Hiya everyone, welcome to the Caves! Have fun touring them, and I hope you don't mind touring the mind of Legolas while you're at it. If you do mind (can't think why anyone would, but anyway), switch off now and go read one of my other fics!! Otherwise please read on, and don't forget to review!
A/N: This chapter has been re-revised because I'm a stickler for writing things canon. After I first posted the story I "discovered" I'd made a major mistake, so I changed it. Then about six months later I re-checked and discovered I'd been right the first time! Apologies to any bookworm fans (like myself) that I upset or confused with my twisted LotR logic when I declared a mistake that didn't happen. Enjoy...
Legolas and Gimli entered the valley the second time as they had done the first, through the gates with many others who were not of their kindred. As the company passed the place where Hàma now slept in peace, all bowed their heads as a mark of respect for the valiant guardsman. The Elf and Dwarf separated themselves from the main group once they were fairly in the valley and walked towards a great mound of rubble that lay near the centre of the Dike, surrounded by a large patch of brown, dead grass. They did not attempt to climb the hill, for something inside them warned against setting foot upon the mound.
"Therein lie forty-two axe-hewn orcs, among others, I would guess," remarked Legolas. "I see no traces of them upon the ground."
"Aye, and forty-one with elvish arrows in their hearts," replied Gimli, returning the compliment.
Legolas smiled. "You are very courteous these days—more so than you were when first we met! I wonder how this brown dead patch is linked to this pile—for so it seems to be. I have seen them before now, but never discovered their purpose," he added musingly.
Gimli rolled his eyes impatiently. "Maybe so, but whatever happened it does not concern us or our own purpose. I fear that if I do not tear you away soon, that will never be achieved. Come, I will only keep my side of this bargain if you will keep yours."
Legolas laughed. "If Fangorn were with us, no doubt he would tell you not to be hasty. But you are right—I will keep my part of the bargain, to ensure you will keep yours."
As the companions neared the entrance to the Caves, Legolas felt apprehensive. Normally cheerful, and seldom troubled, he nevertheless was not enamoured of the idea of spending a long length of time under the ground, away from light and fresh air. Elves have never loved dark places away from sun and sky, and Legolas was no exception, infinitely preferring the sight of moonlight softly filtering through green, transparent leaves to the sharp glitter of gems by torchlight. Even in his underground home in Mirkwood Legolas could go outside at will and often did, never spending more time than was necessary out of sight of the woods that he loved. Yet, remembering that Gimli had promised to accompany him through Fangorn's Wood, and that the dwarf harboured a far greater reluctance than his companion did now, Legolas concealed his hesitance. For now, however, Gimli was eager to proceed, and was already carrying a lighted torch and two that were yet unlighted, to ensure that Legolas got the full benefit of the caverns' splendour.
At first they saw nothing of interest, for they had not yet come to the first cavern. A short way down the passage from the entrance they found an open doorway. Gimli led the way in and stopped short, staring about him. Legolas followed his friend, wondering at his strange behaviour—but once he entered the elf reacted in a similar fashion. Nothing could have prepared them for what they saw.
The whole chamber was a mosaic; the walls, ceiling, even the floor were covered with precious, shining stones. To Legolas it seemed as if he had walked into a fair land at its birth, undiscovered by other eyes than his own, unmarred by any footprint, beautiful beyond the measure of any land in Middle-earth. Indeed it seemed that some unknown artist had crafted it to resemble that very thing.
The ceiling was covered in sapphire that twinkled in the light of Gimli's torch like stars, making the ceiling look like the sky on the clearest of nights. The floor of the hall was carpeted in bright green jewels, so like to lush, dewy grass that for a moment Legolas almost believed it was.
The walls of the chamber were its crowning glory—they seemed to resemble the valley of Helm's Deep as it was long ago or could have been, had war not touched it and marred it. Trees seemed to grow on the glittering slopes of the hills. Flowers bloomed in abundance and birds floated in the air, frozen in time. So skilfully did it all seem to be crafted, though no chisel had ever touched it, that Legolas felt as if he could climb the gem- encrusted hills and stand in a freshly blowing wind, among the shining stars.
On the other side of the hall there stood open another doorway. Through the centre of the hall from door to door there wound a path of dusky rose- coloured marble, and on either side of each doorway there stood two marble pillars in twisted, dreamlike forms, so white they were almost translucent except for the thin veins of gold running through them like a blessing. The pillars were shining as if wet, and indeed that was the case.
Next to Legolas and Gimli, a waterfall sang, and its voice sounded sweet as the voice of Nimrodel in Lòrien. The mist from the falling of this waterfall spread throughout the chamber so that it sparkled as if newly polished. The waterfall fed a stream that ran on the right side of the path, and this also babbled and tinkled as it flowed into other unknown fair caverns.
As Legolas looked about at all these wonders he marvelled at his own former hesitance to enter. He felt that he understood Gimli's love for this place, now that he had seen it with his eyes. In his awed mind, he tried to think of a fitting thing to say, a tribute he could bestow upon these majestic halls, but surprisingly—speechlessness is a rare situation for an elf—nothing he could think of seemed worthy of connexion with such beauty and magnificence. So glorious was the hall that neither he nor Gimli could find fit words to say.
At length they explored as best they could, as they were obliged to keep to the path for fear of damaging the bright green grass-gems. As they neared the end of the path, they turned and looked back, Legolas half expecting to see eyes looking out of the trees again. He felt a singular regret at leaving the beautiful cavern, as strong as that he had felt when he left the Huorn-wood in the Deep. He hesitated at the doorway.
Gimli, who was already proceeding through the tunnel leading to the next cavern, noticed that Legolas had remained behind and returned to his side. "Why do you hesitate, Legolas? Are you reluctant to leave the outside world further behind?" he asked softly, as if in respect for the majesty of the caves. Legolas stirred and looked at him.
"That no longer troubles me. I marvel now at my reluctance to come with you. But I am unwilling to leave this hall, for it looks to me as the world should look, and it brings great joy to my heart. I do not believe that I will see any more fair than this, if I go deeper into the earth."
Gimli smiled knowingly to himself—he had felt the same way a few moments ago, but had since caught a glimpse of the next halls. "There is much more to come, my friend. This cavern is only the first of seven, and the least in grandeur, hard though it may seem to believe when you have seen only one. We will return this way if you wish it, so that you may look again upon this hall."
"If I know that I shall see the beauty of this place again," said Legolas, "then I will consent to see these other six halls that you deem greater. And when I have seen but one other, I suppose I will again marvel at past reluctance," he added.
"Then let us go on," said Gimli. They left the cavern, and walked on to other worlds of unimagined splendour—but how could they be unimaginable to an elf? One who had seen all they could in this world? The mind of Legolas pondered these things; hesitant, yet somehow expectant.