Tree and Stone

by Lothithil

Chapter 7: Rivendell

Coming down from the comfort of the mountain to the valley, Gimli stared in wonder at Rivendell. In tomes of history kept by the Kings Under the Mountain, Gimli had read that the stronghold of Imladris had withstood seiges by the Dark Lord's maurading hoards for centuries. This place looked as though it could not withstand a strong breeze. It appeared nothing more than a largish hall or two, connected to dozens of fragile-looking gazebos by ropes and bridges of wood. All the good stone was set about the foundations, overrun with water, and all the towers half screened and overgrown with ivy. He had expected a bastion of stonework, sculpted by millenia of idle elvish hands but impressive and daunting. This runaway garden made him feel nervous.

When the reached the floor of the valley, Gimli's opinion of Rivendell had increased dramatically. He had passed a number of cunningly hidden guards, and many he knew were there but could not see. The forging of this retreat was well-founded, and now within the borders of the place he could discern the defenses; narrow bridges, steep approaches, and many more things that would make Gimli hesitate, if he were planning an assault on this place. Grudgingly he admitted to himself that Rivendell was a safe place after all.

When he saw the Elf standing on the steps of the Great Hall waiting to greet them, he thought for an instant that is was his skulking woodelf, changed into finer garments. But it was not so. This Elf was taller, his hair longer and silver rather than light gold, and his eyes were grey. He was dressed in some flowing fabric set with delicate stones faceted to throw light. Gimli restrained himself from coming closer than necessary, though he wanted to examine this strange garment and its fair decoration.

He welcomed them formally, introducing himself as Erestor of the House of Finrod. Gimli half-listened to his speech; he had spotted the troublesome woodelf lurking in the bushes near a path leading through the trees, spying on them. Gimli had good sight and better hearing than most Dwarves. He said nothing but kept an eye on the elf, while Gloin spoke to Erestor and asked to see Elrond immediately; after all, had they not made a long dangerous journey to speak to him?

The elf began to make excuses, and Gimli felt his blood rising. This was an insult to his father, he was sure. But before he could build up a spleen, a small figure like a grey-haired child came out of the house, and his father shouted with joy and embraced him. Gimli was too surprised to stay angry.

Bilbo Baggins, the legendary burglar! Gimli wondered what he was doing here in Rivendell, then he wondered again how old the hobbit must be now. He looked old, but not nearly as old as he ought! Intregued, he followed Gloin and the others into the house to listen to Bilbo's words, forgetting entirely the elf that was watching them.

The tall elf led them to a suite of chambers full of furnishings and niceties suitable for the height and needs of Dwarves. The walls of the rooms were striated rock, layered in colours and glittering crystals washed naturally from the mountainside by the rushing waters. There was a roaring fire warming the rooms and food on a table. Erestor excused himself, leaving them in Bilbo's care.

Gimli was too interested in what the hobbit and his father were saying to be annoyed at the lack of meat and beer. He wolfed down two sweet apples and half a loaf of buttered bread with honey as while listening to Gloin and Bilbo speak of old times.

The aged hobbit was a marvel to the young dwarf. The numbers in his head told him that Bilbo had to be more than 120 years old, which was not old at all for a Dwarf, but old indeed for a hobbit. He looked somewhat more than half that age, robust and energetic yet, but with greying hair and many laugh-wrinkles around his eyes. But those eyes were now tired and reddened, and as Gimli watched he realized that Bilbo was nervous or deeply worried about something. His eyes darted to the doorway whenever anyone walked past. He figited, putting his hand into his pockets as if searching for something. Then he would smooth the fabric of his clothes, tuging at the edge of his embroidered silk waistcoat, and check his pockets again. He seemed unaware of the movement.

Finally the two old friends fell into an awkward silence. Bilbo was staring out of the window, his thoughts far away. Gloin placed a callused hand gently on Bilbo's shoulder. "What is the care that burdens you, my friend? Will you not speak of it to me?"

To both Gloin and Gimli's surprise, Bilbo burst into tears. He turned away swiftly, but his dignity was gone. His shoulders stooped; he seemed bowed with sudden age and despair.

Gimli felt very uncomfortable, but Gloin cared nothing for manfull appearences. He sent all the dwarves into another room except for Gimli, who he instructed to bring wine to them. Bilbo was a friend through dangers and dragons and dungeons. He set Bilbo down in a chair and put a goblet in Bilbo's shaking hand and helped him drink. Then he sat nearby and waited patiently for Bilbo to talk again.

"Ah, I'm sorry, Gloin," Bilbo said when he could speak. He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief, clearing his throat. "It's my nephew, you see. He has only just arrived in Rivendell... that is where Lord Elrond is now; why he could not meet you himself. He..." Bilbo had to take another gulp of wine before he could say, "He's been badly wounded, my Frodo lad. Elrond and Gandalf... are trying to save his life."

Gloin rocked back in his chair, his face written with horror and grief. He said, "Bilbo, I have often sworn my service to you and your family, as you have to mine. We are as a family now, so your grief is mine also! You should be with him, not here gossiping with an old friend."

Bilbo smiled a sad, grateful smile. "There is nothing I can do but sit and hold his hand. I feel so helpless... at least here I could do a small service, see you comfortable and explain why Elrond could not come. I asked him if I could do this for him. Seeing you and your son," Bilbo rose and bowed to Gimli, who hastened to return the bow and pledge of service, "Seeing you both has been a pleasure in a dark hour, but I must get back to him now. If I can do no more than hold his hand and pray, then that I will do. Good-bye for now, my good Dwarves! It is good to see you again, Gloin, whatever the circumstances. Gimli, I am glad I have finally gotten to meet you. You are a son that any Dwarf or Hobbit would be proud to claim. I shall see you both at mealtime, unless..." and Bilbo's weak smile faded and he turned away hastily. Gloin tugged on his beard, his face anxious.

Gimli stared after the hobbit, wondering at his own feelings which were all in a turmoil now. Gimli took his father's comment to heart; any friend of Gloin's was a friend of Gimli. Bilbo was family, and so this Frodo was family, too. He turned to Gloin, who was now looking into the heart of the fire. He asked, "What is the meaning of this, father? We have come to speak in the council, and Bilbo and Gandalf are both here. Mirkwood Elves have come and Bilbo's nephew; what strange occurances are coming together? Why now and why here?"

Gloin looked at his son with sharp appraisal. "You speak with wisdom, son. Great things seem to have been set in motion, and we have walked into the center of a storm. Let us hope for Frodo's recovery, if only to soothe the heart of Bilbo. It ruins me to see him so full of despair."

"How did he come to be wounded? He should have had a Dwarf with him! If I were there, I would have protected him with my life." Gimli knew his words were true; he felt a kinship with the halfling who he had never seen before, a strange bond almost as strong as he had to his blood-kin. "If ever he goes forth again, even upon return to the Shire, I shall lend him my axe and the hand that wields it, and see him safe wherever he is bound."

Gloin laid his hand on Gimli's shoulder. "You are a son for which a father can be proud! Let us rid ourselves of our roadgear and see if there is anything we can do to help Bilbo and Frodo. I fear the council will be delayed if Elrond is busy, but I do not begrudge it now! Rivendell is a pleasant house, for all the strange archetecture and drafty gardens. You need to eat and rest, and so do I, or we'll be of no use to anyone."

Gimli obeyed his father, but once they were bathed and fed and he lay on his firm mattress, trying to sleep, he found that he could not rest his mind.

He rose quietly, going as soft as he could from the chamber, and walked down the hall. Sconces holding candles of beeswax lit the corridor dimly, shedding circles of yellow light that brushed one another like frozen ripples on the surface of a pond. Gimli paused and listened; beneath the everpresent murmur of water the steady stone foundation of Rivendell carried to him the sound of voices speaking softly. He followed that sound.

His trail led back to the entrance hall and down another corridor, lit sparingly by more yellow candles. Darkened doorway opened to right and left and smaller hallways beckoned, but he stayed on his path for the voices were becoming clearer.

Elvish words, he guessed. He knew a few words and phrases in Elvish, enough to understand simple things. These words buzzing in his ears were not understandable to Gimli, so he reckoned that they must be an ancient tongue. He stepped carefully, making no noise until he come to the end of the corridor, and found a brightly lit room where many elves were gathered.

He froze, not able to come any closer. Few candles lit the room, but it blazed with light nevertheless, as if the stars and moon had come into the house and settled there. The faces of the elves present were lit as if from within, and they were fair and solemn and intent. They seemed gathered around a table or a high bed. He could not see what the object of their attenion was at first. He saw Gandalf there, and Bilbo was next to him, standing on a stool between the Wizard and an elf. He was holding a hand, a small hand like his own but white and limp and lifeless seeming, belonging to someone who lay on the table. Gimli felt a lump form in his throat, and it sank down to his heart.

A slight movement caught his eye, and he turned to find his woodelf sitting in the sill of the window that opened out over the moon-lit waterfalls. Gimli felt a flash of his former anger, but it paled against the anxiety he felt for Bilbo's nephew. The face of the Elf carried none of the aloofness or emnity from earlier that day. He looked worried and anxious also, as if his heart was as knotted and sharp as Gimli's own. He said nothing, just sat and watched.

Unable to help and uncomfortable under Legolas's eye, Gimli returned to his chamber and lay awake, wondering what would happen next.

Chapter 8

What happens when you leave a frustrated Elf and hot-headed Dwarf alone with each other in Rivendell? Lock up the silverware and stand back....

Today's musing co-stars Halavana's "Morfindel" from Barad Lomin, used with permission and returned with many thanks! (((Halavana and Morfindel)))

Legolas and Gimli: Round One

The next morning, Bilbo appeared to bring the Dwarves to breakfast. He seemed to have found some rest, for he looked less tired if no less worried. In answer to their questions he said softly that there was no change yet in Frodo’s condition, then he coughed and smiled weakly and asked if they were hungry. He led them to a wide hall where smells of food were wonderful in the crisp morning air. Bilbo brought Gloin and Gimli to a table where two young hobbits were seated, both picking over their meals in a half-hearted manner.

"These are my cousins come from the Shire. This is Mr Peregrin Took, my second cousin twice removed on my mother’s side and my third cousin… well, you don’t really want to know about that," Bilbo chuckled and introduced the other hobbit, "Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrin’s first cousin and Frodo’s second. We are all a big family, aren’t we, lads?" The hobbits rose and bowed politely, and when Bilbo introduced the Dwarves, they looked upon Gloin with awe and bowed again.

"Often has our cousin Bilbo told us the tale of his Adventures, but never had I hoped to meet any of his companions," said Meriadoc. "I think we never more than half-believed him, before we left the Shire. But when I saw the stone trolls, I can tell you… I became a believer!" Merry’s voice was cheerful, though he was still marked with weariness and care. His and Pippin’s feet were still wrapped with bandages and their faces were hollow and drawn.

Merry asked them to please join their table. Pippin smiled gently as he scooted over to make room. He looked very tired and his eyes were reddened as if from little sleep or tears. He pushed his food around on his plate, and though Bilbo urged him to eat he seemed to have no appetite.

Gimli realized that they must have seen many dreadful things on their dangerous journey. He felt moved to ease their hearts. He sat next to Pippin and poured a mugfull of buttermilk. Lifting it to his lips, he enacted as if he were having difficulties drinking because of his beard. "How I envy you hobbits," he said in a mirthful voice, "If I try to drink, I shall end up with more on my beard than in my mouth! It is like trying to eat through a bush!" Pippin smiled, and he laughed a little as Gimli speared a biscuit and made a show of carving it with a knife so that he could fork it into his mouth. Merry chuckled. Soon both hobbits had cleaned their plates, demonstration to Gimli how to eat and perhaps he should consider drawing his milk through a hollow straw?

After the meal, the hobbits grew sleepy and Bilbo asked the Dwarves to help him get them back to their room. They leaned on Gimli and Gloin, limping on their sore feet. Gimli would have carried Pippin, but the look of pride and determination on the young Took’s face stopped him, and he offered his shoulder instead.

Once they were back in their room, Pippin sank gratefully down on his pallet, but Merry asked where Sam was. Bilbo did not answer. He told Merry to lie down and tucked a blanket under his chin, patting his shoulder. "He will be back soon. I will see that he has some breakfast. You two get some more rest, and if you need anything, send Caelestis or one of the other maidens to fetch me."

The young hobbits fell asleep quickly and Bilbo motioned for the Dwarves to come with him out of the room. Once in the corridor, he whispered, "They will only sleep for a short time. Nightmares, I am afraid. Time in Elrond’s house will cure that, but it is too soon yet. I will stay with them for a while. You should go and get a look about. Rivendell is full of marvelous surprises. I will meet you for midday meal, my friends," he added with a bow. He went back inside the room and sat beside Peregrin’s bed.

Gloin looked at the halflings for a few moments. He said quietly to Gimli, "That Bilbo! He needs rest as much as those lads…I wonder who is having the bad dreams; them or him?"

Gimli offered no response; his own rest had been disturbed by ill dreams. Grey ships sailing away, crewed by people he knew and loved, leaving him alone on the last strand of Middle-earth. He had pleaded with them to return to him or take him with them. He had wakened with El’s name on his lips, shuddering with grief. Brusquely, Gimli shut the dreams into a corner of his mind and spoke not of them to his father, who had woken when his son had cried out. Gloin had learned not to ask about his dreams.

Together they strolled about the grounds of Rivendell, but neither had the heart to seek out the marvelous things of which Bilbo had spoken. An air of breathlessness seemed to have infected the entire household. After some time they returned to their rooms.

Gimli could not stay cooped in the room for very long. He left Gloin speaking with the other dwarves, debating the news of Erebor and what they expected to hear at the council. When Gimli felt the burden of an abundance of time, he liked to spend it where he could learn something or do something. He had no hope of learning from the Elves anything useful, but he could do something if he could find a stone to hone the edges of his axes. He walked without direction down the long hallways, following his instincts and his sharp nose. He took paths leading downward, delved into the foundations of Rivendell.

Deep below the floor of the valley, Gimli found the forges of the elves. He breathed deep the scents of hot metal and raw ore, oil and burning wood. Many elves were there, working on tasks of craft or ironmongery. He did not wish to speak to an elf, but he knew that walking in and behaving as if he owned the place would be construed as a serious insult, and his father would be shamed. He chose one at random, a tall elf with wide shoulders and strong-looking hands. Gimli said to him in broken Elvish, "I need to… sharpen my axe, um… lord?" He stumbled over the phrase, hoping he had not said anything stupid.

The elf looked at him as if without comprehension, but when Gimli began to repeat himself, he held up a hand. Gimli saw with a shock that the hand was scarred, as if he had been badly burned. He also noted that this elf had strangely uneven hair, cut without regard to his appearance. The elf spoke, his voice as dark as his untidy hair. "I hear you, my good Dwarf," he said softly, "I merely am surprised to see one of your race here. It has been too long since I have had the pleasure of a dwarf’s company. I will show you where the grindstone is. Follow me."

Gimli trailed the elf, beginning to feel rather awkward. The elves present continued their work, but as he passed them, he noticed that they looked toward him and his guide with some amusement. His quick ears caught one whispered phrase: "Morfindel is a clever smith, to have forged his very own Dwarf!"

Gimli was not amused, but he gritted his teeth and set himself to sharpening all his axes until their edges shone like silver. He saw that the elf had left him to his work, going back to his own task of etching a delicate design on a long silver knife with a bone-white handle.

Gimli was interested in spite of himself. He watched as the elf carefully selected on of his fine dark hairs, cut it at the length he needed, then used it to lay a design on the blade of the knife. He spoke words that rang and buzzed in Gimli’s head like copper bees and once he had done so, the filament of hair glowed like forge-hot metal, embossing the metal where the hair had been coiled and laid. He repeated the action to etch the hilt and guard. Gimli had not realized until the elf looked up at him that he had been standing there for many hours, observing the work.

The smith grinned at him. He wiped the blade with an oiled cloth, slid it with a snick into its sheath, and reversed it with a flourish. He offered it with a half-bow to someone standing directly behind the dwarf.

Gimli turned and saw that his woodelf was standing there, for how long he had no idea. The elf accepted the blade from the smith, then glanced down at Gimli with an air of pride. Embarrassment reawoke the flame of anger in Gimli’s heart, and he mistook that prideful smile as an arrogant smirk. He pushed past the smith and stamped out of the forge, grumbling.

This elven refuge was weaving a spell on him, he decided. He ought to stay in the chambers with his kin, and keep to the house where the hobbits were staying. He wished to see them again, and to learn if Bilbo’s nephew had recovered. The fewer elves he had to look at before the council… the better! Then they would be on their way home to the Lonely Mountain, where he belonged.

When he surfaced from the deep halls of the smiths, he discovered that he had turned differently than he had descended, arriving on the valley floor from a cave some distance from the main hall. He shook his head; it was not like a dwarf to get turned around underground. Deceitful elvish magic! He stamped across the grassy field toward the house, complaining under his breath about the whimsy of elvish architecture.

He felt someone behind him, and turned to find the woodelf was following him. He squared himself and planted his booted feet apart, frowning with displeasure.

Legolas stopped when Gimli turned. This Dwarf was the most unpredictable and unpleasant creature he had ever met. He was brusque and abusive to elves, but Legolas remembered the look of deep caring he had seen on that bearded face outside of Frodo Baggins’s room the night before. And just now, for hours he had stood and watched the elven smiths work, so lost in the beauty of their creations that he had forgotten entirely his wrath and hatred. But now again he was steaming, face flushed and beard bristling. Legolas wondered what had happened to this Dwarf to make him so angry toward Elvenkind?

Gimli’s voice as sharp and hard as the steel of his axe. "Are you lost, woodelf? Why are you following me?"

Legolas looked down his nose at Gimli, his own blood rising. Hours of watching and waiting had worn his patience away. The idea of a little aggressive exercise was suddenly very appealing. The elf crossed his arms and glared back at Gimli. "If I were looking for an efficient guide, you would be the last I would seek for direction. This is the field where my horse is stabled. You are merely going the same way as I."

"Seems to be a bit of a habit, you following Dwarves. I wonder if you could have found your way over the Misty Mountains had we not blazed the trail for you… and fought off the goblins."

Legolas set his jaw. "I have kill more orcs than you have hairs to count on your chin, Dwarf." Legolas’s playful mood was spent as quickly as it had come. He moved to walk around the dwarf, but Gimli stepped in his path again.

"One would think," the dwarf said, "That with all the bridges, gardens, and corridors in this sprawling house, a Dwarf and an Elf could somehow avoid meeting if they chose."

"Aye," commented Legolas, looking at Gimli with a light in his eye, "It would seem that Fate would lay our paths together. I certainly did not choose it. Given my own will, I would our paths parted before ever they crossed, and remained sundered for all Time.

Gimli puffed out his chest. "You got a problem with me, Elf?"

"I do not quarrel in the halls of my host, Dwarf. I had heard that dwarves claim to be civilized… though I am not surprised to find you are not."

"This is a field, not a hall. We are alone here. I would settle this matter in a most civilized way, given my own will. You have skill with a bow and arrow, and I can throw an axe and split an acorn on the limb. I wonder if you can use that fancy knife as efficiently? What say you and I cross paths in the glade beyond the stables? There I could give voice to my argument with a sharper tongue," and he touched the handle of his axe.

"Happily I will debate with you in the glade," answered Legolas. "My kindred in Rivendell are masters of speech and lore, but my arguments are more martial. Have you no wife or child to mourn you in the Lonely Mountain? I do not care to create more grief; there is too much of that in the world already."

"Soon there will be less grief in the world... for this dwarf, anyway. In a fair debate, none shall mourn for me. I always have the last word."

"In this argument, that may be because you have no more breath with which to speak."

"We shall see!" Gimli stomped away, pleased to find a diversion that would eliminate two problems at once; too much nervous energy and one troublesome Elf.

Legolas was glad he had followed his Dwarf and now had a chance to further explore his riddles. He hoped Gimli would answer some of his questions before he had to send his spirit on to Mahal.

They walked together past the stables to an open glade, screened by trees and thick undergrowth. The rich green grass was springy and thick underfoot, studded with small flowers of many colours, their scent was intoxicatingly sweet. Legolas stepped lightly over them, but Gimli did not heed them, crushing their delicate petals beneath his thick boots. The ground was clear of obstacles but rutted from the hooves of the horses. Legolas loosened the knife at his belt. Far away, the tallest tower of Rivendell peeked just over the top of the trees. A gleam of gold glinted there briefly, drawing the eyes of both Dwarf and Elf, before they turned and faced one another.

Gimli stopped in the center of the glade, turning and freeing his axe in a smooth motion. Legolas slipped the knife from its sheath, the oiled blade catching the sun and throwing many colours in an arc. They circled slowly, watching each other’s movements carefully. The air in the glade grew warm and still, alive with a charge as if before a storm of lightning. The insects ceased their buzzing and the birds fell silent. In the distance, a horse neighed; a muted sound.

Gimli raised his weapon and saluted his Elf. In his heart he was reliving the painful parting he had endured in his youth, his dream creeping out of the dark corner from which he had believed it banished. His anger was fueled by disappointment and heartache; she had been a friend, a mentor, an immortal being. Why had she left, when his lifetime would have been but a passing hour in the fullness of her day? Elves were selfish, cold and heartless…

…Elrond Half Elven leaned down over a table, his face written with care and concentration, working day and night trying to save a wounded hobbit whose life would be as brief as a candle to him… and a woodelf perched outside that door, watching and waiting…

Gimli’s axe froze as this vision played in his head, stealing the fury from his mood.

Legolas whirled his knife in his hand. His pride was stinging and his heart was hot with frustration at this Dwarf’s audacity and conceit. A lesson on respect for two thousand years of fighting and killing was in order, but in truth, Legolas’s will was not in this battle. Still, only so much insult could any being accept. He had learned long ago not to turn his back on any Dwarf.

The Elf raised his blade to his eyes, returning the salute, but before he could spring forward, a flash of light blazed between the combatants, temporarily blinding them both.

Gandalf appeared in the center of their ring of bruised flowers and grass. His grey cloak swirled as he turned to frown at both Dwarf and Elf. "What is the meaning of this, my friends?" he asked softly. "Is there not enough war in the world, that we must bring battle here? Beyond the hills there are lines of enemies upon which to quench your thirst for blood. Stay this madness and forget your quarrel."

Legolas sheathed his knife immediately, bowing respectfully to the Wizard. "Mithrandir! I crave your pardon, and the pardon of the Edain. I am full of anxious energy and have taken slight when I should have shown tolerance."

The Elf’s humility impressed the Dwarf, and when the Wizard’s bristling eyebrows arched at him, Gimli lowered is axe and bowed to the ground. "Forgive me, Gandalf! I am wrung with worry and heavy tidings. Idleness is not a commodity I can employ to good use, it seems." To Legolas, Gimli said stiffly, "Let our debate be said to have been settled."

"Oh, no, my good Gimli," said Gandalf with a hint of mirth, "Do continue your debate; speech between Dwarves and Elves should be encouraged! Just try to accomplish your arguments without the use of weapons.

"Now, you are both overdue for midday meals, and have been sought for several hours by your kindred, combing Rivendell as if it were a maze. Shall we return to the house now and calm them down? There is news to hear, and more messengers have arrived to attend the council."

"How is the hobbit, Frodo Baggins?" asked Gimli. Legolas stood attentively to listen to Gandalf’s reply.

"There is no change yet; Elrond is still with him. It is a serious situation. To be completely honest, I have little hope for him. The wound is grievous and was dealt by a deadly blade."

Legolas sighed, despair settling on him. "He is such a small creature, Mithrandir! How can he endure such suffering?"

Gimli hurrumphed, "That shows what little you know about hobbits, Master Elf! They are tough; tough as old tree roots or the bones of the mountains! And clever and quick, when they need to be. Is that not so, Gandalf?"

Gandalf laughed, sad and mirthful at the same time. "It is indeed so, Master Dwarf. At least, I now hope that it proves so again. Come, both of you. Follow me."