Tree and Stone

by Lothithil

Chapter 9: Hall of Fire

Hall of Fire

The grey wizard dispensed each contrite combatant to his waiting kindred, and they were left to make excuses as they saw fit for their lengthy absences. Legolas showed his fellows his knife, reforged and enscripted by the black-haired smith. They asked him no questions; they were used to the Prince disappearing for long intervals back home. He volenteered no information about his conflict with the Dwarf.

Gimli had a tougher time with his excuses. When he said that he had gone to the smithy to hone his weapons, Glóin became suspicious. Usually the young dwarf would be very forthcoming and eloquent about the workplace of a mastersmith, but Gimli answered shortly and without heart. Finally he settled into a stubborn attitude that Glóin knew well enough; when he wore that scowl, he could tell that his son did not want to talk anymore. Glóin trusted that eventually he would learn the truth. He left off his questioning and they passed the rest of the evening in silence, Gimli pacing around the room, tugging on his beard.

The next day was yet more tense and disturbing. At every meal or walk the antagonists seem to run into each other, and their truce became strained under the atmosphere of the house. Some struggle was taking place in the very air; powers unseen warred in the halls and meadows of Rivendell. No more singing was heard and everyone seemed to be shadowed of heart. Gimli paced his chamber until he drove Gloin and the other dwarves from the rooms. He could not bear even to look upon the hobbits. Hope was leaving his heart.

Legolas left the house and climbed a tree that he found far from the buildings where the music of the falls was a mere murmur. But no matter how far he went, his own fear and despair came with him. He climbed to the highest branches of a great fir and settled down, hugging the rough bark and pressing an ear to the rind, listening to the timeless language of the trees. They whispered of darkness to come and gave him no peace, but held him in their strong limbs while the day crept by.

Sometime in the night, toward the dawn side of the hour, a wind swept though the open rooms and windows of Rivendell, blowing the shreds of despair away like cobwebs before a cleansing springtime breeze. Laughter awoke suddenly and singing was heard. Some spirit of darkness had fled, and all the elves and other sensitive folk were gladdened and uplifted.

Bilbo looked up with a start. He had been dozing at his desk, ink drying on his quill, when suddenly his candle had blown out. He had not meant to sleep, but had sat down to jot a few notes and his exhaustion had caught up with him. He jumped up to run to Frodo’s room, feeling that something had happened. As he hurried through the door, he nearly collided with Samwise coming to fetch him. Sam’s brown face was alight with hope and excitement. “He’s done it!” the young hobbit exclaimed to Bilbo, tears running down his face, “Glory and trumpets, Mr Bilbo, sir! Master Elrond had done it!”

Legolas felt the change in the air. He slid down his tree and ran full speed to the house, leaping the rushing waters to scramble nimbly up the façade, a shortcut to the rooms where Frodo was kept. He vaulted the balcony rail and landed on top of the Dwarf who had seated himself on the floor outside of the sickroom.

“What news?” gasped Legolas, even as he saw the temper in Gimli’s face. The Elf looked toward the room, half-fearful that he was wrong, but his heart was light with surcease of grief.

“The Edain has succeeded in curing Frodo!” said Gimli gruffly. He straightened his clothing and affected indignity, but his face was split with a smile of pride and pleasure. “Bilbo brought us the word, and I came straight here. But we should not linger; Lord Elrond has said that Frodo needs quiet to rest. He is still concerned for him; he is very weak.”

They peeked into the door briefly to catch a glimpse of the face, framed by dark hair and centered on a white pillow. Elrond sat beside him, and his long elegant fingers pushed back the curls to stroke the halfling’s brow gently. Frodo sighed and murmured in his sleep.

They walked away down the corridor, both more wrapped in their hope than they could have explained, forgetting entirely their debate. Gimli was in a great humour, after his anxious day. “He is Bilbo’s nephew, you know. Good stock! Very tough in the fibre and constitution! My father says that if he is half the hobbit that his uncle is, he shall recover in a matter of days. He is family to me,” the Dwarf added softly.

“I am filled with hope that he will recover fully,” Legolas said. “So brief are the lives of mortals, and yet they burn so brightly! He is like a child of the Eldar, fair and radiant. I have not ever known any spirit so delicate and enduring as his, even among my own people. You say he is family to you?” Legolas arched an eyebrow and looked askance at Gimli.

The dwarf gave a gravelly chuckle, “Not blood-kin, of course! He is a halfling! I mean only that, being related to Bilbo, he is like family to my father and I. We share history.”

Legolas was too cautious of this newly forged amity to ask for details of this history, which Gimli had taken such delight in withholding at their first meeting. Instead of pursuing the matter, he turned it aside, hoping that later days on Rivendell’s new joyful atmosphere the dwarf might soften and relent, coming to share his locked heart.

In the main hall they split up, each gong to his own quarters. For the first time since they had left their homes they felt truly happy. Frodo Baggins was going to live!

When the morning dawned and a new day was birthed, Rivendell celebrated quietly after Gandalf reported that Frodo had woken with a clear mind and that his wound was healing rapidly. Elrond had succeeded beyond even his own expectations. Once the deadly shard was removed, Frodo’s wound had closed and his small body rallied remarkably. All the long hours of hope and effort seemed to catch up with him all at once.

Elrond proclaimed that a feast would be held that evening in Frodo’s honour, and that the next day the White Council would convene. Many folk were now assembled, and the time had arrived for the Free People of Middle-earth to gather to fight the Darkness. As the sun rose above the mountains, a shaft of warm light fell in the Edain’s room, touching the knife-point and consuming it with holy fire. Elrond and Glorfindel debated that morning about responsibility and strength.

The feast was a joyful affair. Gimli was seated at a lesser table, but for this once he did not mind; he had the hobbits for company. Meriadoc and Peregrin were now full of cheer and well recovered from their fright and exhaustion. Samwise was tired but jolly, and they all did justice to the food presented to them and showed Gimli that hobbits could hold their drink almost as well as dwarves. Gimli glanced toward the main table occasionally, noting the while Frodo looked thin, still he seemed to be reclaiming health. He was eating heartily and talking with animation to Glóin. Idly, Gimli wondered where his woodelf had gone; he did not appear at the feast. The dwarf had been running into him so much accidentally, it seemed strange not to turn round and find him.

Legolas had intended to join the feasting; as son of the king of Mirkwood, he would enjoy a place of honour at Elrond’s table. But early in the day, Aragorn had come to his chambers with a favour to ask. Elladan and Elrohir the sons of Elrond, had returned from the wild unexpectedly. They wished to show Aragorn what they had discovered and the ranger asked Legolas to accompany them.

Legolas agreed instantly. His heart was sore that he would have to reveal ill tidings at the council, tidings that he was sure that Aragorn would rue in particular, but he could not say ought of it to him yet. His father had charged him to reveal it only in council, before Elrond and Mithrandir.

He followed Aragorn out of the House and found Fëavano and another horse waiting for them. The strange horse nosed Aragorn affectionately. “Hail, Roheryn,” the ranger said softly, stroking the animal’s head before swinging onto his back. Elladan and Elrohir were already mounted and ready. They saluted Aragorn and Legolas, and soon they were riding full speed toward the west, trying to out-run the shifting shadows.

They came to the Ford of Bruinen and crossed, then rode downstream for many leagues. At last they slowed and halted, near a sandy bar upon the bank of the Loudwater, where the river sometimes spilled during the spring thaws and autumn rains.

Three dead horses lay upon the sand, scavenged by carrion-eaters. Their coats had been black once. Nearby they found a cloak of black cloth, rotted and foul-smelling. All the plants and trees and other living things nearby were brown and withered, as if they had been touched by poisoned water or a killing frost. Legolas, looking upon the dead place, felt an icy breath upon his soul. He watched with distaste as Aragorn handled the black cloth; he felt sickened at the sight. “Do not touch it!” he cautioned. “Ùlairi… it is touched by evil.”

“So we thought,” said Elladan. “We found more such rags further downstream, and places similar to this where the foliage has sickened. But we have found no bodies wrapped in these cloaks. Aragorn, is this the garments that the nazgûl wore?”

“Yes, this was their last disguise. Elrond and Glorfindel said that we would find no bodies… they have none. Legolas, can you see any traces of them? I would that I had the eyes of an Elf. My friend, can you look about for me… what do you see?”

Legolas searched the area with his careful eyes. The plants were ill with the touch of the rags of the wraiths but he could see that they would recover, faster of the offending garments were destroyed. The water ran clean. The air contained no shadows. He spoke all that he saw to Aragorn.

“It is as you have thought, my brothers,” said Aragorn after Legolas spoke. “They are gone now, but I fear they shall not be gone forever.” Aragorn dropped the rag and looked closely and carefully at the gruesome remains of the Black Rider’s horses. Finally he went to the river and washed his hands in the clean water of Bruinen. Legolas wished that the black shroud would disappear.

Elrohir spoke, “We have ridden even to Tharbad and back, and found eight horses drowned and five black cloaks such as this. There is no sign of the servants of the Dark Lord now, but the country beyond the leager of Imladris is strangely quiet. I do not even trust the birds.”

Aragorn let his eyes scan the sky overhead. “Let us return now to Rivendell and report this to Elrond. Let the guardians maintain their vigilance. Tomorrow there will be things to hear and things to tell. I wonder if it will be then that my own tale begins.” Aragorn gave his foster-brothers a rueful grin.

Legolas glanced at Aragorn with curiosity. “What do you mean, Aragorn? Your tale is already a long one for mortal man. What chapter of you life have I not yet heard, my friend?”

Aragorn smoothly leapt upon Roheryn’s back. "A destiny awaits me that has long lain secret. Before Elladan and Elrohir I speak freely, for they know more about me than I do myself, and to you who are my friend, for I have traveled and hunted with you, I will share the secret I have borne since my coming of age. My father was Arathorn son of Arador, and he was leader of the Dunedain and the direct descendant of Isildur Elendil's son."

Legolas blinked at him, hardly believing his ears. "Tales of the distant past echo from your lips, my friend. Long-lived is the line of Elendil; ever may it grow into the dawning future! Think you comes soon the hour to reveal this truth to all? Surely the Dark One will seek to destroy you if you declare yourself?"

"I must do so one day, if I am to find the bliss I seek. It lies at the end of a hard and hopeless road. But Elrond had declared that if Arwen his daughter is to wed any Man, he can be no less than King of Gondor and Arnor, and that Man must be me."

Elladan spoke again, "We will countenance no less for our sister. Though our father's bitterness will be great if you succeed, worse will be the bitterness of the world if you fail, for the stars will fall and the world soon end, if Sauron comes to rule the earth.

Legolas stared with an unbelieving smile at Aragorn. "You will seek the crown and the overthrow of the Dark One because you wish to wed? That is a strange reason to become king."

Elrohir guided his prancing horse beside his woodland cousin. "It is better to become a king for love of a maiden than for love of war or gold. Aragorn cannot be motivated otherwise. He has no desire for adulation or to be responsible for the lives of many people. But it is his misfortune and our good, that he is very apt and able to lead, and all folk love him whom he allows to know him."

"And how will this be accomplished?" wondered Legolas aloud. The entire world has gone mad, he decided. His once urgent message seemed now unimportant in light of the momentous happenings around him.

"That we do not yet know, but we linger will continue to fight and strive against the Shadow," said Elrohir. Both he and his twin wore determined faces. "To surrender to despair would ensure the victory of Sauron before ever he strikes another blow."

"We do not despair, brothers," said Aragorn. "Though no clear road is before us, a way will be found. It may be that other feet will begin that path, and ours shall be but echoes in the footsteps of true heroes. Back to Rivendell now, for the Evenstar shines in the Hall tonight and I am of a mind to return for a glimpse of her grace."

They galluped back to the fair houses of Elrond, letting their horses race. Legolas urged Fëavano to show Aragorn his paces, but the elf was actually pleased to ride behind the ranger. I would follow him anywhere, thought Legolas suddenly, and a weight of years of memory touched his shoulders and for a moment, he felt as if he were not actually there, but was in a tale of deeds long past, told with skill by an Elven Bard. Aragorn did seem like a hero to Legolas; his memory of Elendil was as vivid as his hand before his nose, and Elendil’s blood spoke plainly in the face and heart of the lean, dark ranger.

By the time they reached the Hall, the feast was consumed and all the folk were gathered in the Hall of Fire. Grooms took their horses and Legolas hurried to his quarters to find clean garb, but even so, the whole valley was dark but for the starlight on the flowing waters and the red light from the Hall when he sought to join the celebration.

Through the seeming deserted halls of Rivendell the woodelf walked, listening to the echoing voices that made all the empty doorways call with gaping mouths; the corridors, lined with open windows, cast arcs of starlight across his path. Better than bread and meat was the singing of Elves in happiness. Legolas breathed the music like mountain air.

He walked unheeded through the Hall. Everyone was engrossed in the music; folk sat or stood, listening or dreaming, playing instruments or dancing; they were turning slowly, partnered with their shadows and each other, circling and coming together, moving apart and circling again.

On a bench near the fire sat Frodo Baggins, his eyes open and fixed on nothing. Legolas could hear the vision that played before his otherwhere regard. Too much like a youth he looked to the Elf, bathed in living light of the flames, gilding his pale skin and making the orbs of his eyes seem like liquid silver. Lindir sat nearby, playing a harp and singing softly a song of Valinor. Frodo had a smile on his face that touched Legolas’s heart.

Content to listen, the Elf sat and watched the hobbit visiting in dreams the Undying Lands. Lindir's voice faded but his music continued, joined by a new voice speaking lines. Legolas smiled; the older hobbit, Frodo's uncle, was reciting a song for the delight of Elrond and all gathered, which they were to judge ere the end of their merrymaking. The song was about a mariner named Eärendil.

Frodo applauded when the song had finished. They spent some time arguing about which lines had been written by the hobbit and which had been suggested by Aragorn. Legolas could see that Elrond was rather touched by the effort; the elves tried to convice the hobbit to sing again. He refused, claiming weariness and he and his nephew departed from the Hall, stepping carefully over Samwise who had fallen asleep on the floor.

On the threshold of the doorway, Frodo paused. He turned back to hear the song that Elrond was playing on his harp and that his daughter Arwen was singing in a voice sweet as a nightingale. All folk in the Hall paused in their merrymaking to harken to the sounds. Aragorn stood beside her and his face was lit by the fire and the beauty of the Evenstar. He looked very much like an heir of Kings at that moment. He wore a tunic of green velvet and neither spoke nor sang, but drank the tonic of Rivendell; music as intoxicating as strong wine.

Legolas made a feast of all the sound and light and laughter and he felt no hunger or worry, transported completely by the atmosphere of the Hall. He dreamed his own dreams and shared the visions of others, until he became aware of another light voice speaking. Curious, Legolas moved closer so that he could hear more easily.

A young halfling was standing before a circle of Elves, telling a story about a Hobbit who set out with some Dwarves to liberate a treasure from a dragon. Legolas had never heard this tale before (he was not one who frequented the tale-fires back home, being duty-driven and of a solitary nature) and he listened eagerly, laughing with the others at the outrageous behaviour of this hobbit, growing excited as danger unfolded before him. Trolls that turned to stone, orcs full of hate and cruelty; Legolas was surprised when the hobbit telling the tale, (he heard the other hobbit call him "Pippin") began to describe a creature that resembled Smèagol, but whom he called "Gollum". He told about the riddle-game that Gollum and the Hobbit had played in the darkness under the mountain, a "precious" ring of gold as the prize. Legolas was entranced.

When Pippin’s animated tale brought the company of dwarves, hobbit and wizard to Mirkwood, Legolas began to feel some heat in his face. What was this tale? And why, if he had never heard it before, did it all sound so familiar?

As he heard of the dwarves capture by the Woodelves, it finally dawned on Legolas that this was no tale at all, but a true story. This Thorin Oakenshield and Company were the same dwarves that he had been charged with and whom had mysteriously disappeared from beneath his nose to his lasting shame. Legolas listened now with true amaze to Pippin's words, and learned at long last how the Hobbit had eluded the spiders and the Elves, aided by a magic ring; how he contrived the Dwarves’ escape in the wine barrels upon the River Running. Wine barrels! Legolas covered his eyes with his hand. It was all too fantastic to believe, but he had been there... it was all true.

Peregrin told the story as if he had heard it many times, and his companion Meriadoc would occasionally add something he forgot, or make clear some detail. Together they described the death of the dragon and the Battle of the Five Armies. As he heard this part of the tale, Legolas felt as if chains that had locked his heart in rusty captivity were broken and cast off. He laughed and applauded with the other Elves as the story wound to a happy ending. 'Riddles in the dark!' thought Legolas, 'Now I have found my answers in the Light of the Hall of Fire.'

Chapter 10:
The White Council

Legolas arrived early in the garden above the high bank of the river where the council would be held. There were set many chairs beneath the porch where a few folk were already gathered. Elrond was there, sitting in his raised chair with his long chin in his hand, frowning at some thought. Around him were sitting his counselors, Elves that Legolas had not yet met. The woodelf hesitated, feeling suddenly awkward.

Their eyes were upon him and he knew what they saw… a tall lean Elf clad in woodland colours, so different from their somber and rich garment, unique and colourful as autumn leaves. Legolas's face was not full of light nor was it lined with wisdom or bitterness. His eyes were blue as mountain lakes; theirs were grey and full of weight, ponderous with ageless thought. He met their eyes with level regard, and found himself adrift in grey mists.

Legolas did not understand the desire of the Elves who wished to depart Middle-earth. Woodelves felt a great love for their homes, and could envision no other place grander. The trees of Mirkwood spoke to them, provided shelter, food, security and even love... before Legolas came to Rivendell his entire world had been the Forest.

Yet now, he had been given a glimpse of light and stone and history and he wondered if somehow his vision of the world might not be broadened. These Elves he saw now and the ones he sat with in the Hall last night, they were deep and high and their souls shone out through their faces. But some were cold and hard as the statues of marble that warded the gardens, and others were bright and hot and burning with will. They knew tales as old as the shaping of the lands, remembering when other lands lay over them. They had seen change and destruction and the passage of Time did not erode their memories, but made all the history between seem extraneous. They no longer desired to learn; they had no direction in which to grow.

A hand touched his shoulder lightly. He turned and found a face of a friend beside him, and his feelings of alienation vanished. Glorfindel was there, a friend of many seasons, mentor and counselor, ally and brother. Legolas had known him all his life. At one time, Glorfindel had often come to Mirkwood and had himself taught Legolas the use of the bow when he was but a stripling. Though he was older than the woodelf by immeasurable years, they felt a kinship to each other as if they were siblings. Glorfindel had a mischievous streak that Legolas rather believed only he and a very few others had witnessed.

"Thranduilion," said Glorfindel, taking his arm in a strong grip. The cold glances of the High Elves lost their sharpness, they saw no longer a strange, nervous Elf but a prince and an ambassador. They turned and resumed their conversations.

Legolas was delighted and relieved. Here was the friend he had missed. "Heru nen Glorfindel, Mae govannen, otorno. I wonder how I can have been in Rivendell for three days and not yet seen you." They clasped arms in a greeting of equals, and Legolas perceived in his friend a shadow of deep concern. This shadow hung over all the members of the council in varying degrees.

As they spoke together, the Dwarven party arrived. Legolas felt the Elves stir with ill-ease and tension enter the air. Elrond stood and greeted the Dwarves, asking them to sit and be welcome. In his face alone Legolas saw no resentment or distrust. It made him question his own feelings toward Dwarves in general.

He turned to offer a greeting of his own; to extend a hand of friendship but he was stopped cold by the grim countenances of the dwarves, beards knotted and brows knit. They stared with open dislike and arrogance at the gathered Elves. Each face was an unscalable barrier of stone.

He saw Gimli trailing his father, his eyes avoiding those of the Elves. Legolas thought he saw a flicker of the old humour in him, but it was hidden away quickly. The younger dwarf followed Glóin to their seats and the dwarves all sat clustered together, defensive posture in the midst of many enemies. It was as though a door had been slammed shut in his face.

Glorfindel's hand on his shoulder eased him, and he accepted the seat he offered. Glorfindel placed himself between Gimli and Legolas, and Legolas suddenly wondered if he knew about their little 'argument' in the meadow yesterday. A small grin creased his lips, and glancing up he caught that smile echoed on Gimli's bearded face. The Dwarf quickly frowned and scowled when he saw the Elf watching him. Legolas schooled his features to blandness, but his heart was lighter.

More folk were arriving to attend the council. Some men from Erebor and Rhovannion came and placed themselves near the Dwarves, looking in wonder at the other folk present. Legolas nodded to one or two familiar faces, unsure if they were the Men he remembered or their sons who wore their likenesses. He noted that Aragorn had appeared and seated himself in a corner, dressed again in his worn Ranger gear. Legolas offered him a brief smile. He thought those dark clothes made Aragorn look positively sinister.

Elrond was speaking softly to Erestor when he paused, turning his head to observe the entrance of a strangely garbed man. Legolas followed his regard.

He had a noble face, this man, suntouched and weathered with eyes brilliant and sharp. His hair was light-coloured and long, shorn about his broad shoulders. His arms were roped with strength and he carried his gear and himself easily and with grace; he was tall and confident. His garments had been rich once, but were now stained with travel and weather. Steel rings were his tunic and skirt, covered by a coat of royal design and colour, broidered with gold but faded and torn. He wore a mighty sword and his gear was finely wrought.

Elrond rose from his chair and said, “Welcome, Son of Denethor. The White Council will begin very soon. We are waiting now only for a few late arrivals. You come in good time to share your tidings.”

The Man bowed toward the Edain. “My name is Boromir. Legends of your wisdom and foresight are well remembered in my country, Lord Elrond. I have just arrived upon your doorstep, and I am told that I am expected in council! Had I not been unhorsed at Tharbad, I should have arrived many days ago. It would seem that Providence has moved us where it would, if I were one to believe in such things as Fate and Providence.” He removed his heavy cloak and unstrapped the thick belt that bound his sword to his side. Elrond signaled for an ingénue to bring refreshments for the road-weary man. “In truth, my lord, I think my words would be better heard in privacy, rather than flogged before the ears of all where secrets are lost and wisdom diluted.” And his eyes rested upon the dark ranger sitting in the corner.

Elrond gestured to an empty seat. “Lord Boromir, secrecy serves its purposes, but some tidings are of no use to any if not shared by all. I have some knowledge of your errand and of the plight of your country. I bid you sit and listen, and to speak, when it is time for you to do so. Your father will wish to hear what will be aired before this council.”

Boromir nodded and took the seat, but he did not look pleased. He gave everyone in the room a measuring glance, his eyes coming to meet Legolas’s. The woodelf nodded toward him slowly, a warrior’s acknowledgment. The man’s gaze wandered back to Aragorn, and he sat and frowned, studying the ranger’s features and wondering where he had seen him before.

Legolas spared a glance at Gimli, seeing that the Dwarf had also noted the exchange between the ranger and the warrior. He leaned over and whispered something into Glóin’s ear in a language Legolas could not understand. His bright eyes caught Legolas looking at him. He raised an eyebrow and tightened his hand around his axehandle. Legolas could not tell if he was angry or amused.

Now almost all were present, but for three empty seats on Elrond’s left hand. Gandalf arrived as the bells were pealing overhead and at his elbow walked Frodo Baggins. The hobbit was a little anxious to be appearing before so many strange folk. He nodded tentatively to those who he knew, and Elrond introduced him to the faces he had not met.

Legolas’s heart was glad to see the halfling so recovered, and he took note of him as he stood before the council. His eyes were a deep blue of summer skies, large and expressive. He was no more in height than a child of nine years measured by mortal standards, but he has wisdom and wit in his glance, and sobriety in his stance. He bowed to each person the Edain introduced to him, and when Elrond spoke Legolas’s name, Frodo turned his eyes to the woodelf. Summer skies met mountain lake; they regarded one other and Legolas offered him his most gracious bow. Frodo smiled and whispered to Bilbo who stood beside him words that Legolas could plainly hear, “Doesn’t legolas translate to ‘greenleaf’ from the Elvish?”

The older halfling nodded his head, and he glanced at the Elf for a long moment as if drawing him from a memory. Bilbo’s face grew a touch reddened as he remembered where he had seen the woodelf before, and his hand fumbled unconsciously at his waistcoat pocket. Legolas also noticed the third halfling that crept into the garden and sat down against the wall behind Frodo, as silent as a shade.

Elrond began to speak, and everyone paid him all attention. The White Council began, and many folk stood and delivered messages, asked questions, offered news from every corner of the world. Legolas listened carefully to word and watched the faces of the speakers. He found little hope and much fear in them and the weight of his own burden of tidings grew slowly.

Glóin stood and began to speak of the black messenger from Mordor. Legolas heard him with increasing dread. Lonely Mountain was very close to his father’s kingdom; any war that occurred there would easily spill over into the trees. The more he listened to the Dwarf the hotter his heart grew. Why had there been no message of this to his father? Had not the Elves of Mirkwood aided the folk of the Mountain at need? Resentment flared in his heart.

Then his eyes rested on Frodo’s face again. The halfling looked frightened but it was fear for his uncle that he wore, for Glóin’s message warned Bilbo that the Dark Lord was searching for him. Legolas saw Frodo lift his hand and touch his breast, an endearing gesture of concern… or was it?

Darkness stirred beneath the surface of his perception. Legolas stiffened, aware of a pressure that was delivered by no hand or air. It seemed to all the Elves that something had drifted across the bright sun, and a sudden chill filled their hearts.

Elrond stood and his presence was a breath of calm air over the restless Elves. The shadow retreated and the bright sun returned. He began to tell the tale of the Ring from the beginning, and the morning shadows shrank as he spoke.

Bilbo took up the tale, apologizing before he began to those friends present of his tale was now slightly different from the one he had before delivered. Legolas heard anew the story of the Quest for Erebor, and when Bilbo described the events in Mirkwood, he glossed rather quickly over the detail of their stay in Thranduil’s kingdom. Legolas hid his smile in his hand.

Gimli had been watching the woodelf as the morning wore away. This council was full of news and no mistake, but he did not need his eyes to hear and he visited Legolas discreetly as words were bandied around him. He noted every flush and every smirk, and felt anger growing within him again. The audacity of this Elf, to grin as Bilbo described the imprisonment of the dwarves in dark dungeons! Gimli thumbed the edge of his axe, thinking of the things he could do when next he found himself alone with that Elf in an empty field!

After Bilbo finished speaking, Elrond bade Frodo tell his tale. Gimli left off his ire and harkened carefully, for this was a tale that had not been heard before. When all was told, the Dwarf sat back in amaze, his respect for the frail-looking halfling before him increased ten-fold, and also for the dark silent ranger that lurked behind the listeners. That they had survived such dangers and come through all still alive… it would have seemed without hope!

The man from the south had some doubts still, and he spoke defensively about his country, urging all to continue to place their hope in the strength of Gondor. He was proud and bold and Gimli thought, if every Man in the south were of the mind and body of this one, then there might be hope in fighting indeed. But Gandalf now stood, and he spoke a tale that wove through all the words that had been spoken that day, binding the stories into one great tale, and Gimli felt his vain hopes bleed from him again.

Boromir spoke when the Wizard paused, asking after the wretched traitor that had brought news to he Dark One of the halfling who ‘stole’ his ‘precious’; what had happened to him? Gandalf said that he was held prisoner by the Elves of Mirkwood.

The woodelf stood swiftly, his face twisted with distress. He cried, “Now I must tell my tidings, and only here do I learn how evil they may seem. The creature Smeagol who is now called Gollum, has escaped!”

Legolas was horrified. All the possible evil deeds that this beast might perform now rested on his head. He was responsible, perhaps not directly, but he felt it so, nonetheless. He confessed the details of the event that had led to Smeagol’s departure, his heart stricken as he told of the slain guards he had found and the footprints of the orcs. He had followed them swiftly, but learned only that Smeagol had managed to elude his rescuers as well as his captors, and disappeared near to Dol Guldur.

Glóin stirred restlessly as the woodelf spoke, and retorted angrily when Legolas reported his merciful attitude toward the wretched creature. Gimli shared his father’s heat and was then stunned as Glóin bowed contritely when Gandalf refuted him for his interruption. The insult rankled the young Dwarf, and he grumbled into his beard.

Gandalf continued his tale, waving the Elf to his seat. Glorfindel laid a hand on Legolas’s shoulder, but little comfort did he draw from that contact. The blue piercing eyes of the halfling stabbed him, and he wondered what evil would come from his mercy.

Now debate raged about proofs; how can we tell if this is in fact the One, and no other? Elrond bade Frodo take out the Ring and show it to the council. Silence opened in the garden, and the halfling’s hands were trembling as he reached into the throat of his tunic and drew out a chain that encircled his neck. On it hung a simple gold band that sparkled in the bright sun.

The reaction of the council was remarkable. Elrond and Gandalf both looked away from the Ring, studying instead the faces and reaction of those around them. Bilbo covered his eyes, refusing to look upon it again. Aragorn caressed the hilt of his sword, and his eyes were fixed on Boromir’s face.

The man from the south was staring at the Ring, wonder had entered his face and sudden hope. Legolas noticed his sharp regard, and he saw the man hunger for the strength he thought he could wield to win the coming war. The Elf looked at the shining Ring and saw not strength, but deception.

The world dilated suddenly, and Frodo became the hub with the Ring at its centre. On his right hand stood Elrond and on his left was Mithrandir. In Legolas’s eyes, a triangle appeared. With Elvish sight he perceived three powers poised in suspension: air and fire, with a black abyss between. The garden and the river and everyone vanished except for those three points; shimmering spirits brighter than sun or moon, even the small body of the halfling glowed with light extraordinary. Legolas passed a hand over his eyes, and the tableau vanished.

Elrond was speaking again, making plain the choices as he perceived them. He urged the council to consider destroying the Ring, for while he saw no hope in success, he saw less in other paths. After some more argument and debate, empty voices in Legolas’s ears harping that which had already been made clear, the question was put forth:

Who would take the Ring to Mount Doom?