Author's Notes: Well, my dear readers, it has been more than four years since A Little Nudge Out of the Door, (my "Legolas, The Early Years" fic), was completed, and back then, I promised you a sequel. I fear that three grueling years of law school and a further grueling year of the Bar Exam slowed down a lot of my writing plans, and put some projects on hold altogether. But, at long last, I am now a fully-fledged lawyer, and for the first time in…well, in my life…I am free to devote my non-working hours to whatever I see fit. Took awhile to get my muse going again, but this story burst back to life after I watched the entire Extended Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy for the first time last weekend. It is complete, so I can promise you regular updates.
Canon Notes: A Little Nudge Out of the Door is not required reading, but certainly recommended. This story takes place immediately after the conclusion of Return of the King. I have set Legolas's age at about 1060 during the events of the Ring War. This story and A Little Nudge follow the theory that the elves of Middle Earth had not stopped reproducing entirely: their birth rate had only fallen far below the number of elves leaving for Valinor, so the population was declining. (Thus, I have Legolas younger than Arwen, and some elves younger than him.)
Warnings: None. No romance or slash.
Original Character Guide
Berensul: eldest son of King Thranduil, crown prince and heir to the throne
Eirien: Berensul's wife, formerly of Imladris, Eryn Lasgalen's most skilled healer
Silivren: Berensul and Eirien's daughter, a novice warrior, about a century old
Tathar, Candrochon, Merilin: childhood friends of Legolas who trained with him (if you haven't read Nudge, read up through Chapter Nine to learn their background)
Galithil: a warrioress of Eryn Lasgalen who fought beside Legolas
Faron: a warrior of Imladris, Galithil's husband, who has also fought and traveled with Legolas
Elvish language translations are at the end of the chapter. Enjoy!
Chapter One: A Tree Falls in a Forest
"I still have my misgivings about this venture, Elf," said Gimli as he and Legolas rode through Mirkwood's dark eaves on Arod's back. "How do I know that father of yours won't toss me into the dungeons the minute he sets eyes on me?"
The elf tossed his head, and Gimli suspected that if he had been able to see his face, Legolas would be rolling his eyes. "Because my father is a proud elf, Master Dwarf, and it would look rather silly for him to toss one of his sons into the dungeons along with the offensive dwarf." Legolas twisted in the saddle to peer at Gimli over his shoulder, a smile on his face but seriousness in his eyes. "For that is what would be required of any elf in this realm who would dare show you discourtesy."
Gimli stared, moved. He opened his mouth to stammer out some manner of thanks, but felt Legolas's body suddenly tense in front of him, and the elf turned sharply around. "What?" he asked.
Legolas pulled Arod to a stop. "Smoke. Strong from the north. Dol Guldur has fallen, but the realm of my father was assailed, they say. There is still fire there."
"You're sure it's not just smoldering?" asked the dwarf in alarm.
The telltale odors were not yet strong enough for Gimli's mortal sense of smell to pick up, but the elf shook his head. "Nay, something still burns. Tighten your grip, Gimli. We ride hard for home." Gimli barely had time to obey before the elf said, "Noro bell, Arod," and the horse took off at a gallop.
It was not long before the acrid scent of smoke began prickling Gimli's nose as well. At first it was stale, smoke that had lingered in the air for many days. Then it grew stronger, and had that indefinable "hot" smell that warned Gimli that the fire from whence it had come still burned. Arod was beginning to falter, not liking the idea of riding toward a forest fire, but Legolas, tense and quiet in front of Gimli, urged the horse ever faster. The elf's home was burning.
The trees of Mirkwood were different from the last time Gimli had seen them. While they were tall as ever, their great eaves darkening the forest floor, the oppressive shadow that had long hung over this wood was gone, and the blight that had darkened the limbs and the plants was receding. Late summer sunlight filtered down through the leaves, which seemed to be a brighter green than Gimli remembered.
But the smoke hung as a thick, acrid fog in the air, warning them that all was still not well in the realm of the wood elves. Gimli started when a spider not much smaller than Arod went scrambling past them on the ground, but the fell creature was in such a hurry it did not even seem to notice them. Legolas whipped out bow and arrow, aimed over his shoulder, and shot the thing dead without even slowing Arod's stride. "Noro, Arod!"
Gimli coughed against the elf's back, and heard Legolas coughing as well, but they rode ever closer. Finally, Arod stumbled to a stop and refused to go further, and Legolas sat back. "The fire burns near. It is contained." Gimli strained his ears, and thought he could hear the crackle of nearby flames. "Come, we must go the rest of the way on foot."
The two dismounted, coughing, covering their faces with their cloaks, and Legolas soaked a cloth from his water skin and wrapped it around Arod's face. "How are we to get through?" wheezed Gimli. "We can barely see our hands in front of our faces, let alone find the way to your father's halls."
"I hear the hiss of water on the flames," said the elf, breaking off into a fit of coughing. "Mayhap ere long we shall find a party of my father's scouts who will be able to guide us through. Tolo, Arod. Here," a hand came out of the stinging gray cloud and caught Gimli's shoulder. "Stay close!"
They walked slowly through trees and undergrowth that was gray under a thick coat of ash, guided by Legolas's superior senses, ever-unnerved by the ominous hiss and crackle of flames invisible in the dense smoke. Gimli felt relatively safe with the elf's assistance, given Legolas's elven senses as well as his familiarity with this forest, until he realized that Legolas was suffering far more from the smoke than he had thought. Blinking tearing eyes up at his friend at one point, he saw Legolas stagger, clutching his cloak to his face and coughing violently. "Legolas!"
Legolas sank to his knees in the dirty brush, so that his face was level with Gimli's. "For once, Master Dwarf—" cough! "—I envy your lack of height."
Very well, if the elf wanted to make light of his difficulty, Gimli supposed he should oblige. "Well then, if you'd care to set aside that elven pride of yours, perhaps you'd stay out of the worst smoke if you crawl through the trees."
He was rewarded by a dry laugh, and Legolas sat for a few moments, leaning slightly against Gimli, to catch his breath. Gimli frowned and put an arm around the elf's shoulders. Legolas smiled, his face smudged ash. "Fear not, Gimli, I am well. This stench is overpowering." Tears were cutting tracks through the soot on both their faces, for the sting of the smoke in their eyes was terrible. Legolas blinked as he looked around, and dashed a hand across his face. "By the Valar, what a price our freedom has carried! We are not but a few miles from the elven king's halls. I pray the flames did not reach them."
"Let's hope for the best, eh, Elf? It's possible they had to let the fire come this far because they were concentrating their defenses on your settlements," said Gimli.
Legolas nodded. "It may well be so." He forced himself to his feet. "Come. Let us move on. We are nearly past the burning area, though now we shall see how much damage has been left behind it." With one arm around Arod's neck, and the other hand on Gimli's shoulder, he started off again.
At one point, Gimli could easily feel the heat just to the south of them, and spotted the occasional flicker of orange flames through the dense smoke. Legolas had turned his face entirely away from it, his eyes squeezed completely shut, but somehow still managed to lead them around trees and thorny bushes on a relatively unobstructed path through the undergrowth. Once or twice the elf seemed to try to gather breath to call out—no doubt seeking his kinsmen—but each time was hampered by dissolving into coughs.
Gimli kept a tight grip on the elf's arm, for it had now dawned on him that it was not merely the physical discomforts of inhaling too much smoke that ailed his friend. The fire consuming the trees of Mirkwood was tormenting the elf, who undoubtedly could hear the suffering of the living things falling victim to it. Gimli squeezed his friend's arm, trying to offer what comfort he could, and Legolas blinked his eyes open, smiling weakly at the dwarf for a few seconds before continuing on. "How much further, Master Elf?"
The undergrowth was gone. They were now walking upon black rubble, having only to avoid charred trunks of trees and the occasional falling, scorched limb. The wind was rising, perhaps heralding a summer storm, and serving to push the worst of the smoke away from them, but also bringing down more debris. Gimli lost his footing once and staggered against a small tree, whose trunk promptly snapped in half, its top half crashing to the ground, burnt all the way through. Legolas recoiled, then turned away.
"Ai, Yavanna Kementári," the elf murmured, resting his forehead against Arod's neck. Even to Gimli, who could not see himself ever being half so attached to trees and bushes, the sight around them was bleak. The shadow no longer hovered over Mirkwood, but the forest was black. There was not a green thing to be seen, but all was seared to death by a roaring blaze that still smoldered some paces away. To a wood elf who had spent all his life defending this place from the minions of Sauron, seeing this after all the horrors of the War of the Ring must be devastating.
He turned to the elf. "I am sorry, Legolas."
Legolas dashed the back of his hand across his face defiantly, his tears less a symptom of smoke now. "We will recover from this," he said hoarsely. "Sauron's reign here and anywhere is ended, this was but a last act of desperation, and we will endure where he did not. My people have recovered from fires before." But he sounded uncertain, so Gimli squeezed his arm again.
"Of course you will. Fires happen, orc-set or no. And now your woods will grow again without a shadow to spread blight and death, and no spiders building webs in the trees."
Legolas laughed weakly, "Have a care, Master Dwarf, you sound dangerously elvish."
"Fah! See if I ever try to cheer you up again!" That made them both laugh, which immediately turned to coughing, and they went on. "Take care; this wind will bring down more debris."
"I know. We are perhaps three miles from my father's halls. With luck we shall soon be out of the burn scar and…"
"Legolas?" Gimli frowned at him. The elf had stopped and was staring southward, completely still. Never a good sign. "What is it?"
"A storm comes, and with it more wind. We must move faster, Master Dwarf. These trees shall all soon be falling around us, and flinging charred limbs everywhere." Legolas seized Arod's mane and urged him sharply along, and Gimli hurried with them as the wind began to howl amid the ominous creaking of the dead trees. At last, the elf let go of Arod and urged, "Noro lim, Arod! Bedo!" The horse took off. "We must run, Gimli!" He seized the dwarf by the arm and pulled him along.
It was not long before they were forced to dodge wildly around crashing tree limbs, snapped off trunks burned through and through. Gimli had not run so hard since they had been chasing the orcs that had taken Merry and Pippin. And then the Three Hunters had not had to contend with smoke and soot clogging their lungs. But now it hampered Legolas too, and the elf suddenly staggered to a stop, falling to his knees in a violent fit of coughing.
"Legolas! Elf!" Gimli grabbed his shoulders and pushed the cloak up over his face, but the cloth was too covered with soot itself to do any good. Gimli was, if anything, more used to such impediments, having spent most of his youth in coal mines. But Legolas was most definitely not designed for dealing with filthy air, and certainly not this close to his own home. "Don't breathe so deep! Listen to me, Elf!"
They scrambled frantically to avoid another falling limb. Legolas attempted twice to push him away, gesticulating at him to keep moving. Gimli just snorted and half-dragged the elf along. After a few more minutes, Legolas shook him off. "I am well," he said over a loud gust of wind, and started to get to his feet when there was a loud crack just behind them.
Gimli froze. "Move!" he heard the elf cry, and then strong arms seized him and sent him hurtling, fully airborne, for some yards before he tumbled to the ground with a shout of protest that was drowned out by an incredible crash.
Staggering to his feet, coughing in the cloud of ash that his fall had made, the dwarf looked around. The wind was still rising, and he could hear thunder in the distance. What a mess they would have when the rain came! The source of the crashing had been the fall of a very large tree, its uppermost limbs unburnt, but its lower trunk a great log of charcoal fallen across the ground. Gimli dusted himself off and looked around for Legolas. "Elf? Where are you?"
Probably on the other side of the tree. Gimli could hear coughing. Confound these elves and their weak lungs! A little dust and they practically swooned! Grumbling, he stomped through the ash and rubble around the fallen tree. Where by blessed Mahal had that idiot elf got to—he froze. Close to the tree, one half-broken branch still sported a tangle of some bramble with a few green leaves that had somehow escaped the flames. Amid them, Gimli could see a tangle of golden hair.
"Legolas?" he whispered, then broke out of his shock and scrambled to the indentation the tree trunk had made in the ash-covered ground. There he found Legolas, flat on his back and coughing, jaw clenched with pain, his arms straining against the tree that refused to shift.
The trunk had fallen across the elf's legs. "Gimli?" Legolas called.
"Legolas!" the dwarf rushed to him and tried to assist in moving the tree. "Are you hurt?"
The elf ceased his struggling, and Gimli helped raise his torso into a half-sitting position. He could feel Legolas trembling. "I think…broken."
Gimli winced and tried to look, but the trunk and the ash made it impossible to determine the extent of his friend's injuries. He looked at the elf's face, which was white as a sheet, and saw gray eyes large and glazed with pain. "Which leg, Master Elf?"
Swallowing thickly, Legolas replied, "Both."
"Curse the Valar," Gimli muttered, and went for his water skin. This would be highly unpleasant for his friend. "We shall have to do our best to free you, and then if I am unable to summon help, I fear your return to your father's halls shall be less than dignified."
Legolas mumbled an acknowledgment, which alarmed Gimli still more. The elf should have been mortified, but he barely seemed to care. Gimli brought the skin back and helped his friend into a sitting position again. "Drink." By Mahal's hammer, Legolas was shaking hard! Gimli checked the elf's pulse and breathing, looking at his glassy eyes, and muttered every oath he knew. His friend was going into shock. "Legolas, do not swoon on me! I cannot do this without you, Elf! Look at me, Legolas!"
"Here," said the elf breathily, blinking at Gimli in an obvious effort to stay focused.
"Legolas, I am going to attempt to shift that trunk. When I tell you, you must try to pull yourself from under it," said Gimli. "Do you understand?"
To his relief, shock had not robbed Legolas of all his faculties yet, and the elf nodded. Gimli carefully released him, and Legolas managed to stay in the same position, braced upright on his arms. When Gimli went to the tree, the elf grunted, "Ready."
"Right. On my signal!" the dwarf found a firm grip on the trunk. He dared not roll it off, though that might have been easier, lest he crush the elf's lower legs completely. If he could just hold it up long enough for Legolas to pull himself clear… "Ready? Ready? Now!"
Straining with all his might, he dragged the trunk up. Almost at once, Legolas cried out in agony at the sudden loss of pressure, but the elf did attempt to drag himself back. Gimli swore; the elf wasn't moving fast enough, and he could hold this damned thing much longer. "Hurry, Elf!"
As if the situation were not tense enough, the wind continued throwing debris at them, and the smell of rain was growing stronger. Legolas inched backward, gasping for breath and groaning in pain. Gimli grunted, his arms and back screaming, but to lower the trunk again would deal his friend another, perhaps even more grievous hurt. He concentrated on watching the progress of the elf's legs out from under the limb, and keeping an eye on his friend's face, streaked with soot and clenched with effort. But then fortune dealt them another cruel turn. Legolas glanced up, and cried out, "Gimli!"
Before the dwarf could react, he felt a terrible blow directly in the side of his head—thankfully, his helm took the worst of it—that sent him tumbling, helplessly dropping the trunk. He hit the ground in time to hear Legolas's scream of agony as he landed face-first in the dirt.
When his ears ceased their ringing and the world stopped spinning, Gimli stumbled upright, horrified. "Legolas!" He kicked aside the huge branch that had struck him and got to his feet. "Legolas!"
No answer. "Legolas!"
Gimli scrambled over to where his friend lay, and found him still conscious, but whiter than ever and moaning in pain, shaking violently. There was no way the elf would be able to pull himself free now. Despairing, Gimli knelt and lifted the elf's torso into his arms. Legolas was limp and did not seem to notice. "Hold on, Elf. I'll get you out of this."
How? In anguish, Gimli searched for anything, any object, a large rock or even his axe, that could wedge the tree enough to free his friend, but found nothing that would serve. He pillowed the elf's cloak beneath his head and used his own to cover Legolas against the shock, and sat down next to him in frustration. Legolas was still conscious, but only barely so. "Im mas," Legolas mumbled. Gimli grimaced and felt his forehead. No fever. Yet.
"Don't worry, Legolas. I am with you, my friend. Mellon nin," Gimli amended it for the elf's sake.
"Tathar?" Legolas asked. Gimli could not understand, but knew he either had to find a way to get the elf out from under that tree or—and the thought made his heart twist with anguish—leave Legolas and go in search of the elven king's folk to procure aid. That option seemed horrifically dangerous. His friend would be defenseless. What if orcs or spiders, driven out by the fire, happened upon him? Would Gimli be able to find elves, and, more important, convince them to come for Legolas? What if they did not believe him? Legolas shifted and moaned. Gimli tightened his grip. "Tathar? Le ennas?"
"I have to go and find help, Legolas," Gimli told him quietly, not caring that the elf probably couldn't hear. "I shall be back very soon. You have my word."
Legolas murmured something else in his native tongue, and Gimli gently eased him back onto the cloak, then pulled fallen branches up close, trying to conceal his friend as best he could and also provide some shelter from the approaching storm. Rising, he ducked more debris in the wind and started running. The wind was rising, and Gimli was certain that the sky would open up at any minute. Were there likely to be any fell beasts about now? So close to the elven king's halls? Gimli knew the direction, and Legolas had said they were but two or three miles away. Surely the inhabitants would have scouts about.
The thought of Legolas, hidden in the scant shelter of dead branches, pinned beneath the tree, in shock and delirious, led Gimli to do what he would never have risked for anyone else. Still running, he began to shout for help.
He ran on, calling out, "Ho! Elves of Mirkwood! Your aid is needed! Is anyone there?!"
Never had Gimli, son of Glóin been so relieved to see an arrow slam into a nearby trunk. He stopped, and waited, breathing heavily and coughing on the lingering smoke. A tall, dark-haired elf came out of the shadows, an arrow strung and pointed at Gimli's heart. "You stray close to the elven king's halls uninvited, Dwarf of Erebor."
Gimli did not even notice the arrow, but pointed frantically back the way he had come. "One of your kinsmen is wounded, Master Elf. He is Legolas, son of your king!"
The bow fell at once. "Toltho hervess nin!" the elf cried to no one Gimli could see, but then a second elf burst from behind a tree trunk and raced away. To Gimli, the first elf demanded, "Take me to him!" Gimli was already running back to where he had left Legolas.
When they reached the fallen tree, Gimli nearly cried out with relief to see that the limbs he had arranged had not been disturbed. Now if only Legolas's condition had not grown worse from being out in the open in shock with his legs crushed…Gimli pulled the branches away. "I couldn't move it," he told the strange elf.
At the sight of his kinsman, the dark-haired elf cried, "Legolas!" and pushed Gimli aside, touching his friend's face with a tenderness that seemed more than mere camaraderie. Gimli frowned. This elf was considerably older than Legolas, but now that the dwarf considered it…there was a faint resemblance. Not Thranduil, to be sure, but definitely related. Yes, there it was. He and Legolas had very similar eyes.
"Dartho, Tathar, Cand," Legolas murmured, not seeing the other elf. "Tolel. Dartho!" Whatever he said, the other elf winced and held him tighter.
"Im sí, gwanur. Im sí. Avo pedo. Do not touch the tree, Master Dwarf," said the elder elf when Gimli would have tried to shift it. "Others are coming to aid us." He ducked protectively over Legolas as debris flew over their heads, then looked over at Gimli. "I would know how you came across my brother."
"Brother?" Well, that explained it. Gimli swallowed and said, "I am Gimli, son of Glóin. Your brother and I are traveling companions." He wondered how this elder son of Thranduil would react.
But the dark-haired elf merely nodded. "You are one of the Nine Walkers, then. Word came to us in Mirkwood of the quest, and how it succeeded. You shall have the hospitality of our halls."
Shouts alerted them of the reinforcements arrival, and half a dozen elves appeared, coming toward the tree at a full run. At the forefront was one that Gimli recognized instantly, in spite of having never seen his face in person. Even if his father Glóin had not raised him on stories of this land, Gimli would have instantly recognized the tall, golden-haired, imposing elf at the lead of the group as Thranduil, elven king of Mirkwood.
Considering all the tales he'd been told, Gimli's first impression of the elven king was rather good. "Legolas!" the tall elf cried in great distress. "Ion nin! Man ind sin?" he demanded, turning from the other elves to cast accusing eyes on Gimli.
A rapid exchange in Sindarin followed between the elven king and his other son, then a dark-haired elf woman appeared and snapped out an order that sent all of them, even the king, hastily back. She knelt and began examining Legolas. "Den avo trasto, hîr nin."
The elven king stepped back, visibly gritting his teeth. Gimli was at first moved by his obvious concern for Legolas until his irate gaze landed on the dwarf. "You have much to explain, intruder."
While Gimli was still staring in astonishment at the near-accusation, Legolas's brother caught the elven king's arm. "My lord, this is Gimli, son of Glóin, one of the Nine Walkers," he said, in Westron for Gimli's benefit. "He and Legolas were traveling companions. It was he who called us to Legolas's aid."
"Gimli…" All heads swiveled toward Legolas in surprise. The elven healer continued her work, but Legolas still raved, trapped somewhere in memory. Gimli knelt beside at his side, and Legolas's gray eyes, though clouded with pain, did focus on the dwarf.
"I'm here, Elf," said Gimli, ignoring the stares of the others. "Right here."
Legolas smiled and murmured, "You have…passed my score by one, but I…do not…grudge you the game, so glad to…see you…on your feet."
Gimli could not help but smile back, and took the elf's hand. "Well, if it's any consolation, Elf, I think your score surpassed mine on the Pelennor Fields. You were rather far ahead when I lost count, and I'll even concede you five for that mumakil. It was a rather impressive kill." He could not be certain that Legolas fully understood him, for the elf's eyes were half-lidded and glassy, but it appeared to bring him comfort. Movement caught the Gimli's eye, and the elven king moved into his line of vision, an expression of utter disbelief at the unreserved affection he could see between the dwarf and his son.
The elven healer rose from where she had been examining Legolas's legs and spoke to several of the others. A litter was brought, and she turned to them all, speaking in Westron. "He must be moved swiftly to shelter once we have freed him. The storm grows worse, and he is in great pain."
As if to prove her point, a large, fat raindrop splattered down upon Gimli's arm. He joined the other elves who were preparing to lift the tree, paying no mind to their odd looks. They could think what they liked of him; he cared not. All he wanted was Legolas freed and safe. "Make ready," called Legolas's brother. The elven king and two others were kneeling beside Legolas to pull him free. "Ready…now!"
Groaning with effort, Gimli lifted with all his might, and with the aid of the other four elves, the wide trunk rose. He only faltered a little when he heard Legolas scream; the elven king and the others were dragging him from beneath the tree. After what seemed an eternity, someone cried, "Let it go!" and Gimli and the others dropped the trunk with relief.
Legolas lay, trembling violently and nigh unconscious, upon the litter where the elven king and the healer were covering him with blankets. Then before Gimli had time to join them, his friend was suddenly lifted and borne away smoothly by the elves, leaving the dwarf alone in a group of strangers.
To be continued…
Coming Next Week: Gimli is forced to face the realm of the wood elves without Legolas at his side, and gets a few pleasant surprises…as well as some unpleasant discoveries about his friend's kin, while Legolas awakens to learn what has befallen his home and his people in Chapter Two: Friend or Foe
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Elvish Translations (Sindarin)
Noro lim--Ride on.
Noro bell--Ride strong.
Im mas--Where am I?
Mellon nin--my friend
Le ennas?--Are you there?
Toltho hervess nin--Summon my wife!
Im sí, gwanur. Im sí. Avo pedo--I'm here, brother. I'm here. Don't speak.
Ion nin! Man ind sin?--My son! What is the meaning of this?
Den avo trasto, hîr nin--Don't trouble him, my lord.