Dwarves and Elves
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When You Are With Me: 10. A Cornered Beast
They could make out little but shadows of the land before them, but what
they could see sickened their hearts. Sounds were muffled or distorted by
the heavy air and the further they travelled, the stronger the feeling that
they were stepping into naught but emptiness, that the world beyond the
borders of Isengard did not exist, and that upon crossing the threshold
they would vanish forever.
"It is a blight upon the land and a very travesty to behold. What evil has
Saruman wrought within this black place?" Theoden's voice was hushed and
filled with disgust, and all around him his men were silent. "I guess now
that we have not seen but the least of his dark deeds, though we thought
them to be monstrous indeed." No one answered him.
It was a sad country now, forsaken and dismal. Once it had been a
sheltered valley, pleasant and fertile and fed by the strong river Isen,
beautiful and flourishing with growing things. At one time the vale was a
haven for wanderers lost, and its master a lord of wisdom and knowledge
whose sage advice was sought by scholars and kings. Grievous now it was to
see Nan Curunir ravaged by the works of the very being who had once made it
great. Orthanc had been a tower of marvellous shape, gleaming black, its
walls straight and as smooth as obsidian.
Now it jutted at the center of the vale like a rotting tooth. As he had
fallen to the arts and subtle devices of the Dark Lord, so had he shaped
the place to reflect his disdain for all not of his own creation, striking
down what he could not control or could not twist to his own needs,
fashioning in the end little more than a child's model or a slave's
flattery of the Dark Tower itself. It seemed at once loathsome and to be
pitied to those who now suffered to pass through this foul projection of
Saruman's mind, through Isengard.
The air above was heavy with fog and rank with smoke and steam, the sun
nothing more than a sickly shimmering orb clinging tenuously to the sky.
They rode some miles through tangled brush and the stumps of slaughtered
trees, choking upon the foul mist and tasting the corruption that smothered
the earth beneath the walls of the fortress.
The highway widened as they came nearer to Orthanc, becoming a broad street
paved with great flat stones, squared and laid with skill; no blade of
grass was seen in any joint. Indeed, there was no life to be seen anywhere
but for the clumps of weeds among the pits and thorn bushes which thrived
upon the ravaged land and could not be killed.
A tall blackened pillar loomed up before them. Set high upon it was a
great stone, carved and painted in the likeness of a long White Hand. As
Arod passed by the monolith he shied and danced to one side, tossing his
head and whickering nervously. Gimli clung tightly to Legolas from his
customary place behind the elf, cursing Arod beneath his breath, and he
listened to his friend murmur to the horse, urging him forward.
Arod obeyed and fell back once more into line with the rest of the company,
but Gimli noticed that Legolas did not himself look up at the black pillar
as they passed. Indeed, the elf had kept his eyes strictly ahead of him,
glancing neither to the right nor the left since they entered the foul
valley. His back was rigid and his words to Arod had been the first he had
uttered since they had left the eaves of the strange woods earlier that day
and crossed the Ford. Gimli was uncertain as to whether the elf was lost
in thought over his first glimpse of the Ents in the forest, or whether he
was still troubled by the misgivings which clouded his mind back at the
Hornburg. He caught Legolas casting anxious looks over his shoulder at him
every so often and the elf seemed as taught as his bowstring, so Gimli
assumed the latter to be the case. He found it disquieting. The dwarf
sighed and gripped Legolas's arm affectionately, wishing he could know the
Gimli could not resist peering at the White Hand towering over them in the
mist, though his gorge rose in his throat at the sight. So marked were the
Uruk-hai, the spawn of Saruman who had slain Boromir and taken their young
companions. So marked were those who slew the brave men of Rohan as they
defended their homes and their families.
Though they had all but defeated it, the White Hand mocked them still, and
they passed by the pillar with bitter hearts.
It was late in the day by the time they finally arrived at the great
archway and came to the gate of Orthanc, Saruman's refuge, the one last
dark hole in which he had to hide.
To the astonishment of all, the gate lay hurled and twisted upon the
The king and his company sat upon their horses and stared in wonder at the
ruined fortress. Deep pools of brackish water surrounded the tower and all
about, stone was cracked and splintered and foundations rent from the
earth. Pale water lapped about the wreckage. Saruman's bastion of
strength had been torn asunder and all but destroyed by some force beyond
And there, as the Lord of the Mark and his company sat silently amazed at
the edge of the ruin, they became aware suddenly of two small figures
perched upon the rubble in front of what appeared to have once been a guard
house. They drew nearer and they saw that one seemed to be asleep amongst
a litter of bottles and bowls and platters. The other was leaning against
a broken rock with crossed legs and arms behind his head, and from his
mouth there streamed long wisps of thin, blue smoke.
Before the king could speak, the small smoke-breathing figure became
suddenly aware of them and sprang to his feet.
"Welcome, my lords, to Isengard!" he said. "We are the the door wardens,
Meriadoc, son of Saradoc is my name; and my companion, who, alas! is
overcome with WEARINESS" -- here he gave the other a dig with his foot --
"is Peregrin, son of Paladin, of the house of Took."
Gimli's thunderous shout should have shaken Saruman from his black musings
in his chambers, had that wizard's mind not been occupied with more
pressing matters and had the walls of Orthanc been not quite so thick. As
it was, the dwarf's voice nearly deafened the sharp ears of the elf who sat
not a hand's width before him on the horse. Legolas winced, but laughed at
"Pippin! Merry! You woolly-footed and wool-pated truants!" the dwarf
boomed. "Two hundred leagues through fen and forest, battle and death to
rescue you and here we find you feasting and idling -- and smoking!"
A smile lit Merry's face and Pippin, roused by the sound of the dwarf's
indignant roar, leapt up with a happy cry and scrambled down from the
wreckage to meet them. Legolas dismounted and lent a hand to Gimli, then
the elf turned to sweep the hobbit into a warm embrace. "Well met, Master
Took. I had nearly lost hope that we would ever find you again."
"Hammer and tongs! I am so torn between rage and joy, that if I do not
burst, it will be a marvel!" Gimli growled, and ruffled Merry's hair
affectionately. His brow furrowed. "I would swear you have grown, if that
were possible for a hobbit your age."
The Riders laughed. "It cannot be doubted that we witness the meeting of
dear friends," said Theoden. "So these are the lost ones of your company,
They spent much time before the ruined entrance to Orthanc, trading tales
and acquainting the men of Rohan with the habits and manner of the Halfling
people for the very first time. Before the very doors of Saruman's dark
stronghold there gathered members of all the free peoples of Middle-earth
that day, and their hearts were glad.
But the front doorstep of evil was no place to tarry, and Gandalf was
anxious to see to the task at hand. "Where is Treebeard, Merry? Did he
leave me no message, or has plate and bottle driven it from your mind?"
"Away on the north side," said Merry. "He and the other Ents are still
busy at their work." A noise of rock shifting and the rumbling like that
of an avalanche echoed off in the distance. The men looked with new
interest upon the broken remnants that lay about them and the sturdy
stonework of the arch that lay now at their feet in small bits, crumbled
like stale bread.
"Still inside. He has not left, nor could he. Aside from all that water,
Treebeard has posted Ents to watch the doors, though you might not be able
to see them. There is Quickbeam there, and to his left another tall, grey
Ent. Can you make them out? Well, they are there, nonetheless, and I do
not think Saruman would venture out his door if the Dark Lord himself came
"My dear hobbit, you would do well to use a bit more caution and less
impudence. You speak of matters far beyond your comprehension and I will
assume that plunder of wine and ale you have before you is exceptionally
strong stuff, and your slow wits not merely an unfortunate Brandybuck
Pippin looked up at the old wizard curiously and piped up. "What is there
to fear, Gandalf? Surely Saruman can do little holed up in his tower like
this! Treebeard has seen to that. What will he do? Will he shoot at us,
or pour fire out the windows; or can he put a spell on us from a
"The latter is more likely, Peregrin Took, but there is no knowing what he
might do, or may choose to try. Have a care! A wild beast cornered is not
safe to approach and Saruman has powers you do not guess."
Gandalf then took Theoden and his men to make the circuit of the walls of
Isengard to find Treebeard and a fitting place to camp for the night, but
Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas remained behind with the hobbits, reluctant to
break up the Fellowship now that it had been reunited. Leaving Hasufel and
Arod to stray in search of grass, they retired to what was left of
Saruman's guard house to find food and drink.
The small house consisted of a chamber with other doors at the far end
leading to the sleeping quarters, and a hearth and chimney were nestled in
a corner to one side. The hobbits had lit a fire to cheer the room, and
the two took it upon themselves to act as hosts, swiftly ransacking the
store-rooms to return laden with dishes, bowls, cups, knives and foods of
various sorts. Aragorn and the others set to the meal, and being the
courteous hosts they were, the hobbits felt it to be their duty to join in
the repast, though they had eaten just before the company had arrived.
Being much sated and content to settle themselves until Gandalf and the
others returned, the companions moved outside to be beneath the sky, to
rest and talk and watch the sun set behind the mountains.
The hobbits told them of their captivity with the orcs, and answered their
questions about the Ents, and Aragorn told them the tale of Helm's Deep and
the destruction of Saruman's army, to which Merry and Pippin lifted a toast
with cups of beer. The sun was gone now and though the mists had lifted,
the air grew chill. Weariness that had been staved off by activity now
weighed upon Gimli and he dozed where he sat, half-listening to the
conversation. Aragorn and the hobbits smoked and spoke quietly for a
while, and Legolas lay still, looking up to the sky and singing softly to
The elf's voice weaved its way through Gimli's light dreaming, lulling him
further into sleep. It was said that the Firstborn had learned to sing
before they had learned the art of speech. Gimli had never appreciated
elvish song, and even now, when Legolas took it upon himself to sing to the
trees and the grass and the sky and the bird sitting on the rock over the
next hill for hours on end as they travelled, Gimli had to refrain from
throwing himself off Arod's back and stuffing his cloak in his ears. He
suspected the elf did it to simply irritate him.
But in the twilight, in the space between wakefulness and sleep, when the
world slowed and dream and reality became one, his lover's voice soared and
seemed to carry with it a depth of understanding and profound beauty that
quite took the dwarf's breath away. Though he would never have admitted
it, he loved to listen to Legolas sing beneath the stars.
Tonight, however, the song changed. There was a note of despondency in
Legolas's voice which disturbed Gimli and vexed his mind, preventing him
from dropping off to sleep. As he listened, the elf's distress became
almost tangible; his singing seemed not to be of serenity and
contemplation, but a challenge to some unseen threat. Legolas ceased
abruptly and rose to his feet. Gimli roused himself and watched his
companion glide like a ghost silently away from the others. Aragorn
observed the elf as well from beneath the cowl drawn low over his eyes and
he shifted as if he would stand, but Gimi shook his head and signalled that
he would go after him.
He found him back at the guard house, sitting before the fire in the
hearth. The dwarf made no noise when he came through the door, yet Legolas
stirred and without turning his head, he whispered, "Tomorrow shall be a
long day for all of us, Gimli. You should sleep while you may."
"And how is it you expect me to relax with you moping about as you are?"
Gimli cast his cloak over the back of a wooden chair in the corner and
Legolas listened to the dwarf's heavy tread pacing the floor. It stopped,
and the elf felt a firm, loving grip on his shoulders. He sighed and
placed a hand upon Gimli's and stared into the flames.
"There is something wrong about you, Legolas," the dwarf bent and murmured
deeply at his ear. "You have not been right since the siege, and I worry.
You have always been the one among us untouched by fear and uncertainty and
now you are almost incapacitated by such dark thoughts. This is more than
passing concern for my safety. Something troubles you and yet you will not
speak of it. Trust me, please. Tell me."
"There is nothing to tell, Gimli." Legolas motioned dismissively. "There
is a shadow upon my mind and though I try, I cannot be rid of it."
"Tell me of it."
"I cannot. It is merely a feeling. A senseless vision that will not leave
me in peace. Gimli, please, I am weary. Do not pursue this."
The dwarf touched the black hair, placing a comforting hand upon the elf's
head. "Tell me," he insisted. "What do you see, Legolas Greenleaf?"
The elf shook his head, and then sighed. He gave in and closed his eyes.
He saw warm red blood... blood... seeping... flowing... Gimli's life
draining from his cooling body... dying, dead. The dwarf's face... pale
and grey... laid out before the elf's feet. Open eyes staring at nothing
at all. No breath, no heartbeat, as still as stone.
The Endless stream carried away the memory of him, and all that he was to
those who loved him was vanished and forgotten. All was darkness and there
was nothing to see, to grasp.
*A mortal's inevitable fate,* a low and melodious voice whispered. *A
mortal's doom. He will not leave this place... there is no hope.
Failure... darkness... pain without end... horror beyond reason.... There
is no hope for any of you. You shall fail and he will die, as they all
will, one by one, and nothing will remain. Nothing... an eternal hollow
emptiness which devours stars and is by no light graced. This is your
doom. There is no hope....*
The voice pounded in his ears mercilessly, endlessly filling his mind with
its dripping words. He had heard it before. It was akin to the whispers
which had taunted them as they had journeyed with Frodo and held out
against the Ring's taint, but this was a subtler voice and much nearer. He
had heard it since he had been touched by the white fire, but he had been
able to shut it out, refusing to listen, dismissing it as fancy born of
exhaustion and anxiety. Now the voice sensed his guard was down and it
drowned him unmercifully in its sickeningly dulcet tone. He could not
resist it. The cold void opened up, yawning wide before Legolas, and then
in a rush it enveloped him. Emptiness around him, and horrible emptiness
The elf shuddered and tore his gaze from the fire, a wordless cry upon his
lips. He leapt to his feet, a madness in his bright eyes and he tried to
flee from the room. Gimli caught him, but the elf forcibly wrenched
himself away. His face was proud and terrible in the firelight, desperate
beyond reason. Gimli shouted his name and snatched for him and Legolas
stumbled backward, tripping over the chair behind him to land sprawled upon
the floor in a tangle of broken wood and folds of the dwarf's cloak. He
lay huddled there, shaking, his fair face buried in his arms. "U-estel!
Pan i-duath... u-estel...."
Gimli was beside himself. Completely unnerved by the elf's sudden
hysteria, he stood for a moment paralyzed and confused.
Then he approached Legolas slowly and knelt by him, putting gentle hands
upon him and prising the elf's arms from his head. Gimli looked upon him
and his face contorted with white-hot rage.
"It is still with you," he whispered harshly, realizing. "His poison lies
within you still!"
Legolas could not hear him. A low moan escaped him and he tried once more
to rise and bolt from the guard house, but Gimli fought against Legolas's
strength, heightened then by the fear thrilling through his veins, and it
was only with great difficulty that the dwarf held the struggling elf fast.
"I should have seen it! I should have known and I should have kept you
from this place! I knew better than to disregard the intuition of an elf,
but I was a fool and paid no heed. The threat loomed over your head and
not mine at all!"
Legolas thrashed and struck him in the chest, and Gimli's breath was driven
painfully from his lungs. Winded, he twisted and gripped Legolas's wrists
with punishing force, pinning him roughly to the floor in desperation,
knowing somehow, certainly, if he loosened his hold on him and let him go
that Legolas would destroy himself.
There was a scraping noise at the door and Aragorn burst through it, sword
raised, seeking a foe. The elf's screams had brought him running, and the
hobbits were close behind. His eyes settled upon Gimli and Legolas, then
he hurled himself to the floor by the dwarf's side to help. Aragorn bent
over the distraught elf who fought still to break Gimli's hold and the
Ranger placed strong hands upon him, speaking Legolas's name.
Legolas immediately ceased to struggle. His breathing was rapid and his
heart was beating so hard they could see his pulse leap at his throat. His
green eyes were open and staring, but he was not seeing his companions.
Pippin and Merry stood stricken. Aragorn's expression was somewhat wild.
He searched Legolas's face anxiously, then he shouted to Merry, "Go! Find
Gandalf!" Merry nodded, and he and Pippin sprang for the door. Aragorn
looked questioningly at Gimli.
"Saruman!" the dwarf spat fiercely. "Saruman...."
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