Tree and Stone

by Lothithil
Author's Note: What is the Middle-earth equivalent of the phrase:
Out of the frying pan and into the fire...?

Chapter 25, Wolf Council


The chill wind chased them down from the mountain, but no other threat accompanied the fellowship as they made their descent. They were all very weary, but moved on slowly while the grey light lasted, looking for a place to rest that would offer them some shelter against the coming night.

Legolas walked at the rear, his ears and eyes still open for any sign of a threat. The icy claws of panic he had felt after the avalanche had released him, but his nerves were on a knife's edge. He groped after the memory of the sunlight on distant fields to warm his spirit as he walked, hoping that it would last through the night until he could look upon Her face again. Somehow, the portent of this night seemed more threatening and darker than any he remembered, and even the memories of two millenia of sunrises was insufficient to lighten the woodelf's soul.

Legolas had lived with dangers all his life, dwelling in the deep forest of Mirkwood where the beautiful trees were home to creatures such that hobbits and men might regard as legends or myths. Many times he had faced death or pain, but always his trust in himself and his ability had brought him through.

But this was different; he was far from the familiar trees, far from aid or solace. And his companions were not Elves, but men and halflings and a dwarf, and they had all just narrowly escaped death. Freezing, falling, being crushed by stones or tripped into the void-- it mattered not that Legolas did not fear these things for himself. The further they moved from the peak, the better Legolas felt, though there was still a nagging anxiety plucking at his senses. He shook his head; he was wearier than he had been for many long years!

Ahead of him, Pippin lagged behind the rest of the group. The littlest halfling stumbled, seeming unaware of the tears of exhaustion leaking down his cheeks. Legolas moved to his side and offered his hands to him. Pippin took one of his hands; he could not have stood back up without the Elf's support.

Legolas dropped down on one knee beside him. "We still have a short ways to go, Master Peregrin. If you will consent I will carry you. Surely Gandalf will find a place for us to rest soon."

"Please," Pippin's voice was a mere whisper, "I don't want to slow everyone down further. But you are tired, too, Legolas; do not carry me, but if you don't mind I could use the guidance of your hand in this growing darkness."

Legolas held firm to Pippin's hand as they walked, and indeed the halfling grew steadier and did not stumble again. Their shorter paces drew them apart from the rest of the company, but only by a few yards. Gandalf looked back but said nothing. Sam was clinging to Bill's rope, muttering under his breath. Merry walked on one side of the pony's flank, keeping one hand on the warm fur to steady himself. Frodo was walking with his head bowed, and Aragorn stayed near him, making sure that the weary halfling did not stagger off of the path. Boromir and Gimli walked in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. The wizard led them down the path toward a hillock where some trees made a crowning silhoette before the last embers of sunset.

Pippin looked up at his tall companion. The Elf's warm hand heartened him,and feeling a measure of his former cheerfullness come back over him, he said, "I am very tired, but I am glad that we are away from that place! I don't think that any of us hobbits would have lasted much longer up there on that mountain. Thank you for pulling us out of the snow. And for finding Frodo."

Legolas glanced down at Pippin and gave him a touch of a smile. "I did but a small part, Master Peregrin. Give your thanks rather to Boromir and Aragorn, whose strength made the way of escape possible."

"Oh, but you did a lot, too!" Pippin tried to walk quicker, but the effort made him puff for breath. Legolas slowed their steps again. "You did a lot," Pippin continued, when he had caught his wind again. "You came back! And when you spoke of seeing the sun, it was like I could see it, too. I wanted to go and see it, and that gave me strength to try harder. I wish the sun could have stayed up a little longer. It was nice to see after all that snow and darkness."

Legolas had been listening to the wind's hinting murmur, but something that the hobbit said had caught his attention. "Of course I returned." Legolas cocked his head and looked closely at Pippin's face. "Did you truly think that I would not?"

"I hoped that you would. I was afraid when Strider and Boromir went down the path-- that something would happen to them that they couldn't come back." Pippin lowered his voice. His face was reddened by the burn of the wind, but Legolas noted that there was also a flush of shame there. "I wanted to be brave... to help Frodo... but I was scared. And when you left, too, I was afraid that you wouldn't come back. Gimli seemed to think that we would see you no more."

At Pippin's words, the small glow of warmth within Legolas seemed to go out, like an unshielded candle-flame in a draft. He said nothing, letting Pippin chatter on softly as they walked, keeping a steadying grip on his small hand, but his mind was churning with emotions reawakened. So the Dwarf had thought he would abandon the Quest, just because of a little snow and ice? How dare he say so!

But hand in hand with his anger came another feeling, that nagging doubt of self that recalled the failings of his duties. 'It is right that they do not trust you, Legolas,' said a nagging voice in his mind. 'Did you not let Smeágol escape? What of your word to your King-father?'

A wave of miserable despair crept over the Elf's heart when he thought of Thranduil. How he would like to speak to him at this time and touch his wisdom once more!

Something of Legolas's distress must have shown on his face. Pippin fell silent and clutched his hand, drawing Legolas to a halt. The halfling must have realized that he had said something to cause upset, because he looked the Elf straight in the eye and said, "Don't be mad at us, Legolas. We were just afraid. We all show our fear differently; that is what Cousin Bilbo told me once. He said that fear can freeze you or fire you up; freeze you in place so you can't do anything, or fire you up so that you can do what you never thought you could. It was just so cold up on that mountain that we were freezing instead of firing. I feel better now," he added softly, as if he hoped that would cheer Legolas again.

Legolas looked down at him, this time in surprise. He could sense something-- something light as the touch of a sunbeam on the face and gentle as the taste of pollen on the wind-- and it was coming the halfling walking at his side. His despair was reduced in an instant and a smile came to his tired face. Pippin grinned up at him and began to walk forward again, but his toes caught on a stone in the path.

Legolas caught him as he tripped, then swung him up onto one of his shoulders in a smooth, fluid motion. "Can you keep a secret, my chattering halfling friend?" he said.

"I can. I promise!" Pippin whispered eagerly, taking delight that he must look down to see Legolas's face.

"I was afraid, too," the Elf confessed.

"But, you are never afraid! You ran right through that avalance to save Merry and me!"

"I have been afraid many times," Legolas said. "In Imladris I feared for your cousin's life, for I have no skills in healing and could do nothing to help. And up on the pass I felt fear again, because no matter how swift I can run or how true my arrows my fly, I could not hold back the wind and snow." Legolas rolled his shoulder so that Pippin was bounced upward lightly, causing the halfling to emit a slight giggle. "So I am glad to have come down from the mountain, too. And I am glad that I brought you up out of the snow, for I have grown fond of your cheerful dispostion, Peregrin Took. You lighten my heart."

He lifted the halfing down gently, setting him on his own feet again, and they continued to walk after the others, still hand in hand, through the growing dusk.

~~

Gandalf led them to the base of a hill, where they all slumped down to rest their aching feet and legs. It was a few moments before anyone moved at all; they sat and breathed and stared up at the darkening sky, or down at the ground below their feet. Gandalf brought out his leathern flask and passed it around once again. The light flavour of the miruvor brought some life back to them, and the hobbits realized how hungry they were. They took out some of the food they carried and broke their fast as the stars appeared meekly in the clearing sky.

Now came the time for talk, and once again anxiety settled on Legolas. He listened to Gandalf's words and although he trusted the Wizard's counsel, the Elf's heart shuddered when mention was made of taking the road through Moria. Not once had that possiblility entered his mind, when he had sat in Rivendell musing on this journey. The Redhorn pass, the Gap of Rohan, even the long southern journey along the wide coast of the Bay of Belfalas he had considered, but never the Black Pit!

There is a deep pool of thought that Elves draw their wisdom from, and in that pool are memories that belong to another time, to others who lived long ago when the shape of Middle-earth was other than it is now. Dark things stirred in the fathoms of Legolas's mind while he listened to the others speak of the Dwarrowdelf. The doors are shut! They will not open! Black fire swept the land and an entire city of Elves were destroyed. Beyond the granite walls of Moria the Dwarves remained safe; they came not to the aid of the Elves... not even to bury the dead.

Legolas blinked, realizing that Boromir had said his name aloud. The debate had reached a vote: Who would follow Gandalf if he led them to Moria's hidden gate and into the darkness therein?

Gimli, of course, was eager to go, believing in his heart that he would find word of his cousin Balin. Aragorn agreed, but his aquescence was coloured by a warning most dire-- a warning for Gandalf himself. Boromir was against entering Moria, and the hobbits were all reluctant, but only two had spoken against that road; Frodo and Merry had said nothing yet.

Legolas could feel the eyes of the company upon him. Softly and without raising his head, he said, "I do not wish to go to Moria." The feelings of fear inside him were blinding, and he felt as vunerable and helpless as he had never felt, not since he was a child a very long time ago. He did not want to go that way, and yet there was no other way to go. They could not approach the Fords of Isen, and the other road was too long and would take them even further from what little aid there was to be found.

Legolas watched a similar struggle take place on Frodo's face, for as Ring-Bearer the burden of the final decision was his. Coupled with his other burden, it was a heavy weight indeed. Legolas did not envy Frodo nor did he resent the Bearer's desire to postpone the vote until morning, when after sleep other paths might be seen more clearly.

Wrapped in these thoughts, Legolas slowly became aware of a noise. He stiffened even as Frodo made mention of the howling of the wind. Aragorn leapt to his feet, a fraction faster than the Elf. "'How the wind howls'? It is howling with wolf-voices. The Wargs have come west of the Mountians!"

Now the companions were beset by another dire danger, but instead of dread or panic such as he had experienced upon the snows of Caradhras, Legolas felt a wave of determination and strength return to him. His bow felt good in his hands, the string taunt and ready to sing. His eyes were sharp and his weariness fell from him like an unneeded cloak. Here was an enemy that could be fought with skill and with courage. Fear left him, for he had no room for it in his heart at a time such as this.


Chapter 26: The Wolf One Hears

Legolas took first watch after the companions moved their camp to the crown of the hill. As the hobbits, Aragorn, Boromir, and Gandalf built a fire and sat dozing uneasily around it, the Elf and the Dwarf stood at the edges of the circle of broken stones, keeping their eyes open for any sign of the wolves.

Legolas had found again his calm strength, but in the uneasy quiet of the watch a thought came to assail him. He had not heard or smelled the wolves as he should have done. Even now, he could not sense them as he ought. He strained into the night, wishing (not for the last time) that he had the gift that would allow him to see in the darkness. Something seemed to be blunting his ears, muddling his mind with doubt and shadows. He drew an arrow from his quiver, though it was too dark for shooting; he tested the the tip of the metal point on his finger, pleased that he could feel its razor-like sharpness. At least not all his senses had failed!

A dark shape moved toward him through the darkness. Legolas could tell by the sound of his tread that it was Boromir. The man came to the Elf's side and said quietly, "Can you see anything, Legolas? This night is as dark as if we were already underground!"

"I see little beyond the fire's light," Legolas replied, "and the thought of being underground brings me no comfort. Do not speak of it now unless you must! I do not like the feeling that we are being herded into a dark trap."

Boromir's face was dark to Legolas's eyes, standing as he was with his back toward the fire. The burnished bronze metalwork on his shield shimmered with reflected flame. Legolas heard the man release a pent breath, his voice very soft as he spoke. "This very thought plagues me also. I have heard well the words of Gandalf and accept that the road through Rohan is perious to us, still I do not understand the need to go to these dangerous mines. There is peril on any road we choose. What we must ask ourselves is this: what is the best hope we have to fight through? In Rohan we can find allies. What hope have we of aid in Moria? No word has come from Gimli's folk for many years-- that would seem to me to be even more evidence that Moria should be avoided."

When Legolas did not respond, Boromir turned toward him. The glow from the fire lit the proud bones in his face, making his beard seem as though it were shot through with sparks. "It is not my purpose to argue the counsel of Gandalf, but to find understanding within myself. I value hearing your own thoughts on this matter, Legolas."

Legolas nodded, letting his eyes sweep the dark grounds for movement. "Should you find comfort within understanding, do please share it with me. I will follow the Ring-Bearer where he must go, but I feel that in Moria I shall not rest from worry, nor shall my bow ever be unstrung or far from my hand." He rolled the smooth arrowshaft in his fingers as he concentrated on the night. "The wolves argue Mithrandir's case very well, I find. We will not elude them for long on foot, nor will they listen to comforting speculations."

Boromir turned to face the darkness, listening for a long moment. Legolas noticed that the man stood in a state of alert readiness, weight forward and balanced on the balls of his feet. Every movement of his told a tale to the Elf; here was a trained and seasoned warrior, ready at a moment's warning, to do battle, or to speak, or to perform any needed feat. He was as taunt as the string that drew Legolas's bow, and his mind was ever moving behind that practiced calm.

After a time, Boromir let a chuckle escape his lips. "Mithrandir. It is good to hear you call him so; Lord Mithrandir I have in all my days heard him named; Gandalf must be a northern title. How my brother used to talk about him, back in the season our youth! Often he came to Minas Tirith in those days, to read the dusty scrolls in the Great Library or to delve in the Room of Artifacts. I spent little time in his company, having my duties in the Guard to attend to, but Faramir was often in his presence." Boromir's voice softened in the Elf's ears when he spoke that name. "Have you any brothers, Legolas?" he asked suddenly.

"I have not," the Elf answered. "Kinsmen near to my father I have, and many companions as close to my heart as my own name, but none with whom I share a blood-binding such as you have with your brother."

Boromir looked at him sharply. "What do you mean, 'blood-binding'?"

"At the Council of Elrond you spoke of dreams you shared with your brother." Boromir nodded. "This is not common among your folk; it is rare even among Elves. To dream the dreams of another is a closer kinship even than that of siblings. Only in one other instance have I heard of such a thing, and those brothers shared their mother's womb. They think each other's thoughts, though their dispositions are very individual..." Now Legolas smiled, remembering the sons of Elrond with whom he had spent much time. Would that Elladan and Elrohir could be here now! Greatly would Legolas's mind be relieved to have their wisdom and skillful arms at hand!

The corner of Boromir's mouth lifted in a half-smile. "Sometimes I feel that I know what my brother is doing... what he is thinking. I know it is truly my own wish, to be home again and in his company. Our times together were always too few, too short. It will be good to get home again, after..."

Boromir did not finish his sentance, but nodded toward the darkness. His body had come wholly alert as he spoke, and Legolas had seen them in the same instant. Dark shapes were moving stealthfully up the hill. Here and there came the shine of animal eyes, throwing back the firelight like eerie coins. Legolas raised his closed fist, sending a warning to the rest of the companions. Behind him, Gimli gave a hoot like a owl; he had seen or sensed something on his side of the hill also. Gandalf stood and looked toward the place where Legolas and Boromir stood watching, near the break in the circle of stones. Aragorn moved swiftly to stand beside Gimli.

One large beast came almost to the gap in the stone circle. It was a huge wolf-shape, and it paused at the very edge of the spill of firelight, looking at them. Beyond his shadow Legolas could see the hint of other creatures, farther away but waiting, watching. His fingers itched on his bow, notched and ready. And now that he could see this beast, perhaps not clearly but well enough to mark it, he realized why he had been taken by surprise and not warned his companions earlier. This beast may look like a wolf, but Legolas was sure that it was not! The smell from its rank hide was not as it should be, nor was the light from its eyes correct for a predator of the world. Malign intellect there was behind that lumionous regard, and Legolas could feel the darkness pressing in around their camp; a cold thought from a cold mind that held no hunger and no fear of fire.

There is sorcery here, thought Legolas. He flexed his fingers around his bow, comforted by the familar creak from the wood and the silken touch of the feathers with which it was fletched. He would wait until he was ready to fire before he drew; an over-stretched bow cost a marksman accuracy. He wondered if a wooden shaft and a steel barb would do any harm to these beasts, canny and unnatural as they were. He stood steadfast, giving no ground and listening for Gandalf's words, hoping that the Wizard knew a way to fight these creatures.

Behind him and beyond the fire, Legolas heard the whisper of Aragorn's sword sliding from its sheath. Legolas bent his bow, drawing his arrow back until the fletchings brushed his ear.

~~~

Frozen, windburned, packed like a sack of flour and then half-drowned by an avalance, Gimli had not given the Elf much thought at all since that moment of unguarded relief, when he had seen him come back bearing his messages of hope to those still snow-bound in the Redhorn pass. Now he stood peering into a night as black as any hopeless dream, and he pondered his annoyances.

Nothing had gone well since they had left the dell the morning before. Gimli felt tired, as tired as if he had been swinging his axe all day and night; and the fact that he had done nothing but climb up a mountain and down again rankled even more; he had felt utterly useless during the whole ordeal. He hadn't even been able to light the fire to warm the fellowship!

The only thing that had gone right was that finally they were agreed that the company must attempt to cross beneath the mountains. Gandalf knew how to find the hidden West Gate, lore that had been lost to Gimli's folk for many generations. When the companions had come wandering down through the snow, the Dwarf had given up any hope of entering Moria. Now it was going to happen-- had to happen, as it was their best hope of escaping from the notice of the Enemy.

Gimli only wished he could make the others see the hope and excitement he felt. In most of their faces he saw only dread, and in others, resentment. Legolas had disappointed him when the Elf had said that he did not wish to go to Moria. Gimli had held his breath as the vote had leaned away from him and Gandalf. Now necessity had made up everyone's mind, and Gimli concealed his delight, realizing that a display would be very unseeming. There was no need to mention it aloud, and indeed to make light of it in the midst of a siege would win him only his companions' distain and perhaps their mistrust. Nobody is happy to be surrounded by wolves!

It was oddly comforting to finally have something that he could fight with his axe, he reflected as he let out his call of warning; Gimli appreciated that strength, perserverance, and fortitude were essencial and desirable qualities, but having a solid, clearly identifyable enemy and room to plant his feet and swing his axe... well! This was what he had come on this Quest to do!

Aragorn appeared at his side as Gimli noted more shadows appearing along the crown of the hill. None of them came within the faint circle of the firelight, just the sounds of an occasional whine or throaty growl. The shining eyes winked in the gloomy darkness.

Bill let out a whinny of fear. The poor pony was sweating and shaking, and it was all Sam could do to calm him and keep him from bolting out of the firelight and into greater danger. The other halfings stood close to the fire, holding their swords nervously and looking around. Sting shone like a small white torch in Frodo's hand.

Suddenly the great wolfish thing that had crept close loosed a shuddering howl, and Gandalf came forward holding his staff aloft. In a broad voice he said, "Listen, Hound of Sauron! Gandalf is here. Fly if you value your foul skin! I will shrivel you from tail to snout if you come within this ring."

The wolf snarled and sprang toward them in a great leap. There came a sharp twang! the same moment that its bunching muscles propelled it into the air. Then there came a yell that was not a howl, but more like the agonized and furious cry of a man, and then the shape thudded to the earth. Legolas's arrow had pierced it through the throat.

The surrounding eyes were suddenly extinguished. Gandalf and Aragorn went outside the circle, but the hill was deserted. The night grew silent; even the wind held its breath.

Boromir placed a booted foot on the wolf's head, withdrawing the arrow with a strong wrench. "Good shooting," he said, handing Legolas the gory shaft. "This might be needed again." Then he hooked his foot beneath the corpse and rolled it over with a kick. "This is like no wolf I have ever seen before. They must be very hungry to come so close to a fire."

Gandalf came back, and his face was stern with care. "These are not wolves such as you find in the world, Boromir. We must be ready if they return, and yet we must rest while we can. Our only hope is to reach the gates of Moria tomorrow, and we are all tired. You and Aragorn should take some rest now while the hobbits and I take watch... yes, you also, Legolas!" The wizard's voice twinkled with a hint of mirth as he said, "We need our warriors rested. Let the little ones do what they may," he added softly, forestalling Legolas's protest that he needed no sleep.

The Elf nodded, seating himself against the stone just inside the ring to take his rest. The broken granite felt oddly comfortable.