By My Side
All characters belong to Tolkien. Paragraphs in italics in part 8 come directly from the chapter "The Riders of Rohan," the Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. Italicized lines in part 9 come from the chapter "The Road to Isengard" from the same book.
Hadhodrond is the Elvish name for Khazad-Dûm, before it became known as Moria.
"You have to sleep sometime," Aragorn said quietly, as he and Legolas set out to find game for the evening meal, the rest of the Fellowship occupied with setting up camp in their absence.
"I do sleep," Legolas said, his gaze darting everywhere but managing to avoid meeting Aragorn's eyes.
"Only when Gandalf or I have the watch," Aragorn pointed out. "That is not enough and you know it."
"How would you even know—you have lived your life among the Peredhel. I do not require as much rest as they do," Legolas hissed back.
Aragorn took a deep breath and slowly counted to ten before replying. "Leave them out of this. You are trying to distract me from the real problem—you do not trust anyone."
"That is utterly false," Legolas crouched down to look at the deer tracks he had spotted, then shook his head. Not recent enough. He looked back up at Aragorn. "I trust you, do I not? And Mithrandir."
"We have been traveling for over two weeks now. Each member of our Fellowship has taken watch many times. I will admit that I stayed awake myself, the first few nights, when the hobbits were on watch but there was no need for me to worry. They are more cautious than they seem and their bearing far better than one would expect." Aragorn put his hand on Legolas' shoulder. "I travelled with them for weeks, on our way to Rivendell. I know their worth. They learned caution on that trek. Do not doubt them due to their size or cheerful nature, Legolas. There is more to them than meets the eye, as Gandalf always says."
"I do not doubt them," Legolas muttered.
"Do you doubt Boromir then? A man who has battled against the shadow of Mordor his entire life?"
Legolas hunched his shoulders and shook his hair back, reminding Aragorn of a restive colt. "I do not doubt his training or his valor," Legolas said slowly, a frown appearing on his fair face.
"But you doubt him?"
Legolas twitched his shoulders again and met Aragorn's gaze. "He may have battled the darkness, Aragorn, but he does not always rest easy, even when he sleeps. I sense turmoil in him."
Aragorn did not reply. He had sensed a reticence in Boromir. He seemed at ease only with Merry and Pippin—his eyes too often drifting to Frodo—and he seemed genuinely perplexed by Legolas and Gimli. But Aragorn did not doubt his loyalty or his prowess as a warrior. "That is enough to keep you from your rest?" he asked.
"Perhaps. Perhaps not," Legolas grudgingly admitted.
There was only one companion left out of their reckoning so far and Aragorn knew he was the most likely source of his friend's unrest. "And Gimli?"
There it was. The flash of annoyance on Legolas' face, the clenching of his jaw all but confirming it. "What about him?" Legolas asked, his tone light.
Aragorn sighed again. This stubborn pride they both clung to was not easing their interactions one bit. Legolas and Gimli both steadfastly refused to address each other by their given name, spitting out "Elf" or "Dwarf" with barely veiled animosity whenever the need arose to actually speak to one other. It truly had grown tiresome.
"You do not rest when he is on watch either," Aragorn said, knowing Legolas had understood his question and was being purposefully dense now.
"He is obviously not well-traveled, used to living in that Mountain fortress of his—what experience would he have keeping watch in the wild?" Legolas asked disdainfully. "He may as well be deaf, his hearing is so poor," he muttered, as an aside to himself.
"You are not one to talk about not being well-traveled," Aragorn admonished.
That earned him a frosty glare.
"My travels, or lack of such, have no bearing, Aragorn. I have lived my entire life in a forest where danger lurks behind every tree. I do not need to be well-traveled to be wary!"
"Then you cannot fault Gimli for it either! That is not fair."
They were both proving quite useless at finding a suitable dinner for their companions with their bickering, Aragorn decided. One more attempt to reason with this Elf and then he needed to focus on their hunt.
"He is a warrior trained long and hard, Legolas. Do not misjudge." He returned Legolas' cold stare. "And he manages to hear your muttered insults quite well, you know."
Legolas huffed. "I mean for him to hear them, Aragorn."
Aragorn shrugged, defeated for the moment. It was always challenging arguing with Legolas when he was in this kind of mood. "Very well then, sleep or don't sleep—but realize that you put all of us at risk, not only yourself, with your stubbornness." He permitted himself a small smile at the curses heaped upon him by his friend at his words.
"I will not have it said that I put the Fellowship in peril," Legolas said stiffly. That was as close to a promise to sleep as Aragorn was likely to get. He would have to be content with that.
"Come, then. Have your eyes not spotted anything to feed our ravenous hobbits?" he asked.
"Aye, but you scared them off with all your pointless chatter," Legolas grumbled.
The wolves had come upon them in the night. Gandalf had ordered them to move to higher ground—the top of the small hill they had been sheltering beneath—but the wolves, wargs in truth, had gathered and attacked them in the pre-dawn hours.
It had been an eye-opener, as Sam said, but for more than just the hobbits. Gandalf had used his exceptional skills with fire to set the whole hilltop ablaze. It had shocked them all, except for Aragorn, who knew far more of Gandalf than the rest.
Gandalf's display was unexpected even to Legolas, who knew him well—the wizard had not exhibited his gift for anything more involved than fireworks in many a long year. But even as he felt the heat and raw power of the wizard's conjured fire, his eyes were unexpectedly drawn to the Dwarf. Gimli's battle axe ripped through the wargs, slicing off limbs and heads as he spun it around, a guttural cry in an unfamiliar language rising from his throat to echo around them.
It was odd, a small part of Legolas thought, as he drew his bow again; Gimli was clearing a swathe in front of them but his stature kept him from impeding Legolas' aim. He had been forced to shift away from the Men, to be able to keep a clear path for his arrows and somehow he had found himself situated near Gimli. He stood on a small rise not far behind the Dwarf and shot arrow after arrow at the attacking wargs.
It was with chagrin that he realized Gimli had been manning the perimeter with the express intent of keeping the wargs as far from Legolas as possible. The archer was far more useful weilding his bow than joining the others in hand to hand combat. His long-range shooting had kept the worst of the attack away from the hobbits.
There had been no discussion of strategy or tactics. They had just found their places as the battle raged and continued to hold there when the positions had seemed to work to their advantage.
Legolas would have to think about that.
Their words had sparked again at the doors of Moria but the events that swiftly followed had buried their impending quarrel. This time.
The stone around them was oppressive. Legolas had grown up in the palatial caverns of the Greenwood. Their depths did not unnerve or dismay him as the halls of Moria did. A sense of foreboding coursed through him and he could not shake the feeling that he was being watched. The darkness was heavy, obliterating detail even from his Elf-sharp eyes. The glimmer at the top of Gandalf's staff was their only light. It flickered on Gimli, right by the wizard's side.
The Dwarf seemed to be the only one besides the wizard who was unaffected by the veiled menace of Moria. Legolas watched him from behind, noting Gimli's steady stride and curious glances around, despite the fact that he likely could not see anything in the gloom.
Legolas shuddered. He did not like this place—liked it less every minute that passed. He could feel his shoulders tensing under his tunic, a prickle of apprehension unsettling him as he walked. He was sure the others felt it. Did the Dwarf not feel it too? Was he just too stubborn to acknowledge it?
Or maybe he was putting on a brave face for them all. His people had reclaimed this mine, but from what they had seen so far, the slim hope of finding the intrepid band of settlers alive was waning rapidly.
He looked at Gimli with grudging respect. Legolas himself was hard pressed to keep his own apprehension at bay—how much worse must it be for Gimli, who surely felt the silent danger and who likely knew what it had meant for his kin.
His heart had unexpectedly clenched in sympathy for the Dwarf as he sang his song for them, when they finally stopped later in the night. Even with the unlovely Westron words Legolas felt a flare of anger rise up within him, that the wonder that had been Hadhodrond had been transformed into the Black Pit of Moria.
Somehow, they had again found their same positions—Legolas with his bow just behind Gimli swinging his axe. There was almost a rhythm to it, as he shot the raging Orcs, his arrows flying between the strikes of Gimli's axe. But it was not enough; they were too few, the orcs too many. Gandalf bellowed for them to run and Legolas would have followed but the Dwarf lingered, mindless of the peril stalking him. He stood, head bowed, at the foot of Balin's tomb, his lips moving silently.
That would not do. "We must go!" Legolas roared at the Dwarf but the din around them only increased at his shout. Had he even heard him? He slashed his knife across the throat of the Orc who had drawn closest to Gimli and with a yell of pure frustration Legolas leapt to Gimli's side. He grasped him by the shoulders, grimly dragging him away.
It wasn't until they reached the doorway that Gimli seemed to realize what was happening and his dead weight shook out of Legolas' grip. Then they were both stumbling down the stairs together to reach the others.
His jaw was clenched painfully. His ears could pick out the sounds coming from each of his companions. Legolas itched to rip the blindfold off, to see the Golden Wood in all its glory—who knew if he would ever venture here again? But he had grudgingly acquiesced to Aragorn's infuriating suggestion that they all must go blindfolded, simply to spare Gimli being singled out.
He could hear the Dwarf breathing a few paces behind him, stumbling slightly on the path, a mumbled curse reaching his ears. Legolas had come to realize over the past few weeks that Gimli's hearing was far better than he had initially surmised. But he wasn't as attuned to nature as Legolas was; he could not sense the tree roots and undulations below their feet as Legolas did.
He sighed. Blast it. He may as well try to help. "Veer left—tree root," he said quietly in Westron. Legolas was not surprised to hear a startled grunt from behind. "The path dips a little here," he added.
"Aren't you supposed to be blindfolded, Elf?" Gimli growled.
Legolas grit his teeth and bit the words out slowly. "I am blindfolded, Dwarf. But as I am walking in front of you I am simply letting you know what to expect."
He did not anticipate the small cough and mumbled "You have my thanks, then," that drifted to his ears.
He still could not say why he had invited the Dwarf to walk with him. He was finally with his own kind again, should be reveling in their shared understanding of each other. But he did not feel as welcome or at ease with these Elves as he felt with his companions from the Fellowship. It was a peculiar sentiment and quite unexpected.
He had made his way back to their small encampment but the hour was late—the hobbits were asleep under the canopy, Aragorn and Boromir stretched out near them. Only Gimli was still awake, his head bent low over his knees as he sat leaning against a tree trunk.
His grief was palpable and Legolas felt a momentary twinge of pity—the loss of Gandalf still hurt but he at least had Aragorn and the grieving Elves of Lothlorien to share his memories and loss. The hobbits had each other.
Boromir and Gimli were solitary in their sorrow but Legolas knew Boromir did not feel it as keenly. Gandalf had been a distant figure to him.
But to Gimli he was more than just a famed, wise wizard—he was the catalyst that led to the Dwarves regaining the Kingdom of Erebor, he was the storyteller at their feasts, he was the source of awe-inspiring fireworks when Gimli was a child, he was a trusted companion and mentor. It was not the same and he had none of his kin by his side to share this loss.
Legolas sighed. It seemed he was doing that more and more in regard to the Dwarf. His silent footsteps took him closer and Gimli looked up at his approach. "Come walk with me, Gimli. It is not good to be alone at a time like this."
Neither one of them had voiced a complaint when Aragorn made the boat assignments. The hobbits were certainly not skilled enough to man one of the Galadhrim's vessels alone. It made sense to put them with the Men, leaving Legolas and Gimli in third boat.
It was a somewhat solitary mode of transport. Although they maintained visual contact with their companions it was difficult to communicate from boat to boat, with the rushing of the water and the sounds of the birds around them. At first they were silent, intent on gauging the current and maintaining their position, loaded as their boat was with most of the Fellowship's gear. But with time, as the rhythm of the rowing took over his awareness, Legolas found himself beginning to hum a song from his home, soon singing the words softly to himself as they made their way down the river.
He did not think of all the times Gimli had blustered and fussed at his singing in the past.
Strangely, Gimli had no intention of fussing at him at all this time. He found Legolas' voice inexplicably soothing, taking him back to the early days of their travels, when things had been so much simpler and far less grim.
"What is the song about?" he asked the Elf.
Legolas paused and looked momentarily startled by the question. "It is a song to Yavanna, to whom all growing things are sacred."
Gimli nodded. "I like it."
That was unexpected. Legolas continued to sing, still keeping his voice low, the words just audible to Gimli and himself.
He didn't know what had induced him to start talking. Perhaps it was the Elf's singing, lulling him into a relaxed state of mind, but Gimli found himself talking about his home. There had been so much to occupy his mind since they set out from Rivendell that he had not had time to properly think on Erebor, on his family. But now, as they traveled for hours on the river, his mind had time to wander and it wandered back home.
Legolas listened, his thoughts drifting to his own land, as he listened to Gimli's words; his hands still rhythmically rowed and his eyes still darted right, left, ahead—always scouting, always on the lookout—but he could not help but wonder how they fared in Eryn Galen.
He had kept his mind studiously off what his father's reaction to his departure with the Fellowship must have been. He had penned a quick note, sent off with a messenger from Imladris. There had been no time to receive a response—he had timed it that way by choice. He knew Thranduil would have much to say—about his choice to accompany the Fellowship, about his priorities as a Prince of Eryn Galen and about his unsatisfactory communication skills. It was not a conversation he was particularly looking forward to but he would gladly face his father's temper and harsh reprimand a hundred times over just for the chance to return to a home that was safe and intact.
Gimli's thoughts had been similar. The Black Riders that had plagued Dain and resulted in Gimli and Gloin's delegation to Imladris worried him. Elrond had said their defeat at the river was only temporary. Had they returned to make good on their threats to Dain?
It was oddly comforting to talk of places they both knew. Somehow it had not occurred to Legolas that Gimli would have traveled to Laketown, would know the same people, the same places. Gimli was surprised to find they both favored the same little bakery in Dale, the one tucked behind the main thoroughfare, three doors down from the pub that Gimli declared served the finest ale in town. It seemed they both had a weakness for honeycakes.
He had not expected to see the Elf this tired, unsettled, dispirited. It was the third day of their trek trailing the Orcs of Isengard, to find Merry and Pippin. Gimli was exhausted. He had not known he could run that far, for that long, despite his defiant words to Legolas not two days prior.
"Come, Legolas," he said, from his seat in the green grass of the hillock they had chosen for their rest. "Even you must eat something."
The Elf continued to pace to and fro, eyeing the surrounding plain suspiciously. Gimli groaned. "Legolas, come. There is yet a bit of lembas to last us a few more days. Stinting yourself will do none of us any good."
Aragorn said something to the Elf in his native language and he reluctantly came towards them, his eyes still darting around. Gimli silently handed him a broken-off wafer of lembas. He took it but was still distracted, turning his eyes towards the river in the distance, tracking it as it wound its way to the forest.
"There is something there, Aragorn," Legolas said, pointing. Aragorn looked but could only discern a distant smudge near the river; he dropped to the ground to listen but Legolas shaded his eyes as the dim shapes in the distance took form with his superior vision.
"Riders," Aragorn said, as he stood up, Gimli rising from the grass and swiftly packing their dwindling food supply at his words.
"Yes," Legolas confirmed. "They will be upon us shortly. Shall we stay up here, Aragorn?"
"The plain is wide open around us," Gimli said. "They will see us from afar."
"Let us get down from this hill and meet them on the plain. Perhaps they will have tidings for us," Aragorn said.
The initial encounter with the Riders had not been good. Aragorn had certainly been well-spoken but their leader was rough and suspicious. Gimli had kept his peace reluctantly, even when the Man's disparaging comments about the Lady of the Golden Wood had caused his temper to flare; but he held his tongue, letting Aragorn speak until the man directed his insolent words at Legolas and himself.
"Give me your name, horse-master, and I will give you mine, and more besides." Gimli's eyes flashed a warning at this Man and his grip tightened on his axe.
"As for that," said the Rider, staring down at the Dwarf, "the stranger should declare himself first. Yet I am named Eomer son of Eomund, and am called the Third Marshal of the Riddermark."
"Then Eomer son of Eomund, Third Marshal of the Riddermark, let Gimli the Dwarf Gloin's son warn you against foolish words. You speak evil of that which is fair beyond the reach of your thought, and only little wit can excuse you." Gimli's focus was all on the Man before him. He did not sense Legolas move closer to him at their exchange.
Eomer's eyes blazed, and the Men of Rohan murmured angrily, and closed in, advancing their spears. "I would cut off your head, beard and all, Master Dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground," said Eomer.
Legolas narrowed his eyes at this Eomer. His words were intolerable. How dare this Man speak to Gimli with such contempt?
Gimli was startled by the swift movement at his side. "He stands not alone," said Legolas, bending his bow and fitting an arrow with hands that moved quicker than sight. "You would die before your stroke fell." Gimli had never heard that icy tone from him before, not even during their early quarrels. He darted a glance at his companion and his eyes widened. He knew Legolas was a lethal warrior but he was glad he had never faced off with him when he looked this fierce.
The fact that they did not come to blows was all due to Aragorn. But Gimli would not forget how swiftly Legolas had spoken out for him.
It happened again at Helm's Deep; they had found themselves overrun by Orcs and somehow had naturally fallen into those positions again, Gimli swinging his axe to clear their perimeter while Legolas shot as many outliers as he could before they reached them. They made swift work of the initial onslaught but the night was still young.
It was not long before the second wave of the attack separated them, Legolas soon having to abandon his bow and resort to his long knives. Gimli made his way to the fortifications, pausing only to assist the Men of Rohan in blocking the culvert that had allowed a stealthy party of Orcs to breach the wall.
It was morning before they met again, Gimli having found himself in the Deep with Eomer and his men during the night.
Legolas made note of the blood-stained bandage wrapped around Gimli's head but made no mention of it as they greeted each other.
"Forty-two, Master Legolas!" Gimli cried as he caught sight of the Elf.
"You have passed my score by one," answered Legolas. "But I do not grudge you the game, so glad I am to see you on your legs!" He gripped Gimli's shoulder as he spoke, looking down fondly at the bedraggled Dwarf. "It is a good thing your head is so hard. You might not have made it through the night otherwise."
Gimli's eyes crinkled as he smiled up at Legolas. "Aye, it is not as delicate as yours, I'll say that." He reached up to pat Legolas' hand briefly. "I'd have a few more to my count if the last one hadn't notched my axe. I told you I would beat you handily at this."
"I have a feeling this may not be our last time playing this game," Legolas countered. "You may sing a different tune next time."
"You will have to work harder, Master Elf! You have hardly even mussed your hair. If I did not know better I would say you had been taking it easy up here on the battlements." He laughed as Legolas shoved him even as he joined in his laughter.
He didn't need to look behind him to know Gimli was there. He spun, his knives flashing even in the dim light of the day. He saw the Orc drawing near and was not surprised to see it double over, Gimli's axe having sliced across its belly when it got too close. He threw his knife at the one coming at Gimli from the left, then slashed the throat of the one behind him with his second blade. He caught the knife in the air, as Gimli retrieved it from the dead Orc and threw it his way with a fierce smile. Legolas nodded at him and spun again, back to back with Gimli now. Let the Orcs try. Nothing could get by them.