Hello, all! Another small one for you – not 'Ebb small, but small all the same. Hope you like it - it's taken me long enough to get these nine pages down over the past two months!

I own none of the characters or places here portrayed, yada yada yada.

OK – read and please review, but, above all else, ENJOY!


Bonds of Iron

He did not understand. That was a lie: he did understand ... he just did not wish to. With his entire being, he refused to accept that this could possibly be true. He would not allow it to be, it was just too wrong for words, for his mind to cope with.

The Evenstar rested in his palm. It should not rest in his palm. He had no right to hold it, as far as he was concerned; he had just about as much right to have it as the Orc did that he had reclaimed it from a few seconds ago. It belonged in only one palm, and that was the palm of its owner, and even more so it ought to be about his neck than anywhere else. It was there to guard him, Legolas had always thought. To protect him through the toils that he was to face on this unpredictable road to the Valar knew what end.

He stood now, gazing down into the swell of the raging river below them, so rapped up in their waters that he did not really see them. He was numb inside, he could hardly move, like a swallow caught in the winter snows.

Gimli was there beside him, though he was not wholly aware of his presence. So was Théoden King, he too looking into the boiling water. He was speaking - though what of, Legolas neither knew nor cared. Words were not of import at the moment - nothing was of import, save for the treasure that he held and was prepared to guard with his life.

But surely Aragorn was not dead? He would not just leave them like this, would he? He would not go and die without telling them, without saying what they were to do, leaving them alone.

'...Leave the dead.'

Legolas' head snapped up at this, his grief reddened eyes rapt upon the face of Théoden. The King looked back at him, pity welling in his own eyes. He is not suggesting that we leave Aragorn, is he? How could he do that to a man who fought for his people with the preparation to die in the process if need be?

Théoden saw the deep agony in the startling blue eyes, the crying pain of loss that was not allowed complete access because the mind would not succumb to accepting it fully, if at all. He felt for the boy - no, check, he was not a boy; older than anything Théoden had seen living, he was sure, though it was hard to believe - but they had to move on before anything else happened to them. Their losses had been great ... it was not necessary for them to become any larger.

He laid a heavy, sympathising hand upon the Elf's shoulder.

'Come.'

The Elf had turned his noble head back to the river, and Théoden questioned whether or not he had been heard; but he could not stay here with the immortal, as much as he felt compelled to. He had things to do, orders to pass. It was up to the Elf to get himself and the Dwarf to their horse.

Legolas cast his bleary gaze to his hand. The Evenstar glimmered in the afternoon sun, throwing into sharp contrast its brilliance with the black of a small drop of Orc blood, which, in Legolas' view, sullied the purity of the jewel and all that it stood for. He immediately set to cleaning it off with his fingers, getting it out of the intricate patterns with the edge of a fingernail. Even when it was off of the mithril and dirtying his own skin it was still not good enough, and he frantically began to polish it on a piece of his shirt which he dragged out from beneath his tunic.

Gimli watched, and what he saw saddened him. Legolas was not crying, but he was shaking quite violently as he tried to erase some stain from the jewel in his hand that Gimli's eyes could not see.

'Come on, lad, let us go. Legolas. Come on. Let go.'

Legolas emitted a gasp at these words, like a swimmer taking in breath after a lengthy dive. He lifted his eyes, looked down into the river again, and turned away abruptly to fetch Arod, taking strides of such length and speed that Gimli had to trot to keep up.

During their course of traversing the tussocks of grass and avoiding boulders as they progressed towards Arod, Legolas heard something that clenched at his heart. Deeming that there was time yet before the departure of the Rohirrim – and that he really did not care if they left without them anyway - the Elf briskly crossed the land to where the horse lay.

The chestnut mare was on her side, a slowly spreading stain covering the earth from a large wound in her girth. Her right hind leg was badly broken, and the beautiful head was forever lifting, as though the poor beast desired to get up, her eyes clouded with pain as her life ebbed away, soft whinnies being emitted from the velvety mouth with her agony.

'Stille,' Legolas whispered in his own tongue, kneeling next to the horse and gently caressing the magnificent head, running his hand down the strong neck, always repeating his words and hushing the mare.

'Legolas, lad,' Gimli began, a note of hesitation in his voice. He could see that this animal was doomed, and the worry that Legolas was going to get upset over it was deep in his mind – the Elf had gone through enough in the past five minutes without this. 'She is beyond aid, leave her.'

Legolas turned to him, blue eyes looking suddenly wise and old in complete contrast to the rest of his face. Gimli bore witness to Legolas' true age as he looked into those eyes of intense cerulean, deeper than all of the pits that Moria had to offer put together. They spoke of uncountable years of life; knowledge and intelligence glowing in them with a soft yet unmistakable aura of power, centuries piled atop of each other and throbbing with experience. Those eyes had seen everything – war and peace, destruction, hate and love. Death. Gimli knew that death was a concept that the Elf had great difficulty in grasping. He had overheard him conferring with Aragorn while they sheltered in Lothlórien about Gandalf's demise. He had heard the confusion, the deep, throbbing vexation at such a thing. He had told the Ranger that, of course, he was aware of what death was; it was what death meant that troubled him so much. And even Aragorn had not held the answer to such a befuddling need for this knowledge...

'No, not beyond all aid...'

He began to sing in a low, calm voice, a soft melody that even Gimli was hard-pressed to not surrender himself to, it was so enchanting. And he stared with wonder at the horse, whose pained moaning had now ceased, head lying still besides Legolas' leg. There was still the pain in the eyes, but it was somehow dulled...

'Gimli,' Legolas whispered to his friend. 'Come here and speak to her, and keep stroking her, but keep your hands in one place.'

Confused as he was by the last order, Gimli complied – to his surprise – and crouched where Legolas had formerly been, taking up the previous occupation of the other.

Legolas stood about five feet from the horse, an arrow set to the string. He raised the bow, seeing the horse give him what could be called a grateful look with the large brown eye, shifting her head a little.

'Stille nu, mellon nin,' he uttered. 'Stille nu... Namárië.'

The horse stilled her head, almost in acquiescence to his words ... and the arrow was loosed. They never exchanged a single word during the entire journey to Helm's Deep, not a sound passed their lips: Legolas stared with unseeing eyes dead ahead, passing the responsibility of the direction in which they travelled entirely to Arod, trusting the horse's sense of direction and herding instincts to follow the other horses.

Gimli sat with his hands on the Elf's sides, as always, though his grip was somewhat slacker than it normally was. Legolas was commanding a need for a respectful distance at the moment, and Gimli had picked up on this, whether he realised it consciously or no.

They were so lost in their own thoughts that the hours of the journey passed with no realisation on them, and they were both slightly thrown when they found themselves at the gates of Helm's Deep, the hooves of the horses clattering and rebounding off of the walls as they made their entrance.

People milled about everywhere, and a soldier came to take Arod's bridle. Legolas uttered no word of thanks to the man, an act that he knew he normally would have done.

Do I really have anything to thank him for?

He waited until Gimli had dismounted, watching the Dwarf as he crossed over to the lady Éowyn, his helmet in his hands. Legolas had seen enough, sliding from the horse's back. He knew exactly what Gimli was going to say to her, the words due to change the face of that lady greatly, twisting it with grief and pain, gasping in her agony ... just like his soul felt. That gaping chasm of pain that dominated him echoed the screaming agony of his soul, his heart feeling as though it was non-existent, replaced by an inconceivably heavy rock of carried grief...

Come the time he had conveyed his news to Lady Éowyn and turned around, Gimli was just in time to see the back of a blond head disappearing in the throng of people, a wisp of smoke in the wind. He made to follow, but, try as he might, he was unable to find his companion.

Perhaps 'tis best to leave him, Gimli eventually conceded. He will not appreciate my company at the moment, I feel...

---

He eyed the plate of food before him. On any other day, he would have eaten it already – it was, after all, chicken, and he loved chicken; a truly wonderful change from lembas. Just not now, though.

He was alone in here, by his own devices, harbouring no desire to seek out the company of any other – well, Legolas' company would have been gratefully received, but no-one knew where he was. He had completely disappeared that afternoon, and no measure of searching made by the Dwarf, nor any volume of enquiries, guided him to his morose companion. He had simply vanished. Gimli knew that, if Legolas wished not to be found, he could seemingly erase his existence from the world without a trace until he decided that the world could see him again. Damn Elven stealth!

'My Lord Gimli?'

Gimli turned about at being addressed thus, sighting a young soldier with hair of straw-blond – like all of the others – standing at the doorway. Having seen that the Dwarf had heard him, he proceeded with his message...

'The Lord Legolas is outside the gate, and my King Théoden would like you to fetch him in, if you will, my Lord.'

'Fetch him i- he is not a dog, lad!'

The boy's face flushed slightly out of embarrassment, hanging his head down at the rebuke. Gimli, not having the heart at the moment to see the young man like that, rose from his place, a chicken leg in his hand.

'Where is he?'

The man indicated to Gimli that he was to follow, and they passed out of the hall, taking themselves through the corridors of stone that were absolutely packed with people, right up to the main gate that lead out to the causeway.

'He's out there, my Lord – though we do not know how: there have been guards on this gate for the entire day, and none have passed out of it since they have been there; do you know how he came to be out there?'

Sounds like Legolas, Gimli thought to himself.

'No, lad, I don't know – but he is an Elf, and if an Elf decides that he does not want to stay where he is, then he will get out; Legolas has a certain gift with the usage of stealth - which seems to be what he has practiced here...'

The gate was opened for Gimli to go out, and then closed on him no sooner than when his foot was just out of the way. Huffing slightly at this, Gimli strained to see his friend in the half-moon light.

He saw him, sat right at the bottom of the causeway, facing straight out to the open land that stretched before Rohan's greatest fortress. He did not move at all – it was as though he were made of stone...

'Legolas, lad,' Gimli began as he reached his companion. 'What-'

He was silenced by a raised hand, and a soft yet terse: 'Not so loud.'

Gimli sat down next to the Elf, and then realised that the other was talking to himself in his own tongue, voice quiet and gentle, like the soft song of a summer breeze passing through the leaves of a weeping willow. He seemed to be looking fixedly at something, though Gimli for the life of him could not see anything himself.

That's it. He's gone mad.

A heavy breeze filtered over them. Legolas stopped his murmurings to smell it, eyes closed. When they opened again, there was a resigning accepting in them. 'A storm is coming,' he commented heavily. 'One from which there will be no shelter.'

'We can shelter from it in the Hornburg – surely bad weather will not get in there at all.'

Legolas smiled sadly. 'That is not what I mean.'

Elves! Always speaking in riddles, never saying what they mean plainly...

Legolas' face suddenly darkened. 'The only hope we had of weathering this storm has been blown away in the gust of Théoden King's foolishness.' There was a deep, bitter resentment in his tone that Gimli could not fail to pick up on as Legolas spat out these words.

He went back to his words in Sindarin, chatting away with what Gimli was sure to be insanity.

But then he saw it.

A fox had appeared at the very foot of the causeway, large, amber eyes scrutinising Legolas in return. The animal was blue-grey in the moonlight, and painfully thin in Gimli's view, so skinny that the head looked to be out of proportion to the rest of the body.

Legolas extended his hand out to the creature, and Gimli – who held his breath, not making a single movement or sound – observed with fascination as the fox actually went cautiously up to the Elf to sniff tentatively at his hand. It drew back suddenly with a small leap, but stayed all the same, watching him as he took out of his jerkin from a concealed pocket four whole pieces of lembas bread, offering them to the animal without hesitation. The fox padded back over to him, stretched out the scrawny neck, and snatched them, turning away and trotting off, pausing once to give Legolas a last look before disappearing, lost in the rough landscape.

'She has a litter,' Legolas informed the other. 'She is finding it hard to get food to feed both herself and her cubs out of Mirkwood: they only come from my home, blue foxes – she must have been driven out by the Darkness...'

Gimli shook his head. 'I do not comprehend how you are so – connected – with animals, Legolas; doubtless it is some form of magic...'

'Not magic, my friend: understanding. Something that is born out of millennia of being with them. All creatures have their individual song – when you are with them for so long, you learn what each song is, and how to sing it yourself.'

Gimli still did not understand, but he decided to not say so.

'Aragorn could do it,' Legolas said. 'He was able to sing those songs in a matter of years rather than millennia-' Legolas cut off what he was saying, his voice tight. He continued after a few seconds, having regained his voice – but Gimli could still hear the pain.

'I don't understand, Gimli. I don't understand how people can just – leave the world like that. Where has he gone – how?'

Legolas turned to Gimli, eyes like silver in the light of the moon, looking to him for answers that the Dwarf felt only Gandalf could give him ... but whether the wizard held the solutions to such questions was questionable, so to speak. There was such distress in the face of his friend that Gimli felt compelled to answer...

'It is a mortal's curse, Legolas. None can escape it.'

'But why?'

Before Gimli could offer another weak response Legolas had gyrated his head back to the plain, hanging it as he said: 'He was my brother.'

Gimli held witness to the fall of the drop from Legolas' eye, catching the moonlight like a diamond of water leaving the wing of a swan taking flight from a lake. He knew that it had not been meant for his eyes, and so kept quiet about it – but he felt an ache of sympathy at what he saw. Never before had he seen Legolas cry, or even thought of it as something that an Elf would do.

'You are our leader now,' Gimli reminded the other. 'Until Gandalf comes back, that is.'

Legolas gave a snort at this. 'And where shall I lead us, friend Gimli? On which path should we tread: this one of Shadow, which leads us to death and disaster-' he gestured to the left, his voice quaking and climbing in volume '-or this of Hope, which carries its unwitting travellers to a foolish death-' he indicated to the right. 'Choose, Gimli – which demise do you like the sound of best?'

Gimli averted his eyes to the side, unwilling to connect with that sharp, almost aggressive stare his friend was laying upon him. Hurt welled in his chest that the Elf could be so cantankerous towards him - he, with whom the Elf had shared so many dangers, defeats and victories. He, with whom the Elf shared what could almost be called a brotherhood.

'I did not wish for Aragorn to fall,' the Dwarf responded quietly, hurt and pain dominating his voice. 'Nor did I bring about his demise.'

'Do not speak of him thus!' Legolas snapped, red eyes blazing with fury and what Gimli saw deep within the orbs to be fear. 'Go back inside! Leave me in peace!'

Gimli stared in stunned silence at his companion, unable to believe that Legolas could shout at him in such a way.

'Legolas, I-'

'LEAVE ME ALONE!'

'No!' His refusing mouth took even him by surprise, but it did not stop there. 'You are hurting, I know – Aragorn was your best friend, I am aware of that: but do you think that I do not feel pain at his passing? Do you honestly think that you are the only one suffering because of this? Do NOT shroud yourself in such misconceptions, Elf! I lost someone I loved today, just as well as you did. How dare you be so selectively ignorant of your friend! Do you think I would shun you in such a manner if 'twas myself that had lost my best friend and you trying to offer support?

'A curse be laid upon the stiff neck of you, Elf, and I mean that!'

His tirade finished, leaving him breathless and shaking in his rage – but it had the desired effect. Legolas' fury clearly abated, the chips of ice melting away from his eyes right before him. The Elf brought his hands up over his head, running through the fine gold of his hair, pulling it out of the braids as they did so. He averted his sorrowful eyes from those of the Dwarf, dipping his head to his closely drawn knees, and he sobbed openly, piteously, shoulders shuddering with sharp breaths. He did no longer appear to care about whether the Dwarf was a spectator to his misery any more, gushing out his torn heart into his knees regardless.

Although he had meant his words to ring true with the Elf, he had not thought that this would happen, and guilt laid siege upon his soul. So he stretched out a tentative hand, and squeezed this shaking shoulder. Legolas nestled his hot cheek into Gimli's rough hand, bringing one of his own to clutch at the digits that his face did not cover. There they stayed, together in that embrace of souls, each gaining comfort from the other in the face of their loss.

'I am sorry, mellon nin. Hannon le.'

Gimli widened his eyes in shock: first of all, the Elf had actually apologised, an act that he had never thought Legolas' pride capable of. Secondly, however, the other had called him mellon nin. He had only ever heard those words uttered to Aragorn, and his mother had been a cave troll if he knew what they meant; and as for the other words, he had not the slightest inkling of their meaning, either. All he knew was that Legolas had spoken to him in his own silvery tongue, and that was a high honour. The brotherly love in the Elf's tone was as sure a sign as any that they bore no offence in them.

He placed a rough hand upon Legolas' soft crown, smiling to himself and feeling tears well in his eyes. 'Bless you, lad. Bless you.'

'Is the curse lifted?' came a muffled voice, slightly lighter than it had been, mischief dancing in it as what Gimli knew to be a hidden smile alighted the lips of his Elven friend.

'Aye,' he chuckled. 'It is – come, let us go back inside.'

Legolas shifted slightly, paused, and then his lithe, tall form lifted itself from the stone, his hands not needed as his knees did all of the work to bring him effortlessly to his feet. They walked back up the causeway together in companionable silence, tension no longer gripping the air about them. Their hearts were no less sorrowful, and the pain had no less abated: but they were safe with the knowledge that they still had each other, and that offered them all of the strength they required to get through their individual trials and tribulations.

---

Legolas had disappeared. Yet again. Though this time, Gimli felt no worry about where he had taken himself off to – he would come if he hollered for him, he knew.

Clouds skittered across the pale sky, the wind sharp and oddly biting for this time of year. There was an almost tangible change in the weather, and Gimli felt that there was indeed a storm approaching, just as the Elf had predicted the previous night. It was set to be a strong one by the smell in the air...

The courtyard pulsed with people, all dancing about dizzily as they readied supplies and families sorted themselves out. Old men groaned and complained about the fact that they wished to be home to tend to crops and beasts they had been forced to leave behind. Young girls gossiped and giggled, discussing in hushed voices that were not quite quiet enough for others to not hear, whispering loudly about Illad son of Helrak, whom was coming of age soon and would be seeking a wife, and of how handsome and endearing he was in their eyes. Gimli could hardly contain his grin when a young man fitting the description perfectly flushed red and rushed passed, his fleeting back barraged with slightly embarrassed giggles.

A shout alighted the air from the watch post above the gateway, ringing through the air and stunning all into silence with what it proclaimed: 'The Lord Aragorn approaches!'

Another cry echoed in the silence, commanding the gateway to open.

This cannot be true! He fell!

The crowd buzzed again as a horse clattered into the stone fortress, shod hooves scraping slightly against rock. The throng of people grew tight about mount and rider, and a woman proclaimed above the din of astonished whispers: 'He's alive!'

Gimli began to shove his way through the crowd, joy elevating his heart despite his words...

'Where is he? Where is he? Get out of the way! I'm going to kill him!'

His shoving brought him to the cramped space that the people had afforded Aragorn and his horse. The man looked down to his fellow, and it registered with Gimli how very battered he was. His left arm was torn below the shoulder. Dirt adorned his face and clothes, and fatigue had taken up sound residence in his grey eyes. But he was here, and he was standing, which was more than enough.

'You are the luckiest, the canniest, and the most reckless man I ever knew- ' Gimli threw his stout arms about Aragorn's midriff '-Bless you, laddie!'

Aragorn permitted himself a small smile. How he wished that he was able to have a proper reunion with his stout friend – but need was dire, and the news he bore with him could not wait.

'Gimli, where is the King?'

The Dwarf indicated to the Hornberg, where he knew without doubt the King resided, and he watched with shinning eyes as his human comrade as his feet briskly took him in the direction Gimli had gestured.

---

Aragorn examined the stone flags as he traversed the distance between his horse and the King. His thoughts clouded his brain – they were in such dire straits this day! The approaching army would be here come nightfall, and he had known as soon as he had first cast his eyes about the mass of people in the courtyard that they were nowhere near even basically prepared. Time was their only ally at the moment, and he intended to make the most of it before it demonstrated its fickle nature.

His feet halted abruptly as his way was bared unexpectedly. There had been no-one there when he had checked his position a brief second ago. But there was someone there now, and it gladdened him to see his dearest friend standing before him, proud head high and back straight. The blue eyes glowed with affection, and Aragorn could see the unmistakable depth of the Elf's relief at his appearance. But it wounded his heart to see the fine lines that only he was able to detect upon the fair brow: the inimitable etchings of heavy grief.

'Le abdollen,' the Elf commented, dry humour edging into his voice behind the relief.

You are never too late, my brother.

TRANSLATIONS

Le abdollen - You're late

Mellon nin - My friend

Stille nu - Quiet now

Namárië - Farewell