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Answering the Call: 10. Gimli
Gimli sat heavily on a craggy rock with a deep sigh and wondered about the rest of the Fellowship. Were they alive? Were the hobbits still captives or had the others been successful in freeing them? What had become of Frodo?
He missed them. Even the blasted elf! Gimli, son of Gloín, not only wished for the company of an elf, but Thranduil's son. He could not deny it, however. He especially longed for Legolas's song, which never failed to soothe him. He wished for a small bit of Aragorn's steadfastness, too. Even past hope, the man waged his battle relentlessly. He was in need of some of that persistence now.
And the hobbits. How he missed their unfailing optimism, their cheer, their laughter. For them, as long as they survived and were together, there was reason to rejoice. And they found joy in the simplest of pleasures. A plate of food, a mug of ale, and a pipe of the Shire's finest, all full of course, and they were content. But most of all, he missed what lay beneath it all - their perseverance.
He remembered now his last sight of Frodo as the hobbit relinquished the Ring and all hope. Gimli might have none of what pushed a hobbit onward - mug, pipe, or companionship - but he had that memory and it was enough.
Gimli struggled to refrain from pacing as he waited with the others for Frodo's return. The hobbit's choice would decide their direction from this point.
And as quickly as that, their direction was chosen for them. Gimli had heard the elvish word enough that he sprang to action immediately. Frodo was soon running back to camp, holding up his faintly glimmering sword. Orcs indeed, and they were near.
Aragorn looked up to see Frodo and his shining sword and nodded. "Stay close. The Orcs that Sting announces should still be on the east side of the Anduin. They may look to make a crossing soon, perhaps here at this very spot. The first Orcs I witness upon Amon Hen will be a sore sight indeed."
"Does no danger approach from this side of the River?" Frodo asked.
"A weight of darkness nears us from both east and west, yet its source is not clear," Legolas answered. "I hear countless footfalls, but mostly from the east. I can only hope that Aragorn is right and Sauron's beasts have not yet crossed the Anduin."
Gimli grumbled softly in frustration. He heard and saw nothing as of yet, and knew he had to rely on the sharper eyes and ears of the elf, as did the others. A dread washed over him and he found himself wondering whom would they lose this time. Then he felt a soft shudder in the ground below his feet. Echoes of footfalls. Many footfalls. An army approached.
As Gimli opened his mouth to give warning, Legolas whipped his head around. "They come at us from the west!" he cried and raced up the hill, Gimli close behind him.
Aragorn's eyes widened for a moment as it became clear that without quick thought and action, they would be cornered. "Hobbits, stay close together!" he ordered.
Boromir followed him up the hill. "Aragorn! We will not be enough -"
"Come!" he said to all of them, ignoring Boromir's protest. "Stay close! Remember our duty to the Ringbearer."
The hobbits needed no further instruction. Frodo's three small companions surrounded him. Around them, the Big Folk created another ring of protection.
And the Orcs swarmed down upon them.
There was little time for Legolas's bow, and soon the two men, the dwarf, and the elf were in close combat. As the pile of dead Orcs grew, the thunder of approaching footsteps told them the creatures they fought were only a first guard. They could not hope to strike down an entire army of Orcs.
Gimli could see the hobbits in a tight knot in the center, but even now, Orcs and the larger uruk-hai were finding holes in their defenses. He stole a quick glance at Frodo. Wide-eyed, the hobbit clung to Sting and steeled himself as the uruk-hai came closer by the moment. The dwarf would not lose hope for Frodo's sake.
Harder and faster he swung his axe as a large beast rolled over the carcass of a former companion and fell within reach of Merry. Boromir took a step toward the hobbit, but another Orc came between them. Slicing off its head, the man took another step towards the hobbit and the uruk-hai who now had a hand on him.
Gimli heard Pippin cry out and his heart seized as he saw him also in the hands of the foul beasts. The two men immediately moved to strike down the Orcs, but more Orcs and uruk-hai cut them off once again. Aragorn freed himself from one by parting its arm from the rest of its body while Boromir dropped and rolled over an Orc that had latched onto his throat. Gimli added his axe to the fray and ended the Orc's efforts. Finding himself free, Boromir took after the two beasts as they ran from the battle with the hobbits slung over their shoulders. Gimli thought the man's efforts in vain as two more Orcs attacked Boromir from each side as he ran, but with two swipes of his sword he dispatched them and continued.
Aragorn seemed hard-pressed to leave the Ringbearer's side, and Gimli understood as he grasped how they were being divided. Gimli watched as Boromir followed the two captive hobbits while Aragorn remained to protect Sam and Frodo. Another glance between blows revealed a large uruk-hai coming over the rise behind them, holding up a large crossbow.
"Boromir! Down, Boromir!" Aragorn cried out, finally abandoning the hobbits to try to save the man's life, but instead he could only strike down the Orcs that barred his way. When Gimli next looked up, Boromir was rolling down the hill, long black arrows protruding from his chest. Aragorn chased after him in vain.
Gimli managed to keep one eye on Frodo and Sam as they watched Merry and Pippin disappear into the forest and another eye on Aragorn as he spoke with Boromir for the last time. Offering a promise with a nod to the hobbits, Aragorn ran up the hill in pursuit of their cousins.
Bringing his attention back to the beasts in front of him, Gimli saw Sam take on an Orc, stabbing it hard enough to incite its fury. The gardener's wrath was nearly a match for the creature's but Gimli did not have to wait to see who would win the contest, as Legolas sliced off its head. "Thank you, Mister Legolas, that one didn't seem to want to give up!" Sam cried.
"No need to thank me, Samwise. Keep your eyes on those Orcs and your master. We must not be overrun." Gimli was reassured to hear Legolas as calm as ever.
"Begging your pardon-" Sam paused to take a stab at another Orc "-but do you think there's much chance of that? There seem to be more-" another pause to duck the swing of a blade "-coming every moment, as if another were being born as soon as they died, or whatever it is they do."
"There's always a chance, always a hope." Legolas looked at Sam as he stabbed an Orc approaching from the side. "As long as you keep it." As he turned to attack three Orcs furiously, Gimli felt the breathing room Legolas's efforts gave them. Gimli was about to warn him when Legolas turned to attack an Orc approaching from behind. For once, Gimli was thankful that Legolas had eyes behind his head.
"Master Elf," Gimli cried out now, continuing his assault without looking up, "if you have any strategies or suggestions for making an attack on such a force, elvish or otherwise, they would be greatly appreciated at this point."
Legolas stole a glance at Gimli, who knew that although he fought with all his strength at the moment, it would not be long before he grew weary. As Legolas sliced off another head, he nodded in acknowledgement of the truth between Gimli's words: With the number of Orcs that continued to come at them, and as Aragorn not returned, they would soon fail if they did not find an exit from this battle.
"Sam!" Gimli heard the elf cry. The hobbit had slipped and a nearby Orc had quickly taken hold of him. In a moment, Legolas had thrown himself onto the large uruk-hai. Gimli watched Legolas roll away with the uruk-hai so many times larger than him. The dwarf did not take time to wonder if an uruk-hai were stronger than an elf. He stole a quick look around. They had all been scattered. As his axe continued to swing, he turned to the Ringbearer, now left with only Gimli as guard, as Sam struggled with another Orc. Part of the plan or no, their strength was divided. The might of the Fellowship was to be found as one. Now, the Quest itself was endangered as each was forced into his own battle.
Gimli faced Frodo across the clearing, seeing the realization reflected in the hobbit's eyes. If they had not yet failed, they soon would. Gimli would not accept that. They must continue. Clearly, the Orcs had come for the hobbits, as another was trying to cart off Sam at the moment. Spying another Orc coming for him, Frodo turned back to Gimli, a new determination in his face.
Gimli reached out to Frodo, trying to catch him before the Orc laid its hands upon him. Their only hope now, Gimli knew, was escape. "Run, Frodo! Run, with what speed your legs can give you!" But Orcs were swift creatures and this one lifted up Frodo moments before Gimli reached him.
The dwarf saw Frodo hang limply over the uruk-hai's shoulder, defeat in his face. Then, Frodo's eyes lit strangely as they landed upon Gimli. If Gimli had not known better - and had not been in the midst of dozens of Orcs - he would have thought it was hope he saw in the hobbit, like a childhood story suddenly brought to mind.
Frodo looked down at Gimli from the height of the uruk-hai's shoulder. He reached out to Gimli's already-outstretched arms and opened his hand. "Run, Gimli!" he cried. "Run with what speed your legs can give you! You must do this, for me! For all of us!"
Gimli ducked as another Orc made to jump on him. It underestimated how small a ducking dwarf might be and rolled over him completely. In that moment, Gimli was able to look into his hand. He froze as an icy chill stole down his spine. Frodo had dropped into his hand the heaviest of burdens. He had given him the Ring.
"Frodo! No, Frodo!" Gimli cried, though he did not know whether he did so in grief at his capture or in protest of his gift. Jamming his elbow into the face of an Orc who still had fight left in him and refused to follow the others' retreat, he began to give chase to the uruk-hai. He recalled then the hobbit's words, and knew, as Frodo faded from sight over the ridge, that he was right.
His heart sank to his stomach as he became aware that Frodo had given up all hope of accomplishing his Quest, the duty assigned to him. He likely had given up hope of living through this at all. And so now, he, Gimli, son of Gloín, carried the Ring. He was now the Ringbearer. The last duty or honor the dwarf might wish for was to carry this wretched thing all the way to Mordor.
His heart breaking, he turned his back on his companions and fled into the forest, knowing that he must survive now, even at the cost of all others.
And so he ran.
The dwarf heaved a heavy sigh. This was his duty now and he would not fail them. The greatest difficulty was that he was without a guide. The only companionship, if it could be called such, was the stalking creature he had spied on occasion. He knew not its intent, but if his axe itched for more work than hunting squirrel or rabbit, he might have to approach it. If he felt the need, it was likely it could be easily dispatched.
He had discovered he did have a navigator quite by accident. After fleeing the Orcs and the Company, he had headed south at first, but soon saw he was traveling east as well. Gimli knew that somewhere in that direction lay Mordor; but it was more than this knowledge that led him. Some cold nights later as he lay awake on the unyielding ground, he felt a tug toward that dreaded mountain. The Ring was leading him to Mordor. It drew him hardest when he heeded It most. Usually, It was simply a heavy weight on his neck. But when he granted It his full regard, It showed him the direction It wished him to take.
Without a guide, this was his only compass. So he took to granting the Ring his full awareness from time to time to gain a sense of the right path. Once sure of it, he would put the cursed trinket away in some pocket and try to forget Its maddening susurrations. He must focus on his duty.
Now, Gimli slowly rose from his seat, after taking some moments to get a sense of direction again. He could almost see Mordor now. Soon he would not need to gaze into that piece of metal again, beautiful though it was. He was glad for that, for It grew heavier and the whispers grew louder each time he let the Ring overwhelm him. He only wished to silence the constant murmurs in the dark hours of the night.
The air was changing as he traveled southeast. More humid, he could smell the fetid waters of the marsh he was approaching. He could only hope that he could find a way through. If he failed, he would have to find another way. But he would not give up. Frodo had passed this duty to him. For Frodo, he would complete it. Or die trying.
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