Tree and Stone
Chapter 17, Companionable Silence
Day eased over the land like a grey fog, dropping dew over all that
slumbered and watched. Legolas was refreshed by the cool touch of
moisture, but Gimli grumbled and flipped up his hood. He eyed the Elf
as if daring him to make a remark. Legolas said nothing, turning this
way and that to scan the horizon for movement. Standing next to a large
stone, he was nearly invisible even from a few feet away.
The hours wore on but the day got no warmer. As they drew closer to the
three mighty peaks that Gandalf had declared were their landmarks, the
wind had seemed to bring down the winter with a fury, blowing
relentlessly into their faces. Today, the wind seemed a little less,
but just as cold.
Legolas looked toward where the hobbits lay sleeping. Building fires
was ill-advised as the smoke would be visible for great distances in
this open country, so the halflings had spread their blankets together
and slept close to each other, keeping one another warm with their own
bodies. Their cloaks and spare clothes were draped over them, but still
they shivered a little, their faces bitten pink by the teething wind.
Legolas cast a glance toward the Dwarf, who appeared to be gazing
steadfastly away to the east, toward the mountains. Legolas unclasped
his cloak and spread it over the hobbits to give them extra comfort.
Frodo's eyes opened as he felt the light touch of the Elven cloak cover
him. He looked up into Legolas's face, offering a small smile of
gratitude. Peregrin snuggled more closely to his older cousin on one
side, while on the other, Samwise gave a gentle snore, his head on
Legolas bowed slightly, holding up a hand to warn Frodo not to wake the
others. His soft voice was an smooth lullaby as he said, "Return to
your needed rest, Bearer. The sun is just past the hour of
dawn-greeting. There many hours still to be counted before the next
watch is called. Sleep again." Frodo nodded gratefully and closed his
eyes. As his face smoothed into slumber again, Legolas saw that light
shining within the Ring Bearer, as a candle shaded by a veil of water
or a star viewed through a thin cloud.
What was this halfling, who owned a spirit such as is found only among
the Fair Folk? Legolas wondered. How was it that he came to be the
bearer of such evil, when he himself was so pure and innocent?
Legolas resumed his position, watching over the land. There was no
movement anywhere, but the teasing of the grass by the sleepless wind.
Not even a bird could be seen, and the winter had driven all insects
deep into the earth. The quiet was absolute.
Gimli found the silence nearly maddening. As he watched, he spoke to
himself inside his head, reciting the lines of the Fathers of the
Dwarves, as he had learned them from his father's knee. He crouched
upon a high stone, where he could see all around, and to the casual
observer would have appeared as a stone himself, until that observer
got dangerously close to him. He carefully watched the camp and
listened, for he knew that his eyes were not so sharp as that dratted
Elf, but that his ears could hear things just as sharply. But the only
sounds he harked of nearby were the gentle breaths of the Companions in
sleep, and the whine of the wind off of the mountains.
This wind did speak to the Dwarf, in a fashion that even the Elf could
not understand. For stone and mountains were Gimli's folk, and he knew
their languages well. What that wind spoke to him left him uneasy, and
he shifted to cast his glances toward the mountains in the east and
south more often, a feeling of being watched, of a groping
intellegence, gradually growing in his mind.
"What is it?"
The Elf's soft words startled the Dwarf so violently he nearly lost his
perch. Legolas laid a steadying hand on his shoulder, which Gimli
glared at until he removed it.
"Can you not sense it?" he responed gruffly, but in a whisper. "The
wind warns of hunger, of wary eyes. I smell tainted stone upon it...
"I have sensed something similar, but I cannot discover the direction
it comes from." The Elf's eyes contained no humility or hubris. Their's
was the watch. Their's was the duty to protect their helpless
"It comes from the east, from where we are bound," answered Gimli. "It
is far away still, but as we draw closer, it will become more
appearant. I warrent even your green nose will smell it by the time we
reach those foothills," Gimli could not resist offering this small barb.
Legolas gave him a cool smile. "I am pleased to hear that we are in no
imediate danger, other than being bored by the humour of a Dwarf. I
will continue my vigilance... over there." Legolas walked away from
Both Elf and Dwarf felt that they had the better of the exchange, so
the argument was abandoned for a time. As the sun reached zenith,
Legolas woke Aragorn and Merry, who were next to watch. Legolas lay
himself down next to Peregrin where Merry had been sleeping, keeping
the small hobbit warm in his cousin's stead. Gimli lay himself happily
against the stone where he had watched, aware that his tendency to
snore might disturb the others.
After the Dwarf had fallen asleep Aragorn covered him with his cloak
and took his vantage point. Very often, his gaze fixed on the mountains
toward the south. He, too, sensed something waiting.
Chapter 18, Hollin's Lament
For a fortnight they traveled thus, walking through the darkness behind
Aragorn and Gandalf, who seemed to know each tussock and stone of this
land. The hobbits stayed between the taller folk, sometimes linking
hands on the moonless nights, when the darkness grew blinding. Gimli
walked before them mostly, his sharp ears open for any sound of danger,
his walking-ax in his hand though he had no need for such prop. Boromir
came behind the hobbits with Legolas at the rearguard. The Elf could
not see in the dark, not as his namesake in ancient days could, but
nevertheless his sight was keen and he could see fairly well beneath
even a gruding moon and a few stars.
On this night, the wrack of clouds that flew swiftly overhead were
finally melted away. The sun rose on a clear morning as the travelers
stumbled to the crest of a low ridge. Cold as it was, the vision of the
ancient holly trees still living and growing was a welcome sight to
them all. Legolas ran his hands over their grey-green trunks, stroking
with delight the dark leaves that hung down sprinkled with clusters of
berries in deadly red.
The mountains lay dim across their path in the distance, but rose
sharply up on their left. Three massive peaks dominated their cowed
brethren, the largest and nearest seeming to glow red where the rising
sun touched it. A great mantle of snow covered it and flowed far down
Gandalf named the land they had reached Hollin, and gave a brief
history for the benefit of the hobbits and Boromir. Legolas knew some
of story already, as did Gimli. To Legolas, the tales of the elves that
had once dwelled there was a sad story that was sang on winter's
evenings, but to the Dwarf, this was a kind of homecoming.
Gimli spoke the names of the peaks in his own language, seeming to have
forgotten that he was accompanied by non-Dwarves. "Baraz, Zirak,
Shathûr... only once before have I seen them from afar in waking
life... " he murmured, and then he spoke of that dark place that lay
beneath that mightiest mountain, and as his eyes glowed with fervor and
desire, he did not see that many of his Companions winced to hear that
name spoken aloud, including the bearer of the Ring.
"What is it, Frodo," whispered Merry, who was standing next to his
cousin as they gazed across the land. "We should get down from out of
this wind and get some rest. I'm shivering, too."
"It's not that, Merry," Frodo answered softly, still staring at the
ruddy peak. "I just have a strange feeling... a dreadful feeling..."
Legolas felt something strange, also. Though Gandalf spoke of the Elves
who had once dwelled there, Legolas could not feel them as he could
feel the presence of his folk in other places they had once dwelled. It
had been too long and too much hurt had come to that place; the trees
and grasses did not remember them anymore. Only the stones spoke of
"'They are gone,'" Legolas said softly. "They sought the Havens long ago."
All the travellers were relieved to hear Gandalf announce that they
would rest all through this day and following night. A fire was lit and
a warm meal prepared, the first in many long days. Seeing the cheer of
the hobbits, Legolas laid aside his grief for Hollin and enjoyed their
carefree laughter. Soon everyone was in a better humour, even the dour
The Man had finally discovered something he could do to contribute to
the welfare of the Companions, and his humour improved immediately.
After their meal he set about instructing the halflings on proper
handling and use of their weapons. Here at last he could show the skill
and nobility for which his people were renowned. He rallied the hobbits
into a circle.
Legolas and Aragorn watched them with interest, as Gimli and Gandalf
took up the guard. Though both Elf and Ranger could have offered much
information and advice, they remained silent, letting the Warrior
instruct his class.
First, Boromir showed them how to hold their swords. In his great
hands, the leaf-shaped blades appeared merely as long knives, but he
instructed the hobbits as he would young Men; how to grip the pommel,
how to move the wrist. Soon he had all four standing in first position,
the tips of the swords of Westerness gleaming redly, while Sting gave
off a glimmer like a star.
Frodo listened intently to Boromir, but soon he begged to fall out of
ranks, for his weariness had caught up with him. Sam saw him settled as
comfortably as possible, then rejoined Merry and Pippin. The little
gardner looked very unsure as he swung his barrow-blade to mirror the
other's movements. He kept dropping his sword. Boromir was surprisingly
patient with him, and soon he was keeping up with the other two, even
if gracefulness was perhaps ever beyond his ken.
Aragorn rose and wandered off during the lesson, becoming restless of
the quietude of the land. He climbed the ridge and stood beside a tree
for a long hour, just looking and listening. Legolas watched him with
one eye, noting how like an Elf that Man could move; silent, swift, and
light. When he returned, he spoke to them of the listening silence of
the land, and the troublesome lack of beasts and birds. Gandalf then
bade them cease speaking aloud and to rest. The watch was set and the
others joined Frodo in sleep.
Legolas lay watching the movement of the holly trees in the wind,
letting his mind recall the whispering of the beeches in his woodland
home far away. The silence that Aragorn spoke of was clear to the Elf,
and as he listened deeper, past the sounds of the sleepers and the
restless watchers, the ground beneath them seemed to breathe a
sorrowful song. Legolas let the sound take his attention fully, as
Aragorn was watching with Sam. This song he heard, upon lips of stone
and voice of ashes:
Whither have gone the Folk?
Why do the vales echo hollow?
The holly grows still on the borders,
The grasses sigh to feel the passage of their feet
Where are the wandering waters?
Why do we hear no more songs?
Can we have been forgotten by those who once loved us so?
Deep they delved us
Fair they wrought us
High they builded us;
But they are gone
The silence was crushing. Legolas stood and walked to the holly trees.
Beneath their branches he intended to wait until it was time to move
on, taking some small comfort that they sang no longer of their loss.