"Legolas shall be for the Elves; and Gimli son of Glóin for the Dwarves. They are willing to go at least to the passes of the Mountains, and maybe beyond."
—Elrond: The Fellowship of the Ring (The Ring Goes South)
Legolas moved with purpose today. Gimli noted it immediately. Their previous wanderings through Lothlórien had been guided by whim rather than intent. A tree would catch Legolas's attention and they would pause to study it. Or he would hear a whisper of song and promptly change their course in order to follow the music, desiring to hear the rest. It was a stark contrast to Gimli's own way of thinking. Dwarves did not wander; they chose a destination, they elected a path, and they overcame aught that stood in their way.
But Caras Galadhon was an elven city, and its workings confounded Gimli. He had quickly learned that destinations were not easily found in the Golden Wood. The twisting paths both below and within the trees constantly threw him out of his reckoning, and he half suspected that some of the trails actually shifted from time to time. He had once confronted Legolas about that, but the elf had responded with a quizzical look and asked if Gimli had expected aught else from a living city. Deciding it would take too much effort to sift for reason in that statement—and uncertain if reason could even be found—Gimli had decided to cede control of their journeys to Legolas. This loss of control did not come easily, and it required a level of trust that Gimli was not entirely prepared to grant. But thus far, Legolas had proven worthy of that trust, and under the elf's guidance, Gimli had learned that there was something to be gained in lacking a clear destination. At times, his dwarven sensibilities grew impatient with their aimless travels, but at other times, he found himself relishing the freedom to pursue an idle fancy.
This day, however, did not seem to be a day for the pursuit of idle fancies. A somber mood had shadowed Legolas when he joined the Fellowship for breakfast. The light banter of the hobbits had done little to lift his spirits, and he had excused himself soon after the meal, beckoning Gimli to follow him in a curt manner that echoed their initial rivalry rather than their growing friendship. Had any others in their company taken note of this behavior, Gimli would have refused to leave. His pride would not allow for such indignities in front of their companions. But the rest of the Fellowship seemed to be caught in their own musings this morning, and in any case, Gimli was more concerned than offended by Legolas's actions. Deciding to let the insult pass for now, he set out after the elf, hastening his steps when it became apparent that Legolas was unwilling to wait.
"I spoke with the sentries before joining the Fellowship today," Legolas said as they walked. They were moving north at a brisk pace in a fairly straight line, all of which was somewhat unusual. "Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel plan to summon us in the evening. We shall soon resume our journey."
Gimli nodded slowly, having recently wondered when they would set out again. His sense of time had apparently decided that as long as the Fellowship was resting, it could rest, too. As a result, Gimli did not know how long they had stayed in Lothlórien, but he was beginning to feel that their sojourn had come to an end.
"Aragorn still debates what direction to take," Legolas continued. "He and Boromir were speaking of it as we left."
Gimli considered this. He had sensed a growing tension between the two men, but he had not yet guessed its cause. This explained much. Boromir would no doubt wish to continue south to Minas Tirith, but the Ring-bearer's journey led east. And now that Gandalf no longer led them… "It may be that our Fellowship will be sundered yet again," Gimli said quietly, struggling against the pang of mourning that stirred in his heart.
"That is also my thought."
The tone of Legolas's voice indicated that this was a thought of great significance, and fighting back his grief for Gandalf, Gimli wondered at the elf's mood. Certainly another break in the Fellowship was not to be taken lightly, but there seemed to be more that troubled Legolas. Something beyond the threat of a second loss to their company. And he still did not understand why they were moving so purposefully into the northern areas of Caras Galadhon. Or why Legolas was of such a somber mien this day. But then, Gimli was beginning to get the impression that no matter how much time he spent with Legolas, the elf would always remain something of an enigma.
Realizing that he had become caught up in his thoughts, Gimli brought his attention back to their walk and discovered that Legolas was several steps up a stairway that spiraled around the trunk of a towering mallorn. "You wish to climb today?" he asked, already marshalling a string of protests. If the elf expected Gimli to endure a morning of awkward clambering through the trees, then the elf should have done something to put himself in Gimli's good graces.
"No," Legolas answered. "Or rather, no more so than what this tree requires."
Gimli blinked, nonplussed, and his protests faded. "You wish to remain in a single tree?"
A strange look flashed across Legolas's face, but then it was gone, disappearing too swiftly for Gimli to interpret. "For now," the elf said. "Will you accompany me?"
Gimli weighed his options, such as they were. Legolas seemed resolute in his course, which meant that Gimli could either remain on the ground and wait until Legolas deigned to return—a prospect that smacked so loudly of boredom, Gimli was hard-pressed to consider it a possibility—or he could follow the elf up the tree. All things considered, the tree was not a bad choice. "Lead on," he directed, appreciative of the fact that Legolas had thought to ask. It was the first time that morning that the elf had given any thought to the wishes of his companion, and Gimli marked this as progress of a sort.
They ascended in silence, moving with the same sense of purpose that had brought them thus far. Elven voices could be heard in the boughs around them, laughing and singing, but Legolas paid them no heed. Gimli wished he could see the elf's face. These stairs were not wide enough for two to walk together, and Legolas had taken the lead. But the set of Legolas's stiff, tense shoulders spoke volumes.
Then the tree opened up around them, the branches parting and the leaves lifting away. The stairs ended in a broad talan that encircled the tree's trunk and, mountain dwarf though he was, Gimli's breath caught at the view before him. Caras Galadhon seemed to glow beneath the morning sun, its golden leaves gleaming as sunlight sparkled off the last remnants of dew. The towering spires of the city stretched skyward, and a few silver lanterns winked beneath lush boughs as a gentle breeze ghosted away the last of the morning mists. The sight of such unmarred beauty lifted Gimli's spirits, and he turned toward Legolas, wondering if the elf would also find cheer.
But Legolas had disappeared.
Frowning, Gimli looked around in confusion. What grim purpose could drive an elf to seek these heights only to then abandon the view that such heights afforded? Unless the elf in question did not wish to have his grim mood lifted… Gimli's brow furrowed, and following a hunch, he turned his back on the grandeur of the southern view and walked around the talan until he reached the northern side of the tree.
The view was much different here.
Near at hand, the mellyrn filled the land, their golden leaves as bright and brilliant as any gem that might be found in the mines of the dwarves. But further north and east, the golden colors failed, and it was as though a heavy cloud prevented the sun's light from reaching the earth. The land lay under a shadow, brown and cheerless, until on the edge of Gimli's vision, he saw another forest rising. Unlike Lothlórien, this forest was dark and twisted, the trees crowded together as though to hide fell secrets. Even from within the safety of Caras Galadhon, Gimli felt his heart quail at the sight.
"Beauty untainted can be difficult to bear. Beauty mixed with truth is sometimes more tolerable for those who carry darkness in their hearts."
The whisper drew Gimli's eyes to the northeastern edge of the talan, and there he found his missing elf. Legolas sat with one leg dangling over the side of the platform, the other leg pulled up close to his chest. His hands were clasped loosely atop his bent knee, and his eyes were distant, staring northward into the regions beyond the fences of Lothlórien.
"And what darkness do you carry?" Gimli asked, debating about venturing closer to the talan's edge.
"Naught but the fear that darkens us all."
"Yet it seems to cast a deeper shadow upon you this morning."
"Perhaps." Legolas turned his head so that his face was in profile to Gimli, his eyes retaining their distant look. "Would you sit with me a moment? There is much that I would say."
Trust the elf to make conversation difficult. Prior to Lothlórien, Gimli had never experienced any difficulty with heights, but the heights to which he was accustomed were found either on steep mountain trails or at the edge of deep underground chasms. Solid earth beneath his feet had always anchored him and given him confidence. Facing heights without the comfort of unyielding rock made for an uneasy Gimli.
But Legolas would not have asked if he were not in earnest, and to refuse would betray the growing trust between them. More importantly, Gimli's natural curiosity demanded to know what was wrong with the elf, proving an effective counter to his unease. Wincing as the wood creaked beneath his step, he moved toward Legolas and seated himself beside the elf. He did not go quite so far as to allow his legs to dangle over the edge of the talan, though. A dwarf had limits, after all.
"Turn your mind to Imladris," Legolas instructed quietly. "Turn your mind to the weeks before our departure, and recall the day that Elrond asked if you would accompany Frodo. Do you remember how you answered him?"
"Yes," Gimli said, his thoughts filling with the sights and sounds of Rivendell even as he wondered what Legolas might hope to gain from such memories. "I told him that…" Gimli's eyes narrowed with sudden suspicion, catching an expectant note in the elf's voice. "Do you remember how I answered him?"
Legolas gave Gimli a sidelong glance, and a chagrined look crept over his face. "I was not far away when Elrond spoke with you. My apologies for listening where my ears were not welcome. Elrond had only recently approached me regarding the Fellowship, and I wished to know more of those with whom I would travel."
Gimli pressed his lips into a thin line. "I suppose that I would have done the same under similar circumstances," he allowed, struggling to ignore the spark of anger that flared in the back of his mind. "What of it then?"
"You recall your answer?"
Gimli's patience began to wear thin. Legolas might have had purpose in his movements, but if he had purpose in his conversation, Gimli had yet to see it. "I told Elrond that I would pledge my axe as far as the mountain passes. Again I ask, what of it?"
Legolas turned his gaze back toward the northern horizon. "I ask because my answer was of an accord with yours: I pledged to journey as far as the mountain passes. I made no further promise, though, for I did not know what my obligations to my people might demand of me." He paused, and from what Gimli could see of them, the elf's eyes became even more distant. "In truth, I still do not know."
Understanding flashed through Gimli's mind, as hot and brilliant as a forging kiln. "You are thinking of returning to Mirkwood!"
The elf nodded slowly as a wind stirred the trees, making both the talan and Gimli's stomach rock to and fro. "You said yourself that the Fellowship might be sundered again," Legolas said, seemingly unconcerned with the swaying talan. "And from here, it is not a matter of force but of stealth. My bow can do little to aid Frodo on the journey into Mordor. All I can offer is my support, and support he has already." Legolas closed his eyes, and the wind seemed to lessen. "Moreover, I am needed at home."
The wind quieted enough that the talan ceased to sway, but Gimli's nausea did not lessen. Rather, it increased as he confronted the idea of Legolas leaving the Fellowship. It was a strange prospect that Gimli had not considered until now, and part of what made it so strange was the fact that it was also a frightening prospect. Gimli now relied upon Legolas. That in itself was not unusual; it was only natural that the members of the Fellowship had come to rely upon one another. But the idea of venturing east without the elf at his side chilled Gimli's heart in a manner wholly unexpected. For this chill came not from the thought of losing a skilled archer and keen-eyed scout. Rather, this chill came from the thought of losing a friend.
Gimli shook his head, stunned by how much strength he drew from the elf. Still, what was done was done. Now it was time to move forward, and if the thought of Legolas leaving the Fellowship was grievous, Gimli would simply have to ensure that Legolas remained with the company. Not that he could fault the elf. Up until Khazad-dûm, he had also harbored a desire to return home. The haze of war rose from the steppes of Rhûn, and he remembered well the Black Riders' threats issued before the great gates of the Lonely Mountain. Of a certainty, the dwarves needed all who could come to their aid. But then Gimli had seen the darkness of Durin's ancient halls. He had seen that Khazad-dûm truly merited the name "Black Pit," and he had realized that the Lonely Mountain would share in that fate if the Ring were not destroyed. In a curious way, the darkness of a fallen realm had shed a light onto the pressing need for Frodo's journey. Even as the Balrog's evil had corrupted Khazad-dûm, so Sauron's evil now threatened to envelop all of Middle-earth. If Gimli's people had a need for him, then it was a need for him to finish this Quest.
"If you also desire to return, I can guide us northward," Legolas continued, breaking into Gimli's thoughts.
"Can you?" Gimli wondered, intrigued despite his vow to continue with the Ring-bearer. His eyes turned to the northwest, where the mountains above Khazad-dûm brooded under dark, angry clouds. "This is your first visit to Lothlórien, is it not? It does not appear that we can return to lands we have already traveled. How do you propose we find our way?"
"This may be my first visit here, but the road home is simple: We need only follow the river," Legolas answered. Shifting his gaze to the east, he raised his hand and indicated a faint line of mist that rose where the trees ceased to be golden. "There lies the Anduin. Perhaps ninety leagues north of here, it crosses the Old Forest Road near the trail that leads up to the High Pass. From thence, I know the land well."
"And two would be able to make such a journey?"
Legolas canted his head to one side in a gesture that Gimli had come to recognize as uncertainty. "If we keep to the western banks, we should be able to avoid most of Dol Guldur's spies. The land is open and watchful on that side of the River, but travel will be swift. We may even be able to beg horses from the Galadhrim along the northern fences. That would speed our journey considerably and make us more difficult prey for orcs and wargs. Once we pass the Gladden Fields, it might also be possible to cross the River and join with patrols from my father's halls, for there are still companies who range as far south as the East Blight. It would be a perilous journey; I will not tell you otherwise. Dol Guldur's forces muster, and the wargs roam far afield. But I deem such a journey to be no more dangerous than a journey east with what remains of the Fellowship."
Gimli nodded slowly. "I thank you for the offer, Legolas," he said. "It is generously made. But I fear I must decline. Like you, I am needed at home, but the more immediate need is here in the Fellowship. Sauron's power must be undone."
"I will not contest that," Legolas said, his voice little more than a whisper. "But I fear that my people may not last long enough to reap the benefits of this Quest. If others can walk in my stead while I return to my people, would not that be better?"
Gimli pursed his lips. The lesson of Khazad-dûm seemed so simple and so clear that he had assumed the rest of the Fellowship now felt as he did: the destruction of the Ring was their only hope. Or if they had not learned such a lesson from Khazad-dûm, surely they would have learned it from Gandalf's fall. The death of the wizard was a terrible and tragic reminder that none of them were invulnerable before the coming darkness. Not men. Not elves. Not dwarves. Not hobbits. Not even Gandalf. But apparently, Gimli had assumed too much. If the elf held forth the option of returning to Mirkwood, then Legolas did not see the hope that lay in destroying the Ring. "You say that your bow can do little to aid Frodo," Gimli said, choosing his words with care. "If that is true, then how can it alter the fate of Mirkwood? I mean no offense," he added hastily when Legolas turned to him, eyes flashing, "but I have struggled with the same concerns. I know well that my own people will find themselves besieged. And it may be that upon my return, I will find that this Quest has come too late to save my kin. But even so, my axe is of more use to them here. And this Quest is not only for them but for all Free Peoples of Middle-earth."
Legolas's stare was cool and hard, but Gimli met it evenly, willing the elf to see the sense in his words. At length, Legolas turned away, his eyes becoming distant once more as his gaze returned to what Gimli could only guess was his home. For his part, he could barely see the ribbon of mist that marked the Anduin, but he had learned to trust the elf's eyes. "We are from different lands, Gimli," Legolas said. "You hail from a mountain of rock and stone, but I come from a faltering forest. Every elf is needed, if only to remind the forest that there once was light. The shadow we face is swift and powerful. It devours all within its path and twists the trees until they are crippled thralls of the Enemy. If Sauron falls and your people survive, they can reclaim and repair their stronghold. If Sauron falls and my people have been forced even further back, I do not know if we will be able to heal the forest. A single elf may make a difference."
"A single rock may start an avalanche," Gimli answered. "A single hobbit may prove the fool's hope. And a single elf returning from Mordor's darkness may possess the understanding necessary to right what darkness has wrought. With Sauron's evil undone, a solution might be found in the ruins of his defeat. Perhaps this Quest will provide the answer needed for Mirkwood's recovery, and perhaps you will be the one to bring this answer to your people. Have you considered that?"
"More often than I care to admit."
A shiver crept down Gimli's spine. Of a sudden, Legolas's voice seemed darker, and Gimli felt that he and the elf were no longer speaking of the same thing. "Legolas, what—"
"I know not how Boromir resists the whispers," Legolas interrupted, and it seemed as though the air around them grew cold. "Well do I understand the burden under which he labors, for it is also my burden. Our fathers rule lands that dwindle beneath the onslaught of shadow. Our realms shrink, and our people lose hope. Greenwood has not the art that protects Imladris and Lothlórien, nor has it the distance that shelters Mithlond. We have but our bows and our spears, and they are no longer enough!"
"Greenwood it once was, but Mirkwood it has become. Mirkwood!" the elf sneered, and his lips curled in disgust. "So my home is now called, and thus are my people known. Elves of the murk. Of the gloom. Of the shadows!"
"Perhaps that is the name known to others," Gimli said hesitantly, distrustful of his companion's mood, "but in your speech, you are more wont to say Greenwood than Mirkwood. And in the hearts of your people, it is green still."
"Would that we could dwell in our hearts, then," Legolas said, his fists clenching, "for the wood grows ever darker around us!"
"Not everywhere!" Gimli protested. "There is the Forest Road. Travel between Esgaroth and Eriador would have been impossible were it not for the efforts of your people and the Beornings. And the Forest Road is not so dark."
"I remember when it was light!" came the answer, swift and fierce. "I remember beeches growing tall and broad, their splayed limbs weaving a mesh of moonbeams upon the forest floor. I remember open glades where trees did not strive against one another and choke the sun. Where spiders did not spin their webs and orcs did not lay their snares!"
Gimli stared at Legolas, wondering how he could have missed such a development. He had now spent many days in the company of this elf, but never had he suspected the extent to which Legolas felt the pull of the Ring. And suddenly he understood. He understood the curse of hope and the blessing of fallen Khazad-dûm. Thranduil's realm still endured, giving rise to a dangerous hope: the hope that the realm would continue to endure. And therein lay the temptation, for perhaps a great enough power could be the means of ensuring that endurance. But for Gimli, both the temptation and the hope had passed. There was no saving Khazad-dûm; he had seen that clearly. And there would be no saving the Lonely Mountain if the Quest failed. Erebor was a lesser kingdom than Durin's realm of old, and the darkness was greater now. Nay, there was but one true hope remaining, and that lay in the destruction of the Ring. Thus Gimli was bound to the Quest. It was the only means by which he could save his people.
But how to convince Legolas of this…
His thoughts churning, he suddenly happened upon a memory that he and Legolas both shared. It concerned a time that they avoided speaking of by unspoken consent, yet perhaps there were aspects of those memories that might enable Gimli to share some of his understanding with Legolas. Turning his eyes to the north, Gimli tugged absently at his beard and asked, "Do you remember the year that followed Smaug's death?"
He was immediately conscious of a sharp look from Legolas, but with effort, he did not return the gaze. Rather, he waited silently for a response and was eventually rewarded when Legolas answered, "Yes. I remember it well."
"I was sixty-two when the dragon died," Gimli said, still highly aware of a piercing elven stare. "The following year, many of my kinsmen and I traveled east from the Blue Mountains to join Dáin and restore the Kingdom under the Mountain."
"I remember that also," Legolas said, his voice soft. "Not you specifically, for as you say, there were many dwarves traveling east. But my people were very aware of your companies."
"And we were aware of you," Gimli said. "We had been told of the…" Here he paused, uncertain of how to address the elven imprisonment of Thorin's party. "Well, it matters not what we were told," he said, deciding to simply avoid the subject. "Suffice it to say that we kept a watch at all times in Mirkwood, and we were keen to note the movements of the elves."
"The patrols that followed you were poorly trained, then."
"Ah, so you might think. But in truth, the elves were not difficult to find. Whenever they were around, the forest was brighter. Many in my company noted it, and many also said that even when the elves were not watching us, the forest was brighter than it had been in years. They attributed it to the fact that the Necromancer had been driven from Dol Guldur. But to my eyes, Legolas," Gimli said, now turning to look at the elf, "the forest was still very dark. Even though evil had retreated to Mordor, the shadows remained."
"The trees were slow to recover," Legolas murmured. "And though Sauron no longer commanded from Dol Guldur, it was still a very evil place. Its hold over the forest was strong even then."
"And it is stronger now," Gimli said. "This evil cannot be purged or drawn from the woods. It must be unmade. The Quest must be accomplished!"
"And what if the darkness does not fade even then?" Legolas demanded. "What if it persists?"
"Well, I certainly would not answer the darkness with an even greater darkness!" Gimli exclaimed, surprising himself with his boldness.
Legolas's eyes flashed with a fury that nearly made Gimli recoil, but then the elf lowered his eyes, his anger fading to despair. "You but echo the warnings of my heart. Well do I know these things. Well do I know the peril of which we speak. Yet even so, the plight of my people is loud in my ears." The elf looked away, his voice low and sorrowful. "Twice already we have retreated from the darkness. Did you know, Gimli, that Dol Guldur was originally settled by the elves? Oropher, our first king, established his home on Amon Lanc, the hill upon which Dol Guldur now stands. But as evil approached, we retreated to the Mountains of Mirkwood, and when that was not enough, we retreated again to the place of my father's halls. Twice we have been driven from our homes, and if possible, we would make it thrice! But there will not be a third retreat. The enemy will not allow it. Already he takes the northern glades, and soon he will close the mountain passes. Gimli, we have no power great enough to drive the orcs back! No power great enough to stop the coming flames!"
"You speak as one who despairs, and well do I understand that," Gimli said, suddenly frustrated with his companion's mood. "But you are not alone in your suffering. Your home may falter, but my home is already lost!"
Legolas blinked, and he turned his eyes back to Gimli. "The Lonely Mountain—"
"That is not the true realm of Durin and his descendents," Gimli interrupted. "I speak of Khazad-dûm. Of Moria. The Black Pit. You say your forests know only murk, but the mansions of my forefathers know the evil that sundered our Fellowship: Durin's Bane! And now Gandalf's Bane!" Gimli shook his head, both anger and grief rolling through his heart. "You sorrow for the loss of your wood, but it comes at the hand of the Enemy and can be undone! What the dwarves have wrought cannot be so easily mended. Mahal's beard, it was the greed of the dwarves that woke the Balrog! It was the greed of the dwarves that murdered Gandalf!"
This last was said in a strangled gasp, and Gimli was so startled at his own words that it took him a moment to register the curious dampness trickling down his cheeks. Until now, he had not given voice to the terrible realization that had crept over him in the days following Gandalf's death. He had barely given it place in his thoughts, so dreadful was the knowledge. Through their lust for mithril, the dwarves had unleashed a horror not once but twice! Now Gandalf was gone, and the dwarves were just as culpable as the Balrog that had dragged him into the void of the Bottomless Chasm.
Overcome by shame, he turned away, unable to bear the condemnation that would surely fill Legolas's eyes. He focused instead upon the line of the Misty Mountains, following the peaks until they disappeared northward. Snow gleamed pristine and unsullied on their slopes, giving lie to the terrors beneath. His mind awhirl, he could not keep himself from flinching when a hand came to rest on his shoulder.
"My apologies, Gimli," Legolas whispered, his voice seeming to come from far away. "I had forgotten your own losses."
"'Tis no matter," Gimli muttered.
"No, 'tis a great matter," Legolas countered, and his hand squeezed Gimli's shoulder. "I did not know you held your people responsible for Mithrandir's passing."
Grimacing, Gimli shrugged off Legolas's hand and wiped angrily at his face. Unlike the elves, who sang their sorrows for any that cared to listen, dwarves did not share grief outside the circles of their own kin. At the moment, Gimli could not decide what infuriated him more: his tears or his admission of the dwarves' guilt. Feeling the need to distance himself, he stood and moved away, aware at all times of a concerned elven gaze. "The point, Legolas," he said gruffly, speaking more in an effort to distract than to persuade, "is that my kinsmen have brought about a great evil in their attempt to restore that which was lost. They did not undo the darkness. They simply roused it. You will do likewise if you return now to Mirkwood, with or without a means of combating the shadow."
Silence descended between them, and it seemed to be a silence shared by all of Caras Galadhon. Even the breeze died away, and it was as if Arda held its breath, almost as though it was waiting. Then Legolas spoke, the nearness of his voice indicating that he had left his perch on the talan's edge to follow Gimli. "If the Fellowship succeeds, do you believe that Khazad-dûm will be restored?"
Gimli closed his eyes. "No."
"At the Council of Elrond, Glóin indicated that Mordor pledged to return Khazad-dûm should the dwarves offer up tidings of Bilbo."
"Few of us believed Mordor capable of fulfilling that pledge. None of us believed them willing." Composing his face, Gimli opened his eyes and turned, finding the elf standing beside him. "I do not pursue this Quest in an effort to save that which is already fallen, Legolas. Rather, I pursue this Quest in an effort to save that which remains. If we reclaim more, then I count ourselves fortunate. But if not, it is still better than what will become of all Free Peoples should our errand fail."
Legolas took a deep breath, his eyes torn. "It is a hard thing to let go of that which you love."
"It is. But sometimes it must be done in order to keep that which you still have."
The elf shook his head slightly and looked away. "The dwarves are known for their courage," he murmured. "They should also be known for their wisdom. So be it, then. If you can forsake Khazad-dûm, I can forsake Mirkwood. For you have the right of it—we are of more use to our people here."
"And what of the…the whispers you hear?" Gimli asked, reluctant to speak of Frodo's burden openly, even in the safety of Lothlórien. "They will doubtless grow stronger as we near Mordor. Can you forsake them also?"
"The whispers will indeed grow stronger," Legolas agreed, "but so will I. And I now know that I may call upon your wisdom when the whispers grow too loud."
Gimli shifted uneasily at that. "You give me a heavy burden."
"No heavier than the burden of Gandalf's death," Legolas said, turning sharp eyes on Gimli, "for neither is your burden to bear. Understand this, my friend: Gandalf knew the danger. He knew the darkness. He knew the consequences of his choices. His death was not the fault of the dwarves. You are not responsible. And as for my own path, the responsibility for that lies with me. I may seek your counsel, but the choices I make are my own." A smile tugged at the corners of the elf's lips. "It will be a pleasant day in Mordor ere I let a dwarf assume responsibility for my actions."
And despite a nagging guilt that insisted the dwarves were indeed responsible for Gandalf's fall, Gimli felt an answering smile creep over his face. "Let us hope for pleasant days," he said, "for it would do you good to let dwarven sense guide your feet."
Legolas laughed outright, and the sun seemed to shine again. "So we are resolved. We will press forward together, and we will lend Frodo what aid we can for as long as we can."
"If we are indeed resolved, then let us find a more welcoming place to spend the day's hours," Gimli said, feeling as though his heart had just been relieved of a heavy weight. "We will see darkness enough when we depart, and I crave the feel of solid earth beneath my boots."
Laughing again, Legolas turned his eyes south toward the golden city of the Galadhrim. "If you are willing, I propose that we rejoin the Fellowship," he said. "We have not long in this land, and it would be good to spend our last days here together."
To this, Gimli readily agreed, and following Legolas down from the talan, he firmly put his back to the darkness of the northern forests and the storms of the Misty Mountains. Doubt and sorrow still touched his mind, but there was comfort in knowing that whatever shadows prowled the southern lands, he would have Legolas at his side when they faced them. It still felt strange to draw comfort from this. Not long ago, Gimli would have scoffed at the notion. Yet now, it gave him hope. Not the treacherous hope of failing realms but rather a true hope. Gandalf's hope. A fool's hope, as Elrond's councilor had named it. And what better pair of fools could be found than an elf and a dwarf setting out together against the shadow of the East?
Gimli smiled. Perhaps it was not so strange after all.