Tree and Stone

by Lothithil

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 Frodo's shoulder.

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... and blood."

"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 companions.

"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 Gimli.

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 its sides.

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 them, lamenting.

"'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 Boromir.

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
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.