Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. I do not own Tolkein's world. It owns me.
AN: A peace offering in appeasement for not updating anything else for so long. I've got too many ideas for everything BUT Amarth Naur, and it's catching up to me. I actually wrote this quite some time ago for a Teitho contest in which we had to involve 'foreign' customs. I've reworked it a bit, and now offer it up to you. This means no threats of bodily injury. Please.
Aragorn pounded on the closed door, both concerned and annoyed. "Come on, you!" he called. "Do you want to be late?" A slight pause, then, "Legolas?"
The door remained firmly closed. Aragorn stared at the heavy oak for several seconds before slowly reaching for and turning the dull brass knob. He entered cautiously, not exactly sure what he would find.
A simple pack lay against the bed, no doubt filled with lembas. There was no sleeping pad or blanket attached to the bottom, as the elf had no need of them, much preferring to keep vigil in a tree. Legolas's bow and quiver stood at the pack's side. The quiver was completely filled with arrows, and Aragorn had to laugh at his friend's foresight. It was not often that they went on a trip and did not get into some sort of trouble. Twin white handles peeked out of the identical sheaths that lay across the bed.
But the key part to this tableau was missing. Legolas himself was nowhere to be seen.
A grunt from under the bed drew Aragorn's attention. Dropping down on hands and knees, he peered around the leg of the bedstead. There was the wood-elf, grappling with a boot caught on one of the bed's springs. Aragorn made a mental note not to let Legolas around any small children with even a slight grasp of the Sindarin language when the elf prince was frustrated. Some of the expletives made even the hardened ranger blush.
The prince scrambled out from under the bed, blonde hair disheveled from the tussle with the immovable boot. "Hello, Aragorn."
"What on Arda is wrong with you? I haven't seen you like this since the fight you had with your father when I was twenty."
Legolas, irritated, sat on his bed and pulled on one of his boots. Aragorn reached under the bed and removed the boot from the spring with a deft twist. He handed it to the owner with an exaggerated flourish.
Legolas eyed him, and for a moment, the ranger thought that his friend would swear again, but nothing was forthcoming. The wood-elf had lost his steam. "Thank you, Aragorn. I don't know… I just don't want to go!"
"You silly creature," Aragorn said, laughing. "We won't be gone long. Two weeks at most. Gimli is waiting, by the way."
"He can wait a bit longer," Legolas said, getting to his feet and shouldering his pack. "I… am not sure this is a good idea." The statement came before he could catch it. The idea of going to the Glittering Caves had been nudging the back of the elf's head for sometime now, but he had dismissed it as being irrelevant. After all, what could go wrong? But now that his fear –no, not fear, trepidation- was out in the open, he was immensely glad he had said it. Aragorn would tell him whether he was being silly or not.
Aragorn handed the elf his bow and quiver. "Are you scared? You, prince of Mirkwood, lord of Ithilien, best elven archer in the three elven realms?"
Legolas pointed sharply at the ranger. "I am not scared. I am just a little nervous about going to a dwarven complex. It is underground Aragorn. I do not like going underground. And furthermore, all those little… hairy beings. Simply because I am friends with one of them, does not mean all the others will accept an elf so readily."
Aragorn stopped his snickering and regarded his friend seriously. "You need not worry, mellon-nin. The caves have been there for many hundreds of years, and are probably older than you. It will not be as Moria was, for you can always go outside if you feel confined. And the dwarves… Durin's race can be friendly, Legolas. You just have to let them accept you."
"I do not want to continuously ward off ill words and the like."
"Trust me, mellon-nin," Aragorn said, laughingly, "I don't think that you will have a problem with the ill words. You are more than capable deflecting them, even if the 'little hairy beings' cannot understand Sindarin."
Legolas had the good grace to blush. "Well… as long as you are around to make sure I say and do nothing offensive, I suppose I will survive the visit."
The pair made good time to the Glittering Caves from the White City, and although Aragorn could feel Legolas's unease grow the closer they got, the elf kept his spirits up well enough. The ranger heard Legolas speak to the trees more and more, as if he was a sponge, soaking up all the conversation with living things he could. He reminded Aragorn of a bear stocking up for winter.
On the last day of their travels, they began to pass over familiar ground. Legolas clucked to Arod, who promptly halted. The ranger allowed Brego to stop as well and turned in the saddle to regard the elf quizzically. "What is it now?"
The elf pointed away to the north, across the West Emnet. "Fangorn lies that way. Why do we not just—"
"No, Legolas," Aragorn scolded, smile belying his words. "We promised to go and see Gimli."
Arod started forward again, and as he passed, Legolas eyed the ranger and said, "As you wish. I would not want to go without forcibly dragging him along anyways."
Sighing, Aragorn followed his friend. As the scenery passed, and the day began to edge towards afternoon, he smiled upon noting the determined look upon his comrade's face.
Helm's Deep came into view, and up on the wall stood a short stocky figure, hand high in greeting. Legolas smiled and raised his own in response. "Gimli appears to be well," Aragorn said softly. "The cave life suits him."
"He is a little hairy being," Legolas replied dryly. "They are well-built for such life. And do not trust him. I think he will immediately drag us off on some blasted adventure in which one of us shall get killed."
Aragorn reached over and pushed the elf gently. "Do not be so pessimistic!"
But Legolas had seen the other, more numerous figures scurrying about inside the complex, and his nerve, normally strong as the stoutest oak, had begun to fail him. The little figures indicated dwarves, which brought to mind just how out of place he would be amongst the mountain-tough people.
Aragorn smiled reassuringly at the elf and slung an arm about his shoulders, no easy feet since both were mounted. "You are just as strong as they are, Legolas. You survived the War with nary a scratch, you were brought up under the shadow of Mirkwood, and you have lived through many, many years of friendship with my brothers. These dwarves will pose no problems to you at all."
"Says the smelly, unshaven man to the elf," came the reply. "You will fit right in."
They trotted their horses up the long stone walkway, and the door opened wide. There stood Gimli, his customary axe slung comfortably over his shoulder. Aragorn dismounted, and the two clasped forearms. "It is good to see you again, Gimli."
"Yourself as well!" Gimli replied jovially. "You took your time getting here!"
"Ah, the elf took too long! He stopped to talk to every single tree he saw!"
Gimli peered around Aragorn quizzically. "Where is that pointy-eared princeling, anyway? He hasn't tried to escape has he?"
"The pointy-eared princeling would like the short stubborn dwarf to stop yammering and turn about," Legolas said mockingly.
The dwarf spun on his heel and tried to reach up and clasp his friend's shoulder. Being nearly two feet shorter than Legolas, he failed miserably. The elf laughed and bowed. "My friend, you may as well give up your useless attempts." His eyes glittered with mirth as he added, "Or would you like me to find you a box?"
Gimli laughed and thumped the elf on the back in a friendly way, nearly sending Legolas crashing to the ground, so stiff was the blow. The elf grinned and turned to make sure that Arod was being taken care of.
"Glad to see you convinced the flighty creature to come," Gimli said to Aragorn out of the corner of his mouth.
"Why didn't I let Eomer behead the blasted dwarf?" Legolas promptly lamented upon hearing the remark.
Aragorn laughed and wondered, not for the first time, just how much of the bantering he would hear over the next two weeks. He did not get to wonder for long. Gimli urged them through the fortress, intent on getting through to Legolas just how beautiful the caves really were. After all, Dwarvish custom was to immediately spirit off any visitors and show them the latest in their delving projects.
More and more of Durin's race began to appear, stocky but strong legs slowing, then stopping in amazement as they viewed the visitors, one in particular. Legolas was acutely aware of the stares, some showing open curiosity and wariness, and others, sharp hostility.
He began to believe that somehow Gimli had neglected to mention that one of the visitors he was expecting was an elf.
The wood-elf kept his head high, seemingly unaffected by the rumbling whispers. Only Aragorn could tell that Legolas was unnerved, and only then because of their many years of friendship.
Soon, they had attracted a crowd, and Aragorn nudged the dwarf, who had been caught up in his explanation of the magnificent care being given to the caverns and their phenomenal formations. The son of Gloin started, seeing the sheer number of his folk gathered behind him. Then his face grew hard, expression turning swiftly to resemble the solid stone he delved.
"Here now!" he cried to the assembly. "Haven't you lot ever seen a man and an elf before?"
A young dwarf, face just showing the beginnings of what would be a fine black beard, stepped forward and replied, "Aye, but never a dwarf and a—" here, he paused, obviously biting back an adjective that would anger the three comrades, "and an elf walking in apparent friendship!"
Legolas swallowed and tensed, pointedly reminding himself just how big a problem they would have if he allowed his hands to go to his weapons. Aragorn sensed this, and placed a gentle but restraining hand on the elf's forearm. But both had to fight to hide a smile as they saw Gimli's face turn red to match the beard.
"Ah, you bunch of blasted ninnies!" he roared. "This here elf is Legolas Greenleaf, a great friend of mine, and a skilled warrior! He's here under my invitation, and if I catch word of you lot bothering him, I can't promise I'll get between yourself and that bow of his!"
He turned past Aragorn and his eyes came to rest pointedly on the elf's superb bow. Without another word, he continued on his way. Aragorn, now grinning widely, hustled a stunned Legolas along, noting in some delight the pale blush that tinged his friend's fair features.
Gimli hurried them through a number of twisting passageways, moving with ease while his taller companions had to duck and contort their bodies to pass. Legolas was distinctly happy that they had seen no more dwarves, for he was sure that if any had seen his somewhat clumsy descent through the tunnels, any and all respect he might have had would have disappeared, calling cheerful goodbye's over it's shoulder.
He paused where Gimli did, stretching to his full extent. Here, right near the entrance to the caves, the passages had grown wider and taller. Gimli waited patiently enough while his friends worked out the kinks in their shoulders and necks.
He had been trying to get the elf to come for years; he could wait a bit longer.
"Will you hurry yourselves? I'm to grow old before you finish!"
Well, maybe not that much longer.
Legolas smiled at his friend and stood tall. "Lead on, mellon."
Deciding not to push his luck, Gimli led the companions around the final turn in the tunnel.
They emerged in the first cavern, and Legolas felt his jaw drop. He had never been one for rocks, but this…
The cave… well… couldn't really be called a cave. It was demeaning somehow. Stalactites and stalagmites flowed together into single tapered columns, placed around the small lake with startling frequency. Along one of the walls, dark chocolate appeared to flow from the ceiling, made all the more real by the light of the torches flickering along the dark formation.
Gimli edged them further into the cavern, plainly enjoying the look on their faces.
Legolas turned in a slow circle, taking in the wondrous surroundings. Several dwarves passing close by saw his obvious amazement and snickered.
The elf paid them no mind, though they received a hard stare from Gimli, and a rather exasperated look from Aragorn, who had in fact, been to the caves before, many years ago.
Legolas eyed the ceiling, catching a glimpse of a sparkle as the light hit the far side of a stalactite. So that is where the glittering part of the name comes from…
But they had seen nothing yet. This was but the first link in the chain of caverns, and Gimli led them patiently through each one, letting them stare in awe as long as they wished. Dwarves carefully tended the formations, and one was courteous enough to show the ever-inquisitive Legolas something that almost none had seen before.
This dwarf, a jovial fellow named Thringe, noticed the wood-elf carefully place his hands against the wall, careful not to touch any delicate formations, and crane his neck back to inspect a strange shadow thrown across the ceiling.
The dwarf came over and said cheerfully, "You've got sharp eyes, elf. Not many's been seeing that!"
Legolas twisted further, causing Aragorn to wince even looking at him, trying to get a better glimpse of the shadow.
The dwarf watched for a moment, and then showed the elf a slight fissure in the rock. "If you're agile and strong enough, you can wedge your fingers and toes into the fissure and go up and have a better look."
Aragorn rolled his eyes slightly, very unbefitting of one of his station. Of course Legolas would go up and look!
Sure enough, the elf went up the fissure almost as easily as if he were climbing a tree. More of Durin's folk paused to watch as Legolas reached the end of the fissure and clung there like a spider. He still could not get enough of a look to suit him, so he bent over backward, maneuvering so that his legs were almost higher than his hands and he was very nearly upside-down.
He hung there, more than thirty feet up, studying the odd formation. Two paper-thin sheets of calcite, sharp-edged but graceful, hung from the ceiling, a length of almost five feet. He shifted once more, and gazed closely at nature's construction.
His gaze shifted up to where the calcite struck the ceiling, and his jaw dropped. There, seemingly clinging to the rock, was a dragon! So life-like it was, it took Legolas several shocked seconds to discern that the creature was not living, not even real. The stone creature seemed to look straight into his eyes, malice showing in the stony depths. It was apparently poised for flight, and the two long thin sheets were its wings.
"Bah, the darned elf is taking too long!" Gimli huffed. "There's still one more!" he called up.
Legolas studied the form once more before carefully righting himself and climbing down. He dropped the last ten feet easily, landing with barely a sound. "A beautiful thing," he said in awe, "A stone dragon is something rarely seen indeed." He turned to Thringe. "Thank you for showing me a way to study it more closely."
The small crowd dispersed, mumbling to themselves. As they brushed by Aragorn, he heard snatches of everything from 'crazy elf' to 'How'd he even see that?' with the occasional 'Durin, save us from these nutters' thrown in.
The last cavern was reached by ducking under a low over- hang. Gimli beamed in anticipation. This was the one he had been waiting for. The last cavern was not terribly big, but it contained something that the wood-elf would love.
The elf spotted it immediately and rushed over to stand before it, gazing in wonder.
"It is a tree!" he whispered in disbelief. "I do not believe it!"
Aragorn snickered quietly to himself: this was a sight he thought he would never see! Legolas Greenleaf, dedicated wood-elf, fawning over a rock wall in a cave.
Granted, this was not an ordinary rock wall. Over the many, many years, rivulets of water ran down the side of the wall, carving tiny grooves in the wall. They were wide and varied at the top, creating the branches, but near the bottom, a stroke of chance led all the grooves to run together, creating a thick trunk.
Legolas stretched out a hand tentatively, earned a go-ahead from Gimli, and traced the tree's shape, running sensitive fingers down the grooves. "It- it looks like the banyan tree I sit under at home!" he said in wonder. "Look Aragorn, see this cluster of grooves right here? The little robin's nest would be there! And over-"
The ranger and dwarf studied the 'tree' and Aragorn had to admit, the grooves did resemble Legolas's favourite tree.
He was about to comment when the floor rumbled underneath them.
"Out!" Gimli roared, sensing the truth. "Get back out of here!"
The floor shook as they fled back into the complex, causing them to stumble. They ran hard, dust rising to choke them, to blind them. Aragorn was forced to hold onto Gimli's broad shoulder simply to tell which way to go. It all happened within a span of two minutes, not long under normal circumstances, but seemingly a lifetime to the two friends. Aragorn suddenly realized that Legolas was no longer with them, but even his overwhelming concern was washed away as he tripped and rolled.
He was back on his feet in an instant, Gimli's rough hand pulling him along even before he achieved his balance. They were at the exit then, and the earth gave a final violent heave, knocking them from their feet. The roar of the tremors faded, and all was still.
Coughing, Aragorn rose onto his knees and searched for Gimli. The dwarf was only two feet away, and the friends clasped each other's shoulders in relief. The ranger scrambled onto his feet, eyes searching the blinding dust for the tall slim frame of Legolas. The wood elf was not there.
Immediately, Gimli and Aragorn made a circuit of the chamber, eyes searching for the tell-tale flash of blonde, the pale chiseled features, the beardless chin.
By then, some of the dust had settled allowing them to see each other's stricken faces as they returned to their starting point empty-handed. Questioning of the semi-shaken dwarves revealed that they had not seen the elf either.
Several of Durin's folk gathered about a fallen comrade, and Gimli and Aragorn went that way next. The injured dwarf was Thringe, and upon seeing the two friends, he called out for them and painfully pushed himself to his feet.
"The elf!" he gasped, swaying for balance. "In the caves. He's a prince is he?"
"Yes," Aragorn admitted, feeling a rush of relief and confusion. "You have seen him? How did you know?"
"Oh aye. He saved my life as a matter of fact. I was working on that far stalactite when the tremors started. Knocked me off my feet, twisted my ankle. I called for help, as it would not support my weight, but none heard me, save for the elf.
"He forced me to my feet, but my leg buckled and I went back down hard. He swore and yelled above the noise, 'Get yourself on your feet! I order you, blast it!' I groaned and asked him what nonsense he spoke. He replied, even fiercer than before, 'As Prince of Mirkwood, I outrank you, and you would do well to remember that!'
"He continued, and this time, as I struggled back up, I could hear the note of panic in his voice. He wanted out of the caverns even more than I, and so I did not object to his rough pull as he half-dragged me toward the exit. He kept up a steady string of orders, such as, 'Faster! Turn here! Quick! Duck!'
"And then, I felt a hard shove from behind, just as the last tremor struck. I've neither seen nor heard him since."
Aragorn felt a quick wave of fear. He turned about and brought Gimli with him. "Where is the entrance to the caverns?"
The dwarf, picking up Aragorn's thought path, started and led the ranger swiftly around the corner. But they could go no further. A pile of rubble reaching all the way to the ceiling blocked the entrance to the caverns. It was completely impassable.
Gimli and Aragorn stared at the wall and at each other in bemusement. For a second, the thought was completely blocked from their minds. Then Gimli was gone, rushing back through the tunnels to gather dwarves to excavate the massive pile.
Aragorn remained, staring at the huge pile of rubble. Then he moved forward, and started to climb. He worked up the side of the wall gingerly, fearful of setting off another tremor. The thought of Legolas trapped under all this rock surfaced in his mind, but he quickly pushed it away. He would not linger on such a thing.
Valar let him be well!