My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Doomed to Live: 4. Up Hill and Over Plain - Part 1
Gimli's mood was bad. Extremely bad. It was nearly as bad as it had been when he had learnt that an Elf would be a member of the Company of the Ring, and not just any Elf but none other than the son of that dreaded Elf-king of Mirkwood. But though his mood was that bad already, it still could get worse. Which it did: every time the Man trudging along the Orc-trail in front of him stumbled in the darkness. And Boromir stumbled more and more often as both his weariness and the difficulty of the terrain increased. And as if Gimli's foul mood was not bad enough already, every time Boromir stumbled what little hope he had that they would reach their friends in time dwindled even further.
We should have left him to rot amongst the dead Orcs at Parth Galen, a nagging voice inside his head exclaimed.
He was a part of the Company of the Ring, another voice reasoned. Gimli was tempted to pay more attention to the argument inside his head than to his surroundings; a fact that had already lead to several near-collisions with the tired Man in front of him. One part of him, fuelled by his bad temper, was more than ready to test his axe against the Man's neck, while the other part kept defending him. Gimli knew not how long the debate between what he had begun to call 'Gimli, the Enraged' and 'Gimli, the Reasonable' was going on, but it at least kept him occupied, and as long as Gimli, the Enraged was not getting the better of Gimli, the Reasonable, Boromir was safe from the Dwarf's axe.
There, he did it again! the enraged voice fairly shouted inside his head as Boromir lost his footing once more. A slight, clinking sound followed Boromir's attempt to regain his balance as his broken horn clanked against the hilt of his sword. I'd really like to know why he burdens himself with a broken horn! As if staying on his own two feet were not taxing enough, Gimli, the Enraged continued to rant, unwilling to forgive any weakness the Man showed.
At least he left that heavy shield behind, retorted Gimli, the Reasonable.
He would be dragging his shield along as well if the Elf had not shown the patience to convince him to leave it behind, Gimli, the Enraged shot back, while Gimli, the Dwarf silently thanked said Elf for his composure as well as for his ability to persuade Boromir in the end. As his father's son Legolas has had ample opportunity to elaborate his persuasiveness as well as his diplomatic skills for sure, Gimli thought, and he made good use of those skills today. Though without his elven stubbornness, I know not if he would have prevailed in the end!
Only hours earlier Gimli would have cursed everything living and dead at the very thought that there would be a time when he would cherish Legolas' pigheadedness; especially during the arguments they had had while searching for signs of their absent friends. Gimli sighed and shook his head at the memory. Whether it was grief, uncertainty, or the influence of some unseen power that had led to the two of them yelling at each other, he could not recall, but their 'discussion', as Legolas had politely named it, had been none befitting two friends.
They had made good progress at first and spotted the Hobbits' knives without much effort among the weapons of their foes that lay all about. But further scouring the vicinity of the place where they had found Boromir already led to their first debate. Puzzled by the westward direction of the Orcs' trail and by the vast difference of the slain bodies, both in shape and armoury, their exchange of ideas that might add up to some reasonable explanation escalated into a fully grown dispute within mere seconds. Why they had wasted time and breath over the precise origin of those Mountain Orcs, Gimli could and would not remember, but they had in fact spent several minutes shouting at each other whether those Orcs hailed from Moria or from some other place further to the north. They could have easily spent the whole day in that fashion had Legolas not pointed out that they would wake Boromir if they were to continue yelling at each other at the top of their voices. That remark only resulted in another outburst from Gimli, but after Legolas admitted that if Boromir did not deserve to rest he at least needed the respite, Gimli let the matter rest.
While they managed to agree that the knowledge of the exact origin of the northern Orcs would not help to bring back their abducted companions, the discussion of the nature of those larger Orcs again was a heated one. Gimli was convinced that the S-rune they had found on the huge Orcs' armoury stood for Sauron, while Legolas pointed out that Sauron never used the Elf-runes. Which led to Gimli arguing that Legolas was just defending his elvish pride, and that he was loath to admit that their praised Elf-runes were used by the Dark Lord. Which in turn led to some rather pointed remarks by Legolas concerning the nature of Dwarves, to which Gimli was tempted to add some comments on lofty Elves. So they ended up delving in age-old resentments, seemingly oblivious to any of the more recent events.
Gimli no longer knew which remark had finally ended their quarrel, but when each of them apparently had run out of further insults, they kept staring daggers at each other for another length of time until both of them blinked, almost simultaneously, as if breaking free from a spell or an evil dream. They continued to stare at each other, but an expression of confusion had replaced that of anger upon their faces.
It was Legolas who finally broke the silence. "There is still something evil afoot, though I cannot name it. The Orcs are no longer near, but we should not have yelled at each other the way we did; as if nothing has changed since we left Imladris."
A silent nod was all that Gimli could offer in response, for Legolas' remark had left the hair on the nape of his neck stand on end. And all of a sudden, everything fell into place. "Saruman!" he whispered, and, looking up to Legolas, found his suspicion confirmed in the Elf's face.
Once that riddle was answered and due apologies were exchanged, they resumed their search. Legolas soon spotted a piece of Aragorn's cloak with his keen elven eyes, but the search for any traces of their Hobbit-companions proved to be much more difficult. Not only were their footprints hard to discern among the trampling of the Orcs, but even at their campsite, where the Company had spent their last night together and where there had been many Hobbit-prints unspoiled by the presence of Orcs, it was well nigh impossible to determine to whom they belonged and how old they were. When Legolas announced that though he could see the prints he could not read them, at least not in the way Aragorn could, Gimli again lost his temper and lashed out at Thranduil's son. "Did you just tell me that though you are an Elf with all those superior senses and being Aragorn's senior for I don't know how many centuries, that this mere mortal Ranger would beat you when it comes to tracking down some Hobbits?" he yelled at the Elf, but immediately regretted the harsh words when he noticed the pained expression in Legolas' eyes.
"Yes, Aragorn could beat me at tracking," the Elf whispered in reply, head bowed as if to hide his embarrassment from the Dwarf. He remained silent then, letting his words sink in, before adding with a small smile, "though I would never have told him. And you know quite well that Aragorn, son of Arathorn, is anything but a 'mere mortal Ranger'!"
Gimli felt relieved that the Elf had taken no offence at his outburst, and though curious as to how a Man could beat an Elf, refrained from any further inquiry. But as if sensing the Dwarf's curiosity, Legolas provided an answer nonetheless. "I have fair skills in tracking and hunting the evil creatures that haunt my home for I know them well; far too well for my liking. There the forest aids us in its own ways. But though I can see the tracks and discern the whispers of the trees and beasts here as well, they remain strange to me, for I have not often travelled and hunted outside Mirkwood's borders," the Elf explained, and, given the look on his face, confessing his limited skills to a Dwarf was no easy task for him.
Gimli took more than just one deep breath to keep his tongue in check and swallow the teasing remarks that had taken form inside his head but placed a comforting hand on the Elf's shoulder instead. Shaking his head he wondered why he had been so upset at the Elf's failure, why he had expected the other to provide an answer to all their questions. With a hint of dismay he realised that he had looked upon the Elf for guidance, he, Gimli, son of Glóin, a Dwarf! "Well should I be able to solve this riddle on my own!"
"My thoughts exactly," Legolas replied ere Gimli noticed that he had spoken his thoughts out loud.
"That I should be the one to do the thinking? I knew you would come to value the wisdom of Dwarves once you shed your elven haughtiness," Gimli replied in jest and, from the clear laughter that followed, had succeeded in lightening Legolas' mood.
"I fear I have to give a sample of my elven skills then," Legolas laughed at Gimli's exaggeration, "lest you burst with pride." Sobering as quickly as only an Elf could, his entire bearing changing from mirth to alertness, Legolas scanned their surroundings anew.
With resolve renewed the Elf soon discovered the missing boat and pack and even spotted the traces the Hobbits had left on the eastern shore of Nen Hithoel with his keen eyes. But as the consequence of the Elf's latest discovery dawned on Gimli, his mirth vanished with almost elven speed. "So our riddle is solved at last," he sighed. "Frodo and Sam have chosen the dark road to Mordor, and we should tarry no longer but follow."
"Aye, we should follow," Legolas murmured, his voice suddenly somber, almost sad. Though Gimli felt weighed down by the prospect of facing the road to Mordor as well, he feared that there were further reasons that had led to Legolas' sudden change of mood. For the Elf had sunk to his knees, staring blankly at an indefinite spot upon the ground, deeply lost in memories.
"Then what are we waiting for?" Gimli asked for lack of some more witty remark.
"Nothing." Legolas' reply was no more than a whisper, almost too low to reach the ears of the Dwarf. "'Tis just ..." Legolas made an attempt to continue, then let his voice trail off as if words had left him. Deep concern rose in Gimli's heart at the usually so eloquent Elven prince's sudden loss for words, concern that quickly replaced the last traces of annoyance at the Elf's earlier behaviour.
"What ails you, my friend? 'Tis not your wont to struggle for words like that."
"I know, Master Dwarf," the Elf answered, then lifted his head, revealing eyes that were clouded with grief. "But the thought of the other Periannath, and Aragorn, in the hands of those Orcs ..." Again words failed him, but Gimli waited patiently for the Elf to continue. "Far too often have I been forced to lay to rest those who had fallen into the Orcs' clutches; or rather what the Orcs had left of them." The Elf let his head drop again, the painful nature of his memories evident in his entire posture. "Alas, I have seen many a warrior meet his doom in battle, and though more than one had suffered terribly ere they were forever relieved of their pain, they at least left Arda in freedom, defending what they loved and cared for. But those who had been taken by the Enemy ..."
Legolas had to fight for control over raging emotions brought to the surface by the mere thought of what their captured friends might face. But after having taken several steadying breaths, he continued to speak, "I will never forget when we hunted a pack of Orcs that had attacked one of Mirkwood's border patrols. They had taken two captives; one of them was very dear to me. We reached them in time; that is the Orcs had not yet killed their prey, but both of their victims did not last long after we dispatched the Orcs. My friend died in my arms ..." Legolas remained silent for another while, then again searched Gimli's gaze and held it, as if drawing the strength to continue from the Dwarf's vivid dark eyes. "I dare not imagine what he had to endure ere we arrived. I fear that the same ordeal awaits our friends if we abandon them to their fate."
Gimli let the Elf's words sink in. He, too, had witnessed far too often what pain and torture Orcs would inflict upon Dwarves they had taken captive ere they granted their victims the mercy of death. Had I seen but one broken body in all my life, still would I fear for our friends, he berated himself for having forgotten the imminent peril their companions faced, how could I not see! Facing Legolas once more, he squeezed the Elf's shoulder in a silent gesture of comfort.
To Gimli's utmost surprise, Legolas actually laughed in response, though his laughter still held a tinge of sadness. Shaking his fair head he exclaimed, "Oh Gimli, what would I do without you? You offer me comfort for a loss I sustained long before you were even born!" Gratefully, Legolas caught the slightly embarrassed Dwarf in a tight embrace. Then, in an attempt to help Gimli overcome his puzzlement, he explained, "The long memory of Elves can be both a blessing and a curse."
Gimli cast Legolas his best 'I-will-never-understand-an-Elf' look, ere he changed the subject back to the problems at hand. "What shall we do then?" he asked, "I do not doubt that Merry, Pippin and Aragorn are in great danger. But what perils and horrors will Frodo and Sam encounter on their road to Mordor? We cannot let them travel that dark path alone!"
"Yet Frodo and Sam are no captives of Orcs!"
"But Aragorn is with Merry and Pippin. If there is a way to escape from the Orcs, Aragorn will find it."
"If there is a way," Legolas sighed. "The Orcs managed to defeat Aragorn and take him captive. I fear that he is severely injured and in no condition to dare an escape."
"All of our friends face one peril or another," Gimli said out of fear that their current debate would run in circles. "Unless we split, we will have to make a choice. No matter how dire that choice may be."
"No, Gimli, the two of us must stay together. I would not be parted from you."
"And whither, pray tell, shall we go?" Gimli asked, though not sure whether pushing the Elf would yield an answer anytime soon.
"I know not," Legolas confessed, casting a pleading look in Gimli's direction, "I only know that I would not be parted from you." Then, after both of them remained silent for a length of time, he sighed, "I wish Aragorn were here. He would know which path to choose."
"Aye, he would know," Gimli said. "But even for him, the choice we face would not be an easy one."
"Since Aragorn is not here, those speculations are futile," Legolas sighed, slowly regaining his former composure, "and since the sun is already sinking, we should come to some sort of conclusion soon. Let us return to Boromir, mayhap he can provide us with some further knowledge that may aid us in our decision."
"I would rather base my choice on my own knowledge than rely on the words of a traitor!"
But Legolas had anticipated a like response from the Dwarf. "I fully agree with you on that," he replied. "But since we have come to no conclusion so far, our knowledge seems to be somewhat insufficient. And though I was as shocked as you that Boromir actually tried to take the Ring, still I do not hold him a traitor. The Ring holds a power of its own and tries to instill the desire to wield it in those who are near. Did you never find yourself pondering on what deeds you might accomplish could you take possession of the Ring?"
Gimli was startled by Legolas' revelation. He had caught himself dreaming about restoring the glory of Moria with the help of the Ring just recently but had never deemed it possible that Legolas could have been likewise afflicted by the Ring's powers. "So you were drawn to the Ring as well?" he asked, still quite astonished.
Legolas merely nodded by way of an answer.
"But you never actually considered taking it from Frodo by force?" Gimli continued his inquiry, and, as Legolas shook his head in reply, pushed on. "Of course you never thought about taking it, neither did I, because we knew better! But why did Boromir not listen to Gandalf's or Lord Elrond's advice?"
"Boromir is a proud man. He is not used to follow the counsel of others save his Lord and father. And he had never met an Elf prior to his arrival in Rivendell, so why should he trust them?"
"But that was four months ago," the Dwarf objected, somewhat surprised by Legolas' sudden defence of Boromir's actions. "He has got to know the Elves in Rivendell, he has got to know you! And Gandalf was no stranger to him for he had been to Minas Tirith before."
"Gandalf may not have been a stranger to Boromir, but Boromir knew him not, save by name. And by what I know, his father never trusted Gandalf, so why should Boromir rely on his words?" Legolas continued his defence. "I also should remind you that you yourself were not willing to trust an Elf only weeks ago."
"I may not have trusted an Elf, still I could resist the Ring's call."
"You are a Dwarf, not a Man. You are different, mayhap more resilient to its power."
But Gimli was still far from convinced. "Yet Aragorn is a Man as well."
"But Aragorn knew more about the Ring's powers and dangers than Boromir; more than any of the Fellowship except Gandalf. He feared the Ring. And above all he feared to repeat Isildur's fault."
"Boromir is weak!" Gimli declared, stubbornly folding his arms across his chest.
"Nay, Gimli, I would not call Boromir weak," Legolas replied with a slight inclination of his head, "he merely sensed an opportunity."
Gimli cast the Elf a puzzled glance, but remained quiet when Legolas continued his explanation. "Both of us, you and I, know far too much about life in close proximity to the Enemy, about that feeling of helplessness each time another part of our home is lost to the darkness, each time we learn that another valiant warrior has met his end at the hands of our foes. But the burden we are accustomed to bear is light in comparison to what Gondor faces. They live almost eye to eye with the Dark Lord himself. They witness the rising of the Shadow every day. They can see the fires of Mount Doom! I do not resent Boromir's attempt to gain hold of a weapon that might defeat the Enemy. Even Isildur could not withstand the Ring, and he was one of the great Kings of Men and certainly not weak!"
"I yield!" Gimli finally exclaimed with a tired sigh, raising his hands, palms outward, in a placating gesture. "At least Boromir should have a better knowledge of the parts of Middle-earth we are about to travel than you or I. Mayhap there is a settlement or a garrison nearby where he or we could summon help," he then suggested, albeit grudgingly.
Legolas merely nodded in reply and rose from his kneeling position without further words. In silent agreement they gathered what supplies they would need to follow either path, then hid what they would leave behind along with the boats. With one last glance at their former campsite, they turned and returned to Boromir.
Gimli shook his head at the memory of this afternoon's events. One part of him was somehow glad that Boromir had managed to aid them with their choice, while another part was still more than annoyed at Boromir for having taken the lead in that decision. And his silent fears for Frodo and Sam were far from being resolved. But another misstep from Boromir forced Gimli to focus on the here and now. The Dwarf growled low in frustration and wondered just how long he would be able to endure the Man's clumsiness.
To be continued ...
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