Tree and Stone

by Lothithil

Chapter 3

Legolas Greenleaf has encountered a party of Dwarves traveling west on the path he and his companions are using to reach Rivendell. But Legolas has more on his mind than incomprehensible Dwarvish behaviour...


The goblins seemed to have abandoned their quarry; Legolas could find no trace of them lingering in along the pass. He shadowed the Dwarves as they reached the summit and began their descent. Often they would raise their heads and look about, sensing someone near but blind to the Woodelf's crafty skill. Legolas was an Elf of the woods, but he grew up and lived among stone and knew its ways and songs. He made no sound as he moved, so perhaps the Dwarves heard the rumour of him from the stone itself.

Behind, he could hear the scrape of hooves on stone as Finoglos came at a pace, remaining just beyond eye-line of the Dwarves. Legolas ran lightly along the crest of a ridge as rough and sharp as a flint-point. He was outlined briefly against the brilliant sky, but he moved so swiftly that only a hawk could have espied him. Ahead of the Dwarves now, he settled down on his haunches and waited. The stones were cool in this high place but from between the cracks grew hearty grasses and here and there a small wind-bitten tree. Legolas brushed the wiry leaves of a sapling pine with his long fingers, smiling at the scent it left on his hands. A memory pulled at him and he followed it, his eyes alert on his surroundings but his mind traversing time and distance instantly.

Greenleaf and Gollum

"It is time to come down now, Smeagol. The moon will come out soon, and you will not be able to see to climb back down." Legolas slapped the bark of the tall pine tree. "Do not make me climb up there and fetch you again! Come down now, and you will get fish for evening meal."

"Fissssssh," came the answering voice, a soft hissing from above Legolas's head, closer than the Elf had guessed the sly creature had been. Out of the shining needles appeared a weathered face, still painfully thin-looking and greyish, as if a very old, very ill man were peering out of the treetops at him. Two large bulging eyes, pale and colourless, blinked at him. A long tongue appeared, swiping thin lips and small sharp teeth. "Fressh fissssshh? Not sscorched on nasssty tonguess of flame?"

"I will catch it myself, if you come down now."

Smeagol twisted round quick as a flash and slid down the smooth bark to the forest floor, where he crouched at Legolas’s feet. He knew better no than to try to escape from this Elf; he had tried many times and always Legolas had caught him swiftly and he was punished with the dark cell. He had come to enjoy climbing the tall trees of Mirkwood and feeling the free air. It was dark under the eaves of the trees, and the White and Yellow faces did not trouble him as mush here. He hated his cell but he was well fed and the Elves did not abuse him. When he misbehaved or bit his handlers he was left alone for long periods in the windowless cell. Smeagol had grown to prefer company.

“Smeagol catch fisssh?” Hopefully he looked up at Legolas’s face, then looked swiftly away as if to hide the crafty gleam that lit within his eyes. He would indeed like to be let loose near the river for a while. Not even this Elf could catch him then!

“No, Smeagol. I know very well your ability to swim. Aragorn has told me the tale of your meeting and I have not forgotten it.” Smeagol hissed at the name of the Ranger; he rubbed his neck and scowled. “You would disappear and I would have to hunt you down. I would find you and take you to the top of the tallest tree in the forest. Then you would have to stay ever in your dark cell and never see trees again. Is that what you wish?”

When the Elves took Smeagol to see the trees, they made him wear a collar that bound him to his guard. Only Legolas did not use the collar, except when they returned to the Caverns. Only Legolas let him climb the trees, and Smeagol obeyed when Legolas told him to come, because once he had refused and Legolas had come up after him and dangled him by the foot for his disrespect.

“No! No, Smeagol will be good!”

Legolas took Smeagol back to his cell, promising again to bring a fresh fish for his supper. He had to laugh as he closed the door and locked it. The creature was repulsive, sly, dangerous, and wretched, but ingratiating in a strange way. He seemed so simple, almost innocent, until the strange light came into his eyes and his voice took on a different timbre. At night his voice was heard by the guard, arguing fiercely as if someone were in the room with him. Legolas knew Smeagol was like two beings in one body; one dark and evil bent on lust for his “precious” and revenge on the thief who stole his treasure, and the other one fragile, confused, and pitiable, a small bent soul stretched beyond his years, alone in a wild wide world. Legolas looked upon him and knew pity.

Legolas went down to the Forest River, where it flows slowly through eddying pools beneath the shade of willows lining the banks, dragging their long fingers in the stream. He removed his gear and waded out, not feeling the icy cold of the mountain-fed waters. Large trout with speckled backs swam lazily against the current. Legolas lowered his hands slowly into the water, moving a fraction of an inch at a time and waited with the patience of the Eldar for one large fish to swim through his fingers. He caught it effortlessly, as one might pluck an apple from a bough heavy with fruit, ripe and sweet. He hooked a finger into a gill, then caught a second one for himself. Fish did sound good for supper, but Legolas preferred his cooked… yes, precious!

When he returned to the dungeons he heard voices as he approached Smeagol's cell. The guard on duty was listening, his ear pressed to the crack between door and wall. He waved for Legolas to come and hear; his face showed distaste and wonder.

Legolas listened, and he heard clearly a debate raging on the far side of the stone door. Smeagol was arguing with himself again and it sounded like he was losing.

"Mussst be away. Musssst find IT. We needs the precioussss,” a cold vemomous voice.

“We can't get away," the answering voice became softer, less syllabant. "Elves always watching. Their eyes are bright and their feet swift. The rope bites us!"

"Away, away, we mussst get away! Get to the river, get to the trees... they will hide us and we can get away from them all."

"They are looking for us. HE is looking for us! Go away! go away go away!" Smeagol's voice rose to a pathetic shriek; a child having nightmares from which there was no waking. Legolas motioned for the guard to open the door. The guard looked doubtful but obeyed.

As the key clicked in the lock, the voices fell silent within. Smeagol ceased his weeping. "Fisssshess?"

"Here, Smeagol. I have kept my promise," Legolas said. He laid both fish on the floor of Smeagol's cell, then left swiftly. The guard locked the door as he emerged. Legolas shook his head in pity and sorrow. "He is beyond all healing, I fear. Would that death might grant him some peace; I would slay him myself! But he is so ruined and wasted, he would but continue to wander as a ghost of desire."

The guard shuddered, pocketing the key. "At least bound in his flesh, he cannot yet walk through stone."

"No, not unless he knows some Dwarvish tricks!"

~~~~~


This thought brought Legolas back to the present with a jolt. The mystery still nagged at him. He was never very good at riddles, being more skilled in weapons and archery. But very much did he wish to learn how the dwarves had escaped that night, and who had placed the black mushroom draught** in his wine.

Movement below attracted his gaze, and he saw that the Dwarves were moving slowly now, talking over-loud. One was missing from their number, and Legolas laughed as he heard the clear sounds of soft footsteps approaching his hiding place. He waited until the Dwarf was nearly standing on him before he spoke softly. "This spot is taken, Dwarvish scout."

Gimli turned sharply, his gleaming axe mere inches from Legolas's face. Or where his face had been. With a smooth motion he had moved beyond the Dwarf's reach, allowing himself a mocking smile as the Dwarf started and grumbled, "Skulking elf! We are weary of your eyes on our backs, waiting for the bite of your arrows! Come out and be seen."

"I have my own people to look out for, Dwarf," answered Legolas coolly. "The orcs may linger in these rocks. I will not make the mistake of saving your life again, since it seems to mean so little to you. You need not fear me, Gloin's son. I have no quarrel with you."

Gimli's eyes found him at last, leaning against a boulder nearby. He lowered his axe and looked the Elf up and down. He set the haft of his axe on the ground and leaned against it like a prop. "No quarrel? Do you not remember the faces of your prisoners? You kept my father locked in a cell like a dog, and yet expect me to have no quarrel with you?"

"Your father?" Legolas's curiosity was piqued. Here, perhaps was some answers he had longed to hear. Unfortunately, they were locked behind the lips of a disgruntled Dwarf.

Gimli tugged on his beard in frustration. "My father! Do you have no memory? One of Thorin's companions that you cruelly detained from their journey of vengeance. Tell me, do you often imprison folk for the crime of being lost and starving in the forest?"

"Not often," responded Legolas. "Only when they attack my people and draw down the fury of spiders on helpless merrymakers. But I am glad that you have told me. I have long wondered how he managed his wondrous escape, he and his companions?"

Gimli's beard twitched; a smile could be seen through the red plaits. "It is said that Elves like riddles.”

"Aye, that is true." Legolas allowed hopefully.

"Well, I guess that this in one of them!" And the Dwarf turned and walked away, his axe over his shoulder and a smirk of satisfaction on his face, not at all concealed by his beard.

Legolas watched him walk away, torn between frustrated curiosity and wry humour. Dwarves were strange folk indeed.

~~~to be continued~~~

**from "Bilbo and Greenleaf; a Fireside Tale" by Lothithil

Chapter 4: Imladris

Coming down out of the mountains at last, the air and seasons seem to turn back to summer. Trees and grass are full and green and the wind is soft and and warm and fragrant. The path broadens through the foothills and Legolas can hold back the horses no more than their riders. They fly around the Dwarven party and race toward the inviting green cleft of Imladris.

The Last Homely House East of the Sea is not visible but for a few tendrils of smoke rising from the valley below. Legolas could hear the singing of his kindred on the gentle wind and his heart was swelled with a desire to join their sweet voices. He forgot his game of dwarf-baiting and let Feavano gallup.

A tricky path leads to Rivendell. Legolas slowed his horse and signaled for his companions to be cautious. What had looked like a leveled valley between the toes of the mountain was in fact a ravine covered with trees, the path leading downward into the heart of the cloven stone. There they found a huge house or series of houses joined by arched pathes and rope bridges and surrounded and disected by many waterfalls. It was a beautiful place, and a stronghold that could be defended easily; the approach was narrow and well covered with guardians. Legolas saluted them as he rode past.

The singing changed into a song of welcome. Word had gone ahead that they were come. However, only one figure waited on the steps of the house when they arrived. Tall and serene, he greeted the travelers with solemn warmth, "Welcome to Rivendell, my kindred from the Greatwood. I am Erestor. Lord Elrond sends you his greetings and begs you forgive him for not meeting you personally. An urgent matter has detained him. When he can, he will bring you his own greeting. He bade me meet the son of Thranduil and offer him the hospitality of Imladris."

"And he accepts your offer, Lord Erestor." Legolas dismounted and bowed to the Elf. "Surely it has not been so long since you visited our kingdom that you do not remember me?"

Erestor thawed a smile for the greenelf. "Of course I remember you Legolas. You have become the image of your father so that I nearly believed he had come to Rivendell himself. But for your hair that is your mother's gift, I would not have known you."

"She was of the house of Finrod, she told me, before she became enamoured of my father's dark humour," Legolas smiled though his heart pained him to speak of his mother. He had not expected to find her memory in Imladris.

"Let us speak of such things in their time, Prince Legolas," said Erestor. Grooms came forward and took their horses, removing their goods and taking them inside the house. "Come with me now and find rest and refreshment. A long journey you have endured and soon we will have more company. A party of Dwarves comes down the East road to scatter your trail."

"Aye, we passed them on this side of the mountains. A strange coincidence that they have come hither the same time as we, I am thinking," said Legolas, but Erestor made no comment. His face had fallen back into an icy mask. Legolas followed him into the house.

Upon entering, he was immediately struck with the atmosphere of the place, peaceful and homely but with a strong undercurrent of anticipation. Something was occuring or soon would occur, and there was hope and hopelessness waring in the very spirits of the wind. Legolas halted, and Erestor turned to him.

"What you feel is that which had detained Lord Elrond from greeting you. All morning this day he has struggled in healing. Some have doubts that his efforts will be successful and some wonder if they should be. Dark times are ahead for all Free People, my woodland friend. And now, in this place, many things will be decided. Please, come with me."

They climbed a wide stair and came to a wing of the house that swept over the pool that was fed by a chattering fall of water. The woodelves were given rooms for their use that were not so much decorated as overgrown with fir trees and fragrant juniper boughs. With the water and the green smell they each felt as if they were at home again.

"Rest now, friends, and come to the Hall when you have stomach. A meal is served at six bells, but food is available at all times for travellers. I will leave you now."

"Lord Erestor," Legolas call to him, and he paused in the doorway. "I have an urgent message for Lord Elrond. If he cannot hear me, perhaps I could speak with Lord Mithrandir?"

Erestor's face became more grave. "They labour together as we speak, my Prince. Keep your message until the council that will be held when Lord Elrond appoints it. For good or ill, after this battle is fought, there will be much to hear and much to tell. Peace now, my friends." He turned and left.

"What is the meaning of all this, my Prince?" asked Finoglos. He was unbuckling Legolas's quiver and helping him out of the harness. He handed the weapons to Randundo who would clean and oil the blades and re-string and resin the bow. Baranhan was laying out clean garments for him and bidding him to remove his travel-stained ones.

Legolas refused. "I want to go and make sure that Feavano is well tended. Rest and seek nourishment. I will return soon." He left his companions and retraced his steps to the front entrance.

Passing a doorway near the entrance, he heard soft weeping and saw within a small chamber three beds where lay diminuitive creatures, each looking weary as if they had just come from a long hazardous journey. One was soundly asleep, but the other two were awake. A stout brown-skinned halfling was steadying his companion who wept upon his shoulder. They had bandages on their feet and great heaviness on their hearts. The halfling raised his eyes to meet Legolas's own; clear and dark and full of determination. Legolas felt as if he had reached out and touched him with that glance. The Elf pressed an open hand over his heart and bowed to him.

Merry noted the Elf's presence but said nothing to Pippin, who he was hoping would fall asleep again as soon as he stopped crying. He felt like crying himself, but he could not yet. Frodo had to survive. He just had to... after they had come so far together. He acknowledged Legolas's salute with a slight nod, then patted Pippin gently on the back, murmuring in his ear comfortingly. He wondered who would be there to comfort him when he could hold back his tears no longer.