A/N: This sketch was partly inspired by Thundera Tiger's "While the Ring Went South." That is an amazingly complex and entertaining story, strictly book verse, with lots of Legolas and Gimli interaction. If you haven't read her work yet, go and check it out. She's linked on my Favorite's page.
This story is a mixture of book and movie verse, though I try to stay true to the book as much as possible. In that spirit I have used J.R.R. Tolkien's own dialogue at the appropriate places (yes, this means I get to use the "Fool of Took!" line). Those places are marked with references to the page where you can find them in the Master's own work.
I refer to the movie mostly for action sequences and character description. I've also given Legolas two knives, rather than the one he carries in the book. It makes sense to me that an archer would carry his blades at his back, as he could then transfer between arrows and knives faster than if he had to draw the knife from his hip.
Many thanks to my beta reader, Angel, who stayed up late to critique this chapter. Hope it was worth it.
Disclaimer: I make no claims on Tolkien's world, other than the pleasure of playing in it once in a while. I'm borrowing his characters for a while, but I promise to be nice and to return them unharmed.
In the Deep Places
"There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world."
-Gandalf, Journey in the Dark, The Fellowship of the Ring
Chapter 1: Rock and Stone
Legolas did not like caves. Like all Elves, he avoided them whenever possible, and now, as the echoing dark closed around him, he felt his dislike deepening into true loathing. The stronghold that his father had built in northern Mirkwood was a necessity, a last refuge against the growing shadow to the south. Yet even in the face of Dol Guldur, most Wood-elves stayed above ground. They made their homes in the flets around the king's fortress, trusting Elvish senses and warrior skills over cold stone walls. Only the most dire of circumstances would force an Elf to shut himself off from the song of the stars and growing things.
And what are these circumstances, if not dire? Legolas thought grimly. Six hours had they been wandering the cold labyrinth of Moria, and Legolas felt near the breaking point. Thranduil's keep might be below ground, but every effort was made to bring light and air into the Elven refuge. The fortress was built into a great hill, and windows were cut in the stone wherever possible. A cunning system of vents brought fresh air and the whisper of tree-song into even the deepest places. There was no room without some breath of life, and plants and vines were brought inside, fortified by Elvish spirit even in the absence of natural light. The stone walls were softened with rich tapestries that depicted the forest above, and every pillar was carved in imitation of the trees that were the Elves' true home. Even the cellars had shafts to allow access to the deep-running river, so no part of the stronghold was completely cut off from the outside world.
But the builders of this Dwarven kingdom clearly had no such regard for Elven sensibilities. Legolas walked with eyes wide open, straining to pierce the darkness that closed in on all sides. He stretched all his senses to their limits, but there was no breath of fresh air, no hint of light from sun or stars. Very dimly he felt the whisper of the plants that clung to life above, but they spoke only of shadow and fear, and they grew fainter with every step he took deeper into the Black Pit. The holly trees at the gate had had stronger voices, not yet forgetting the Elves that planted them long ago. But they had been destroyed, uprooted and smashed down by the Watcher in the water. Legolas mourned their loss. The trees had marked the closest point that Elves had ever come to Moria, for the caverns had no memory of them. Wood-elves had no affinity for stone, but Legolas could occasionally hear its voice, if Elves had been there. Less distinct than the song of living things, but there was a resonance that remained in Elvish lands, even after the people departed. But here there was nothing. The Company walked in Shadow, and death plagued their steps.
He could hear the sluff of Mithrandir's robes as the wizard led the way with their only light. The creak of Gimli's chain mail marked the Dwarf's heavy steps alongside the Maia. Much softer came the patter of bare feet as the Hobbits followed. Behind him, Legolas could hear the swish of Boromir's heavy cloak and Aragorn's steady tread as the Men brought up the rear. Both Men had been soaked in the battle against the Watcher, but they had not taken time to change into dry clothes. Legolas wondered at the wisdom of this, for he knew that mortals were likely to take sick if they were chilled for any length of time. Still, he told himself, the Men had proved their strength on Caradhras. They had pushed themselves to their limits to get the Hobbits safely off the mountain, and they remained hale, though Boromir had developed a congested nose. Surely the damp clothes would not slow them down overly much. This was some comfort to the Elf, for in truth he would have begrudged any delay. The Company was doomed to take the dark road, it seemed, and he wanted to finish this stage of the journey as soon as possible. Mithrandir had said that it would take three days to reach the other side, and Legolas did not know if he could tolerate so long a time without free air and light.
The atmosphere was musty, choking and close about them. The faint currents that breathed from the passages and caverns they passed were cold and lifeless. The air of southern Mirkwood had a similar stifling quality, Legolas knew, but there was also the constant murmur of the trees and growing things that welcomed the Wood-elves, even in Shadow. There was no life here.
There were more concrete dangers than the utter blackness and death whispers that pressed around them. The floor was uneven, occasionally dropping several feet without warning and covered in loose rubble. There were gaping crevasses in the walls and floor, and they soon would have come to grief had it not been for the illumination of Mithrandir's staff. Not even Legolas' eyes could pierce the shadows around them without some light.
Ahead of him, the wizard checked suddenly and threw out an arm to stop Gimli beside him. Pippin walked straight into Mithrandir's back, and earned an exasperated glare as the wizard turned back to the company.
"Might give a little warning," Pippin muttered to Merry as he rubbed his head. "I got Glamdring's hilt right between the eyes. All those robes, and I hit the one hard edge!"
"I think there are plenty of hard edges to Gandalf," Merry whispered back. "Keep your eyes open next time, and maybe you can avoid them."
Legolas heard the Hobbits clearly, but Mithrandir ignored them as he looked over the rest of the Fellowship.
"Now we come to the first serious check in our path," he said. The road had widened a bit, to the point where perhaps five men could stand abreast, and Mithrandir stepped aside so that they could see what he meant. The Hobbits crowded forward, but Legolas stayed where he was and looked easily over Gimli's head. A chasm greater than any other they had passed opened before them. It was at least seven feet across, and a fathom deep or more. Far below Legolas could hear the sound of water, and the creak of a great wheel turning.
Aragorn and Boromir came up beside him. Boromir was surveying the crevasse with a furrowed brow. "What now?" the Man muttered. "The Hobbits cannot possibly jump this gap. Do we turn back and seek another road?" Aragorn exchanged a look with Legolas and sighed softly. Legolas could guess the Ranger's mind. It would take hours to backtrack to another road, if they could find one, and there was no guarantee that a different path would not also be blocked. Aragorn did not look happy at the prospect, but he was resigned. Legolas, however, could not view the possibility of delay with such equanimity. They might spend days in futile wandering from one obstacle to another, or they might exceed the range of even Mithrandir's memory and become so lost in the labyrinth that they never found their way out. The thought was enough to make Legolas' heart pound and his breath catch in his chest. He turned away from Aragorn and moved past Gimli to the edge of the pit.
Legolas pressed his boot against the rock at the edge, trying to put weight on it as a Man might. "This edge is stable," he said, trying to keep the note of desperation from his voice. He eyed the other side carefully, selecting a spot that looked relatively free of loose rubble. He took two steps back, then sprang forward and leapt the gap easily. He landed lightly on the other side without shifting the loose rock in the slightest. Legolas could hear the Hobbits gasp in surprise as he turned back to the company and smiled. "The rock is solid and will not give way. If we had a rope, we could fashion a bridge for the Hobbits to walk across. We need not be delayed."
"Rope!" Sam muttered. "I knew I'd want it, if I hadn't got it."*
But Aragorn moved forward and shook his head. "Even with a rope, our problem would be the same. We are not Elves, Legolas, and the Hobbits cannot walk an Elf-bridge. We must find a way to all jump this crevasse, or turn back."
Legolas felt near panic at this idea. Clearly the endless tomb of stone was taking its toll already, for he had forgotten the limitations of mortals. Chattering in the back of his mind he could hear his father's voice: Weak. Untrustworthy. Will you place your faith in these? They limit you. With an effort of will he cut off the voice and thought firmly: They, at least, have kept their wits better than I. Shall I betray them at the first checking point? I could not survive this place without them. He ignored the memory of the Redhorn Gate – had you all been Elves, you would not have needed to turn back. You would not be in this place at all – and tried to focus on the situation at hand. For all their foundering in the snow, the mortals had proved themselves more than capable on Caradhras, and they were clearly far better able to cope with the Mines than Legolas was. Indeed, he feared that they might be forgetting the limitations of Elves. Even the Hobbits looked willing to backtrack as Boromir had suggested, and the possibility of hours or even days longer underground did not trouble them excessively. Legolas clenched his jaw and forced back the bile that rose at this thought. The Periannath had proved themselves capable of greatness. Surely, surely this jump was not too much for them.
"Perhaps our Strong Men might carry them across," he said, forcing a light note into his voice. "The rock will hold your weight, and the Hobbits will not add much to it." Aragorn and Boromir exchanged doubtful glances, and Boromir, the heaviest of them all, moved forward and stamped upon the cliff edge. "The rock might hold," he said finally, "but . . ." his eyes shifted slightly to Gimli.
Legolas could have screamed. So close! The Company had nearly agreed to his plan, only to be foiled by the Dwarf. He looked to where Gimli stood with stocky legs planted firmly apart, leaning against his axe and surveying the pit in grim silence. He could not argue the point – Gimli weighed nearly as much as Aragorn, and the Men could not possibly jump the gap while carrying him. Certainly the prospect of turning back would not bother the Dwarf – he probably welcomed the excuse to spend even longer in his beloved Mines. And the additional torture to Legolas would be an extra treat, so far as Gimli was concerned. In that moment Legolas agreed with every curse his father had ever heaped upon the Dwarves, and he could have added some inventive ones of his own.
He took a deep breath and narrowed his eyes as he stared at the Dwarf. Sensing the look – an Elven stare was not an easy thing to miss, after all – Gimli looked up and met his eyes. This was not an easy thing to do, and Gimli clearly looked unhappy at it, but he did not look away. Normally Legolas would have averted his gaze – he had been reminded more than once that the direct look which an Elf took for courtesy made mortals uncomfortable, but at the moment he could not have cared less for the Dwarf's comfort. He was thinking.
Men often underestimated Dwarves, and Gimli might not have such a difficult time with this gap as Boromir believed. But the Dwarf would not risk harm to the Hobbits, and would likely turn back without attempting the leap rather than allow them to jump with the Men. Despite the stamina they had displayed on Caradhras, Gimli clearly believed Men to be weak in comparison to Dwarves. He likely feared that they would drop the Hobbits. As if in confirmation of this suspicion, Gimli turned to Boromir (thereby conveniently breaking eye contact with Legolas). "There is good rock here. But more than rock must hold. We cannot afford a misstep, and the Hobbits would put you off balance. We should backtrack and find a safer road." His voice was as deep and steady as ever, but Legolas caught the glint of his eye as he glanced back at the Elf. The Dwarf clearly knew what even a few hours delay would do to Legolas, and he was enjoying the prospect.
Boromir, however, seemed to interpret the Dwarf's remarks as an attempt to avoid the jump without loss of face. He nodded and called to Legolas, "Come back, Master Elf. We must seek another way." He settled his shield against his back and turned away. The Hobbits were whispering together as they looked from Legolas to Boromir, and even Mithrandir looked resigned to backtrack. Aragorn gave Legolas a sympathetic look, but moved aside as if giving Legolas room to land next to him. "We will soon find a safer path," he said. "Come, Legolas, it will not take long." But Legolas heard the note of uncertainty in his voice. Aragorn was committed to this plan for the Company's sake. But he could make no such promise, for his knowledge of the labyrinth did not extend so far. And Gimli was now watching the Elf with an open smirk.
Legolas ground his teeth. Ordinarily he would have sought a diplomatic way to make them see reason, but the endless dark, the weight of stone above, and the desolate silence where Ilúvatar's Song should have been were fraying his nerves past all attempts at reason. His plan would have to work without diplomacy. "It seems that the Fellowship cannot see the strengths of its members," he cried, and ignored the crack in his voice. "Our doughty Men will not drop the Hobbits, as they proved once before, Master Dwarf. Or has your small wit forgotten the events of only a few days ago? Rather it is you who show weakness. Your legs are too short to make this jump, and you make us wander hours, or days, out of our way for your sake."
Aragorn opened his mouth to intervene, but was prevented by a low growl that came from Gimli. The Dwarf's hands were clenched on the haft of his axe, and his eyes were murderous. "Clearly the dark has taken your wits, Master Elf. This little hole is nothing to a Dwarf of the mountains. I've crossed gaps twice as wide, in my father's mines. But others of this Company have not been so fortunate. Rather say that you are afraid of the dark, and would risk the safety of the Fellowship in your cowardice."
"Indeed," hissed Legolas, and his hands tightened on his bow. "And yet I say again, all the Fellowship has a method of crossing this chasm, save you. Your excuses prove little save that you are afraid, and insult the others to hide your fear. And if I be wrong, then come here and prove it to me!"
"Prove it!" Gimli snarled. "Aye, I shall prove it, with the edge of my axe!" The Dwarf backed away from the chasm ten or twelve paces, gauged the distance, and then ran for the gap. "Gimli, no!" Aragorn cried, but the Dwarf was beyond hearing. He launched himself at the edge and sailed over the chasm, his legs drawn up and his axe held high even as he leaped. He landed heavily on the other side, staggering at the very brink of the crevasse, his arms pin-wheeling madly as he fought for balance. Legolas sprang forward and grabbed one flailing arm to steady the Dwarf. "Leave off! I need no help from an Elf!" he snarled as he regained his footing. Legolas promptly dropped his arm and the Dwarf slipped on the loose shale at the cliff's edge, but kept his balance. He stepped forward determinedly, axe at the ready, but found that his opponent had vacated the battlefield. Legolas lost all interest in the argument the moment Gimli landed safely on the other side of the chasm, and instead turned back to the rest of the Fellowship. "It seems that the Dwarf, at least, has been underestimated. What now of our Strong Men? What Dwarves can leap Men can manage, and the Hobbits are not too great a burden."
Mithrandir was watching him with a knowing gleam in his eye, and Aragorn too looked as if he knew he was being manipulated, and did not like it. But now that Gimli had gained the far edge of the chasm there was little they could do. For all his bravado, the Dwarf had barely made the leap, and they would not risk him jumping back again so soon. Boromir, at least, looked frankly astonished that the Dwarf had made it at all, but after a moment he shook it off. "Well," he said, "it seems that the choice is made and we must go forward. Now it is time for Men to do their part." He turned as if to pick up Frodo, but the Hobbit held up a hand.
"No," the Ring-bearer said, and there was a note to his voice that made them all turn to stare at him. In the dim light of Mithrandir's staff Legolas could see that the Hobbit's face was set in thin lines. "Legolas is right. Our strengths have been underestimated. Hobbits aren't as small as you think." With that Frodo backed well away from the edge, took a deep breath, and then ran forward. Boromir moved to stop him, but the Hobbit ducked under his arm and raced faster. An instant later he launched himself into the air, and only the keen reflexes of the Elves allowed Legolas to leap forward and catch him as he came down on the other side. The impact nearly knocked Legolas over, but he caught himself and steadied them both. He even noted, with some amusement, that Frodo had actually managed the jump with more success than Gimli. The Hobbit did not have Dwarven strength, but neither was he weighed down by Gimli's heavy chain mail.
Legolas set him down and straightened his cloak. Frodo was breathing heavily, but his eyes were shining. "A great jump, Master Frodo," Legolas said. He would have added something about Hobbits besting Dwarves, but he could feel the heat of Gimli's gaze behind him, and a slight creaking noise told him that the Dwarf was adjusting his grip on his axe. Gimli had not yet forgiven him the insults he had used to goad the Dwarf into crossing the chasm, and Legolas had no desire to provoke him further. At least, not until the rest of the Company had crossed over safely.
He turned to look at the rest of the Fellowship, and nearly laughed aloud. Boromir's face was blank with astonishment, Aragorn was grinning widely, the rest of the Hobbits were staring at Frodo in amazement, and Mithrandir actually laughed. "Ah," he said, "this proves my point. Even after a hundred years, Hobbits still amaze me. We shall be careful not to underestimate them in the future." With that the wizard lifted up the hem of his robes, backed up a few paces, and then ran for the edge of the cliff. He landed heavily next to Legolas, and the Elf reached out a hand to steady him. Mithrandir shot him a look that Legolas could not interpret, and then stepped away.
"Well," said Sam slowly, "we ought not to overestimate hobbits either. That's still a mighty big drop, and I've got a lot of baggage here." There was a clank of pans as Sam shifted his overly large pack. Boromir seemed to come out of his shock and chuckled a bit. "I've no doubt you could manage it, Master Samwise," he said. "But perhaps if you permit me..." At Sam's nod, Boromir bent down and lifted the Hobbit, baggage and all. He shifted Sam to a secure position and then backed a good distance away from the chasm. He breathed deeply a few times, then ran forward and leaped the pit. He was overbalanced by the Hobbit's weight, and might have fallen as he thudded down on the far edge, but Gimli and Mithrandir together steadied him.
Merry looked from Sam to Frodo to Aragorn and back at Frodo. "There's no shame in asking for help, Merry," Aragorn murmured. His voice was soft, but Legolas heard it. And he caught the look that Merry gave him. "No," the Hobbit whispered, and then he straightened himself. "But there never yet was a Baggins that could beat a Brandybuck for jumping." With that Merry took a breath and ran for the edge. He sailed straight into Boromir, and nearly knocked the Man down as he was recovering his balance after landing with Sam.
That left Pippin, and the young Hobbit was looking from his cousins to the dreadful gap with something akin to terror. His eyes were huge, and his face was deathly pale. Legolas was beginning to regret his previous words. He had intended to prod Gimli into action, but he seemed to have stung the pride of every member of the Fellowship. Certainly he had never meant to encourage the Hobbits into reckless behavior.
But it was too late for regrets, for Pippin was moving. He closed his eyes for a moment and whispered, so softly that Legolas scarcely heard him, "for Tuckborough." Then he ran for the edge and jumped. He did not aim for any specific landing place and kept his eyes shut as he crossed the gap, and consequently smacked into Mithrandir and nearly impaled himself upon Glamdring. "Oof!" the wizard grunted as Pippin hit his midsection and knocked the wind from him. Legolas was smiling at the fearful look that Pippin gave the wizard when he felt Aragorn land heavily beside him and automatically reached a hand to steady the Man.
Aragorn gripped his arm brace in return, and Legolas turned to look at him. He felt his smile fade at the steely look that the Ranger turned on him. Mithrandir and Gimli were moving forward, the rest of the Company falling into line behind them, but Aragorn held Legolas back. "That was foolish," he hissed.
Legolas stepped back and pulled his arm from Aragorn's grasp. "Indeed?" he said coolly. "And yet the Company has crossed the chasm, and is safe, and we have prevented a delay of hours, perhaps days, to our journey. Is that so foolish?"
"Things might not have gone so well. If Frodo had slipped . . ." Aragorn trailed off with a shudder.
"He did not slip. I think that you do underestimate the Hobbits."
"And you risk the safety of our entire mission! A delay of a few hours would not be an unbearable hardship, but you would rather have us take foolish chances than seek a longer trail. Perhaps Gimli was right. Perhaps the dark has affected your mind."
Legolas jerked with shock. Insults from Gimli were one thing. They were to be expected, and he had planned on them when he'd started their argument. But to hear it from Aragorn . . . the one person he had expected to understand . . . and indeed, he thought bitterly, mayhap he understands all too well. I cannot abide this tomb, and I risk us all to escape.
"Perhaps you are right," he managed after a moment. "But there is more than just the darkness here, Aragorn. There is evil in these stones, and evil watches us now. Every moment we delay, it draws closer. Can you not feel it? A delay of a few days, or even a few hours, would be far more dangerous to our Quest than this crevasse. Would you risk that?"
Aragorn studied him a moment, then shook his head slightly. "I do feel it, as does Gandalf, as does even Gimli, I think. But evil has haunted us since we began, and evil sought us even in the forests of Hollin, but you did not react then as you do now. I admit that your senses are keener than mine, and I trust them, but you must admit that more than that troubles you. I think you should consider that your discomfort in these caves might affect your judgment."
Legolas turned away and closed his eyes for a moment. "In Hollin," he said softly, "the trees knew me. They did not remember Elves, but they were still friends, and they warned of danger long ere it came near. But here," his voice was a near sob, "there is nothing. No voices, no song, not even to despair in Shadow. There is only silence, and the taste of death." He was silent for a long moment, struggling to regain his usual composure. He could feel Aragorn behind him, a warm presence at his shoulder, but beyond that there was only the cold dark of Moria. He took a deep breath. "I will compensate for . . ." he waved one hand vaguely to indicate the barren darkness around them "for this. But do not think to dismiss my counsel. I still perceive more than you do, Aragorn, above or below ground."
"Aye," Aragorn said softly, the anger gone from his voice. "I value your insight, as always. But you might consider this, mellon nín. We are a Fellowship for a reason. Each of us has his own strengths. In the forest, the weakness of mortals was balanced by the strength of Elves. But here, the failings of Elves are countered by the strengths of mortals. Do not scorn the insight of your companions, Legolas."
Legolas bit the inside of his cheek, holding back the sharp words that came in response to this piece of advice. His nerves were frayed and his temper short, but Aragorn did not deserve his anger. The physical darkness was laced with a deeper Shadow, and for all his claims of mortal strengths, Aragorn was affected by it. He had been raised by Elves, after all, and Legolas suspected that the endless stone and dark weighed more heavily on Aragorn than on any other member of the Company save Legolas himself.
So he held himself absolutely still until he had mastered his irritation, then turned back and met Aragorn's eyes. He nodded slightly, and the Man smiled. It was now getting very dark as Mithrandir's light moved away from them, and already the far side of the chasm was blurring into indistinct shadows. Legolas stood aside to allow Aragorn to precede him, and the Ranger moved forward, one hand grasping Andúril's hilt.
Legolas followed, holding his own weapon close. He had not unstrung his bow since they had faced the wolves after Caradhras, and he could feel its humming tension beneath his hand. This matched his own mood, for now that the crisis of the crevasse was past he could feel the menace around them more clearly than ever.
He held back a bit as they walked, allowing Aragorn to draw further ahead of him. He was trying to determine the exact nature of the threat that he felt so strongly. Every now and again he would stop entirely, every sense alert, as he struggled to separate the very real danger from the illusory shadows that pressed in on him.
A great malice brushed the edges of Legolas' awareness and sent a bitter chill of foreboding down his spine. He grasped his bow tightly and scanned the shadows around them. He could not see much in the absolute dark, but his Elvish eyes still perceived more than those of the mortals around him. He strained to pierce the depths of the crevasses and caverns that they passed. He breathed deeply of the dead air, trying to catch the scent of whatever foul creatures now claimed the Dwarven realm. He softened his own light tread and passed silently over the loose rubble as he listened intently to the echoing silence around them.
Very faintly he caught the slight patter of flapping feet behind them, just slightly out of step with the Company. Gollum. He would have to warn Mithrandir and Aragorn, if they did not already know. But at the moment the slinking creature was of no concern to him. There was greater evil here than the footpad would account for.
Every instinct he possessed was screaming at him to get away, get out, get out! And yet he forced himself on. The stones had no memory of growing things, and the very air laid the bitterness of iron on his tongue. His heart pounded fiercely, and his bow was slick in the sweat of his palms. Every fiber of his being cried out to fight, to run, to counter the evil that grew stronger with every step. And yet there was nothing there. With no threat visible, and no enemy to fight, Legolas moved deeper into the roots of Caradhras, and was afraid.
* The Fellowship of the Ring, A Journey in the Dark, page 406 of the authorized 1970 Houghton Mifflin Company edition.
mellon nîn: my friend
A/N: Coming in 2013: The Gloaming, an original novel by Lamiel. In a world ruled by monsters, you have to be a monster to survive.