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Disclaimer:This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JRR Tolkien. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
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Summary:Dwarves have many strange tales and beliefs about themselves and their fate after death.
A/N:This is an updated and greatly expanded version of a story I previously posted to the archive. The original story contained only the first chapter of this one.
...and five times an Heir was born in his House so like to his Forefather that he received the name of Durin. He was indeed held by the Dwarves to be the Deathless that returned; for they have many strange tales and beliefs concerning themselves and their fate in the world. -- Return of the King, Appendix A, Part III, Durin's Folk
He searched but could not find. For twice the lifespan of a man in these diminished days he searched for the one he had lost. Never had it taken so long; always before he had found his love within a hundred years. But now the Lonely Mountain was deserted. The men of the lake told tales of dwarves living there. Only Men dug mines in the Blue Mountains. The Glittering Caves were dull and empty holes, long since stripped of beauty. The Iron Hills alone still held the secret dwarven mines. He was welcomed there, for the most part, yet found no signs of the one returned. Perhaps at last the dwarf had grown weary and sought the Halls of Mandos. Perhaps now it was time for him to do so as well. Elf and dwarf could surely batter down the walls between their respective halls.
He was weary. Lothlórien had lost much of its wonder. No place on Middle Earth could soon forget the hands of Galadriel, but even by the measure of elves it had been long ages since her passing. The mallorn trees were gone, replaced by trees more ordinary and less majestic. No song echoed from their branches. Still it was a pleasant place, free of the throngs of men who crowded so much that used to be elven. He could lie here, beneath an ancient tree that was not yet an acorn when he and his love first walked here with the Fellowship, and dream. Gimli had been so wroth to walk through these woods blindfolded. And he, he had spent a moon and more in these woods with the one he would come to love and knew him only as a loud, irritating presence. He closed his eyes and laughed for that ancient folly.
"You trespass in these woods," a gruff voice informed him. He kept his eyes closed, lost still in memory.
"You grow silent, my friend," he told the memory. "I did not hear you approach." Haldir said-- What did Haldir say? That Gimli walked so loud he could shoot him in the dark by sound alone? Or was it that he breathed so loud?
"I am no friend of yours, stranger!" the voice said angrily. "Who are you and what do you do here?" it demanded.
He opened his eyes at last. A dwarf, not yet into the full flush of youth, stood before him, glowering, axe in hand. He laughed again, recognizing the belligerent light in the young dwarf's eyes. To find the one he sought here, where he came to rest, to sleep, to die. "I do not trespass, my friend, for friend you are. This wood was my people's ere we two first met. Perhaps I should ask you what you do here, a dwarf in an elven wood."
"There are no elves here."
"There is one," he disagreed. "Newly come, I grant." He reined himself in, trying to remember the long, slow dance of meeting from five hundred years before. "Your forgiveness, please. My people are long gone from here and I am alone. But you, where do you come from? The nearest settlement of dwarves is far away in the Iron Hills."
"That is none of your concern, stranger." Oh, how well he knew that gruff wariness of strangers, born twin of his loyalty to friends. He studied the dwarf, knowing he would not betray his home. His boots were clean; his clothes bore no signs of long travel....
"Khazad-Dûm! You have reopened the Mines of Moria!" And why not? Orcs had been gone from Middle Earth for a thousand years and more. The balrog had fallen with Mithrandir, but had not risen with him from the chasm. The Black Pit was as safe as any place underground, safer than many. No wonder Legolas could not find him if he was born here instead of any known haunt of his kind. He looked again at the youth, no older than sixty, nowhere near the two hundred years plus of their separation. One had been born and lived and died young without his knowledge. He grieved for that one, all alone. This one--his hands were white on the axe handle, its blade raised to face him. "Peace, my friend, I mean no harm to you or yours. I am Legolas, called Longseeker."
* * *
The East-gate was where he remembered, though much disguised. An armed and armored dwarf stood within the entryway. He glowered at the elf and his companion. "By what right do you bring a stranger here?" he demanded of the young dwarf, aiming a cuff in his direction. Legolas stopped the blow with a hand, absorbing the force with his own body.
"He did not bring me, sir dwarf, I brought him. I know the way well," he said calmly, stilling the fury that any would reproach his newly re-found companion. "I visited these halls before, though the memory is no pleasant one." The darkness beyond the door in front of him made him shiver. Balrog, orcs, and trolls alike were gone, and Mithrandir had long since passed to the Undying Lands, he reminded himself again.
The guard eyed him from head to boot and back to fair elven face. "Longseeker," he said at last. Legolas inclined his head to acknowledge the identification. "I thought you but one of my grand-dam's cradle tales." Legolas caught his glance at the young dwarf and wondered which tales he had heard. Child-stealer some called him, though indeed he had stolen only one ill-used child from those who would have done him harm. "Why are you here?"
The welcome was cool, if welcome it could be called at all. "I travel from dwarf tribe to dwarf tribe," he explained, with as little warmth. "Yours has long eluded me." Why he traveled few of the legends told. He was happy to keep it that way. The less speculation about his young companion, the better. He had not told the youth of his former lives, nor would he until their friendship was much progressed. He nodded at the door instead. "Will you let me enter?"
The guard's thoughts were not hard to follow; he had had much practice reading the dwarven face. Legolas could not be allowed to leave, not with the location of this door, yet the guard had neither warriors nor authority enough to slay him. The elf shifted slightly, subtly bringing the sword at his hip into greater notice.
"Take him to your father, Thrain," the guard said with feigned dismissal. "He shall decide what to do with this--person."
Legolas bowed. "My thanks. The courtesy of the dwarves has won much renown." He gestured for the youth--Thrain, he reminded himself, chagrined to realize he had never asked his present name--to precede him. Steeling himself he stepped out of the sun into the dim-lit hall.
Khazad-Dûm gave little cause for dread in one grown comfortable in other dwarven halls. A deep breath brought no scent of orcs or death, no smoke beyond that of hearth and forge. The floors were clear of bones and other debris the orcs had left the last time he was here. The bridge across the chasm had been replaced and was firm and wide. In every respect this was the grand hall that Gimli had expected to find when they first entered the West-Gate so many centuries ago. And yet still his memory was too keen.
"Thrain," he said, getting the feel for this new name, distracting himself from those memories. "A name with an honorable lineage." Thrain shrugged, uncharacteristically silent since they entered the ancient hall. On the road from Lothlórien he threatened, argued, and complained, trying to turn Legolas from that road. Since they came within sight of the East-Gate he was silent. He seemed years younger than the sure young warrior who confronted him under the leaves of Lothlórien. Was it his kin who held him silent?
Thrain led him to a forge where a powerfully built dwarf hammered on a spearhead. "Father," he said softly, between blows.
"Thrain." His father did not turn around. "So you are back already. Not empty-handed, I hope." The words were distracted, but not unkind.
"Not empty-handed, Uzbad Khazaddumu," Legolas said. Thrain's father whirled, unfinished spear held ready. Legolas back up a step, spread his hands wide. "Peace, my lord. I mean you no harm."
The older dwarf glared at him for a long moment, then lowered his spear. "You are no Man."
Legolas chuckled. "Indeed not." He bowed. "Your door-warden has heard tales of me, though he believed them not. I am Legolas, Longseeker."
"Longseeker. I have heard of you. Why have you come here?" the older dwarf demanded suspiciously.
"Perhaps I have come to help." It was no great stretching of the truth.
The older dwarf scowled. "We have little need for legends, still less for elves. You may be on your way; we need no help from you."
Legolas nodded at the spear in the other dwarf's hand and spoke in the tongue of the dwarves, "When the king forges iron, the wise sharpen their blades." He continued in the common tongue, "It does not require the keenest eye to see that something threatens you here. I have a stout bow and a nimble sword, my lord; do not be so foolish as to throw them away."
"Call me not king!" Thrain's father cried. "I am Crain, son of Croin, nothing more! The king and all his kin died when the Men of Edoras overran the Glittering Caves."
Legolas froze. "The Rohirrim has long been friends to the dwarves of the Caves."
"Aye, friends who wanted our gold," Crain spat. "First they asked for gifts with honeyed words. Then they raised the price on the food they sold us until a loaf of bread would buy a bakery in Gondor. Finally they taxed us so half our gold went to Medusheld. When the king cried 'Enough!' they came with armies and blasting powder and harried us from the earth. If these are friends then give me enemies!"
The news was almost too much to comprehend. All he could think of was that Gimli and Éomer would be grieved alike to hear the news. The friendship between them would have been enough to drive him to jealousy if he had not known his lover's loyalty. "How--how many escaped?" he asked at length.
"Three score and four arrived at these caves," Crain said with terrible calm. He rested the butt of the spear on the floor and gripped it hard. "More may have escaped and found other havens."
Sixty-four. Not even a tenth part of those who once lived in the Caves. That others might have survived was faint hope. No news of this massacre had ever come to the Iron Hills, as surely it would have if those who fled had reached any of the other dwarvish settlements.
"Father," Gimli interrupted the mournful silence. "I had no chance to hunt before meeting this--elf." Legolas stared, amazed that he could be so callous about the deaths of so many.
"So you would leave again so soon, my son?" Crain's voice was ironic but not bitter, nor was he surprised by the interruption. The massacre at Helm's Deep was not new for either dwarf. Gi--No, Thrain--had grown up knowing of this tragedy, knowing no other home than the Black Pit. "You can not wait to be away from here."
"We need meat," Thrain said, a hint of adolescent sulkiness in his voice.
"Aye." He acknowledged the need without giving permission.
"Your pardon, Forge Master," Legolas interjected, giving him the lesser honorific to which he was no doubt entitled, since he would not accept the greater. "It is my doing that--Thrain-- " He stumbled only a little on the name, "--returned without hunting. With your permission I would make amends by accompanying him on his hunt."
"I don't need any help from you, elf!" Thrain growled.
Crain was amused. "But two can carry more than one," he said, no doubt recognizing the opportunity to get rid of the stranger for a time. "And as you said, my son, we need the meat."
* * *
Legolas suppressed a shudder as he emerged from Khazad-Dûm into the clean, late spring sunshine. This was G--Thrain's home, he would get used to it. Leaning on his bow with feigned ease he ignored the watching guard to scan the countryside.
Even from here there was little sign of habitation. The dwarves plowed no fields, built no outbuildings. Secrecy from Man, it appeared, was all-important. How, then, did they feed their people? One young hunter could not supply the entire clan, nor would a diet all-meat be healthy.
Part answer was given him when Thrain appeared at the East Gate, a large basket in hand. "Beru wants me to bring back berries," he said, noting the direction of Legolas's glances. "Wants us," he corrected with gentle malice.
Legolas smiled. Did the youth think that he, a hunter full grown, would object to a task normally assigned to children? "Beru?" he asked instead, taking the basket from Thrain. He had well outgrown such pride.
"She's my aunt," Thrain said. He set out without taking leave of the door warden, nor did the guard wish them well on their journey and a speedy return. That tradition appeared not to have made the flight from the Caves. "Well, not my aunt, she's everyone's aunt. She's about a million years old and still thinks I'm twenty."
Legolas forbore from laughing. "A common complaint. My father did not think me old enough to travel to Rivendell when I joined the Nine Walkers, and I was nearly a thousand!"
Thrain stopped dead for a moment, then continued walking. "A thousand? How old are you?"
"I fought with Gimli in the Battle of Helm's Deep when first he saw the Glittering Caves. I walked with him through the Caves months later when first he had leisure to explore." There they had made love for the first time, before an opalescent pillar that had reminded them both of lovers entwined. The Chamber of Lovers it came to be called in later years, though others, less in love, could never see the resemblance.
"You think I'm him," Thrain said in a rush. "Beru said you are always looking for him, for Gimli reborn, and that is why you are called Longseeker, because you could never find him. When we met you spoke--very strangely."
"When you found me I was almost lost to the dreaming. I spoke half to you and half to the ancient past," Legolas apologized. The less said about their past the better. He would not burden the youth with this knowledge, would not endanger their seedling friendship with the shade of ancient trees.
That was not enough to satisfy his companion. "Yet you think I am him," he repeated.
Nor yet would he lie. "Fourteen times I have watched Gimli die--" The grief nearly killed him each time. "--and fourteen times found him alive again. You are he."
"I'm not him!" Gimli's hand had somehow found its way to his axe handle.
Legolas shrugged. "I do not ask you to believe it."
"I am no great hero," Gimli--Thrain, rather--muttered to himself.
* * *
Thrain led him first to a patch of strawberries that grew wild across a clearing left when one of the forest giants fell. The earthen cave formed by the giant's roots made a comfortable camp, one that had been used and improved through many years from the looks of it. Legolas stooped to pick a ripe berry. With the profusion of plants it would take little time to fill the basket. Best hunt first so the fruit would be fresh when they returned.
He stopped, his hand almost touching a withered and uprooted elanor plant. After an instant he plucked the berry and stood, surveying the clearing. With keen elvish eyes the evidence was not hard to see: more uprooted plants, though none recently pulled, the lack of saplings racing to supplant their fallen parent, the uncrowded, even spaced strawberry plants. "This is a garden!" he exclaimed.
Thrain shook his head. "They grow here naturally. I do not plow or plant in rows."
"Not a garden as Men make, no. This--" Legolas looked round again at the pretty clearing. "This is a garden as elves make. Lady Galadriel brought these plants from Eregion when first she came to Lorien. They have grown in these woods for years without count, yet they are not truly wild." Thrain frowned at the mention of the lady's name, but shrugged at the history of his plants. "You have tended these plants as she would, nurturing and protecting them without scarring the land as Men do." Dwarves when forced to farm grew food as Men did, though they far preferred to buy instead of raise their own. Did some remembrance of a former life teach Thrain to garden thus?
Thrain shrugged again. "It just makes it easer to gather a lot of them quickly. If I come back with a full basket no one cares--" He stopped, suddenly conscious of what he was saying. He stood silent, hands clenched tight at his sides.
Legolas knew better than to challenge that silence, but still he wondered. No one cared--what? No one cared that he brought them food? Surely all must care who would not starve. No one cared how he got them? That might be true, yet it seemed not the whole truth. He let the silence lengthen only a little, then spoke. "What do we hunt today?"
* * *
Thrain was a skilled hunter, as patient as an ent when still, as silent as a hobbit on the move. He bore a small but powerful bow, unmistakable dwarvish make. A chance encounter with a rabbit proved him fast and accurate and not too proud to take smaller prey. Now, however, they sought a deer to return to Khazad-Dûm. Thrain tensed and Legolas brought his drifting thoughts to focus. A doe and fawn approached on the game trail beside which they crouched. He reached out a hand to stay Thrain's bow, then realized there was no need. The young dwarf had lowered his bow as soon as he saw the approaching fawn. Skilled and prudent not to deplete next year's herd.
No lawful prey passed their way that evening. Thrain bore the disappointment with equanimity surpassing the patience of one so young. He was whistling as he carried the rabbit, their sole catch, back to camp. Several times he detoured to collect herbs and roots, knowing always exactly where to find them. At camp he set to making stew while Legolas picked strawberries to start and finish their meal. The elf watched the dwarf covertly as he picked. Thrain was comfortable here, relaxed and free of strain, as he had not been in Khazad-Dûm.
Thrain finished his cookery and sat back from the fire, not needing its heat in the late spring warmth. Legolas sat beside him and set the basket with a double handful of berries between them. Thrain took a berry and bit into it, the juice dripping down his chin towards his beard. Legolas looked away. He and Gimli had eaten wild strawberries in Ithilien, after the battle while the hobbits were still healing. He had caught the droplet then and Gimli had licked it off his finger. That led to their first kiss as Gimli claimed the berry juice on his lips.
"You like it here," he said at last to distract himself from memories.
Thrain's low, rumbling laugh was achingly familiar. "Who would not?" He waved at the clearing around them. "The trees, the sky, a gentle breeze--What is there not to like?"
"Gimli--When Gimli first came to Lorien he distrusted it. He felt the trees were watching him." The trees were not; elves in the trees were. Even after Lady Galadriel welcomed him many of her folk had little love for a dwarf. The lady asked Legolas to accompany him to soothe fears on both sides. Perhaps too she saw further into their hearts than either could see themselves.
"Gorim thinks these woods are haunted," Thrain said scornfully.
"Gorim?" They were haunted, haunted by memories. He must learn Thrain's present, not wallow in the past.
"My cousin. He who was guarding the gate?" Legolas nodded. "He hunts the mountain sheep but he won't come here. No one comes here but me." There was more than a little smugness in that last. He sobered. "The woods aren't haunted." He gave Legolas a side-long uncertain look. "Khazad-Dûm--" He fell silent then continued when Legolas failed to rebuke him. "Terrible things live in the deep places! Father says Durin's Bane is just a story but I know it's real." He looked suddenly shame-faced at his outburst.
Poor child. His own unease without the memory to know why. "Do you dream of it?" Thrain nodded reluctantly. "Shadows and flames, drums in the deep, the central hall turned into a carnal pit--" Mithrandir's long fall. Run, you fools! Legolas shook himself out of the memory. Thrain was staring at him with wide, wondering eyes. "Your father is wrong," he said harshly. "Durin's Bane is no story. It was a balrog, one of Morgoth's dark creatures, bred when Sauron was but Morgoth's servant. Yet you have no cause to fear. Mithrandir--Gandalf, you would say--defeated it when our fellowship passed through Khazad-Dûm's dark halls."
"It's dead?" Thrain asked, daring to hope.
Legolas nodded. "Yes. They fell together into the great chasm. We thought Mithrandir lost then, but he was given back to us for a little while." Too short a while.
Thrain stood and went to stir the stew. "Then Father was right," he said with his back to Legolas. "I fear shadows, a thing long dead. A dwarf afraid of the dark!"
That last had the sound of oft-repeated scorn. Legolas grew angry. "You feared what was real," he snapped. "Not knowing it had passed away. There is no shame in that! I am accounted brave by many, yet I feared to pass the gates."
Thrain gave the stew another stir, then picked up their empty water skins. "I'm going to get more water," he said with an almost steady voice. He stomped off towards the nearest stream, some two hundred yards away.
Legolas watched him go but did not call after him. So this wood was his refuge, hunting his excuse to leave the Black Pit for days or even weeks. It explained much. Indeed, who would not trade this green and pleasant garden for a home full of fear and dreams? At least it was not his family who troubled him so.
* * *
Thrain led him to a different game trail in the morning, near the overgrown and shrubby edge where forest met grasslands. Legolas blinked back his surprise when he rounded a curve in the trail to find the dwarf climbing a tree towards a small but sturdy looking flet hidden in its branches. To see a dwarf climb a tree was novelty enough, he decided as he watched Thrain struggle upwards. He should not expect to see it done well or easily. As soon as Thrain reached his roost Legolas reached up for a branch and swung himself up.
"You make that look too easy, elf," he grumbled.
Legolas laughed. "Your pardon, Master G--Thrain. Next time I will work harder."
The dwarf chuckled. "See that you do."
The flet was small for two people. Legolas shifted sideways, giving his companion the greater part of the space, the better to maneuver his bow. This was Thrain's hunt, not his, and while his bow was strung he intended to give the young dwarf the first shot. The pride of youth was not lightly impinged upon.
Again Thrain let a doe with fawn pass unharmed, but this time they had no great wait before a buck followed. Thrain drew and fired in a single, smooth motion. The aim was true to Legolas's eye, yet a sudden noise from beyond the forest's edge caused the buck to jump, turning clean kill into a wounded flank. The buck bound off the path, leaving a blood trail behind. Thrain cursed and descended the tree rather faster than he climbed it, if no more gracefully. He set off at a crouched run, following the trail of blood. Legolas swung down after him and followed.
The trail was long, but not hard to read. The initial rush of blood slowed without ever quite stopping. Always they could find a bloody hoof print when the track grew most faint. Thrain's set and determined back left no doubt that he would follow to the ends of the earth. He quickened his pace as the blood drops grew thicker and the hoof marks more erratic. Suddenly he dropped into the brush, urgently motioning Legolas down as well. Legolas crawled forward to join the dwarf.
"Dwarvish work, my lord," a voice said from beyond the concealing brush. "No doubt about that." Through the leaves Legolas could see a Man crouched over the fallen buck. He wore the garb of the Rohirrim and a dozen armed and mounted men surrounded him. He wrenched the arrow from the dying animal's side and held it up to one of the still-mounted riders. The lord wrinkled his nose at the bloody weapon.
Gimli and Legolas began crawling slowly backwards, away from the armed riders, putting what they could of trees and brush between them. Some noise or hint of movement alerted the riders; the leader shouted and the troop charged, crashing through the brush after them. Abandoning stealth they ran, dodging through the thickest trees to slow the horses.
"Split up," Gimli gasped. "Meet up. Camp. Careful."
"Yes." He slowed to let the dwarf draw ahead of him, then veered off. Some of the riders followed him but he dared not wait to see how many. He waited until he could hear them close behind then swung up into the branches of the nearest tree. The riders encircled his refuge. Swarming up the trunk, he danced along the highest branches until they crossed those of a neighbor, and then leaped across. The riders shouted and followed on the ground. Eight of the original thirteen followed him, leaving only five for Gimli. A precious hope was born.
He could not stop. The riders carried bows, through not yet strung, or they might build a fire if he gave them long enough in a single spot to try. Instead he led them deeper into the forest, crossing and re-crossing a little stream as he went. If he could get them to the Celebrant that stream might prove swift and cold enough to stop pursuit. Before he had gone half so far, a horn sounded from another part of the woods. The riders stopped and milled about in confusion. High above them the elf halted as well.
The leader was not among them; he must have followed Gimli. The rest had the tall, blond, fair look common to Rohan. They could any of them have ridden in Éomer's company. Yet they did not all bear the white horse emblem. Some two or three of them bore instead a white hand. The man who pulled the arrow from the buck, the apparent leader of his cohort, was one of them. The horn sounded again and he swiftly organized his men and led them towards its sound.
Unless Rohan had changed her horn calls, the horn signaled a fallen comrade, not a cornered quarry. Keeping to the tree-roads, Legolas returned by a roundabout route to the camp. From a perch in a tree he surveyed the clearing. There was no sign of horses, hoof prints, or broken plants as left by heavy-footed Men who would not recognize a garden as they walked across it. Nor, alas, was there any sign of the dwarf. He slipped from the tree and made his cautious way to the little earthen cave. A dwarven axe greeted him at eye-level as he stuck his head in. He let out a sigh of relief. "Master Gimli. I am glad to see you safe."
The dwarf gave him a strange look but lowered his axe. "You lost them?"
He nodded. "I took to the trees. And you?"
Thrain chuckled. "I took to the ground. I swear I ducked beneath every low branch and fallen trunk between here and Nimrodel. The leader fell when he jumped a log without knowing the bank that lay beyond. I do not know if he lives. I did not stay to see."
Thus the horn call and abandoned chase. "If luck follows us he will live, only injured," Legolas mused. Thrain stared at him. How bloodthirsty the young were. "Think, child. It takes but one to return his body to Edoras. It takes at least four to carry a horse-litter."
"Ah." Comprehension showed on his face. "Perhaps we should injure another two."
Legolas shook his head, though not in negation. "Do men of Rohan often hunt our people?"
"This is the fourth time in fifteen years that I have seen them," Thrain said. "Never before have they seen me," he added unhappily.
He had ample cause to fear. The hunters had seen them both and found Thrain's arrow. Would they recognize him as elf or did they think him a Man? It mattered little, those who harrowed the dwarves gained him for enemy. "Come," he said. "We must return to your father as soon as may be safe. They must be warned."
* * *
"What is the meaning of the white hand?"
Crain looked up from the wire he was winding around a spindle to make rings for mail. "The emblem some riders wear? I do not know. Few of them carry it. Those who do are always leaders, yet seldom warriors."
Legolas paced the confines of the lesser hall. "When did this emblem first appear? It was unknown when last I lived in the Caves." But not, alas, never known. Yet surely the resemblance was but coincidence.
"When was that?" Thrain asked, abandoning the scroll he read. The youth had a fascination with his years, a thirst to know his history. Legolas indulged him and added in his head.
"Six hundred and sixty--no, seventy-two years ago." A short while it seemed to him, yet an eternity to a dwarf not yet full adult.
"The white hands came only a few years before they drove us from the Caves," Crain said. "When Thrain was but a babe in arms." Thrain scowled at the description but his father only smiled. "We long suspected they were behind our persecution, though they showed us no overt malice."
Legolas paced again. He longed to be out of Khazad-Dûm, yet he could not argue against Crain's edict restricting all inside. Until they knew whether the riders had returned they dared not venture out. Already he dreamed of the sun. "Do they--" He stopped. "Do they have any--connection with Orthanc?" he asked. Crain only looked blank. "Isengard?"
"The university?" Crain asked. "Nay."
"It's a university now?" Crain rolled his eyes. The forge master had grown surprisingly comfortable with his elvish guest. Legolas smiled. "For years and years, I suppose, but not for six hundred and seventy-two."
"It is somewhat younger than that, some two hundred years old." The older dwarf was gravely courteous, only his eyes betraying his mirth.
"Men must account it ancient," he muttered just to win a laugh from the dwarves. So it was just coincidence. There were few enough symbols in the world that he should not be surprised to see one reused. His sense of being in a trap did not abate, however, nor was it all just pining for the sun. "You can not stay here," he blurted. Crain looked at him gravely. "You have had no children born since you came to Khazad-Dûm. You are too few."
"And how shall we leave it?" Crain asked mildly. "The Gap of Rohan is closed to us. The Pass of Caradhas is gone as if it never existed. Northward along the Great River lies only swamp." His voice grew heated. "How shall we leave? Shall we fly? Or can an elf dry a path through the swamp? We fled here because we had no place else to flee!" He calmed. "Gorim and some others seek a pass through the mountains as they hunt. Thus far they have found none that all our folk might travel. I will not leave any behind."
Legolas bowed, apology and acknowledgement of the lord's honor. "The West-Gate?" he asked.
"Is lost. No map shows where it lay." He blinked. "Unless you know?"
The hope in his voice was a terrible thing. That journey was long ago even as elves counted time and he was not then so familiar with dwarven mines and travel underground. All tunnels had looked the same to him. Could he remember? "Maybe," he answered reluctantly.
Before Crain could respond Gorim rushed into the room. Thrain's cousin in truth, through their mothers' side, Gorim was nearly two decades older. The ill will between them shared fault on both sides, yet Legolas could not warm to him as he had to most of Crain's folk. "Riders," he said. "I saw them from the high watch. They are coming this way!"
* * *
Khazad-Dûm was first settled in a gentler age; the East-Gate was not made for defense. They retreated across the Bridge and drew their line at the edge of the chasm. The entire clan, from the youngest, Thrain, to the eldest, 'Aunt' Beru, wore mail and helm and kept axe and bow at hand. The riders, some thirty in all, drew up on the further edge, unwilling to attempt the narrow Bridge under the arrows of the dwarves. The Bridge was built without rail or parapet, uncomfortable crossing in time of peace but providing no cover for advancing foe in invasion. Yet if the dwarves were safe across the Bridge so too were they trapped there. There were only two ways out, across the chasm and the long, uncertain road to the Hollin Gate.
The line of riders parted to let through a figure dressed all in white. "So." His voice, though soft, projected easily across the chasm. "The last of the dwarves." His eyes lit on Legolas. "And an elf! I did not believe it when my men said they had seen you. I thought the last of your kind passed over the sea long ago. What do you do here, sir elf? Even in days long ago there was little love between your races."
The leader of the riders was courteous and well-spoken. Perhaps there was yet hope for the folk of Khazad-Dûm. Legolas relaxed slightly, though he did not lower his bow. "I have long been friend to Durin's race. Such friendship kept me on these shores for years after I might have gone and drew me back once I had dwelt a time in Eressea." The Undying Lands, alas, failed of their name for one elderly dwarf. "And you, sir," he challenged. "What would you have with these people?"
"Alas." He gave a sad smile. "That is where things become difficult. This is the king's land and they are settled here without his leave."
"His leave!" Crain's voice was harsh after the other's reasoned tones. "We fled here after he tried to kill us!" Legolas winced. The dwarves were never diplomats.
The leader of the Rohirrim did not seem to hold it against him. "His grandfather, rather, if you refer to the--regrettable--incident at Helm's Deep." Men had even shorter lives than dwarves. Surely Crain could not hold the present king responsible for the actions of his ancestor. Legolas's own grandfather died in the battle against Sauron that ended the Second Age. he would hate to be held responsible for that worthy's actions for good or ill. "The king is mindful of this history and inclined to leniency. If you will come with me now we can settle this rapidly and you may join the rest of your people in your ancient home."
Legolas nodded. That would be the best solution, reuniting Crain and his people with the other survivors of the Caves and returning to their home. No more small remnant population struggling to survive, no more Black Pit with its memories, Gimli returned to his rightful domain. All that was required was for Crain to be reasonable and his tense stance was already softening.
"No!" Thrain cried. "You called us the last of the dwarves and now you say there are other?" He stalked forward, almost to the edge of the chasm. "I know you. I have heard your honeyed words before. Saruman!"
The other's face was transformed by rage for a instant before smoothing over. Legolas blinked, the spell of words broken. The Man wore the robes of Saruman and spoke with his voice, though he had not the face. Yet having felt his spell before there was no doubting Thrain's identification. He tried not to let his face betray his unensorcelled state. "Peace, child," he said to Thrain. "You insult Lord--" He paused and looked to the other questioningly.
"Not lord," he said with a great play of modesty. "Merely chancellor. Chancellor Dernbright. But please," he waved his hand, the ring on his finger catching the dim light of the entrance hall. "Do not trouble the child on my behalf."
"You are wise, my lord," Legolas flattered, laying a hand on Thrain's shoulder and squeezing warningly when he would have spoken. "He is a good lad, though much given to imagination." He looked over at Crain. "We will believe his wild tale when he knows how to wield his bow he waves so wildly." He could only hope Crain caught his meaning.
Crainís face cleared of confusion. Sneaking a tiny glance at Dernbright he crossed to stand beside his son, laying his own hand on Thrain's other shoulder. "Aye," he rumbled. "You may be my sister's son," he said to Thrain. "But I cannot have you insult a guest thus." He gave Legolas a look and the elf returned a small nod.
Dernbright was impatient with this interplay. "Will you come then, my friends?"
They could not sustain their subterfuge if they refused, nor could the dwarves last out a siege here indefinitely. They outnumbered the Rohirrim now but would not if they gave the riders time to reinforce. He turned to Crain. "I think we had best go, Uzbad. Delay serves naught." Crain nodded, slowly. Legolas turned to Crain's people. How much had they understood? "We must be ready to move at the king's word." Dwarves had never acknowledged any king not of Durin's Folk, not even Elessar. He saw hands tighten on axe handles and knew they heard his meaning. He turned back to Crain. "My lord?"
Crain surveyed his people. Not all would live to see the sun set. Surely now he must know from their determined faces that he truly was their king. "Very well." He turned and stomped onto the bridge. Legolas followed, Thrain close on his heels. Legolas forced himself to remain relaxed when he stepped off the bridge into the midst of the riders. They would not attack until all the dwarves were across. The king stopped in front of Dernbright and grounded his axe, folding his hands on top of its head. "We have come, Man of Rohan. We will treat with you in the same faith with which you approached us."
Dernbright gave no sign that he heard threat within those words. "I rejoice to hear it." The last of the dwarves stepped off the Bridge and the riders closed in behind them, cutting off escape. He gave a signal and swords slid free of their sheaths.
It was the sign the dwarves had been waiting for. Crain ducked a sword blow to his head, then blocked a return strike with his axe. "Buruk Khazad!" Legolas had no time to see more; his own sword was out, driving the attackers back from himself and Thrain. The young dwarf was firing arrow after calm arrow, each targeted to take down a single foe.
The Rohirrim were not expecting the speed or ferocity of the dwarven axes. They were trained to fight on horse, Legolas thought, not in a dimly lit cavern against foes who stood no higher than their chests. Their blows missed high, yet the dwarves felt no compunction against aiming for the Men's legs. The Rohirrim fell back, but before they could retreat altogether Dernbright shouted. The dwarves faltered as from an unseen blow, yet Legolas felt it not. The riders surge forward again with new success against their now-slowed opponents. Dernbright shouted again and half a dozen dwarves froze, easy prey for the Rohan swords. Legolas fought his way towards the sorcerer, vaguely aware of Gimli at his back.
He drew within sword's reach just after Dernbright loosed a third spell with another shout. Dernbright smiled when he saw the elf standing before him. "Legolas Greenleaf," he greeted him. "Your presence here make my revenge complete. Gondor is a puppet to my hand, the hobbits are no more. I thought the last of the elves long gone from these shores and grieved that I could not reek my revenge against your race. To find you here exceeds my wildest dreams."
An arrow flew over Legolas's shoulder towards Dernbright, only to be waved away before it could reach its target. The sorcerer whispered a single word. Legolas struggled to lift his sword, feeling the lethargy the others must have felt earlier. Dernbright drew his own sword lightly. "Come, little elf, dance with me." He swung at Legolas who blocked the blow only with great effort.
The fight was a nightmare of leaden limbs and light, mocking strikes, always painful but never debilitating. Never before had the elf's body failed to obey his will. Was this what Gimli felt when he grew old? Behind him he could hear the cries of his folk and the triumphant shouts of the riders. They were dying and there as nothing he could do.
"What's the matter, old friend?" Dernbright taunted. "Age catching up with you? I hope you know who I am now. I would hate for you to think you were killed by a stranger."
No. Panting Legolas countered the sorcererís strike. Despite his efforts the other's sword reached through to rake his arm. This was not Saruman; the traitorous wizard was long dead. This was a mere remnant of his malice.
In an instant he knew, as Isildur must have known on the slopes of Orodruin. Ignoring Dernbright's next blow he struck at his hand instead. Unopposed the enemy's blade struck deep into his side. His own blade, dwarven made by the Gimli of five hundred years before, sliced cleanly through Dernbright's two smallest fingers. The sorcerer cried out as the ring on that hand separated from his body. Before he could seek to retrieve it Thrain's bow sang and an arrow blossomed from his neck. He fell and a moment later Legolas fell on top of him.
* * *
Thrain was kneeling beside him, tears streaming down his cheeks into his beard. He smiled up at the dwarf, rejoicing to find him whole. The sound of battle came faintly to his ears. "Do we win?" he asked. He tried to sit and pain exploded in his side. Thrain pushed him down with a hand on his chest.
"Half the Rohirrim fled when you cut the ring from that--thing's--hand. The rest have little hope against our people now unensorcelled."
"Good." The light was fading from the hall. He had not thought it so late. He closed his eyes. Perhaps it was time to sleep.
"No!" Thrain cried. "I know you. I remember you. Do not leave me now, beloved!"
Legolas looked up into Thrain's eyes. No, they were Gimli's eyes and they shone through the gathering mist. He shook his head. There was something he must remember, something he must tell Gimli. "The ring--"
Gimli nodded. "I will destroy the ring. Must I take it to Mount Doom?"
He chuckled, though it hurt. "No, that mountain is cold and quiet. Saruman had not the dark lord's skill; the forge should suffice." Even Gimli's face was going dim.
"Legolas--" Gimli lifted his hand and drew it to his lips. "Stay." The word was in elvish.
"I cannot. The road has been long, beloved, and I am weary. Let me rest," he pleaded.
Gimli bowed his head. Legolas's hand was wet with his tears. "Wait--" He lifted his head. "Wait for me in the Halls of Mandos."
"I will wait. I will wait two hundred years for you." He tangled his hand in Gimli's beard and pulled him close to see Thrain's face once more. "Do not hurry," he hissed.
* * *
Gimli buried Legolas in stone, so that Mandos would know him for a dwarf. Then he led his people along the dark roads to the West-Gate. They came at least to the Iron Hills and joined the remnant of dwarves living there. He lived to a great age, respected by all, and died two hundred years to the day from when Legolas slew Saruman's Shadow. Further than that I can not say.
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Issue No.: 2.6
Site Last Updated: 11 May 2003