Exploring Darkness

Summary: Gimli and Legolas take a young Eldarion adventuring. Their duty: to teach the young prince about life outside Minas Tirith, and to bring him home in a condition that won't make Arwen grab for Hadhafang--which is easier said than done!

Disclaimer: Everything within this story is Tolkien's, not mine, save the concept of the story itself, which was still inspired by his work. I make no claims on the characters, and promise to give them back when I'm done.

Chapter One: Darkness

"Legolas?"

He heard Gimli calling his name, but could not respond. He could not tear his attention from the rough, cold blackness in front of him. One moment he had been following Gimli, and the next he had found only solid stone in his path. Unable to see in the constricting blackness of the close stone chamber, he could not tell what had happened, how he had lost the dwarf. He could hear Gimli's voice, but he dared not turn away from the rock to find him. What if he could not find his way back? That was always a fear in Legolas's mind when he entered caves with his friend, although always he was able to ignore it, to push it away. But now, now that he could not find Gimli, could not reach out and touch the solid shoulder he was used to following through the darkness, he dared not move.

Trembling slightly, the elf pushed himself closer to the jagged stone wall that blocked his way. He closed his eyes—not that it made a difference in this endless dark—and tried to calm his breathing. It was starting to get quick and shallow, and the last thing he needed was for Gimli to hear him hyperventilating. He didn't want to worry his friend over a silly fear. And really, there was nothing to be afraid of. The cave was not going to suddenly collapse—although Legolas was often afraid of that as well—and his reaction right now was hardly fitting. His father would be ashamed of his weakness. He was ashamed of his weakness.

But he still could not move away from the rock.

"Legolas?" The dwarf's voice was closer now, so close that it seemed right next to him. Legolas jumped when he felt a touch on his arm.

Relief flooded through the elf. "Gimli?" Legolas was embarrassed to notice a faint quaver in his voice, although he hoped that perhaps his friend might have missed it. "I, um, suppose I must have turned the wrong way," he said lightly. "So, shall we continue?"

The dwarf looked up at his friend, although he could not see him in the darkness. He heard the faint quaver in the elf's voice, and felt the arm beneath his gloved hand trembling slightly. Gimli frowned. He knew that his friend did not care for caves, although there were a few he had found quite beautiful, but he had no idea that they affected him like this. He would never have dragged Legolas in here if he had known.

"Nay," said Gimli gruffly, "I think that is enough for today. Perhaps another time."

"But Uncle Gimli," piped up a small voice, "we did not even get through the entrance!"

"I, uh, I do not like the smell of the air today," said the dwarf vaguely. "We shall return later, Prince Eldarion." Without Legolas, he mentally promised himself.

"Nay," said Legolas, "we have come this far, we ought not to disappoint the boy. Let us go on."

Gimli scowled at his friend. He knew the elf could not see it in the dark, but he also knew that Legolas would feel the glare turned on him. The elvish fingers that rested lightly on his should still shook slightly, although the prince's voice was now under control once more.

"Oh, good!" squealed Eldarion in excitement. "Come, Uncle Gimli, lead us the rest of the way in!"

Neither elf nor dwarf could refuse the young prince anything he asked, as so, grumbling darkly, he set out. He put one hand on the young prince's shoulder to guide him—the dwarf knew these stones by heart, and could walk them easily in the dark—while making sure that he did not go so quickly that the light touch of the far older prince on his shoulder faltered.