A Wizard is Never Late
Summary: While waiting for Gandalf, Aragorn and Legolas are faced with some unexpected trouble.
Disclaimer: They do not belong to me. Part of the last scene is movie verse and there are a few quotes from the FotR movie.
Note: This story was written for Teitho Challenge "The Four Elements". Nothing fancy, my attempt to bring the four elements into one single concept, not sure how successful it is.
Note to the ones reading "The Only Way to Kill the Dragon": You are perhaps surprised to see me online :-). Good news is – although my internet connection is pretty bad as I was told, I am able to come online once in a while, so you will get your updates before I return. The next chapter is already written and sent to my beta for editing. It will be posted as soon as she sends it back to me.
Gandalf closed his eyes and pressed his palms tightly against the Great Eagle's back. The wind was blowing in his face, but he paid it no heed. He could not believe this was happening. Again.
He was sure that it would never happen again, but he had been wrong. And, just like last time, his delay would possibly have fatal consequences.
"Hurry! Hurry up, my friend!" He whispered urgently. The cool night air caressed his brow, but it never blew his cares away.
sixty-five years earlier
"This is it!" The ranger muttered angrily and started pacing around the fire. "We cannot wait anymore!"
"He will come," the elf said with irritating calmness. He was standing with his arms crossed across his chest, casually leaning against a tree.
"I know that he will come," Aragorn said and suddenly stopped his pacing to look at his fair-haired companion. "The question is when. He was supposed to be here a week ago. He said he wouldn't be late."
"He is not late," Legolas argued. "A wizard is never late."
"I know, I know," the ranger said with a sigh. "Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to. He had repeated this to me perhaps a thousand times. But if he means to arrive a week after he has said he would, I wouldn't call it 'not being late'."
The elf, who was still leaning against the tree, raised his hand to his mouth and yawned tiredly. "Well, the only thing we can do is wait for him here until he comes."
"Maybe something happened to him," the man said, this time sounding worried.
"What could happen to him? He is a wizard after all," Legolas replied with another yawn and slid to the ground and, ignoring his friend's exasperated gaze, swiftly drifted into sleep.
He wondered briefly what had awoken him, but quickly figured it out. It was the sensation of something wet and cool hitting his face. And again. And yet again.
It bothered him and he blinked before his eyes came into focus. "What's that?" He murmured sleepily.
"It is called 'rain'," Aragorn's amused voice reached his ears. "It comes as water droplets falling from clouds in the sky. I thought you would have learned that in your centuries-long life."
Legolas snorted. "Well, it seems one always has something to learn," he said merrily and looked up. The rain was still not very strong, but the dark clouds covering the sky worried him. The fire wasn't burning anymore, and grey smoke was rising from the wet logs. "Gandalf hasn't arrived yet," he whispered after looking around.
"No," Aragorn replied softly. "But I hope he does before all water in Middle-earth has poured onto our heads."
He had barely spoken when all water in Middle-earth indeed seemed to pour over their heads all at once. But one would expect that the water would pour and stop, while this one continued pouring again and again.
"Well, I suppose Gandalf could arrive in an hour or in a day now," Aragorn said with a sigh. "It would make no difference. I doubt we could get any wetter than that."
"One could always get wetter," Legolas said wisely, but suddenly frowned. "Do you wish to look for a shelter?"
The young ranger quickly shook his head. "We should stay here. Gandalf will probably come some time soon, and I don't want to miss him."
"As you wish," the elf replied with a shrug and leaned against the tall form of an old oak. Even though it was the middle of the day, the sky was dark as if it were a starless night. Well, at least I can feel at home now, Legolas thought bitterly. True, the darkness was probably not his favorite part of Mirkwood, and certainly not the one he missed, but he had to try to enjoy what he was given.
Legolas squeezed the water out of his hair for the hundredth time although it was rather pointless considering that in less than a minute it would be just as wet as it had been before. The squeezing, however, gave him a false sense that he was doing something useful that would keep him dry, which in his case was impossible.
He wiped the water from his brow, which, as a small and evil voice inside his head helpfully pointed out, was just as pointless as squeezing the water out of his hair. The sky hadn't cleared at all and there seemed to be no sign that Gandalf would be coming soon. He had probably found a shelter and is waiting for the rain to stop, he thought. And this is what we should do as well.
True, he couldn't catch a cold, but this did not mean that Legolas enjoyed the rain. His hair and clothes were plastered on his skin, causing an uncomfortable sensation. His boots were filled with water and he had the feeling that his feet were standing in two deep and cool ponds. But what worried him the most was the often sneezing at his side.
"You will get sick," he said softly but firmly. "We must find a shelter and built a fire to dry our clothes."
"But Gandalf –" the young man started, but was promptly interrupted.
"Gandalf can wait," Legolas said. "We have waited for him long enough."
Looking for a shelter was easier said than done. The ground had turned into thick and sticky mud, and every step made the ranger's boots sink deep down. It was a hard work just to lift one's feet, and his face would have been covered in sweat if the rain wasn't constantly washing it away. What was worse, the elf next to him was walking lightly on top of the mud as if it was hard ground and gave no indication to be having any trouble.
Several times they tried to find shelter under one of the larger trees, but even the densest leaves and branched had proven to be a poor protection against the merciless water. Aragorn suddenly dropped to his knees with a tired sigh, which, naturally, was a bad decision since his legs immediately sank into the mud. But the ranger didn't seem to care and looked up. "This is hopeless," he whispered. "We will never find anything. We could wait here or go back, but I cannot continue." His words would have sounded firm and determined if they hadn't ended with a loud sneeze.
Legolas looked back and the merry face suddenly grew concerned. "You will be ill if we stay out in this weather for a few more hours," he said. "We must continue. We will find something sooner or later." His voice grew louder and at the end almost turned to shouting so that he would be heard over a loud thunder.
But the young man only shook his head. "I am sorry, mellon nîn, I cannot go on."
Legolas crouched in front of him and smiled mischievously. "Now, Strider, please don't tell me that the mighty ranger will be defeated by a bit of water!"
"This is not a bit of water!" Aragorn protested, but the elf only smiled and stretched his hand to help him to his feet.
"Come," he whispered and his smile grew when the young ranger accepted his hand. The man didn't even protest when the same slender hand squeezed the water out of his dark hair.
"You know that there is no point in doing that," Aragorn observed. "In less than a minute my hair would be just as wet as it was before."
The elf conveniently ignored the question and led them forward. The man swiftly fell into silence, disturbed only by occasional sneezing, so that he could save his strength for the walking.
But the walking didn't last as long as they expected. Legolas suddenly came to a halt and pointed towards a large hole in a nearby rock.
"This will do," Aragorn said as he quickly entered the cave. It had the shape of a long tunnel going deep below the mountains.
"Yes, it is large enough," Legolas observed. "You can wait inside for the rain to stop, and I will be right in front of the entrance."
The ranger swiftly looked back and stared at his friend. "You are not coming?"
The elf shook his head. "No, I don't like this cave. It is too dark and narrow. I prefer to wait here."
Aragorn looked at him in surprise. "You are being stubborn as an Oliphant. No wait, worse. Stubborn as an elf. So you prefer to be soaking wet?"
"Yes," Legolas replied simply, obviously intending to put an end to the discussion. His friend, however, would have none of that.
The ranger grinned slightly and their eyes locked. "Now, Legolas, please do not tell me that the mighty elf would be defeated by a bit of darkness!"
Legolas shrugged and chuckled lightly. "My dear friend, this trick might work on foolish and naïve humans, but it certainly does not work on elves."
"As you wish then," the ranger said. "I just didn't want you to wait in the rain. You look terrible. You look like a wet chicken."
The elf froze for a second at stared at his friend. "A wet chicken?" He asked softly. When the man nodded, he paled imperceptibly, hesitated for a second and entered the cave.
Aragorn couldn't hide his smile. Well, that trick certainly does work on elves. If you want to make an elf do what you want, always appeal to their prissiness.
An hour later the rain was still pouring, but the two didn't care. They were sitting around a fire, and their clothes had almost dried. The man was dozing lightly, his sleep occasionally disturbed by the loud thunders, and the elf was leaning against the wall, gazing at the dancing flames.
Aragorn rubbed his eyes as another thunder sounded through the tunnel. He was about to try to go back to sleep when loud noises at the entrance made him jump to his feet. Legolas was on his feet as well and had to quickly step to the right to avoid a falling stone. The cave was filled with dust and the man and the elf exchanged a worried glance.
It was obvious what had happened. The last thunder had hit a tree, which had fallen, pushing rocks and boulders on its way. The cave was collapsing.
"Run!" Legolas shouted and grabbed the man's sleeve, pulling him to the entrance. But their way was blocked by large boulders and falling rocks. It was Aragorn's turn to grab his arm and pull him back.
"We cannot get out, the entrance had collapsed," the ranger hissed urgently. "We must go back, the depths of the tunnel are still intact."
"I am not going there," the elf muttered in panic and tried to run back towards the falling stones. The madness that flashed through his eyes worried the ranger.
"We must, Legolas, it is safe there," Aragorn said softly and directly his friend's gaze so that their eyes would meet. They could barely see each other in the darkness since the entrance was already blocked almost completely and the falling dust had extinguished the fire. "I know that it is dark, but I will be there. There is nothing to fear."
But the elf shook his head vigorously, gripped by his irrational fear. "Not going there… not going there…," he mumbled incoherently.
"Please, mellon nîn, we must. We are too close to the entrance now and the cave might still be unstable," the man begged with a shaking voice.
Legolas started shaking his head even more rapidly and tried to pull back. But his friend grabbed him and turned him around. If there was any light left, the elf would have been shocked by the amount of regret on the familiar face.
"Oh, Legolas, I am so sorry," Aragorn whispered.
"Sorry about what?" The elf mumbled surprised, still trying to fight his panic.
"About this," was the last thing he heard before a heavy fist collided with his temple. He never felt the strong arms that lifted him and carried him to safety.
He blinked to clear his vision, but it did no good. He could see nothing except complete and terrifying blackness. "I don't see a thing," he murmured in alarm, afraid that he had probably hit his head and gone blind.
His words were met with mirthless laughter. "Worry not, my friend, there is nothing to see. The entire entrance collapsed and no light can reach us."
Legolas brushed away the hand that gently probed his temple for any lump that might have formed and sat up. "We are buried under the earth?" He did his best to hide the fear from his voice. "Why haven't you lit a torch? Did you lose your pack?"
"No, my pack is here, and I have flint and torches," Aragorn said. "But the entrance is sealed and if there is no other way out, then our air supply is limited. If we light a fire, we will run out of air faster."
"But we need fire. If there is a way out, we cannot find it without any light. Besides, our clothes are still slightly wet. You might catch a cold."
"This is true, but if we have no air left, we would both die long before I will have time to die of illness," the man argued. "I am sorry, my friend, I know what the darkness does to you, but we cannot have fire and air at the same time."
"We cannot have fire and air at the same time," Legolas said thoughtfully. "Just like we cannot escape both water and earth." Even in the darkness he could feel his friend's questioning gaze, and quickly continued. "The elements are at war, and we are caught in the middle of it. Air and fire are on our side. Air we can breathe, and fire gives us light and warmth. Water and earth are against us. Water makes us soaked and freezing, and earth buries us in its depths. We cannot have air and fire at the same time. If we choose to have air for a longer time, then we cannot light a fire. If we choose fire, then our air will be over soon."
"And we cannot escape both water and earth at the same time," Aragorn continued his friend's train of thought. "If we hide from the water, we will be buried deep beneath the earth. But if we refuse to enter earth's depths, we will be exposed to the water."
"I think we should stop talking," Legolas said suddenly.
The young ranger blinked in surprise. "I thought that I had said something clever." He said grumpily.
"It is clever, my friend," the elf assured him. "But if we do not speak, our air will last longer."
Aragorn was silent for a moment, but then the sound of rummaging through a pack was heard. Legolas frowned in confusion and suddenly stared in disbelief as a torch was lit before his eyes.
"What are you doing?" He whispered. "The air-"
"It matters not," Aragorn interrupted him. "I just realized something. It matters not if we are speaking or if there is a fire burning. If there is indeed no entrance, then we will die anyway. True, if we speak or if we light a fire we will die faster, but in any case we will run out of air sooner or later. But if there a way out, then wasting air does not hurt. Besides, it will be much easier to find the way out if we have light."
"I do not really like this reasoning," the elf admitted. "I am still not sure it is wise to waste air like that."
"We do not know how much air we have," Aragorn said. "We do not know how big the cave is. For all we know, we might have air to last for days. Maybe it is even so much that we will starve to death before we have died of lack of air."
"Very comforting," Legolas murmured unhappily and let his gaze travel over the man's form under the light of the torch, "Are you uninjured?"
"Yes," Aragorn murmured barely audibly and looked down guiltily. "As you would be, had I not hit your head. I am sorry I did that."
"How can you apologize, Estel, you saved my life?" Legolas said and shook his head in exasperation. "I sometimes need to be saved from myself. I have to thank you, not forgive you."
To his surprise, the young man dropped to the ground and buried his head in his hands with a tired sigh. "Please, do not thank me, Legolas! This is all my fault!" He said angrily. It was obvious that the elf was about to protest, so he quickly continued. "I made you enter the cave! If it wasn't me, you would have stayed out there and would be free! I made you come with me. And do you know why? I didn't want to wait alone in the cave. I didn't even consider that you might feel better outside. And now because of my egoism you will die. Do you think I deserve forgiveness?" Stormy eyes turned towards the elf. "I think not."
Legolas waited for the tirade to be over, knelt before his friend, and lifted his chin so that their eyes would meet. "You are not listening, human. I said thank you. And I mean it. Thank you for everything. Thank you for making me enter the cave for I am happy to be here right now."
Aragorn stared in shock, worried that his friend had gone mad. "Did I hit you that hard?" He asked fearfully.
Legolas chuckled. "No, mellon nîn, I am completely sane. And I mean it when I say that I am glad to be here. Imagine what would have happened had I stayed outside. I would be standing before the collapsed cave, unable to help you. I would know nothing of your fate. All I would know would be that in the best case you are trapped in a dark cave all alone, slowly dying of lack of air, and in the worst case you are lying broken beneath heavy boulders. That, my friend, would be a trap darker than any cave, and I thank you for saving me from it."
Aragorn still didn't look convinced. "But you hate the dark so much," he countered. "I do not feel comfortable in this cave, but it must be so much worse for you."
"No tunnel, Estel, is as dark as the tunnel of fear and uncertainly," the elf said softly. "And fear for a friend is the darkest tunnel of all."
The young man nodded slowly. "And what about my own tunnel, Legolas?" He whispered. "The trap of knowing that you are here because of me and that you would die because of me? You are right that it is darker than the cave around us, but how do I walk out of it?"
Legolas smiled gently and let the young man rest his head on his shoulder. "Whatever trap you are in, we will walk out of it together. I promise."
Then he slowly stood up and helped the ranger to his feet. As much as he wanted to give his friend time to rest and deal with his doubts, they had no time to lose.
The light of the torch was barely enough, and the walk through the tunnel was slow and filled with tripping and falling. Legolas was about to suggest to stop for a rest, when he heard a familiar sound. Without saying a word, he rushed forward miraculously avoiding every rock on his way. Aragorn followed as quickly as he could without tripping in the poorly lit cave. Suddenly he came to a stop and smiled.
Legolas was kneeling on the ground, holding something in his hand. "Birds don't live in caves, do they, little one?" He asked the small creature in his palm.
The bird sang merrily and flew in the direction they were going. "We are close to the entrance," the elf said and they started running again. This time they were moving faster since the new hope had made their hearts and their legs lighter than before.
And indeed the entrance was near for soon they felt the familiar smell of rain. "It hadn't stopped at all," Aragorn said unhappily, looking at the pouring water.
"We cannot escape both earth and water at the same time, remember?" Legolas asked with a smile. "We must choose now. If you want, we may wait here for the rain to stop."
Aragorn shook his head determinedly. "I do now wish to spend a second more in that cave. Or in any cave for that matter."
"Understandable." Legolas nodded in approval. "Now you know exactly how I feel."
Because of the rain it took them longer than it normally would to determine where they were, but soon enough they discovered that the clearing where they were supposed to meet with Gandalf wasn't too far away. Aragorn didn't even mind the mud anymore and even blessed the rain, pouring on their heads. It was comforting to feel the sky above you and breathe the fresh forest air.
"I am worried that we have made Gandalf wait for too long," he said, quickening his pace.
"Well, we had a good reason," Legolas pointed out. "Being burying under ground and arriving on time don't usually go well together."
"Then, please tell me, why did we choose the first?" The ranger asked exasperated. Then he frowned in surprise and stared at the clearing they had just reached. It was as empty as they had left it.
"Gandalf isn't here," Legolas stated the obvious.
"Maybe he came, saw that we weren't here, and left," the man suggested.
"I see no sigh of anyone passing through here, but the rain has washed all tracks," the elf observed. "Perhaps we should wait for a day or two more."
They sat in the mud and leaned their backs against a tree. "Now we are facing both," Aragorn said. "Water and earth. Water is pouring over us, and earth," he held up his palm filled with mud, "is making us dirty."
"Fortunately for you, human, you don't mind being dirty," Legolas said, faking a disgusted face.
"And, unfortunately for you, you do," the young man said with a smile and threw the handful of mud towards his fair friend.
Legolas glared at him and was about to return the gesture, but the look on the ranger's face stopped him. "Thank you," Aragorn said suddenly.
The elf raised an eyebrow in surprise. "In such a case you are supposed to say 'I am sorry,'" he said dryly.
"No." The man shook his head. "I meant to say thank you for walking out of the tunnel with me."
Legolas smiled. "Anytime, my friend. Although I have to admit that I am starting to regret it," he added mischievously and threw a handful of mud in the young human's direction, deftly ducking the one thrown at him.
If the wizard had arrived at that point, he would have barely recognized the two covered in mud creatures to be his friends.
On the next day the rain had finally stopped, and the two had washed from the mud and dried their clothes. The fire was burning merrily, the slender flames dancing before their eyes. Suddenly they heard a quiet travel song and jumped to their feet.
A small cart was approaching, and in it they could see an elderly man with a grey cloak and a pointed hat. They exchanged an amused glance and grinned at each other.
"What took you so long?" Aragorn asked when the wizard approached them.
"I am sorry, my friends," Gandalf murmured and his eyes took a faraway look, as if he was at another time and place. "I was delayed."
The elf and the ranger exchanged a glance once again. "You didn't expect him to say something decipherable, did you?" Legolas asked with a smile.
"Not really," the man replied. "But we were almost drowned in water, buried under the earth, faced lack of fire and air, and all he says is 'I was delayed'."
Gandalf sighed. "Then I hope it will be enough to promise that it will never happen again," he said.
The elf shrugged. "I suppose this will have to do. One delay is alright, but do not make it a habit."
The wizard nodded in relief. "Then you have my promise. I will never be delayed again."
sixty-five years later
Gandalf was sitting on a chair, gazing at the sleeping hobbit. He still could not believe he had been late once again. And, just like the first time, someone he loved dearly had almost died because of his delay.
Blue eyes suddenly fluttered opened. "Where am I?" Murmured Frodo, still half-asleep.
The wizard gazed at the waking hobbit and smiled warmly. "You are in the house of Elrond. And it is 10 o'clock in the morning, on October the 24th if you want to know."
"Yes. I'm here", the wizard said, looking greatly relieved. "And you're lucky to be here too. A few more hours and you would have been beyond our aid. But you have some strength in you, my dear hobbit!"
Frodo frowned in confusion and looked at his friend. "What happened Gandalf? Why didn't you meet us?"
"Oh, I am sorry Frodo…. I was delayed."
A snort of disbelief made him turn around. Strider was standing in the corner, watching him with an annoyingly amused expression. "I believe it is time for you to change your saying, my old friend."
"My saying?" The Istar asked surprised.
"Yes. 'A wizard is never late. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.' You must change it to something more fitting."
"And what should I change it to?"
Aragorn's smile broadened before he spoke. "A wizard is never late. Except when he is delayed."
Gandalf blushed in a very un-maia-like manner and was about to retort, when Frodo's merry laughter made him smile. Perhaps his new line was fitting. Yes, it was fitting indeed. And now he truly hoped that he would never again be delayed.