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Land of Light and Shadows: 31. Moments of Clarity
A sharp, ripping pain in his thigh as well as an incessant pounding throughout his head informed Gimli that he was once again returning to the conscious world. The dwarf was less then enthused. The fact that his first sensations were those of pain was a good indication that all was not well, and at the moment, Gimli was quiet content to remain blissfully ignorant of his surroundings. But in spite of these wishes, something was drawing him from his strange and shifting dreams, and though the dwarf fought this pull valiantly, it continued to drag him into the waking world. In the end, he decided that struggling against it was futile and reluctantly settled back for the ride.
The next sensation he experienced was almost as bad as the pain. His mind became aware of a slight rocking motion about the same time that his stomach did, and even as he tried to learn the cause of this movement, his gut decided to twist and knot with rolling waves of nausea. His stomach was empty, which was something of a relief to the dwarf, but that didn’t stop it from violently protesting movement of any kind. Deciding that he should probably do something about that, Gimli began attempting to open his eyes. Perhaps he could hold reality steady for a moment if he gave it a good glare.
Unfortunately, opening his eyes proved to be a daunting task because he couldn’t seem to remember how to do it. Gimli’s mind was not functioning correctly—perhaps because of the enormous headache that plagued him—and he slipped from one thought to the next with almost no direction or control. Physical movement was next to impossible. Vocalization was also forbidden. It seemed that the only thing he was capable of doing was quietly submitting to whatever was going on and analyzing the things his befuddled senses were able to pick up. Naturally, this was a great toll on Gimli’s pride. Dwarves did not stand idle while the world went by around them. They were the architects and builders of Arda. They had to know what was happening in their realms, and they had to participate in it if circumstances permitted. Very few outsiders knew it, but among their own kind, dwarves had a unique penchant for gossip and nosiness. Thus, Gimli’s nature demanded that he open his eyes and learn of his situation. But at the same time, his weary mind and aching body begged him to fade away again and ignore the outside world. It was a conflict of self that the dwarf was in no condition to handle, and it was further complicated by Gimli’s next discovery.
He was being carried.
Pride and honor roared to life, nearly eclipsing the pain in his leg and head as they screamed for self-sufficiency and independence. But his body rejoiced in the fact that someone else was seeing to his needs because this meant that the dwarf was justified in resting a bit longer. But as Gimli struggled between these two opposing forces and tried to find a logical solution, something clicked in his brain that started moving him even closer toward total consciousness.
He was not safe here.
He did not know why he was not safe here and he did not know where here was, but he did know that he was in danger. Rising above the clamor of pride and pain, warrior instincts began to dominate, and it was in these instincts that Gimli put his trust. He knew better than to question feelings of danger or unease, for such feelings had saved his life many times in the past. And so ignoring both honor and broken body, Gimli tried to discover more of the peril he sensed around him so that he would better know how to deal with it when it chose to attack.
By this point in time, his brain was beginning to work better, and muscle control was coming back. His thoughts, though still hampered by a perpetual headache, were clearing, and memory was also returning. I should be dead, Gimli suddenly realized as hazy facts filtered through his mind. I collapsed again. I should not be alive. Our captors should have killed me. How is it that…Legolas?
It had to be the elf. It was the only possible explanation. The elf was the reason that Gimli was still alive. And it was undoubtedly the elf who now carried him. Legolas had promised to protect Gimli with his own life should it come to that, and it appeared that the gamble had paid off. Rather than killing the dwarf, the guards had allowed Legolas to carry him. But…how long had the elf been doing this? Gimli could now sense that he was cradled against a chest that heaved for air, and if he didn’t know better, the dwarf would have said that he smelled perspiration. But elves did not sweat. Or if they did, they did so in a way that was not noticeable to others. Yet Gimli could not deny the evidence that his clearing senses were relaying. Legolas was breathing hard, the elven arms that supported the dwarf were trembling, and there was a definite smell of sweat in the air.
Water! Gimli suddenly thought with horror. Legolas is losing water. I must get down. He cannot lose water, for who knows when our captors shall give us drink!
But getting down was a rather improbable goal at the moment since Gimli still couldn’t open his eyes. But he was gaining the ability to move his arms and legs, and he put that ability into play, struggling weakly against Legolas’s restrictive hold. It didn’t help that the dwarf’s arms were still bound behind his back, but his movements at least attracted the elf’s attention. He could sense Legolas’s eyes coming to rest upon him, the power of the elven gaze transcending even the murky barriers that kept Gimli from opening his own eyes. Surely Legolas would now see that the dwarf was waking and would subsequently put him down.
But his hopes were dashed when he heard a weary sigh that carried heavy overtones of frustration and despair. And while Gimli pondered on what this sigh might mean, Legolas shifted his arms, clutching the dwarf even tighter against the heaving chest that continued to gasp for air. "Peace, my friend," the elf soothed quietly, his voice coming across as rather breathless. "Hush and lie still. We have not far to go."
To the dwarf’s ears, it sounded as though Legolas was repeating something he had been saying often, for it had a very practiced feel to it. Then he has been carrying me for quite a while, Gimli decided, thrusting down a surge of guilt. Well, we shall certainly change that! And with this vow, the dwarf renewed his efforts to open his eyes and prove his consciousness so that Legolas would set him down upon his own two feet.
A small and extremely cynical voice in the back of the dwarf’s head informed him that even if Legolas did put him down—which was unlikely—he would probably be unable to walk. His right leg felt as though it had swollen to the size of a hobbit’s stomach after a large meal, and though Legolas had positioned his arms carefully so as not to disturb the wound, it was still quite painful. But Gimli felt that the risk must be taken. Aside from his dwarven honor—which was still stinging sharply—and his warrior instincts—which were still clamoring about danger—Legolas seemed to be on the verge of collapse.
Once again, the dwarf began to struggle, and as before, his efforts proved completely ineffective. Legolas shifted him yet again, turning him so that his face was pressed into the elf’s shoulder and his bound arms dangled in the air away from the elf’s chest where the weak struggles would not disrupt Legolas’s hold on his friend. "Hush, Gimli. Hush. You are safe," the elf whispered, again sounding as though this was something of a litany.
Had Gimli been able to scream with frustration, he would have done so. Nothing he did seemed to register with Legolas. The elf spoke to him as though soothing one who was delirious. And I am certainly not delirious, the dwarf growled to himself, trying to muster enough strength for speech. If he could communicate, then perhaps the elf would believe that he was awake. Putting all his energy into this new endeavor, Gimli’s efforts were eventually rewarded with a quiet groan. It was not much, but it was progress.
"You are safe, elvellon," Legolas murmured, apparently having heard the noise. "I shall see to that. Peace, now. Rest."
He must think me daft, Gimli decided. Peace? Rest? I shall do no such thing. Not until he sees to his own welfare, stubborn elf. His thoughts were becoming even clearer now, and his ears were beginning to pick up muted conversation around him. His stomach was not nearly as fitful as it had been minutes ago, though it was still protesting the rocking motion caused by Legolas’s stride. Bolstered by these improvements and feeling even more confident in his ability to make coherent contact, Gimli once again pooled his resources and tried to speak. This time, he managed to get out a name. "Legolas?"
There was a slight break in stride, and the dwarf felt Legolas’s eyes upon him once more. "Gimli? Are you awake?"
Summoning as much energy as his broken body was capable of mustering, Gimli managed to lift his heavy eyelids and turn his head upwards. His vision was blurred, but at least his eyes were open. "Awake," he hissed, only now noticing just how parched his throat was.
"Thank Elbereth," Legolas whispered. "I had nearly given up hope."
"Hush," the elf interrupted quickly, his words no louder than a sigh. "Speak more softly. They will hear you if you raise your voice."
"Doesn’t matter. Put me down."
There was something that sounded like a stifled laugh from Legolas, though if it was a laugh, it was hauntingly devoid of mirth. "Gimli, were I to set you down, they would kill us both. You are completely unable to support your own weight."
"Nay, my friend. Cease your talk. I am not so far gone that I cannot carry you yet a little longer."
"So you say now," the dwarf grumbled, wondering when his throat had become so dry. He debated about continuing with his insistence that he be allowed to walk on his own, but he knew well that Legolas was right. He would topple over the moment his feet touched the ground. Beyond that, the elf’s statement about their captors killing both of them were it to be attempted had been made with chilling certainty. It was probably best to drop the subject for now in favor of gaining more information. Clearly much had been happening.
With effort, Gimli turned his head around, attempting to look at something other than Legolas’s shoulder. Seeing his struggles, Legolas shifted his arms and Gimli soon found his hazy eyes were now staring up at blurred stars. "Where…" Gimli trailed off and licked his lips, deciding that Legolas wasn’t the only one who had lost a significant amount of water during the night. The dwarf felt he could drain the Anduin. "Where are we?" he asked quietly.
If Gimli had been strong enough to do so, he would have given the elf a solid clout for such an answer. "I know that," he rasped.
"I was uncertain if you did."
There was enough honesty in that response to give Gimli pause for thought. How far gone was I? he wondered. Aloud, he asked, "You did not think that I knew we were in Harad?"
"I was uncertain," Legolas repeated.
Unable to find a good response to that, the dwarf eventually returned to his original line of questioning. "Where in Harad are we?"
"Somewhere to the north and the east of Haradhur. More than that I cannot say."
Gimli sighed and closed his eyes. "We do not know much, do we?"
"Nay. I fear that we do not." Legolas fell silent for a moment, and then he began speaking again, his voice even softer than before. "There was a line of volcanic rock to the south not long ago. We skirted it for some time, but now I can no longer see it. It was not unlike the Sihal."
"There are probably many areas of volcanic rock here," Gimli murmured.
"It is my understanding that one could find water there. Do I err in this?"
"There could be water there," Gimli confirmed hoarsely, wondering what Legolas had in mind. "But you would need to find a cave with access to an aquifer."
There was another stretch of silence in response to this, and Gimli frowned, trying to get his eyes to focus. He could not see Legolas’s face clearly enough to read the subtle emotions that would indicate what the elf was thinking. The dwarf had become very good at discerning what went on behind his friend’s expressionless façade, but he could only do so if he could see the elf’s face with complete clarity of vision.
"Legolas?" he eventually prompted when his eyes refused to cooperate.
"They intend to separate us," Legolas murmured. "Earlier this evening, I listened to their speech. We are meeting others at sunrise. They come with horses for faster travel, and Dashnir is expected to join us as well. At that time, we will be separated, but for what purpose, I do not know."
Gimli digested that for a moment, thinking through the ramifications. "You may have a chance to escape after we are separated."
"I do not intend to let them separate us."
The elf’s forceful tone immediately put Gimli on alert, and he frowned. "You have something in mind."
"You will not be allowed to live once I am gone. They will kill you and so ease the burden of carrying you, for they would not have to see to your comfort or welfare. I will not allow that. We will escape ere it can happen."
"What is your plan?" Gimli whispered, wondering how any escape attempt could be made given his current condition.
"Take no thought for it," the elf answered, his voice now so low that it was almost impossible to make out the words. "I only ask that you stay conscious enough to grip the mane of a horse."
Gimli still didn’t have a good view of the elf’s face, but judging from his words, the plan for escape had not been thoroughly planned out. Turning away from Legolas, the dwarf directed his attention to those around them. His sight was still quite blurred, but he managed to find many shadows and silhouettes. They were completely surrounded. What was this talk of holding a horse’s mane? Legolas would never be able to get close to a horse, especially if he was carting about a wounded companion. The elf was too weak. "You will not make it," Gimli murmured.
"You will not escape if you take me with you."
"I will not go if it means leaving you behind."
"This is folly," Gimli hissed.
"Your mind is wearied. Rest."
"Why should two die when one could live?"
"Because two can also live. Now hush. We are drawing attention."
Gimli’s first inclination was to blatantly ignore the request to be quiet, but the conversation had taken far more out of him than he’d anticipated. Exhaustion claimed him once again, and his mind could no longer keep up with the turns of phrase necessary for enduring a debate with Legolas. Deciding that it would be best to resume this argument at a later time, Gimli squelched the qualms of his pride and fell silent, closing his eyes as he tried to regain his strength.
A moment or two later, he felt an elven gaze lock on to his face, and he surmised that Legolas was startled by his acquiescence. "Gimli?"
"Still here," the dwarf mumbled.
The arms around Gimli shifted a bit, and he was forced to bite back a cry of pain as his wounded thigh pressed against Legolas’s hip. The elf’s stride slowed and a hand came down upon Gimli’s brow. "Your fever is growing."
"I know," Gimli whispered. "I can feel it." Now that he wasn’t worried about proving his consciousness or arguing with Legolas, the dwarf had noticed that he was feeling flashes of heat as well as enduring periodic chills. It was disturbingly similar to a bout of pneumonia that he’d endured when he was still living in the Blue Mountains, except that his lungs did not ache and he was not coughing up mucus. At least not yet, but who knew what would happen to him next. Fortune was a notoriously fickle mistress, and she did not seem to be favoring him of late.
Gimli felt himself shifted, and then the pressure on his leg was relieved as Legolas once again supported him with two arms. "I have no way to treat you here," the elf murmured. "I have neither medicines nor herbs."
"I know," Gimli said again, wondering why Legolas had asked him to be still but then continued to speak to him.
"I am sorry, elvellon."
Ah, so that was it. Legolas was feeling helpless. The dwarf grimaced and wondered if there was anything he could do about that. Legolas did not deal well with feelings of helplessness or vulnerability. Gimli supposed it came from a long history of serving as a prince and a captain in one of Arda’s darkest forests. One could not afford to feel helpless there, for such a feeling meant almost certain death. One had to maintain complete control over both surroundings and forces. At the moment, Legolas had no control whatsoever. He had no ability to change his own fate, and he could certainly not alter anyone else’s fate. But I am as helpless as he, Gimli sighed. I have no words of comfort to speak and no counsel to give.
The dwarf was still mulling over how to best aid his friend—and still finding no answers—when Legolas stiffened. It was not enough to be visibly perceivable to any of their guards, but pressed against the elf as he was, Gimli immediately sensed it. Something had changed. Then their forward motion ceased. Legolas had come to a stop. And as Gimli began to pay more attention to his surroundings, he noticed that the noise level had increased. And not only had it increased, but new sounds had been added. He could hear hooves. Horses. Horses had come.
"Hush," the elf commanded, a note of authority entering his voice. "Be as still as you can."
Gimli, however, had other ideas. If he allowed Legolas to go through with this foolish plan, neither one would ever leave Harad alive. Alone, the elf had a slim chance of surviving, and at the moment, it was absolutely imperative that at least one of them escape and tell Aragorn of what had transpired. And since Legolas had more of an idea as to what was happening than Gimli did, he should be the one to go. Even noble elven sentiments had to give way before logic. "Legolas, I—"
But as powerful as logic was, there was yet a stronger force in the desert that night, and it was brute strength. Shifting Gimli’s weak form, Legolas pushed the dwarf’s face into his tunic and held it there, quite literally smothering any further complaints.
Barely able to breathe, Gimli immediately began fighting the elf, which only caused Legolas to hold him tighter. Strangely enough, though, this was actually more of a help than a hindrance for the dwarf. His growing need for oxygen triggered a surge of panic that lent him additional strength. He did not know where this strength came from and he suspected it would cost him dearly in the future, but he was so desperate for air that he threw caution to the Wargs and began struggling in earnest. It was not long before his attempts to free himself garnered a response, but it was not exactly the response that Gimli was hoping for. An elven face leaned close to his, and he managed to catch a glint of flashing gray eyes filled with such frustration and anger that a dragon might have stepped back. "If you do not cease and lie quiet, I will take no care to keep you awake and so attempt an escape while you are unconscious."
Gimli had known Legolas long enough to be able to determine when the elf was serious and when he was jesting. At the moment, he was completely serious. The dwarf was not exactly graceful in accepting this defeat, but he did still his struggles slightly, though he could not quite prevent himself from attempting to get his beard out of his face. Aside from making it difficult to breathe, it was tickling his nose. Fortunately, Legolas did not seem to mind these smaller struggles, and loosened his hold on Gimli’s head. But he did not allow the dwarf to move away from his shoulder. He was apparently taking no chances.
Eventually deciding that trying to move his beard was a rather futile endeavor, Gimli sighed and forced himself to relax so as to regain his lost energy. Mahal, but he was tired! The fever was sapping what strength he had left, and he longed to slide back into darkness where he had been ignorant of reality. Beyond that, he seemed to have developed a pulse in his thigh. He could feel his heart pounding away beneath the torn muscle, and he suspected that it had begun bleeding again. Though why I should be concerned with such things is beyond me, he sighed wearily to himself. It seems I can do nothing for myself. Even my thoughts are beginning to slip away again.
In an attempt to ground himself, Gimli began listening to the talk going on around him. But this also proved to be a rather pointless undertaking since all the talk was in Haradric. The dwarf knew almost nothing about the language, but it was doubtful that even a rudimentary knowledge might have aided him. His head was spinning, and it was becoming difficult to keep his concentration on one thing. But he was determined in his efforts, despite the pounding hammers in his skull, and eventually he did catch a few words that he recognized. Haradhur was one. Nurnein was another. Nurnein was the lake located a night’s ride north of Haradhur. Yet this told him nothing. He had no context in which to place these things, and the rest of the talk was gibberish insofar as he was concerned.
Bereft of any type of anchor and still finding it difficult to obtain enough air, Gimli was on the verge of loosing his hold on consciousness when Legolas suddenly moved, bringing the dwarf’s head up so that whispered words might be passed unnoticed. "Have you steel and flint with you?"
Gimli blinked, confused. What in Arda did Legolas want with steel and flint? Even the most creative warrior would be hard-pressed to use such tools as an effective weapon when contending with spears, arrows, and swords.
"Gimli?!" Legolas hissed, a note of urgency creeping into his voice.
"Left side," the dwarf answered, shaken by the amount of effort now required to form words. "In the lining of my tunic is a pocket. Should be there."
"The Haradrim did not take them?"
"Nay," Gimli muttered. "No reason to, I suppose."
"Then perhaps fortune still favors us," Legolas whispered.
The dwarf gave a mental frown, wondering if his friend was finally caving under the pressure of captivity and fear. Gimli had ample imagination, but he could not quite see how their current situation might in any way be construed as a favor from the hand of fortune. He began working up the energy to voice his concerns about the elf’s state of mind, but before he could do so, a low, gentle hum caught his attention.
"Legolas?" he questioned, wishing he had enough energy to pull back and study his friend.
The elf did not respond but continued to hum softly, his quiet song strangely compelling. There were moments when the notes did not seem to carry as well as they should have, and Gimli shivered to think of the effects that ú-glîr was having upon the archer if Legolas could not keep a consistent tune for so simple a melody. But even with ú-glîr shadowing him, the elf was still very gifted and his song was soothing. Some of Gimli’s pain drifted away as he listened, and the confusion in his mind died down, fading to a mumble in the background that could be ignored with effort.
This song also seemed to affect those standing around them. Still listening to the speech of his captors, Gimli noticed that conversations were diminishing and a silence was falling as Legolas continued. But what do you plan to do with this? the dwarf silently demanded. This song is calming, yes, but surely you do not think to lull these warriors to sleep. They are not so easily fooled as that. What is this madness, my friend? Why do you draw their attention to yourself?
Yet despite his questions—and questions were now breeding as rapidly as Orcs in the shadows—Gimli could not bring himself to interrupt the elf. It seemed that none could. All other talk had now completely ceased, and only Legolas’s voice broke the night’s stillness. The hum was slowly growing into a wordless, voiced melody, chillingly beautiful as its volume grew. Gimli had heard his friend sing before, and it was always a cherished moment for the dwarf—though he would sooner start breeding his own horses than admit his love of elven music to anyone—but this song…this song was different. There was something else hidden beneath the notes that Gimli could sense but not quite grasp. Words were being issued, but no words were spoken. A command was being given, yet the dwarf could not fathom to whom this command was addressed. Nor could he understand it, but he suddenly felt a pull of obedience surging through his breast. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before, and it caused him to take a mental step backwards and reevaluate this being he considered a well-known friend.
Louder and louder Legolas’s voice grew, and men began to shift nervously as the tone of the song began to change. Gimli felt himself released from something, though what that something was, he could not say. But the shock of being freed was so sudden that he had a very real sensation of falling. Then Legolas broke forth into words, his voice ringing strong and clear with only a slight tremor to betray that he had been weakened by the ordeals of the night. Gimli nearly jumped in surprise, but he was not the only startled one. In answer to these words, the clear whinnies of horses suddenly trumpeted in the waning darkness. And the previous calm abruptly became a bedlam of chaos.
Hooves pounded against the sand, and men cried in alarm as the powerful steeds broke free of their handlers. A rush of wind swept over Gimli and he sensed horses moving all around them, driving the men away. Arrows whined and skipped, coming so close that Gimli felt one graze his cheek. But then Legolas was running, staying close to the horses even as his arms shook and his chest gasped for air under the strain of their flight. With an audible groan that indicated just how weary he was, the elf’s muscles bunched and Gimli suddenly found himself flying through the air, coming down heavily on the back of one of the horses. A hard thump indicated Legolas’s arrival behind him as the elf landed awkwardly onto the leather saddle that he would never use himself. Not a moment later, Legolas had placed Gimli’s hands on the horse’s mane, forcing them to clench the coarse hair while whispering instructions to hold fast. Then the elf reached into the dwarf’s tunic and seized the flint and steel for which he had asked not long before. Greatly puzzled, Gimli started to question these actions, but before he could do so, the horse beneath them screamed in pain and stumbled violently. Legolas’s arms snapped around Gimli’s waist in a desperate attempt to keep them both mounted, and the elf cried aloud to the steed, urging it to ignore the pain and continue onward.
For his part, Gimli was now immersed in a world of excruciating pain. His head pounded violently from sudden jolt, and wild colors were now creating a nauseous menagerie of images in his mind. He dimly heard Legolas saying something about an arrow in the horse’s hindquarters, but he could not be certain of that. He only knew that if he had his axe to hand, he would probably use it to cut off his own head. At least then it would stop throbbing. His thigh slapped wildly against the side of the horse, and he felt blood trickle down his leg even as his pain rose to new heights.
The sharp sound of metal striking against stone somehow caught Gimli’s attention despite the growing confusion and agony. It was a note of familiarity in a sea of chaos, and he clung to it as though it were a lifeline thrown to a drowning sailor. Then Legolas’s weight shifted and jerked to one side as though he was throwing something. Steel struck flint again, and the turning motion was repeated, this time to the other side. Through all of this, the horse continued running, but its gait was awkward and faulty. Like Legolas, Gimli thought, his mind beginning to wander as it tried to escape the grasp of pain. He still presses forward, but he is not entirely whole. He cannot endure this for much longer.
His musings seemed to take a prophetic turn, for no later had he concluded this thought than Legolas lurched forward, pressing hard against the dwarf and grunting in shock and pain. Accompanying this came another scream from the horse, and it faltered yet again, wheeling drunkenly to one side and tipping precariously as hooves slipped and skittered across the sand.
"Legolas?!" Gimli managed to rasp as he used the rest of his strength to clutch wildly at the horse’s mane.
"Brace yourself," Legolas answered through gritted teeth, still leaning heavily upon the dwarf. The elf’s hands had now fastened themselves upon the horse’s mane, and he gripped so tightly that his knuckles were turning white.
Frustrated by this answer but in too much agony to repeat the question, Gimli swallowed a moan of pain and tried to turn his head so that he could see Legolas. But before he could do so, a sudden blast of light and a wave of heat hit him. The ground dropped away and a deafening roar sounded in the desert. Their horse careened forward madly, miraculously managing to keep its feet as it was pressed onward by a rolling wind that blistered skin and rattled bones. Legolas was shouting encouragement to the horse once more, but Gimli was perilously close to losing consciousness. He could feel his hands relaxing and he was beginning to slide to the right as his head nodded. He was falling…
"Gimli!" Legolas’s arms were once again around the dwarf, and he pulled him back onto the saddle with a strength so slight that it frightened Gimli enough to drag him back to the conscious world. The elf sounded even weaker than before, and Gimli remembered that he still did not know what had happened to the prince.
"What was it?" he croaked, working to get his eyes back open. He could not remember closing them, but then, he couldn’t seem to remember much of anything at the moment. His head felt as though a herd of oliphaunts had decided to invade and stampede.
"Orthanc Fire," Legolas whispered. "I recognized the powder in bags attached to some of the saddles. I do not think we need worry about immediate pursuit. Our captors shall be occupied with other things."
Gimli hissed as he continued in his efforts to open his eyes. That was not what he had meant in asking the question. But fate conspired against him when he sought more information, for as he was about to repeat the question, their horse stumbled again, emitting a keening bray that echoed throughout the desert.
"Noro lim, mellon bain," Legolas cried out. "Le bell. Noro lim."
Finally managing to open his eyes—but unable to drive back the pain that was crippling his thoughts—Gimli found himself looking down at an arrow lodged deeply in the side of the horse. Blood flowed heavily from the wound, but the horse ran on, obedient to the commands of the elf. "Legolas, the arrow—"
"A flesh wound, Gimli. It will not affect me greatly."
"You?" the dwarf questioned, brow furrowing in confusion. "What…you were struck with an arrow?"
There was a pause and then Legolas’s hand fell upon Gimli’s brow. "My friend, are you—"
"You were shot!"
"Yes, Gimli. I thought—"
"The shoulder," Legolas answered, his voice filled with both confusion and concern. "Gimli, how do you—"
"Before the Orthanc Fire was triggered."
"Peace, Gimli," Legolas interrupted firmly, his hand leaving the dwarf’s brow. "I am well. The bolt struck high. I will draw the arrow the moment we reach safety. This injury will not interfere. I promise you that."
Gimli nodded slightly, grimacing as this sent his headache raging again. At least now he knew what had happened to Legolas. But their mount… "Legolas, what of the horse? It was shot."
There was another pause before the elf answered. "Yes, she was shot."
"Are you not going to tend to the wound?" Gimli demanded, struggling to master his swirling thoughts.
"If we stop to pull the arrow, the blood loss will be too great," Legolas said, sorrow weighing heavy upon his words. "I will be unable to staunch the wound and the mare will die when we force her onward. But if I leave the arrow where it is, she can carry us further before she collapses."
"You are killing her," Gimli murmured, blinking with this realization.
"Yes, I am," the elf replied quietly.
"Gimli, we must find shelter and water. The sun rises soon. The horse is our only chance at survival. We must use her."
The dwarf lifted his eyes to the horizon, which now displayed the telltale signs of the coming dawn. His bleary eyes looked long and hard, but nowhere could he see any sign of something that might protect them during the scorching heat of the day. His addled mind began to comprehend the utter hopelessness of it all, and he shook his head in disbelief. He stopped the movement immediately when his headache flared up at him, but he could not stop the feelings that now rose from his heart. There was no chance for them. They would be unable to find a place to hide from the deadly rays of the sun. They would be unable to find water to replenish what they had lost during the night. They would die in the desert after all.
"You should have left me. You would have moved faster."
"Such actions are in the past," Legolas answered. "Besides, as I told you before, I could not leave you in their hands. They did not intend to keep you alive. And I would not be able to live with your death, Gimli. It would destroy me."
"You would survive," Gimli mumbled, hissing as the horse stumbled again. His thigh was slapping against the mare’s side and the pain building within it was muddying his thoughts, making it difficult to concentrate. "You would learn to go on."
"Hush," the elf ordered gently. "Let us speak no more of this. Rest and conserve your strength. The infection still holds you, and you must find energy enough to fight it."
For the second time that night, Gimli was startled into obedience by the stern note of command in his companion’s voice. The dwarf could remember only a handful of instances in which Legolas had ever turned unbridled royal authority upon his friends, yet within the space of but a few hours, he had done so twice. It was a sign of just how upset the elf was. Under normal conditions, Legolas covered his frustration and despair with a mask of cynicism, but when cynicism could no longer shield him, he sometimes resorted to hiding behind his identity as a prince. The fact that Legolas was currently doing this and had already done so earlier in the evening worried Gimli greatly. But he said nothing, knowing that any words of his would be brushed aside and that he would once again be told to lie quiet and still. At the moment, it was probably best to humor Legolas in this. Their chances for survival were slim, in any case. What harm could it do to cater to the elf’s last wishes? And so Gimli closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax, turning his safety over to Legolas’s care with rare abandonment of dwarven honor and pride.
They rode on in silence, and Gimli drifted to and fro in his thoughts. His thigh was pounding, but he now seemed to be removed from the pain and he did not truly feel it. The same could be said of his aching head. It did not matter anymore. Precious little did. He could sense that he was uncomfortably warm, and he suspected that his fever was again on the rise. But such problems were no longer his to deal with. He had no care for them, and the outside world began to fade into a vague oblivion as Gimli started to fall into darkness.
A sudden scream of pain and a hard jolt managed to drag Gimli back. He felt himself flying through the air, and then he met the ground with an abrupt shock that nearly destroyed any sense left in his mind. Opening his eyes, he turned his head just enough to watch as the horse they had ridden breathed her last. A long exhale of air and a shudder marked the coming of death, and expressive eyes dimmed to vacant orbs that stared at Gimli as though foretelling that he would be next.
Movement to the side attracted his attention, and the dwarf looked toward Legolas, who was groaning and clutching his shoulder as he struggled to rise. The broken shaft of an arrow protruded from his left shoulder and a stain of blood coated his tunic. Worry filled Gimli, but he had no means to express his concern. Strength had left him, and he could only lie quietly and watch in helplessness. Then, from beyond Legolas, a blinding light shot outwards from the horizon. Its piercing rays slammed into Gimli’s head, and he felt himself reeling. Darkness closed back in, and his muddled mind, unable to handle anything more, plummeted into unconsciousness, mercifully shutting down before the dwarf could realize what had happened.
The sun had risen.
Noro lim, mellon bain. Le bell. Noro lim—Ride on, fair friend. You are strong. Ride on.
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