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Shadows of the Past: 1. Shadows of the Past
A tear trickled down his cheek, vanishing into the tangle of his beard, and he shut his eyes tightly. A moment later, his breathing slowed as he fell into a wary doze, still apprehensive about rolling off the edge.
They had sat long, the four of them, speaking little but taking some comfort in simple fellowship. Boromir and Aragorn now also finally sought the peace of their blankets, but their last companion remained awake, speaking to the Elf who had brought them all to this place. Once the Hobbits had fallen asleep, he had come to see that the rest of the strangers were at ease.
“I would never have thought to find you here, Haldir,” Legolas said quietly in the Elven-tongue, looking out from the talan into the leaves. “I had always understood that you and your friend Melpomaen were wanderers.”
Haldir had the grace to flush at the implied accusation of deception. “At that time, we were, you might say,” he said. “More to the point, I was then carrying a message from King Bard to Lord Celeborn; it was not that I mistrusted King Thranduil, but I deemed it unwise to publish our origins – my lord and the Lady Galadriel have always held the safety of Lothlórien to lie in concealment, since our numbers are not large.”
He cast about for another topic. “I do not ask you to tell me just what happened to bring your party here in this state, and perhaps it is not mine to ask what business brings you here at all, but may I ask what a Mirkwood Elf does in such an oddly-assorted group? Aragorn I have seen before, when he was received as distant kin of our Lady, but the others are – unexpected.”
“Ah, Haldir, to explain that would also be to lay bare secrets that are best left hidden as yet. We left from Imladris at the advice of Master Elrond, and journey south with stern purpose. We were nine, then, but one of us has already fallen upon a dark road.”
“Evil news,” interposed Haldir. “You know you have my sympathy.”
“Yes. But that is all I shall say, for now.” He glanced at the Lórien Elf. “Have you ever been to Imladris yourself, my friend?”
Ruefully, Haldir said, “No, I have not. I would have liked to go with those that the Lord and Lady sent last year for Elrond’s counsel, but I was not chosen. Melpomaen was among them, though – did you not see him there?”
Legolas snapped his fingers. “That was he at the Council! I thought the face looked familiar, but he sat some distance away, next to Aragorn, and I never had a chance to speak with him. Has he returned? I should like to renew our acquaintance.”
“No, I have had word that he remains there among Elrond’s household. He wanted to learn more skills in fighting, especially on horseback, and so chose not to return with the rest of our people in the autumn.” Haldir looked down, and Legolas following his gaze saw Haldir’s hands clenched white-knuckled.
“Do not worry,” Legolas said gently. “He will no doubt return in good time, with many stories to share. A true bond cannot be a shackle, after all.”
Haldir grimaced. “True enough, but I would rather fight with Maen at my side. He and I have saved each other’s neck many a time, and there is no one else with whom I work so well.”
“Of course not.” Legolas quirked an eyebrow. “So, Haldir, now that I know that Lórien still exists under the light of moon and stars, and that my old guardsman hails from here, tell me about what it is like to live among the mellyrn. Even in Mirkwood we have tales of them, but they grow not there.”
Haldir’s face softened, and he began to speak of the great mallorn trees, with their silvery bark and leaves and flowers of gold. “In late spring and summer the leaves are green,” he said, “and the blowing breeze rustles them until – so I am told – it sounds rather like the Sea itself, and the cool pale trunks uphold the shade. But in autumn and winter they are living gold like the tresses of our Lady herself. Soon, when spring comes again, the leaves will fall and carpet the forest floor with gold, and with the golden flowers above scenting all the air it is like walking through a dream. A shame you will not see it – or will you?”
“I do not know. All our plans and thoughts are awry with the loss of our other companion, who was our chief counsellor. Aragorn I trust, but I know not if he trusts himself to choose well. The other Man, Boromir, merely journeys with us to his own city in the south – he has no stake in our errand. The periannath, except perhaps for the eldest of them, have not the knowledge to make wise decisions about our path. They are sturdy and loyal, but unlearned.”
“What of the Dwarf?”
Legolas shrugged. “He is a Dwarf. What is to be said?”
“Come now, Legolas, I know you do not unthinkingly share the low opinion of most Elves towards the Dwarvish race. Did I not hear you urge your father more than once to treat them no differently than he would an Elf or Man? Surely you have more to say of one who has been your traveling companion for many days than simply ‘He is a Dwarf.’?”
“He is doughty, certainly, he tires not sooner than any other of us save myself. Strong, a good fighter, as he proved in Moria against the Orcs there. In such times as these a brave and worthy companion. But what can Elf and Dwarf have to say to each other outside the necessities of traveling or fighting together? And he is proud, as you have seen yourself, most tender of his honor.”
“I took no offense at that,” said Haldir. “I would doubtless feel the same, in his place. It is hard to be suspected and mistrusted, considered perhaps wicked of your own nature, when you have done nothing to warrant it – and when it is your very being that causes such a response, something that you can never conceal or change or dissemble for the sake of peace, that must be difficult indeed.”
Legolas looked at him, startled by the intensity of the low words. “I had not thought of the matter in quite such terms before, Haldir.”
“I would imagine not. You are a king’s son, Legolas, and life in Mirkwood may be harsher than in Lórien, but in some ways I think that your contacts with Men and Dwarves broaden your ideas, and you are freer. Here we must assume that any stranger is a threat, to be treated cautiously at best. Here. . .” Haldir bit his lip and wondered whether to tell Legolas about some of the subtle restrictions that fell on the inhabitants of the Golden Wood, especially on her guardians. They are meant for our protection and help, he reminded himself. But he had never conquered the bitterness he felt when he realized how lembas, though sustaining mind and sinew, severed the connection between emotion and body. Leave it, Haldir. Legolas need not know that – what chance that he will ever eat our waybread? It is kept for us, who patrol, not given to chance travelers passing through our land.
Watching the succession of emotions playing across Haldir’s face, Legolas wondered what the other Elf was thinking and not saying, but commented only, “I think perhaps another’s life always seems easier, freer, than one’s own.”
“Perhaps.” Haldir laughed abruptly. “Do you think your Dwarf’s life would be easier than mine, or yours?”
“Gimli is not my Dwarf,” said Legolas. He thought about it. “It might be – it seems less complicated to me, his life. Though that may be because it is so brief. In a mere two or three hundred years, what can one hope to accomplish?”
“More than you might think. Consider, Legolas, what a little time ago the dragon Smaug was defeated, the Dwarves returned to the Lonely Mountain, Dale restored. By now there must be Men, at least, who remember nothing else. Is that good, or bad, to know only peace? A great deal accomplished in a brief time, and we, at least, remember.”
“Victories are indeed remembered – for a time. Who will remember us, if we are defeated? How long will the honorably lost be recalled? War looks to be upon us, will we or nil we. I dread what I may find when I am able to return to my home. The goblins, wargs, and spiders are never far, and even when I departed last summer it was clear that we would soon be under attack. We have fought them before, and will again, but rumor suggested that they would be joined by Men from far to the east, Men swayed by Sauron – and though I know well their prowess and courage, yet I fear for my father and my brothers, for all our people.”
“It is hard to be away from those you love when they are in danger,” agreed Haldir. “I have certainly found it so; I am glad that I can at least work with my own kin. Indeed, I hear one of them returning now.”
“What news, brother?” he asked softly as a head appeared at the edge of the talan.
Rúmil looked meaningfully at Legolas, and Haldir assured him, “The son of Thranduil of Mirkwood and I met many years ago. You may speak freely before him.”
“We verified their tale as much as possible. Orcs have entered the Wood. We need your help to deal with them, Haldir.” Rúmil scowled. “Orophin suggests that we misdirect them further into the trees, then he will go to bring more of the company to destroy them.”
“Tomorrow we will take you on to the Lord and Lady,” Haldir told Legolas. “All of you. For my part, I would trust you to depart in peace, if you willed, but I may not set our laws aside; I have not that authority. Moreover, if you seek help, you must ask it of Celeborn and Galadriel. If you travel from Imladris, I am sure they will wish to hear any news. Rest now. You will be safe until morning; my brothers and I will see that you come to no harm.”
Legolas nodded, looking at his sleeping companions. Aragorn and Boromir rested back-to-back, Gimli at a little distance. He laid out his own blanket in the empty space between and rolled into it. Haldir’s words came back to him.
Do I think Gimli somehow untrustworthy or wicked, simply because he is a Dwarf, rather than judging him on his actions? Is that fair to one who has proved himself an honorable member of the Fellowship? He shook his head. I shall have to pay closer attention to my assumptions, and my own actions. I learned tonight that Haldir concealed much from me years ago; I knew some of his secrets, and thought I knew them all, and I trusted him. Does learning more of the truth make me doubt him? No. Can I do less for Gimli? I have always thought of Dwarves as folk to be tolerated, treated well perhaps for the sake of honor, but not thought of as equals; they are children of Aulë, rock-dwellers, not like us who are the children of the Great Music, of Ilúvatar himself. Aragorn, or even Boromir, seems closer to an Elf than does Gimli son of Glóin. But then, to one such as Haldir who dwells in the open of the forest, I too would seem a rock-dweller, and Mithrandir held Gimli in high esteem – for Mithrandir’s sake, I shall try to do likewise. Anything less would show disrespect to his memory, would it not?
Though all three Elves had been careful to speak quietly so as not to disturb the mortals’ rest, Gimli had roused when he heard Haldir ask, “And what of the Dwarf?” He listened to the interchanges that followed, knowing that he missed many nuances both because his grasp of the Elven-tongue at times failed him, and because some of the references the Elves made were unfamiliar. But he grasped that Haldir felt a certain sympathy for himself, though he could not entirely understand why. Gimli also realized that Legolas’s main complaint against him was the same as his against the Elf – an excess of stubborn pride.
Gimli was startled when Legolas chose the spot next to him to sleep. He hastily lowered his lids, peering out from under his lashes, wondering at the Elf’s unusual behavior. Even odder, Legolas continued to gaze at him, Gimli, and not with the not-quite-indifferent, nearly cynical look to which the Dwarf was used. Rather it was a thoughtful look, holding a hint of pain. Legolas seemed to be murmuring to himself – faintly Gimli heard the name of Mithrandir, and he realized that perhaps the loss of the wizard had affected Legolas as deeply as himself, though the Elf had shown little outward emotion either at the time or since.
So he is not so unfeeling as I thought, Gimli reflected. Proud, no question of that, but there is naught wrong with pride when it is justified. And Legolas has much to commend him – I have never seen him tire before any other of the Fellowship, even myself. He may not know his way around a cave, but aboveground his skill is worthy of admiration. No Dwarf could ever shoot as he does, nor find a way through the forest as readily. Gandalf surely relied on him as much as on any of us, or more, save only Aragorn. Would it not be a fitting way to honor Gandalf’s memory to treat Legolas as he did?
With that resolution in mind, Gimli let his eyes fall shut completely, blocking out Legolas’s troubled gaze. The companions slept, trusting in the Elves of Lórien to protect them this night, the shadows of the past drifting through their dreams, falling into new patterns with the coming dawn.
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