Disclaimer: All of Middle-earth belongs to Tolkien. I make nothing from writing about his world, except reviews which make me smile. They retain no cash value, though they are priceless.
Betas: Nautika, with special thanks to Adaneth at GoI for help with all things dwarven.
A/N – This story is part of my Undying Friendship Series and is strongly related to Never Again. It would help to have read that first as you will miss some subtle emotions if you have not.
This story is dedicated to my dear friends, iragreenleaf and Kevgreenleaf
I am praying for you, mellyn nín. May this tale cheer you.
Seemingly Forbidding Crags
by Nieriel Raina
Falling…he hazily remembered the sensation of falling, and then came the heat.
Time stood still. And it was hot…TOO hot! The heat made his skin feel more on fire by the minute. Tiny droplets of sweat formed on his forehead, occasionally trickling down into the hair at his temples, but he paid them no heed. All he could feel was the heat – the infernal, intolerable heat. And it confused him, for he did not understand how he had come to be here, or even know where he was. Drawing a deep breath, he shuddered, coughed and gagged. The simmering air seared his lungs, adding to his misery. To make matters worse, his limbs refused to move and his head pounded with his pulse.
"Amrassen…" His protest left him as little more than a soft whimper, yet the heat raged, continuing its sweltering assault.
He managed to slit his eyes open, but could only make out a red glow on what appeared to be rock. Fire. And close by, which explained the heat that seemed to be roasting him alive. Would there ever be respite? Or was he doomed to die, everything swallowed up in smoldering agony? The blazing inferno, smelling of acrid smoke, felt so very wrong to him. He felt consciousness leaving him, and his vision dimmed. In his last remnants of consciousness, he heard a distorted voice bellow loudly. The final vestiges of his sight were slowly blocked out by darkness, and he welcomed the coming oblivion and the relief it would bring from the heat. Dimly he felt himself hoisted up, and then he knew no more.
Strange, deep noises woke him, and he struggled to open his eyes, wondering why he had closed them only a moment before the pain assaulted him again. Vague memories of pain and heat returned, and he struggled to become fully aware, to better understand where he was, what had happened and whether danger still remained close by. The heat lingered, but not like he remembered before falling into unconsciousness. In his fuzzy line of sight, he could again make out a red glow, but only briefly. Blackness blocked out the sight once more, and he blinked in confusion.
The darkness shifted, wobbled, and the red light returned. Squinting, he tried to better see his surroundings, to search out any enemy. But the shadow of darkness returned, obscuring the red glow of what he assumed to be embers. A rough hand touched his forehead, and as he focused, he could make out features in the dark shadow. Bushy hair, deep-set eyes...he was being tortured by a Dwarf? Shaking his head slightly in hope of clearing his vision only brought forth a hiss as the pounding intensified. A murmured curse brought his attention back to the person intent on seeing him die in agony. Dwarves…were Dwarves not his enemies?
Vision dimming in and out, he managed to protest. "Let me go!" In his present state, it came out as more of a garbled, "Leheego."
The bushy head shook a negative, and the beard moved, showing a flash of teeth. The words were unintelligible to the elf, just a droning grumble. He closed he eyes against the stunted creature, hoping it would all end soon. Murmured voices, deep and soothing, spoke back and forth as surprisingly gentle hands shifted him onto something softer than the hard stone of the floor. He was lifted, less harshly this time, but the disturbance of his equilibrium turned all to blackness once more.
He must have slept, for he woke, but did not open his eyes. Something had happened, but what? Coolness pressed to his cheeks, his forehead, and something moist stroked down his neck. He slowly became more aware, enjoying the relief of the wetness being dragged across his cracked and burnt skin. The action combated the pounding headache that increased as he grew more alert. Trying to remember where he was and what had occurred, all the Elf could remember was heat - sweltering, scorching, blistering heat - and a Dwarf. Moaning, he forced his eyes open.
At first, all he could see was the glow of light on stone walls, but it burned brighter than before. Then a shadow - a bushy shadow with concerned eyes - came into view.
The Dwarf knew his name? Somehow that did not bother him as much as he thought it should, yet…this Dwarf looked familiar somehow. But why would a Dwarf look familiar? Was this not his torturer? But he could not deny the concern in the Dwarf's expression. The burly creature sparked such a sense of familiarity in him, an intimacy he could see returned in the Dwarf's eyes, that the Elf rejected such questions. And there was something else... Oh yes, the Dwarf had spoken his name. So they were at least known to each other. There could be no other explanation, and yet it was a dwarf! The pounding in his head prevented him from sorting through his jumbled thoughts.
"Laddie? Can you hear me?"
Of course he could hear the rumbling voice. He was an Elf! And the sound increased the hammering in his head, making it more difficult to think properly. He grimaced.
The Dwarf spoke again, this time to someone behind him. "Bring the light over here, Blákári."
Another Dwarf appeared carrying a small oil lantern. The bright yellow light hurt his eyes, and it took a moment for Legolas to see again. When the tears cleared, having been blinked down his cheeks, the lantern revealed his attendants better, making it easy to tell one from the other by the russet hair of the first, and the black locks of the one holding the lamp. Both seemed very familiar, but where the former bore anxiety and guilt in his amber gaze, the latter had concern mixed with amusement shining in twinkling blue eyes.
The first Dwarf picked up a wet scrap of cloth and brought it back to the Elf's face. Legolas pressed into it, closing his eyes and forgetting all the confusing thoughts and worries that kept plaguing him. The heat, he noticed had abated from the inferno of earlier, and he sighed in obvious contentment, closing his eyes.
"Legolas?" the Dwarf asked again.
The Elf cracked open an eye, licking his dry lips as he tried to focus on the speaker, suddenly aware of his great thirst.
The Dwarf must have noticed, for he looked over at his companion and held out a hand. Blákári placed a water skin in it, and the first Dwarf turned back to him, helping him lift his head enough to swallow a gulp. He would have kept drinking, but the Dwarf pulled the skin away, lowering him back onto a thick blanket. "Not too much now. You want to keep it down, lad. I suspect with as hard as you hit that head of yours, the water might not agree with your belly."
"Where am I?" Legolas asked in little more than a breathy whisper, putting all his effort into focusing.
The Dwarf frowned, alarm and fear joining the anxiety Legolas could see in the other's eyes and tension in the stocky frame. "What do you remember?"
Chewing on his mustache - something Legolas found both disturbing, yet familiar enough to be comforting - the Dwarf considered for a moment. "Do you know who I am?" There was no mistaking the hesitation and dread that accompanied the question.
'Of course, I know who you are,' Legolas thought in irritation, surprising himself. "Gimli?" It all began to make some sense. The Dwarves' presence and his being underground enclosed in stone. But...had the heat and torture been some hallucination due to hitting his head as Gimli mentioned? It was all very perplexing, and had seemed so very real.
The visible relief on Gimli's face brought a smile to the Elf's lips. "You are quite unforgettable, my friend," he reassured in a whisper, having not the barest inclination to explain his fleeting memory loss, not after what had happened the last time he had been injured in a cave. And how had he been hurt this time? Surely, not another cave in...
"How do you feel, lad? Do you remember what happened?"
Legolas thought for a moment, hazy details coming back slowly through the fog of pain in his forehead, which ached fiercely. He lifted a hand, hissing as his fingers brushed bruised skin. How had he managed that?
"I feel like I have been cooked by a Hobbit after being sat on by a troll." Legolas grimaced as Gimli smirked. "We are visiting the Lonely Mountain, but..." He closed his eyes, willing his memory to grace him with more.
"Aye," Blákári piped in, reminding Legolas he was there. The Elf glanced between both Dwarves and waited. He doubted further details would be returning to him any time soon.
"This is my fault, Legolas." Gimli ran a hand over his face, relaxing some, yet guilt showing plain on his features and in his eyes. "I should never have brought you down here. This space is not made for Elves and their height."
Legolas blinked, squeezing his eyes shut a moment as a hazy memory came. "You were going to show a secret workshop, where they make the iron railings I like so much." He guessed that explained the heat.
"Aye," Gimli nodded, stroking his beard rather forcefully, as he was wont to do when agitated, especially at himself.
"What happened?" Legolas' question brought the Dwarf's gaze back to him, and the brown eyes stared at him hard. Then the corners of the corners of those eyes crinkled ever so slightly...in amusement? "Gimli?"
Blákári snorted, and Gimli began to chuckle, his shaking become guffaws. Legolas was not quite sure, but he almost thought there were tears in the Dwarves' eyes. 'Ai! Please tell me I did not do something stupid!'
The forceful demand did not silence the laughter, but it did lessen it somewhat, especially accompanied by his grimace from the pain his effort brought him. "I am sorry, Legolas. It is not that humorous..."
"Aye, it is!" Blákári piped in, wiping at his eyes. "Well, at least now that we know he is not injured severely."
Gimli shook his head, a smile remaining on his face. "Forgive us, Legolas. It is just we have never seen an Elf...fall quite like that."
The pain in Legolas' head made him wonder if he was delirious and all this another strange hallucination. Elves did not fall...though it might explain the lingering ache in his limbs. He lifted a hand to rub at his head again.
"Forgive me. My head aches so that I am not sure I understand you correctly. Did you say I fell?" He had a hazy memory of falling, but it was so elusive.
"Perhaps fall is not the correct term...exactly."
"Are you going to tell me what happened or not?" Legolas snapped, the pain escalating his irritation.
"You hit your head, lad. Hit it hard! And I think the shock of it caused you to stumble forward..."
"Through the door, where you tripped over some equipment, then flipped over a table of tools, and…."
Legolas looked between the two, his face flushing with embarrassment. The blood rushing to his face only increased his headache. He groaned and closed his eyes. The laughter ceased.
"Legolas, I am very sorry. I did not consider the ceilings down here are lower, and when the light went out..."
"The light went out?" He did not bother to open his eyes.
A heavy sigh, followed by a grunt, "It would seem someone did not fill the lamps recently as they are supposed to do. The last one flickered out right as we arrived at the door. I think perhaps you were disoriented by the unexpected change in lighting. You bolted forwards, slammed into the lintel, and ducked down grabbing at your head. The door must not have been latched properly either, for it flew open when you pushed against it. Then you stumbled forward into the room. As Blákári said, you tripped, flipped over a table of tools, and landed beside the casting molds, which were filled with hot iron!" Gimli shook his head, frowning. "The room gets very hot when dealing with molten metal, and you nearly landed in it." A shudder went through both Dwarves' frames, and Legolas felt himself blanch.
Well, that explained most of it. Legolas groaned, cracking an eye open, deeply embarrassed, in pain, and rather wishing to be outside. The room where he lay felt warm, though the temperature had dropped dramatically. "It is not so hot anymore," he observed.
It was Blákári who answered. "We moved you out here into the passageway where it is not so hot. You were sweating so profusely and groaning about the heat, even away from the molds, but it does get hot in there when they are casting. Of course, that was after Gimli got you away from the molds! I have never seen him move so fast. I did not know he could move so fast!"
Legolas glanced back at his friend, noting the anxiety seeping back into Gimli's features. Despite his pain, his lips twitched and his heart was touched. "You were worried about me," he said softly.
Gimli's eyes turned hard, and he glanced over at Blákári. "Go find the healer."
The order left no room for argument, though Legolas wished to escape a healer's examination. He was in pain, yes, but he would live. He had suffered much worse over the course of his life. Shifting, he tried to sit up, but a firm hand to his shoulder pushed him back down. "I would rather you waited until Langlíf looks you over," Gimli said without looking at him. "It would not surprise me to find out you have sprained a wrist or twisted an ankle or knee..." He shook his head sadly, glancing up at the Elf.
"You were worried about me," Legolas continued, knowing that with Blákári gone, there would be no hesitation on Gimli's part.
"Aye, I was. When you..." Gimli swallowed, blinked and looked away.
"You thought I could not remember you again."
The Dwarf nodded, keeping his face turned away.
"For a moment I could not," Legolas confessed.
Legolas sucked in a deep breath, trepidation filling him. "You knew?"
"Legolas, I have known you long enough to see a lack of recognition in your face. In fact, I would not doubt you thought me an enemy for a moment. I have not seen that look on you since before Moria."
Exhaling a shaky breath, Legolas paused, but was unwilling to have anything hindering their friendship. "Aye, but only for a moment. I was confused, Gimli. I did not know where I was, or even when I was. I only felt pain and heat and..."
The Dwarf shushed him with a wave of his hand. "Bah! I know that, Elf! I'm not blaming you nor going to hold it against you."
"But it hurt you." It was not a question.
"It stung a little."
"I can imagine," Legolas smiled bitterly.
The question caught him somewhat off guard, but only for a moment. "Aye. Though you would not be so clumsy as to fall out of a tree, I wager." He grinned. "I suppose, I must have been a sight."
His words lightened the tension in the room, and Gimli began to chuckle again. "It is not something I ever thought to see, lad. I am surprised you did not break something!"
Legolas winced. "I would not rule that out just yet." He tried not to focus on the rather sharp pain just above his wrist.
"Oh, I do not doubt you have broken or misaligned some part of your body. But I meant the work that was left on the table! They were working with some rather delicate objects earlier today." Gimli stood and walked through a doorway Legolas had not noticed before. When he returned a few moments later, he held a metal object in rough fingers. The Dwarf knelt back down so the Elf could look at it. "See! Still intact!"
"I am glad." Legolas blinked, looked at the twisted metal, and tried hard not to show that he had no idea what he was looking at or what it was used for. The pain pounding in his body did not help. "It would grieve me to know I had broken...something useful."
Gimli blinked, frowned and looked back at the object in his hand. "Ah, no, you would not recognize this. It is a decorative piece used by the King under the Mountain in his home. It is a sign of his house."
Legolas gaped at the ugly metal object, speechless.
"I agree. It is horrible in design." Gimli chuckled. "But we cannot choose the symbols of our families."
Thinking of the leaves embroidered on all his clothing, Legolas agreed. As much as he loved trees, he preferred not to wear them, and it had been a point of teasing when he was a child. "I am still glad it was not broken."
Gimli nodded and set the piece aside, absently reaching out to pat the Elf's hand.
"I will be alright, Gimli."
The Dwarf blinked and glanced up into the Elf's eyes. "I know that."
Smiling, Legolas let his eyes drift closed. The pain receded, and as he drifted towards sleep, a thought occurred to him. Dwarves were just like the mountains they resided in. On the outside they were rough and jagged, harsh and hostile, and yet, beautiful in their weathered way. They could be dangerous and difficult, but underlying it all was a heart of warmth. And hidden among the seemingly forbidding crags, if one looked, they might find treasures untold.
- O -
Amrassen, - Sindarin, "Too hot" (literally 'most white hot'). Translation courtesy of Fiondil.
Langlíf – Old Norse name meaning 'long-life'
Blákári – Old Norse meaning 'black, curvy, wavy' named for his hair. He is a friend of Gimli's though younger. He is one of the dwarves who relocated to Aglarond but made the trip with Legolas and Gimli to the Lonely Mountain.
Thank you for reading. Comments are greatly appreciated.