7. Chapter 7:Waiting
Warning: AU. In the book, Eowyn and the women do not go to Helm's Deep as Théoden rides to shore up his beleaguered forces. You know the story.
Disclaimer: All Tolkien's. We are just playing.
Legolas and Gimli have a nice chat while they are waiting for Saruman to turn up!
Chapter 7: Waiting.
The long ride to Helm's Deep had been a quiet one, for Legolas was withdrawn and restless, swiftly moving away when they rested, quiet and thoughtful and avoiding his friends. Gimli had taken to riding behind Legolas but he was never going to approve of horses.
But Helm's Deep was everything Gimli could have asked for, and more. He had snorted approvingly when he saw the high wall looming out of the distance, visible a mile off. And he ran his hand carefully around the smooth curve of the wall when they arrived.
'This is more to my liking,' he said. 'Not dwarvish but it will do in a pinch.' There had been a few skirmishes; just enough to whet the dwarf's appetite but Legolas was pensive and silent as they walked around the Keep.
The dwarf looked sideways at the elf; it was too unlike him to be so jumpy.
'Legolas…' he began, but when the elf turned his anguished eyes to him, he found he could not speak.
Gimli had never been good at waiting. His hands had fidgeted, wanting the furnace and yielding metal worked under his fingers, but there was no more time now, and insufficient fuel in the mountain hold. Everything left had to be used to heat the vats of oil and to ignite the flaming brands he had prepared. So he threw himself into other preparations, secret preparations with Eowyn's and Legolas' help, which the elf gave with a wry smile and quiet laugh. Gimli liked Eowyn. Her passion and vigour flashed and sparked, she was like molten metal, waiting for the smith to forge her into a bright keen blade. He laughed at himself, for she was the not only one. These women of Rohan were as fierce and true as any dwarf woman, he thought fondly. They had become dear to him and he had watched their secret practice with the indulgent eye of a father, irritated at times by Legolas' cool and detached manner with the women, who clearly were in awe of him and fluttered and blushed like girls when he stood behind them, reaching around to correct their posture, or to move their hands. It became a welcome distraction from the impending battle, from the seemingly endless waiting.
Gimli was on the look out now, strolling casually along the battlements, whilst the women practised below in a small overlooked spot in the lower keep. He had twice now bumped into Eomer, walking along the battlements and judged the man to be pensive before his first big battle, for he seemed skittish and nervous, avoiding Gimli's eye and the first time, turning the opposite direction to avoid meeting Gimli. Legolas had been with him that time and grimaced when he saw the man disappear so quickly without greeting.
Gimli worried away, he even caught himself getting into an old habit of chewing the end of his beard-braids. An unsightly and undignified way for a dwarf lord to behave… and it was only two days of being in the stronghold, good stone above and below, he chanted to himself.
Now he found the elf standing on the wall of the Deep, gazing across the empty steppe. Quite alone, on the lip of the plunging wall, so narrow and so steep a drop that it made the dwarf's heart plummet. Gimli wandered nonchalantly towards the point the wall became part of the sheer cliff, walking behind the elf and leaning surreptitiously to peek over the wall. Fleeting vertigo made his head spin and he drew back quickly.
'I know what you do.'
Gimli raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips innocently. Legolas suddenly turned his intense gaze upon him, and the dwarf felt a piercing, unbearable sadness. Suddenly overwhelmed he had to turn away.
'I am keeping an eye on you, my friend.' He decided there was no point in pretence. 'But I do not know what you do.'
And then, Legolas had drawn a deep sigh. Gimli glanced at him but the elf still gazed into the distance. Dwarves, Gimli reminded himself, are endlessly patient.
After a few more seconds, Gimli decided that dwarves were also creatures of action and deeds. So he said 'Legolas. You cannot stop everyone from falling!' Feeling the irony of his own words, Gimli resisted the urge to reach out and grasp the elf.
Slowly, Legolas stepped down from the wall. He knelt in front of the dwarf, too close, his breath warm on his skin, and the fabric of his clothes almost touching the dwarf. He looked intently into the earth-brown eyes of his friend.
Gimli wanted to look away but felt that if he did, he would have failed Legolas in some way. So he looked back into those strange forest green eyes, his own boldness searching the elf's face. He felt the sudden sense of falling, of vertigo, and saw that strange mix of ancient and innocent, an indefinable something that suddenly, he knew he could not bear to lose. Again he was overpowered by an intense sense of sadness and fear. Then he realised with a jolt.
'Is that what are you afraid of?' he asked wonderingly, for he had never seen the elf falter or fear in the face of any except the shadow of Moria, and all had quailed before that.
Legolas released him then and glanced away. Wryly he acknowledged it. He straightened and looked away again across the steppe.
'Of failure?' he said. 'Yes. Aragorn is right, Gimli.'
Gimli put the end of his beard in his mouth and chewed anxiously, hoping he didn't look anxious. Where in all of Arda was this going? Then he grunted. It was a useful sound, non committal and neither yes nor no. It was, he thought, encouraging.
'Aragorn is right. You are right,' Legolas sounded defeated. His arms fell by his sides and he looked at the ground. 'I let them fall. I have failed my trust.'1
'What? When did I say that? When did he say that?' Appalled at such an admission, by such an idea, Gimli did this time grasp the elf's arm before he could rise and walk away. 'How have you failed? You have been the staunchest, you have never faltered, never questioned. You shot the creature on the eastern shore, you have killed... almost as many orcs as I…' he paused to watch for the slow smile. 'You brought Théoden back, broke Saruman's power over Rohan. Now we are here.'
'Now we are here.' The elf repeated. He rose slowly and moved towards the wall, looking out over the plains. 'We are here. And war marches on our own lands.'
The elf looked down into the earnest brown eyes of his friend, and sighed. 'You are like the mountain, Gimli. You are constant, faithful.' He smiled gently. 'But we saw Gandalf fall in Moria. I cannot…' He bowed his head, 'I cannot bear to think of those merry hobbits…' but he could not bring himself to say it.
'You think still we were beguiled by Saruman.' The dwarf stated flatly. 'And that somehow this is your fault also? You have failed them and even now, they are in the black tower of Orthanc.' He shook his head slowly.
'Gimli. Please. Unless I see them myself, or I see Gandalf, I cannot be at peace. Please. Forgive me.'
Gimli sighed and placed his hand on his friend's should once more. 'I cannot say that my heart is at ease in this, my friend, but I know that the hobbits are well and safe. I know that Gandalf is restored to us. I know that sooner or later, that will be revealed to you and my only wish is that we survive long enough for you to know the truth. That is as much as we can do now, is it not my friend?'
* * * * *
Aragorn pushed his hand through his hair. It was late in the afternoon, almost evening and he was tired; he had to admit to defeat. Théoden was right about the strength of the Deep but he just felt there were weaknesses. He wanted the company of Gimli, to test the strength of the fortress, to feel for weaknesses, and he just wanted Legolas at his back right now. Realising he had missed Legolas, had not been with him since they parted near Fangorn, he felt suddenly lonely. 'I have to check on the north side,' he told Eomer quietly, not interrupting Théoden, and bowing discretely, eased his way from the throng of marshals and counsellors and opened the door.
A welcoming rush of cold wind from the mountain whipped round him then. He quickly stepped outside and pushed the door closed, and went in search of his friends. He admitted to being concerned about them both, for neither had been particularly communicative the evening before, and they had both avoided his gaze. Several times Gimli had opened his mouth to speak but been silenced with a look from Legolas. Aragorn simply drew on his pipe and waited for them to tell him whatever it was that was bothering them.
But when Legolas was not looking, Gimli had suddenly cuffed him round the ears and muttered 'Watch your words around him, Heir of Isildur or no, or you will have the haft of a dwarven axe between your ears next time.' Aragorn had been more than a little perplexed.
Now, as he breathed in the cold mountain air, he saw Gimli, rooting around in the drain and covers of the Deeping Wall with Hama. He was chewing his beard braid, something Aragorn had only seen the dwarf do recently. Legolas he could not see, although he doubted the elf was far away. He approached the dwarf warily.
'These drains,' Gimli was worrying 'they are a hole in the defence. No dwarf would make such a wall. All it needs is…' He looked up at Aragorn and scowled. 'Hama my friend, we need to get this shored up.' Gimli straightened and looked the man in the eye as Hama took his leave.
'Gimli.' Aragorn greeted him, keeping a slight distance between them. The dwarf nodded back grimly. 'Where is Legolas?'
Gimli nodded upwards. Aragorn followed his gaze and saw the elf then, standing on an impossible ledge high above them on the cliff face. 'Been up there since daybreak. Twitchy as a cat in a forge.'
The elf imperceptibly straightened. Aragorn watched as he raised his head a little higher, leaning forwards slightly as if to catch the wind. He tried to relax- Legolas was not going to attempt flight… but with tension in every line of his body, he looked like a bird poised. He breathed, and gave the dwarf a wry smile.
'He is not the only one.'
But the dwarf was not attending. He stared, first at Legolas; then he shaded his eyes from the lowering sun and looked in the same direction as the elf, eyes narrowed slightly. A bank of cloud rolled on the distant horizon.'What can he see?' he muttered. *
There was only the sound of hammering and grunting men as they hauled stone, lit fires to heat oil, fixed arrows. There was nothing else. The wind had died and no birds flew across the empty grey sky. It seemed that outside the Deep, there was no life. Everything waited, holding its breath.
Eomer watched Legolas, poised on a high ledge, looking ready to spread his arms and take flight, hardly stirring, hardly seeming to breathe, the wind lifting his winter grass hair. It made the Men nervous. He felt the elf had been avoiding him, but in truth, it was the other way around. Eomer watched surreptitiously at first, and then, as the day faded away, and still he had not moved, he stared openly, as if starving. *
The moon had risen early, bright, and torn rags of cloud scudded across the sky though there did not seem to be a strong wind. Silent and still, the elf listened. No breeze or whisper from the faraway Anduin, no frost touched breeze from the Misty Mountains, nothing. Legolas listened, stretching out his awareness. Something felt wrong. Something had felt wrong for days, he corrected himself. No, this was something more. He felt the earth cringe … he felt the air shift away…
Suddenly he felt the need for the dwarf's solid presence, the sense of his feet planted firmly on the ground. He tore his gaze from the distant horizon and found the dwarf. He stood with Eomer and Aragorn, both scanning the plains anxiously. Legolas took a breath and leaped downwards, like a mountain goat scaling the heights, leaping from one rock to another with dizzying speed.
Gimli looked up, following Eomer's' open mouthed gasp. He narrowed his eyes, watching the man's open admiration.
'Now don't be fooled by that,' he grumbled, breaking the spell. 'He does that all the time. Showing off.' But his eyes belied the gruffness. Aragorn did not smile.
Swiftly Legolas came to stand with them, his eyes still scanning the horizon. Darkness crept towards the Deep, even though the moon sailed high and bright. Earendil flickered before the tide of cloud slowly obscured it and Legolas shuddered visibly and repeatedly. It unnerved the three with him.
'I do not like this,' he murmured. Gimli looked askance at the elf, who seemed in a trance.
His eyes were wide and stared at the moon and sky.
'The Eye moves… the Enemy is awake… he seeks…..' He caught his breath.
'Blood will be spilt this night.' he said, turning and looking straight into the dwarf's eyes. 'Blood will be spilt and they come.' He grasped Gimli's arms in a steel grip. 'They come.'
1 Just in case you lost the reference, in the FoTR Aragorn says that Thranduil's folk had failed their trust.It must have hurt to hear that especially since they lost some of the guards who were captured or slain.
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