Tree and Stone

by Lothithil

Chapter 5: Ringbearer

Legolas left the house and followed the hoofprints that led toward the level floor of the valley. He could smell horses and wildflowers, grain and straw. A stable stood beneath the eaves of a grove of trees, and many horses wandered free on the grass there. Feavano cantered up to him, nuzzling him for the apple he smelled in his pocket. Legolas laughed and gave it to him. He had been tended well, his coat gleamed and his hooves were clean. Feavano allowed Legolas to check each hoof then flicked his tail over Legolas’s head and trotted away to sport with the other horses. Legolas smiled and watched him play for a long while.

Turning back to the house, he espied an Elf in the stable, grooming a beautiful white horse. He spoke softly to the beast as he combed out the tangled mane. Both groom and horse looked as though they were on the edge of exhaustion, but they supported each other’s weariness. Legolas did not interrupt them. He hoped that he could speak with this Elf later; he looked familiar.

As he returned to the house, he saw that the Dwarves had finally arrived, and Erestor was there greeting them with the same solemn contanence he had offered the Green Elves. Gloin was speaking for the Dwarves, asking that the Lord Elrond make himself available at the earliest possible time. As Erestor was explaining that he could not come, a small individual came out of the house.

"Gloin! You look magnificent!" spoke the halfling. He walked right up to the dwarf and shook his hand warmly. To Legolas’s surprise, the Dwarf laughed and embraced the little one.

"Bilbo Baggins! You look the same as ever you did! Still alive and working? I did not hope to find you here!"

Bilbo laughed, patting Gloin’s shoulder. Legolas could see that he was much older that the other halflings he had observed earlier. His hair was nearly white and his face was wrinkled like a winter apple. His eyes and voice were merry, but the Elf could see a hint of worry in his face, like a shadow. "Not working, no! I am retired, don’t you know? But I find this place a good one for resting and for writing in my book, when there aren’t noisy guests around to disturb me!"

Gloin laughed and bowed, and introduced Bilbo to the dwarves behind him. Legolas heard him name his son at last: Gimli.

Erestor watched the scene with an expression of patient wariness. He was in fact relieved that Bilbo had appeared. The Dwarves were now less irratable and caustic. When they had exhausted their greetings and bowing, he showed them into the house. Legolas noted with relief that their rooms were some distance from his own.

He re-entered the house and looked in again on the halflings. All were asleep now, worn and weary with travel and worry. Legolas wondered what strange events had brought them from whatever strange land they dwelled in. He had heard of them only as a distant rumour. Had not a halfling been involved in the slaying of Smaug the Dragon? Legolas wondered if there was any connection. Surely that halfling could have lived this long... that had been merely 60 years ago.

Legolas sighed, and rubbed his forehead. More riddles! As if he did not have enough on his mind!

As he turned to go, he heard his name spoken softly. From within the room where the halflings slept came a Man that Legolas knew, and his joy in seeing him was very great. He embraced Aragorn warmly and silently they withdrew a distance so as not to disturb the sleepers. "I had hoped to find you here, Aragorn," Legolas said. "Though my message is dark and locked on my lips for Elrond’s ears, still I am pleased to see you."

"And I, you, Thranduilion," answered Aragorn in his soft voice. "I would speak with you longer, my friend, but I need to check on my charge. My heart cannot rest until I learn of his condition."

"Did you come hither with the halflings? I wondered at them, seeing their weariness. What has driven so many so far, and at such desperation? Must I wait for this council to learn what has occurred?"

"Come with me Legolas, and some answers you may find." Aragorn led him down a corridor that came to a clean room where a gathering of folk were standing around a table. Mithrandir was there, and Elrond also, bent over the table with an intent expression on his noble face. When one of the elves moved to fetch a basin of water for Elrond Legolas saw what he was so intent about, and his heart leapt in his chest in pity.

A halfling lay on the table. He had dark curly hair and pale, translucent skin. He lay motionless, and his blood was bright red as it soaked the white linens. His shoulder had been cruelly pierced and Elrond was carefully exploring the wound as if looking for something. Legolas marveled that the tiny creature was still alive. He seemed to be on the very threshold of death, his spirit flickering like a waning star.

Legolas did not know this halfling, had not yet even learned his name, but he was suddenly filled with compassion for him and a desperate desire for him to survive. He turned to Aragorn and saw his feeling mirrored in the Ranger’s dark features.

Aragorn motioned for him to come out from the room. In the corridor, Aragorn gave Legolas a brief tale about his coming to Rivendell, and also the name of the halfling that lay within. When he ceased speaking, the Elf gripped the Man’s shoulder frimly.

"Brother, you have done a wonderous deed! You must rest also, for you are weary beyond your endurance. Frodo Baggins has Elrond and Gandalf with him… he will survive. Go and get you rest!"

Aragorn nodded and left, but Legolas remained outside of the chamber where the battle was still being fought. He could not leave, but stood and pondered his riddles and as he watched Lord Elrond work, he prayed to Elbereth to protect the brave little halfling who had stolen his heart.

Chapter 6: Gimli

Okay, we have had the story from the Elven point of view, but what about the Dwarves? We need some equal opportunity musing here! Let not the Son of Gloin's story go unheralded longer! But now we must change our heads a little. What does go on inside that artfully-etched helmet?

The wind was biting on the eastern face of the mountain. The clear air was full of the smell of snow and ore and granite. Gimli breathed a great lung-full of it; it was very refreshing.

So far this adventure had been rather tame, he reflected as he walked alongside his father. When they had been sent off from Lonely Mountain, they had been warned of dangers at every bank and boulder. Gimli could not see what everyone had been so worried about. They had seen a couple of largish spiders who had fled the torch that Gimli waved toward their webs. They smelled wolf a couple of times, but that was not unusual in Erebor in the autumn. Bandits were too impressed by the arms and armour of their well-equipped group to be tempted by the wealth they sported, and not a sign so far of goblins high or low. Gimli was beginning to feel a little disappointed. If Gloin had told him that they would be taking a long peaceful walk to see a bunch of layabout elves, Gimli might have told his father to go on without him!

The Dwarf chuckled at his own thoughts. Of course he would have still come... Gloin and he were a team. Even if this Rivendell place lay on the far side of the Misty Mountains, still they had come more than half the distance already and were unscathed. Climbing a mountain would not qualify as a hardship to any real dwarf.

The Misty Mountains were a great barrier of lofty peaks riddled with lesser piles and precipices, breaks and saddles of rock like curtains sweeping green with fir. There were ribboned with valleys and ravines, marching endlessly toward the north and south beyond the eyes' stretch. Sharp, steep and wild, even this path that was well worn through the mountain pass. Rockslides were not uncommon and often they came to places where the road had been washed away or had broken off and fallen like tears down the mountain's face.

Still, this no hardship for a dwarf worth his metal, thought Gimli. No very treacherous places had they come to, and he was beginning to think that if they had chosen to bring ponies to ride, the journey might have actually been rather relaxing.

Gimli heard the sound of hoofbeats then, as if in answer to his thought. He turned and cast his long sight behind them, hailing the other dwarves who had not heard the sound yet. "Horses behind!" He freed his longhandled axe and shaded the noon sun from his eyes. Noting the aspect and effects of the riders, his face clouded with dislike. "Elves! Party of four on riding horses, father," he said.

"Well, I hope they are not in a hurry," said Gloin, directing the troupe to proceed with the climb. "We are nearly at the pass, and there is no room for them to ride around us. We were here first and we will cross first. The tolls that the Beornings charged us to use this road are high enough that we have the rights."

The dwarves grumbled and agreed, glancing darkly back and returning to their steady pace. Gimli stood for a while staring back then turned and joined Gloin again. As he walked, he loosened his axes in their sheaths of leather and steel and flexed his mighty arms beneath the ringed mail he wore.

Gimli did not like elves. He had many reasons, founded in history and harder than granite to argue with. Firstly, as a dutiful son, he resented the imprisonment of his father and companions by the elves of Mirkwood. He had heard the tale more often than he could recount, and ever the reasoning seemed petty and unfounded for their debasement. Also, Elves had long been mistrusted by his people, since before Khazad-dum had been lost. Elves had made crafty things, objects of power that were now only whispered of, and they had misused them and caused much trouble in the world.

A typical elvish trick, to take an ingot of fair metal or a finely cut jewel and corrupt it into a ring or an item of sorcery. Gimli blamed elves for perverting the artform of crafting. How many Dwarven smiths had died with their secrets when the Dark Lord had come for his Rings? All their lore lost and whole families ended... a disaster to rival dragons any day! Though a gulf of time opened between these deeds and Gimli's own birth (he was nearly 140 years old now, in his prime of life) he held it close to his heart and vowed to trust no elf nor traffic with one, if ever this could be avoided.

Now he was heading into a nest of them, and if that weren't bad enough they were being followed by four more. Woodelves by their dress, but Gimli cared not. And elf was an elf, and each as guilty as the rest for the crimes of their kin. Did they not live forever? Could one of these following be one who had actually stood in Khazad-dum in the height of Durin's glory; knowledge and vision no dwarf can now claim? It seemed a cruel irony to Gimli, and it enraged his heart. He cast more frequent scowls behind them, as the elves drew closer and slowed their horses, unable now to travel faster than the footspeed of a dwarf.

After a time the elves fell back and Gimli breathed a sigh. When they all finally left Middle earth for good, then the world would be a better place, he thought to himself. A nugget of ice that lay deep in his heart spread a chill through his limbs, as he recalled a voice; a voice murmured within his own head that no one else could hear...

"Once you said not such things, Gloin's son Gimli..."

~~~ seventy years ago, Ered Luin ~~~~

Gimli had been angry when his father had refused his request to join Thorin's company. He was not "too young", and Gloin's argument that he was his only son and both of them could not be risked in this venture fell dead on his ears. Infuriated by being left behind, he was determined to follow them until he caught them up, and then they would be force to allow him to come along.

Instead, he got lost in the winding willowlands that rotted the foothills of the Blue Mountains. He despaired completely of finding their trail and had finally turned to try to go home when he had met his first elf.

Her name had been, simply, El.

El had found him wandering near exhaustion, foodless and shelterless in a wild land. She had taken him to her home, a humble cave burrowed in a hill but warm and dry and snug. She fed him pineseeds and wild rice, sweet cresses and fresh fish until he was strong again. He remained past his recovery to learn of her, for she was quiet and lovely and simple, and yet seemed higher of purpose than anyone he had ever met before. He dreaded returning home to the shame of his failure, not so much worried about the ire of his mother as loss of face to the other young dwarves he had bragged to about following Thorin. It was quiet and peaceful in the willow valley, and the summer leaked away and autumn blew past, and then winter came to freeze his heart.

She packed her few small things and bid him farewell. He would not walk with her to the Havens, though they were a few short leagues away. He asked her not to go, to remain and teach him more of the ways of birds and trees. He begged her to stay for him, because he cared about her and had no other friend. He became stubborn and insisted, claiming that he could not find his way without her help.

She merely smiled and laid a white hand on his head, leaned down to kiss his cheek crimson with choler and his eyes wet with sorrow. Then she had turned and joined the group of elves who had appeared to collect her, to make their way to the Sea and the grey ship that waited for them. Gimli watched them until they disappeared; she never turned and looked back toward him, not once.

That was the day he began to hate elves.

~~~ present day, High Pass ~~~

It had been a pleasant journey, until those blasted elves showed up. He might have known they'd disappeared as soon as trouble showed its face. The melee with the orcs had almost been a relief; Gimli had a lot of frustrated anger to work off, and two score goblins was just the cure he needed.

He would have accounted half of the goblins himself, but for the interference of that skulking elf. His arrow had cheated him of his proudful score and he was genuinely annoyed, (though a wiser part of him was rather shaken) that the goblin had not been as dead as it was supposed to be when Gimli had turned his back. It had been a close shave!

But indebted to an Elf? Gimli would never admit such a debt, nor give thanks for such. He rather resented that Gloin spoke to him so, though he understood the need to maintain relations with them as allies. Elves could be useful, when they were interested in helping.

At least Gimli had gotten the satisfaction of hearing the Elf ask for something Gimli had the power to withhold. That shred of happiness buoyed him throughout the rest of the journey, until they came down from the comfort of the mountains to the overgrown crevice of Rivendell.

There was no further incident. The Elves now trailed the Dwarves closely, riding their horses and talking in Elvish, sometimes singing. Any noise they made, be it merry or morose, irritated the Dwarves. Gimli walked steadily, trying to ignore the noisy, frivolous elves. Did they not know or did they choose to not remember the goblins that had attacked and fled? Gimli was sure that they would disappear again should they come again with reinforcements.

Gimli turned his head and glared back at the tag-alongs, but when he saw the face of the Elf he had spoken to, he recalled again the puzzlement and frustration in that fair face. Gimli allowed a grin to spread beneath his beard, and he nearly laughed when Legolas perceived him and frowned back. He lengthened his stride but slowed his steps, and began singing a dwarvish song, encouraging his fellows to join him. He drowned out the delicate music of the Elves' voices, his brassy baritone echoing off of the stones around and below them. The mountains sang with the Dwarves this day.

As the valley finally came into sight, after winding through the last few miles of stone, the Elves greeted the sight of the woods and green vale with joyful song. The Dwarves paused in their march and turned, saluting the mountain that they had just traversed with respect.

Now the path spread wide, and there was ample room for the Elves to ride around the slow moving Dwarven party. The Elves remained behind them for a while, but the music of the valley of Imladris was intoxicating to them, and they longed to ride ahead and drink its peace. They finally let their horses take their heads, breaking into a run down the steep road.

As they flew past the Dwarves, Gimli's Elf offered a salute to him. Gimli repeated his earlier salute, shaking a fist and scowling. He waved a hand before his face as the dust of the horses settled on his beard. Cursed, troublesome Elves!

The Elves let their mounts take them speedily toward the Last Homely House nestled in the valley below. As the last rays of the setting sun was glimmering on the white turret of the tower of Elrond's observatory, the Dwarves came in their own time to Imladris. Gimli wondered what would be waiting for them there: aid, as his father had hoped to find, or a refuge for fleeing elves, too engrossed in escape to help the People that they had for so long claimed to befriend?

Gimli tightened his grip on his axehandle and walked on toward the setting sun.