to you. They will try to be as tireless and brave as we bigger folk appear to them. I fear they will exhaust themselves trying to match your example. Lay down and take a rest, though you need it not, at least until they grow used to your differences."

"As you wish, Mithrandir." Legolas did lay down, and though his eyes were unclosed and he listened sharply to every moment of the passing hours, he also thought about what this journey would do to the hobbits. A great change would be wrought upon each, even if they met no hardship greater than distance. The thought of what might be encountered chilled his heart.

After that day he watched the hobbits closely, trying to learn more of their ways. He noticed that the youngest one, Peregrin, fairly bubbled with energy and curiosity, and needed more food than any of his companions. Like a hummingbird he was, always fluttering. Legolas would stealthfully slip small portions of his own rations to the hobbit, unnoticed except by the sharp-eyed Aragorn, whom the Elf had noticed was doing a similar thing to Frodo, by way of Samwise. Frodo's strength had to be kept up, for his road would be the hardest.

Legolas could not even envison it. He knew the hobbit intended to carry out his task, even as terrified as he was, but the Elf could not see him going through with it. Deep in his heart, Legolas believed that the journey would end the brave ring-bearer, and that another would take his place. Why else send three more on this venture?

Legolas kept this defeatist feeling to himself. He had seen great things done with no more magic than hope, and he would not deal a wounding word to those who were still capable of faith. Yet, it tore at his heart to watch them sitting around after a long march, their faces pinched with weariness, laughing quietly at Pippin's antics, or as Merry told a humourous tale. How long would they live, out here in the wild lands, without Aragorn and himself to watch over them? And that man from the South.

Legolas once thought that the greatest burden he would bear on this joureny would be his endurance of a Dwarf's company, but it was Boromir that gave Legolas the most annoyance. Proud, as if he had invented the concept, never did he pass up the opportunity to tell the Companion about his beloved city. White walls and white towers; silver, black, and grey; Legolas was not impressed by such descriptions. Where was the life, that which was protected, was watched over? Why did they fight in Minas Tirith, if they had only stone and granite tombs kept there? Never spoke he of a garden or a tree, until one night when the inquisitive Took asked him about the design on his bracers.

"The White Tree of Gondor? Have you heard nothing of it in your small contry? You are isolated, indeed!" Boromir began, and Legolas was grateful that it was still too dark for his companions to see his disgust at the condescending words. "It grows in the court of the King... or grew, rather. It died the same year as Belecthor II, Steward of the Citadel, and no sapling could be found to replace it. It still stands in the court, bowed sadly over the pool, waiting for the return of the King." Boromir's eyes flicked to the dark Ranger that sat some feet away, watching the lightening sky.

"But why was no sapling found?" asked Peregrin, still curious. He had bade the Man remove his armoured sleeve so that he could look at it more closely. Placing it on his own arm, it looked ridiculously large. Merry traced the embossed leather with a curious finger.

"Many years lie between the planting of that tree from its predecessor. It is said that it came from a scion of the White Tree in Numenor. Isildur brought a fruit from that sacred tree and planted it in Minas Ithil. From that tree a seedling was brought to Minas Tirith, after the Dark Lord captured that fair city and burned the tree. He planted it in memory of his brother Anarion. It is the symbol of our people. It is said," and here Boromir touched Aragorn again with his eyes briefly, "that when the true King retuns to Gondor, the tree will bloom again."

"That will be a relief, I am sure!" remarked Pippin, yawning sleepily. "I would much prefer a living symbol than a dead one! What?" Pippin said as Merry punched him on the arm. "Oh! No offense, Lord Boromir!" The halfling hastened to rise and bow, but Boromir just laughed.

"There is no offense taken, Pippin," the man said. "You speak in weariness and innocence. When you look upon the Citadel and the Court of the King, you will understand. May we all look upon it soon, and may I dream of my White City tonight!" and Boromir rolled himself in his blanket, taking first sleep as was his lot.

Legolas had nearly laughed aloud at the halfling's remark, so close to his own thoughts. The conversations faded as each companion fell asleep, except for Legolas and Gimli whose lots were to watch together this night.