Betas: Nautika and Wimsey

Part of the Undying Friendship Series



Morndel

by Nieriel Raina

23 F. A., Minas Tirith, Gondor

Help!

The call came as soon as Legolas stepped under the archway of the sixth gate, and his footsteps faltered to a stop and his head jerked around. He turned from the opening, ignoring the curious glances from the guards and open admiration displayed in the looks thrown his way by passersby, most especially the womenfolk. Even though he had settled in Gondor with his people many years ago, his kind still caused a stir among the mortal residents of the city.

He scanned up and down the stone street of the sixth level, passing over insignificant doings of city life. Three women chatted gaily with one another near the Houses of Healing, one holding a basket of herbs in her arms. She probably was a leech from the Houses who had stopped to speak with passing friends. Two soldiers walked through the sixth gate, skirting him with only a passing glance and nod, their strides taking them with determination towards the seventh level. Most likely they were reporting for duty at the Tower of the Guard, as it neared the change in the Watch. Near the entrance to the seventh level, a stable boy led two horses from the stables. The blood-bay mare and grey gelding were almost certainly being led down to the Pelennor, where they could seek pasture. The horses' trembling bodies and intelligent eyes spoke to Legolas of green grass, warm sun, and clean water.

But his attention focused on determining the source of the cry for assistance. It was a silent petition, yet one Legolas was more than familiar with. His gaze turned left, back towards the Houses of Healing. There was a guard standing at an iron gate, which led into a small garden where a great oak raised its head to the heavens. The oak was the oldest living tree in the city, and the tallest, towering up over the wall that surrounded the gardens, where leeches raised herbs used for healing unguents. The oak dwarfed the little yard where it resided, a place where children could play safely while family members visited those injured or ill. The tree's thick branches swept nearly to the ground, making it a popular climbing tree among the older children who visited it. Oft times, Legolas himself could also be found sitting among its branches, singing sad, but moving songs in words few understood.

He hurried past the guard and into the small garden towards the tree, his eyes darting amongst the branches, looking for signs of distress. His feet slid to a stop, and his jaw dropped, however, when his gaze came to rest on a figure high in the tree. He stood there for several moments, blinking as his jaw opened and closed without a sound. Then his bright laughter echoed off the garden walls.

The melodious sound brought curious guards, servants, even a lord and lady or two to stand looking strangely at him, he, a lone elf, standing in the garden under the oak, folded nearly double with laughter. His gaze never left the heights of the tree, some thirty plus feet above, as peals of laughter came from deep within his being, spilling out like music, causing many to smile. Few had heard the elf truly laugh in such a manner, and many found themselves chuckling along despite not knowing the cause of Legolas's merriment.

"Blast it all, Legolas! This is not funny," a gruff voice roared from the branches of the tree, causing many of those watching to gasp, for the thick foliage hid the dwarf in the oak's branches from their view. "I demand that you do something!" The gazes of those watching shifted from the tree back to the giggling elf, who now held his sides as tears streamed down his fair cheeks.

Legolas shook his head, not even attempting to hold in his amusement at the dwarf's expense. "I think not, Gimli. You got yourself into this, you shall be the one to get yourself out," he called up to his friend through his chortles. "Or down, as the case may be." A most unelvish snort came from the fair creature, and he covered his mouth and nose with one hand to still further undignified noises from escaping, all the while shaking further with laughter, his other arm still wrapped around his middle.

The breath left Gimli in rush and his eyes closed in annoyance. Slowly, he counted to ten in Khuzdul, and when his anger and embarrassment did not lesson, he counted again in Westron, followed by Sindarin. Renewed laughter came from below, and he realized he had counted out loud, even if it was muttered. Drat that elf and his hearing! His face and ears burned with further humiliation at having been caught speaking the elf's language in such a situation.

With great effort, Gimli tried to adopt a calm and friendly air. "Legolas, make these people leave." There was a hard edge to his pleading voice. "And then, my friend, I kindly request you, as a wood-elf, use your irritating aptitude with plants to get me out of this tree!"

"But Gimli," Legolas smirked, "why should I deprive these good people of such fabulous entertainment? It is not everyday one sees a dwarf in a tree, and even less common to see one attempt to get themselves down."

Closing his eyes again, Gimli counted ten once more, making sure to do it mentally, and wondered how he had allowed himself to get into this mess.

Several hours earlier...

Five-year-old Eldarion sniffed, blinking back tears that threatened to spill down his cheeks. He was not a very good prince at all if he could not take care of his pet and keep her from harm. He took a shaky breath and looked up into the oak again, pleading with Morndel to come down. But the small creature only mewed softly, frozen to her spot high in the branches.

Grasping his hands around the lowest bough, he tried once more to climb into the tree, so that he might rescue Morndel from an unpleasant fate. He pushed with his toes, and pulled with his arms, but the branch was just too high for him to pull himself up. His fingers slid across the rough bark as he lost his hold, causing a burning sensation across his fingertips. A sob caught in his throat, and he sank to the ground with his back to the oak's trunk, cradling his sore hands in his lap as he let the tears fall down his cheeks.

"Eldarion?"

The gruff voice from above spurred the boy to open his eyes. He hastened to try to wipe the evidence of his tears away, hissing as the movement caused the raw skin on his hands to throb more.

"Why are you here alone? Did you hurt yourself, lad? Let me see." A stout body lowered itself beside him.

"Gimli!" Eldarion cried out, his face and body relaxing with the dwarf's presence. If there was anyone who would understand his predicament, it would be his father's good friend, Gimli. The dwarf told wonderful stories and, for some reason, was one of the few who never hushed Eldarion if he cried, but held him and allowed the tears to fall. He had overheard Legolas tease Gimli about "mothering." It was strange, since Gimli was nothing like his mother, but Legolas could be strange at times. When he was younger, he thought it was because Legolas was an elf and all elves must be strange, but he had since learned that his mother was also an elf, or mostly, so he had decided that Legolas must just be different...sort of like how his uncles were 'different'.

Eldarion could not understand why Legolas thought it odd for the dwarf to like children as much as he did, but the elf seemed to think it was so. Not that Eldarion disliked Legolas — he loved the elf and the games they played. But he did find it confusing why two close friends like Legolas and Gimli argued and fought constantly. His mother, the queen, told him that if he could not get along with the other boys, they would not be allowed to play together any longer. Maybe, someone needed to tell the elf and dwarf this, so they would stop 'bickring' all the time.

"Naneth is in the Houses because one of the ladies is having a baby. Only, the baby isn't coming like it should. I come here and play sometimes when she helps in the Healing Houses. Did you know Naneth's adar was a great healer? She learned a lot from him."

"Aye. Lord Elrond was a great healer." Gimli picked up the boy's right hand and began to examine it. "This isn't bad, lad. Your hands will probably hurt for a bit, but the pain will lesson, and you most likely won't notice it tomorrow." The dwarf smiled, his eyes drifting over the stone wall. "I cannot tell you how many times I hurt my hands when I was a lad. In time, your hands will toughen up, and this sort of thing won't happen as easily." Looking at Eldarion's other hand, Gimli frowned. Pulling a small tool from his belt, Gimli gently began to remove a splinter of bark from the scraped palm. "Eldarion, how did this happen?"

With a sigh, Eldarion leaned against the solid shoulder and buried his face in the dwarf's shirt. "Morndel won't come down! I tried and tried to get her, but I'm too little, and I hurt my hands on the tree."

"Hmmm...this tree here?"

A moment of hesitation, then Eldarion nodded slowly.

"The tree you are not supposed to climb without an adult to assist you?"

His head lowered until his chin nearly touched his chest. "But Gimli, Morndel is up there!" he declared without looking up. The dwarf's shoulder shook, Eldarion turned his head to see Gimli struggling not to laugh.

"And just who is Morndel?" A smile twitched at Gimli's lips.

"She was a gift from the ambass'dor of Harad. She's my new pet." Eldarion pointed up into the tree where a bundle of mostly white fur and bright green eyes masked with black huddled on a high branch gazing down at them. A long, black tail twitched behind it. "Master Wajih said she is a kitten - a baby cat. Many children in Harad have cats for pets, and they are good at hunting mice and rats once they are full grown."

"A cat!" The dwarf gasped, looking up, eyes wide. Eldarion could feel the dwarf's body tense against him. "Like a lion, then? The ambassador gave the son of the king a killer for a pet!?" Instantly, Gimli was on his feet, pulling Eldarion up with him and making to leave the garden.

Eldarion struggled against the hold on his arm, digging in his heels. "No! She's not like a lion, Gimli. Cats are much smaller, smaller than most dogs, even!"

The dwarf stopped and looked down. "You are sure? It could be a... They could have plotted to..." Gimli stuttered to a stop, and took a deep breath. "I have seen the damage a lion can do, Eldarion. We have them not far from the Lonely Mountain. They dwell near the Iron Hills. One swipe of their horrid claws and..."

"I'm sure, Gimli! Master Wajih has one of his own with him, a full grown cat. Her name is Basinah." Gimli looked doubtful, and Eldarion continued to explain. "Morndel is her kitten, and she just got old enough to leave her mother. Ada knows about it. He thought having a pet would teach me," he paused, struggling to get the big word out, "r'spons'bilty.' Nana said Morndel was cute, but I should pick another name. Ada talked her into letting me keep it Morndel. I think he told her something about Iml'dris and her Adar."

Gimli ran a hand over his beard, his brow creased in thought. "So, it's not going to get much bigger than it is?"

Eldarion's head bobbed with much enthusiasm.

"And she won't come down from the tree?"

He shook his head side to side.

"Are you sure she's just not tired of ye?"

Eldarion's eyebrows shot upwards when Gimli's accent thickened and the dwarf started looking up at the tree with a gleam in his eyes.

"Master Wajih said there were no trees in Harad, or not many, so I should be careful or she could get stuck. Cats can learn to climb trees, but they don't know how to automatically," he quoted. "I tried to keep her away from the tree. I really did, but she ran very fast and climbed up it before I could catch her!"

"Where's the elf?"

Eldarion blinked. "Huh? Oh, I don't know. Ada said they were going to practice arch'ry, and I was to leave them alone so they could talk adult talk. I don't know when they'll be done. Sometimes, it feels like they're there all day."

Gimli smirked, a look that caused Eldarion's heart to skip a beat and he gulped, for he had come to associate it with adults who were plotting against one another. "I'll get yer cat...what'd you call 'er, a kitten?"

"Yup."

"I'll get yer kitten for ye provided ye never tell Legolas I climbed a tree. Do ye promise?"

Eldarion's heart raced. His mother had told him he should be careful when Gimli's accent thickened, for it could mean trouble. He had never seen Gimli climb a tree before, or any dwarf for that matter, and most dwarves did not seem to have an affinity with trees and plants. But he trusted Gimli and assumed the dwarf would not attempt anything he was not capable of doing.

Present time...

The boy is too trusting. Gimli tightened his grip on a branch to maintain his balance. Legolas was now folded double with his laughter and had ceased speaking to him. Gimli found it rather irritating that his friend had yet to offer his help with the ever increasing crowd. "Must you continue to laugh, Master Elf?" He shifted on his branch. His backside was feeling the effects of sitting on a tree limb for too long. "It truly is not that amusing."

Breathless, Legolas attempted to straighten, keeping his arms wrapped round his belly. "What is not that amusing, Gimli? The fact that you are stuck in a tree? Or that you felt a need to be like the elves to begin with?" The elf's eyes were bright with laughter, his cheeks glowing with mirth.

"Why you..." A colorful curse erupted from Gimli's mouth, causing the ladies in the garden to gasp in shock. Several turned up their noses and left at the vulgar words, but the men present chuckled with the elf, who was again folded double in laughter.

"That is NOT why I am stuck in this tree!"

"Ah, so you finally admit that you are stuck?" Legolas's head lifted and he grinned ear to ear. "Good! I may begin contemplating helping you down now."

"My being stuck was never in question, you giggling, clay-brained, pointy-ear!"

That sobered the elf. He stood straight up, all traces of mirth gone from his now red face. "I do NOT giggle!" Legolas glanced at the gathered crowd, whose eyes were now focused upon him. Gimli watched the elf's blush deepen, creeping up the prince's cheeks and spreading to his ears when a few observers chuckled at his expense.

It was Gimli's turn to grin. He wouldn't pass this up, even if it meant he remained stuck in the blasted tree. "Sure you do. And you blush as well... just like a pretty maid."

A snort came from the crowd, and the color drained from Legolas's face, leaving his ivory complexion even paler than normal. Gimli could see the elf's fists clenched tight at his sides now. And the grey eyes flashed with fury instead of amusement. "You take that back!"

Gimli chuckled to himself. Now, he had the elf where he wanted him. With much care, he stood up, proud of himself for not wincing. Balancing on the branch on his toes and holding another limb firmly for support in his right left hand, Gimli peered down with smug satisfaction. "Why don't you come up here and make me!"

Legolas was in the lower branches faster than Gimli's eyes could follow, and the elf continued to move upwards with great speed, but to Gimli's consternation, his friend's movements slowed, then ceased. From a perch about ten feet below him, Legolas looked up, and Gimli could see the elf had caught on to what the he was trying to do. Stretching out on his back along the limb and balancing impossibly with hands behind his head, Legolas smiled. "Nice try."

Gimli sighed and maneuvered gingerly back into a sitting position. He glanced down at his right hand, which was streaked with blood, and held the swollen limb stiffly out of the princeling's line of sight. He wouldn't for the life of him admit he was hurt, not even to get assistance from that irritating, pointy-eared, twiddle pated… Oh how had he gotten into this?

Several hours earlier...

"Don't fall, Gimli!" Eldarion looked up nervously at the dwarf who was balancing precariously on a branch that looked too slender to hold such weight. He bit his lip then gasped when Gimli's foot slipped. But the dwarf righted himself by using a jutting branch to stabilize his ascent.

"I'm not going to fall, lad." Gimli pulled himself up to the next branch, his feet sure and steady. "Look, I'm almost to your cat. Come on, little cat," Eldarion's keen ears, courtesy of his elvish heritage his mother said, could hear Gimli's gruff voice calling out to the creature perched on a branch just above his head.

"She's a kitten!" Eldarion cupped his hands around his mouth. "Her name is Morndel."

"Come on, Morndel," Gimli crooned as if speaking to a child. "Come to me, and we'll get you safely back to the ground."

"I didn't know you talked to animals like Leg'las, Gimli."

"I do not talk to animals like that blasted elf does!" the dwarf growled, looking down at him. Eldarion's lips puckered in thought. He was sure he had heard Gimli use the same tone of voice that Legolas used when calming a frightened animal. Was that why the elf teased the dwarf?

The boy's eyes widened as Gimli hauled himself up to the same branch where Morndel crouched, hissing.

"I thought you said she was nice!"

A small, velvet paw, white splashed with black, dashed out at the dwarf, and a menacing growl came from the kitten's throat.

"Mmwwrrrooowwrrr."

"She is," Eldarion assured him, "but she's scared. Keep talking nicely to her...GIMLI!" The boy's scream echoed off the walls as the dwarf fell.

Gimli had made a pivotal mistake. He anchored himself with one hand and reached for the reluctant kitten with the other. But Eldarion had not warned him about the kitten's sharp claws — or teeth — and he had forgotten his earlier comparison with lions. The dwarf simply wanted to grab the critter and get back down to safety. The terrified cat growled and hissed, slashing at his hand several times with a paw, claws extended, and sinking her teeth in for good measure when Gimli did not let go. The pain combined with a struggling ball of fur was too much for he, a mere dwarf and not made for climbing trees. He let go of the kitten at the same time that his fingers slipped from the branch.

Morndel landed on her feet on the limb below, and with a dwarf crashing down above her, she quickly learned to climb down a tree.

Gimli felt himself falling, heard Eldarion scream below. He reached out to grab something, anything to break his fall. His injured hand grabbed onto a branch, and he held onto it like a life line. But his momentum and weight wrenched his wrist, and he cried out as he felt and heard something snap. Purely on instinct, his other hand reached up and secured him as his feet found firm footing on a thick branch. Trying hard to ignore the stabbing pain in his wrist, he stood heaving for breath, cursing himself for ever trying to do something only an elf should attempt.

"Gimli! Gimli!" Eldarion's cries came from below, and he managed to take a look down. His head whirled, and he wondered if the height had finally begun to affect him. Dwarves were absolutely not meant to climb trees, he decided.

"I'm alright," Gimli called down to the frightened child. "But I'm going to need some help getting down. I think I've broken my wrist." When one is stuck in a tree more than twenty feet off the ground, it is better not to deny one's injuries. He ignored the sting to his pride for admitting this weakness.

"I'll get Ada!" Eldarion turned, running from the garden as fast as he could.

"Eldarion! Wait! Not your father..." But it was too late, the boy was gone.

Present time...

Not that Legolas was still with Aragorn anyway, Gimli thought, looking down at the elf who lay calm as you please, hands folded on his chest, on a branch no more than ten inches in diameter. His eyes were closed, but Gimli knew he was not asleep. Gimli, on the other hand, grew more tired by the moment, and his injuries demanded tending. It was time to let his friend know the extent of what had happened.

"Legolas?"

The prince smirked, but did not even bother to open his eyes.

"Lad, I...um..."

"MAKE WAY FOR THE KING!" Both he and the elf flinched at the herald's cry and looked down into the courtyard.

The crowd parted as King Elessar strode into the garden. He looked around at the gathered crowd, his stern eyes resting on several guards for a brief moment. He did not speak a word.

"Everyone out," one of the guards said to his king's unspoken command. The crowd broke up and with much reluctance began filing out of the garden.

Aragorn walked over to the tree, and looking up, his eyes came to rest on the elf lying on the branch beneath Gimli. The king frowned. "It is not usually your nature, Legolas, to leave an injured friend in dire circumstances." His eyes moved from the prince to Gimli, who sighed heavily. Now, he was in for it.

"Injured?" Legolas immediately rose to a sitting position, his legs dangling below the branch. "Gimli, you are injured?" Grey eyes reflected great concern.

Before he could answer, Eldarion slipped out from behind his father. "Gimli! Are you okay?" The boy gazed up at him, worry clear in his face.

"I'll be alright, lad," Gimli called down, before turning his eyes back to his friend. Only, Legolas was no longer there.

"Easy, my friend," a soft voice came from beside him, and he would have slipped off the branch had strong arms not wrapped themselves around him. "Where are you hurt?"

Gimli's pride screamed for him to deny it, but he swallowed it down and said, "My wrist. I think it's broken."

"I have some bandages." Aragorn lifted himself up beside the elf, and Gimli jumped. Where did he come from?Bah! Elves and those with elvish heritage. Tree dwellers! The lot of them!

"Lean against me," Legolas told him, tugging him backwards into a more stable position against the elf's chest, "so that Aragorn may bind your wrist."

Gimli laughed. "Never thought I'd see the day my injuries would be tended in a tree."

Aragorn snorted. "It's nothing new for us," He looked up at Legolas with a smile.

"Indeed," Legolas concurred. "However, our injuries usually occurred on the ground. Tell me, Master Dwarf, why were you in the tree to begin with, and how did you come to injure yourself?" His eyes fell onto Gimli's scratched hand. "And how did you manage to be attacked in the process, for that was not caused by this gentle oak!"

The corner's of Aragorn's mouth twitched as he examined Gimli's hand. "Ah, this is the work of Eldarion's kitten, if I am not mistaken. It will need to be thoroughly cleaned when we descend, for their bites are known to fester." When Gimli grumbled, the man continued, "They are pleasant creatures for the most part, Gimli, but when cornered or frightened, they fight back tooth and nail."

"You don't say?" Gimli rolled his eyes in response as Aragorn began to bind his wrist. Legolas chuckled behind him. "And don't you start, elf! If you had simply helped me down to begin with..."

"Truly, I am sorry." Legolas patted his shoulder in consolation. "I had no idea that you were injured. And I could not simply help you down...not right away."

Aragorn looked up at the prince, mouth slightly ajar and eyes narrowed. "Do I wish to know why you could not help him down straight away?"

"I would like to know!" Gimli growled. "I would never—" His eyes widened, and he snapped his mouth shut as a memory assailed him. "I had nothing to do with that!" he hissed up at his friend.

"I'm sure you didn't," the elf replied, "however, neither did you quickly come to my aid. If I recall..."

"Alright! You made your point. I laughed! I could not help it! How many times does an elf..."

"How many times does a dwarf get stuck in a tree?" Legolas retorted, not allowing Gimli to finish his question.

Aragorn looked between them, his brows drawn together with confusion, but it seemed he decided it was probably wise not to ask, for he continued to wrap Gimli's wrist in silence.

"You laughed, I laughed, we are even."

"Fine."

"If you are done discussing your differences," Aragorn's voice was filled with authority, drawing their gazes, "we should see to getting Gimli down to the Houses of Healing, where I can tend his injuries in a more proper manner. The wrist will need to be set."

"Agreed." Legolas began to maneuver himself so that Gimli could stand upon a thick branch just below them. "With your assistance, my lord king, and that of the tree, I believe we shall be on the ground shortly."

The tree? Gimli just hoped he would make it back to firm ground in one piece.

Epilogue

"See, Gimli? She isn't so bad when she'd not scared. Watch her chase the string!" Eldarion dragged a piece of string, suspended from a stick, across the floor.

Gimli had to admit it was quite amusing to watch the small cat chase the writhing yarn with both front paws trying to hook it in her claws. He was thankful she was now angry with the string, and not his aching, scratched hand.

Bright, elven laughter echoed off the walls of the room in the Houses of Healing. Its melodious sound brought Gimli's eyes up to the door, where Legolas entered, a large cat purring in his arms. Aragorn had insisted Gimli stay under the care of the healers until they were sure his hand did not become infected, but he did not mind being cooped up with such entertaining company.

Aragorn entered behind Legolas. "How does your wrist feel, Gimli? Are the herbs helping with the pain?"

"Aye," he smiled. "And Eldarion smuggled Morndel in to amuse me."

Legolas snorted. "Morndel? Fitting," the elf observed, noting the primarily white kitten looked as though she had just sat in a pile of black soot which marked her rear and tail, "if a somewhat unusual name."

"Yes, isn't it?" Aragorn agreed with a smirk. "I suppose it is fair turnaround after the names I came up with that made my adar cringe."

"Indeed!" Legolas laughed. The elf's smile quickly turned into a grimace when the kitten's mother, Basinah, decided to climb up onto his shoulder. She sat perfectly balanced, like an elf on the branch of a tree.

"She has elven grace, Legolas," Gimli pointed at the cat perched on his friend and grinned.

"She does not!" the elf disagreed adamantly. "She has claws, which she is digging into my shoulder to maintain that poise."

The room echoed with laughter as Legolas grimaced and tried to pry the cat from his shoulder. Gimli guffawed the loudest, seeing Eldarion laugh alongside Aragorn. Seeing the boy so happy, the kitten safe in his master's arms and Legolas with a cat now hanging onto his back, Gimli decided it was all worth it, after all.

end


Footnotes

Morndel (MORN dehl) - Sindarin for 'dark rear-end (literally the hind most part of the body)'

Wajih - an Arabic name meaning 'Noble, notable, distinguished'.

Basinah - an Arabic name meaning 'Kitty, kitten'.

Thank you for reading!