Disclaimer: The location of this story and everything in it that don't belong to Tolkien are totally creations of mine. But I'll be happy to trade.
Summary: Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli run into big trouble during their search for Merry and Pippin.
A/N: This story was written for the Teitho Contest theme: Proverbs. We had to choose a proverb and write a story using it.
Where there's a will, there's a way.
INTO THE FORBIDDING GLOOM
by White Wolf
After traveling several hours non-stop, Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli, known as The Three Hunters, reached the crest of a small hill and finally came to a stop. All of them, even the seemingly tireless elf, was out of breath.
They had been moving as swiftly as they could, desperate to catch up to the hobbits, Merry and Pippin, who had been taken captive by the Uruk-hai at Amon Hen.
After catching their breath, the three companions stood side by side, staring downward toward the foot of the hill. Covering the entire area in front of them was a huge black cloud, undulating slowly like giant waves.
"What is this place? Do you know it?" Gimli asked his two companions.
"I'm afraid that I do." Aragorn answered. "Under there is The Green Swamp. Though I've never been in there before, I've been to this very spot once, and that's as close as I cared to get."
The dwarf swallowed hard. He didn't like the sound of that. Anything that was so daunting that Aragorn didn't want to explore it, would definitely be a place he didn't want to see, either. Whatever the black cloud was hiding had to be ominous.
The churned up earth off to their right was a clear indication that the Uriuk-hai, with their captives, had come this way and entered The Green Swamp.
Gimli groaned, thinking how frightened the two little hobbits must have been, not only to be held by those foul creatures but also to face going into that menacing cloud. It made even the stout-hearted dwarf shiver. "Is there any chance that we can go around?" he asked hopefully.
"Merry and Pippin may not have been taken all the way through and out the other side. We have to make sure that they aren't still in there," Aragorn explained. "Hopefully, it won't take us too long to check what we have to check and then get across the swamp." That statement was a very optimistic one.
Aragorn took a deep breath and stepped forward, striding swiftly down the hill. Gimli fell in line behind the ranger, while Legolas brought up the rear.
When Aragorn reached the edge of the cloud, he took another deep breath, sure it would be the last clean air his lungs would feel for a while, and then he started in. He was immediately swallowed up by the blackness. Even Gimli, following directly behind, couldn't see him. In turn, each one disappeared until there was nothing left outside but silence.
Legolas's elven senses were immediately affected. They became dulled, and he couldn't be sure which direction he should be heading in. That was an unusual feeling for an elf, and he didn't like it one bit.
"Are we all here?" Aragorn called from up ahead. His voice sounded muffled.
"Aye, I think so," Gimli replied in the same muted tone. He looked behind him but couldn't see anything other than the black cloud, swirling around him. "Elf, are you still with us?"
"I am here, Master Dwarf," Legolas informed him.
Aragorn kept moving, not willing to stop until he could see something besides this infernal black cloud. He could hear Gimli's boots treading on the ground, though his steps sounded as if they were drifting to him from far away. Legolas he wouldn't have heard, even if the elf had been walking across nothing but dead leaves on a garden path. Aragorn just had to trust that the elf was still following.
Gradually, the darkness began to give way to an eerie gloom that became a steamy-looking, sickly greenish light. It was what had given the swamp its name.
When Aragorn finally held up his hand to halt the two behind him, they all found themselves on a mossy bank at the edge of the green-black water.
All around them were trees that looked more like bark-covered skeletons. A few looked almost normal, though most looked as if they had been blasted where they stood by something evil and powerful. In clumps hanging from the leafless branches was moss, which waved gently, though the air was as still as death. At the base of most of the trees were roots that twisted out of the water like giant serpents in various forms of torture.
The elf's heart was saddened to think of what these trees must have gone through. They had no song and did not speak to him, though he didn't have the feeling that they were dead.
Aragorn stopped and looked around him and frowned. "Have either of you noticed that it doesn't look as if the Uruk-hai came this way? The path isn't torn up."
"Maybe they knew another way to go," Gimli offered. "I don't think tromping through this dreadful mess would bother them much. They'd likely enjoy it." He spoke with disdain.
"Perhaps you're right, Gimli," Aragorn conceded before moving on.
After a few more yards, the friends came to the end of the path. Legolas pushed the plight of the trees and the mystery of what path the Uruk-hai had taken out of his mind and asked, "There is no solid ground anywhere that I can see except the way we came in."
"Look behind you," Aragorn said. As both the elf and the dwarf did so, the ranger remarked, "That's now gone, too. We have to go into the water."
That prospect was an exceedingly unpleasant one for each of them.
Aragorn looked at the horrible liquid. It was impossible to tell how deep it was. It might be too deep for even him and Legolas, which would mean that it would be far over Gimli's head. "Stay back, Gimli, until I know how deep it is."
He pulled a thin, elven rope from the small pouch he carried on his belt. Tying one end around his waist, the ranger gave the other end to Legolas, who secured it around his own waist.
Aragorn stepped off the bank into the dark water. After a few strides, the ground leveled out, coming to about mid calf.
The ranger continued walking until he had gone about twenty yards. Ripples spread out from his body as he passed. "It's soft, of course, but still fairly solid here," he called back.
His eyes never left the water, keeping his sights on the surface for any possible movement around him. He had a fear of being grabbed by something under the water that he could not see. It was a fear he had carried since childhood.
Bubbles appeared to Aragorn's left, and Gimli pointed to them. He raised his ax, ready to launch it at anything that might appear. Nothing did.
Next to the dwarf, Legolas was just as ready with his bow. He had placed an arrow on the bowstring but hadn't drawn it back as yet.
"I guess this is as good a place as any to make our way across," Aragorn called out to his friends.
Gimli threw his beard over his left shoulder before walking out into the black water. He saw the quirk of Legolas's mouth and glared at the elf. "Well, I don't want to get it wet,." he declared, his tone daring the elf to say anything that was even remotely teasing.
When Legolas was prudent enough not to comment further, Gimli gave an audible huff before turning and making his way toward Aragorn. He was pleased that the water never got above his belt.
Once Legolas reached Aragorn, he handed his end of the rope to the ranger, who untied the part around his own waist, curled it up and returned it to his pouch.
They picked their way slowly and carefully, so they wouldn't trip on anything that might be hidden in the murky water.
All sound seemed to be swallowed up in the wavering mist around them. Likewise, there wasn't even the faintest movement to offer any relief from the humid, oppressive air. All that could be seen were the tortured trees, the green gloom, and the black water. Covering it all, just above the treetops, was the black cloud.
x x x x x
As the three walked, the texture of the swamp began to change. The water didn't get any deeper, much to Gimli's relief, but the bottom had turned to clinging mud. It sucked at their boots, forcing the pace to slow to a crawl. Even the light-footed elf had his problems.
Vines crisscrossed the spaces between the trees, forcing Legolas and Aragorn to duck often to avoid being snared around the neck. It was only when he passed the lowest vines that the short-statured miner had to duck, as well.
Once Aragorn reached up to pull away a piece of vine, and it turned out to be a slender, green snake. Startled, the man jerked and in a reflexive move, sent the snake flying away from him. From then on, he and Legolas both looked a little closer before grabbing for anything over their heads.
By the time they had reached the point where they didn't think they could force their feet to move another step in the mud, the companions found themselves staring at the path, which angled up out of the water just ahead of them. So it was with great relief that Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli made their way upon solid, though somewhat soft, ground.
Green moss was more prevalent here and covered just about everything. The air also seemed hotter, although that may have been due to the effort the three friends had just put forth while moving through the heavy mud.
Following the path, which continued to wind through the trees, Legolas came to a conclusion that had been puzzling him. "Do you get the feeling this path was made just for us?" He had noticed that not only was it going in the direction they wanted to, but they hadn't crossed any other path going in any other direction. The swamp was misty, but as far as he was able to see, there was no other dry ground anywhere.
"I definitely get that feeling," Aragorn replied, wishing he could argue against that logic but not able to offer an opposing view.
"We're being led?" Gimli asked, looking around, as if whoever might be responsible for the elf's reasoning could be visible nearby.
"It sure looks that way," Aragorn quickly confirmed. He had noticed the same thing Legolas had.
"Who knew we were coming here?" Gimli asked, shivering. He looked like he wasn't sure he really wanted to know the answer.
"Who indeed?" Aragorn said, pressing his lips together. Sauron quickly sprang to mind, but there could be many other possibilities, having nothing to do with the Quest.
"I think perhaps this whole place is meant as a trap," the elf reasoned. "Maybe it is not meant to be for just us, but for anyone who ventures here."
"You may be right, Legolas, but whatever the intentions, we have no choice but to keep going," Aragorn replied.
As the three hunters made their way along the path, the air grew even more oppressive and the gloom played tricks on their eyes. Despite the fact there was only defused light under the cloud, there were deep, black shadows, which
began to move toward them.
Legolas was the first to notice. "The shadows!" he shouted in alarm. "They move."
The closer the shadows came to the three companions, the more they seemed to take on a solid form, as nothing could be seen through them. But like regular shadows cast by sunshine, they were two dimensional.
One shadow swooped down toward Gimli. He ducked to the side, causing him to step into the edge of the water.
While Gimli was climbing out of the water, another shadow swooped down on Aragorn, but he saw it in time and side-stepped. He drew his sword and swung it at the shadow as it sailed over his head. When the sword made contact, the shadow vanished in a shower of sparks. The man was so surprised at that he stood for a moment and stated. Some of the tiny flames landed on the path, while others sizzled out when they hit the swampy surface.
Legolas dispatched two more shadows with his flashing blades, while Gimli used his ax to destroy all the dark forms that came within swinging range.
Aragorn didn't believe there was any intelligence involved in the attack. The shadows didn't appear to be working together. Also the destruction of their companions didn't seem to phase them.
"They are not attempting to avoid our blows," Legolas observed, sending a shower of sparks cascading, as he dispatched another dark shadow. "They are just coming straight at us and not maneuvering at all to match our moves."
"Yeah, I noticed that. Also there's no strategy between them." Aragorn stopped talking long enough to swing at and quickly destroy another shadow. "One thing though," he continued, "they have numbers on their side. There are dozens of them."
None of the forms were getting close enough to touch any of the three companions, so Aragorn didn't know exactly what would happen if one of them did. He decided he didn't want to find out. He couldn't be sure, but he thought they were meant to do more than just frighten he and his two friends. Their touch could well be deadly. "Don't let them touch you," he warned. "They may be lethal."
Two shadows moved in behind the ranger, however, he was fully engaged with two more in front of him. They made no sound, so he was totally unaware of the ones he was facing away from.
Suddenly, Aragorn's foot slipped, and he overbalanced on a swing, taking the ranger out of the reach of the shadow on his left and bringing his sword close enough to the one on his right to easily destroy it.
Then the ranger swung around to face the shadows behind him. With one swipe, another shower of sparks fell to the mossy ground.
Legolas was having just as much success. He was completely surrounded, but he spun in a circle. Since the shadows made no evasive moves, all the elf had to do was hold his long knives out in front of him. He cut through the forms as they came in range. Legolas made four complete circles before there were no more shadows near him.
Gimli was actually having fun using his mighty ax to create a continuous shower of sparks that lit up the whole area. There were so many of the little flames falling around him that they gave him an ethereal appearance.
The elf, the human and the dwarf were more than holding their own. They were able to keep all of the black forms from getting close enough to cause them any harm.
Gimli was grinning from ear to ear, as he looked around. So many shadows were being destroyed that more than just his area was lit up from the sparks. He laughed to see that the natural glow of the elven prince looked even more intense.
When the tiny flames burned out, all of the shadows were gone.
Still the dwarf didn't feel comfortable, and so he kept his eyes peeled for any sign there were more of the black forms nearby.
Legolas and Aragorn were doing the same. There would be no thought of relaxing their vigil until they were sure there was no more immediate danger.
Gimli squinted and strained to see if the darkness among the trees was moving. He couldn't be sure, but it didn't appear they were anything more than ordinary shadows.
Aragorn wasn't sure if another attack would come, but he, too, was going to be ready for anything the swamp might throw at them.
"I still do not believe those shadows were after us personally. They were just trying to stop anyone who happened to show up," Legolas stated, after thinking the whole situation through once more.
"Well, I always take it personally when someone - or something - tries to kill me." While the ranger's voice was calm, his face was still flushed from the battle.
"I feel the same way, lad," Gimli said in total agreement.
"We have to keep moving," Aragorn said, reminding his two companions of the reason they had come here to begin with. "I don't think Merry and Pippin are here any longer, but wherever they are, they are depending on us to rescue them. We have to find a way out of this dreadful place and find them." Aragorn's tone reflected pure determination.
No one had been hurt, and now that the fighting was over, Aragorn couldn't deny that he had gotten a jolt of excitement from the encounter. He saw the smile on Legolas's face and knew the archer felt the same. Of course, the fact that they had won also had a lot to do with the feeling.
x x x x x
The Three Hunters continued on.
With a nervous smile, Gimli said, "At least the path here is fairly easy."
Just then the water to their left began to bubble. They all stopped, tightly gripping long knives, sword and ax, and waited to see what would appear.
A round, black form, resembling slimy leather, rose above the roiling water.
Legolas's immediate impression of the creature was that of a giant worm. A circular mouth opened. It contained no teeth but instead had a jagged ridge all the way around it.
The creature rose up higher out of the water. It was hard to tell where the head ended and the creature's body began. The relatively small, wet eyes regarded the companions, turning first one eye and then the other toward them. Seemingly satisfied that these beings were not a real threat to it, the creature began to sink back into the water.
Gimli finally exhaled and relaxed for just a brief second. For that's all the time he was given to do so.
Without any warning, the creature broke the surface of the water and launched itself with alarming speed straight at Legolas.