Blind Clarity by Thundera Tiger

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Author's Chapter Notes:

It's been a while since I've posted anything (or had time to work on anything) but I found this on my hard drive the other day and fell victim to a fit of muse.

It began as an attempt to explain why Aragorn chose Sam, Gimli, and himself as Frodo's traveling companions for the journey to Mordor. It grew into something more unexpected as I forced myself to take a closer look at the seeming Ring-immunity in certain members of the Fellowship, but I'll leave that for the story to explain. More important for readers to know, this story continues some themes from two of my other stories, "Stray but a little…" and "Beyond the Mountain Passes." I don't think you need to read those to understand this, but they would certainly make a lot of Gimli's narrative clearer.

There are also a few lines of dialogue lifted straight from the books. The beginning lines of conversation come from pages 458-9 of the 50th anniversary Ballantine paperback edition of The Fellowship of the Ring (Chapter: The Great River) while all the dialogue in the final section comes from page 474 of the same book (Chapter: The Breaking of the Fellowship).

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy!


Blind Clarity

Dawn came as a sullen, angry beast. It hissed from the rapids of Sarn Gebir, hungry for the prey that had eluded its grasp. It scoured the mists with orcish eyes, alert for any sight of boats on the Anduin. It chilled the air with a Rider's malice, though how that could be, none in the Fellowship knew. Nor did they know if the flying creature that felt so keenly of Mordor was even dead. Legolas could not say whether his arrow had wounded or killed. Perhaps the fell creature now waited, hiding in the mists as they were hiding. Or perhaps it hid no longer. Perhaps it hunted.

Bereft of the hope that usually accompanied morning's first light, Gimli struggled to take comfort from the rocky shoals beneath his feet. They had the spent the night in the boats, sheltered in a shallow bay, but they had pulled the boats onto the shore when sunrise came with fog as thick as dwarven mead. No matter what threat happened upon them, they could not brave the River in these mists. Not with the rapids so close. They would be dashed to pieces.

"I can't abide fog, but this seems to be a lucky one," Sam ventured as they began to unload supplies. "Now perhaps we can get away without those cursed goblins seeing us."

Aragorn frowned, his eyes on the Anduin. "Perhaps so, but it will be hard to find the path unless the fog lifts a little later on. And we must find the path, if we are to pass Sarn Gebir."

Gimli scowled. He agreed with Sam in that this might be an opportune time to slip away from the enemy, but there was another danger about. A more subtle shadow had crept into their midst long before orcish arrows rained down from the east. Long before they left Lothlórien, even. Indeed, even amidst the deep fissure of Gandalf's loss, Gimli could not escape the feel of a growing menace within the Fellowship. And that feeling had grown.

"I do not see why we should pass the Rapids or follow the River any further," Boromir said. "If the Emyn Muil lie below us, then we can abandon these cockle-boats and strike westward and southward until we come to the Entwash and cross into my own land."

"We can," Aragorn said slowly, "if we are making for Minas Tirith. But that is not yet agreed."

Throughout their weeks in Lothlórien, Gimli had kept a close watch upon his companions. But he had done nothing more, for surely they were yet a Fellowship! Even broken by Gandalf's death, they held true to their purpose. True to Frodo's Quest. True to the knowledge that the Ring's destruction was the only hope for Middle-earth.

Or so he believed until Legolas shattered Gimli's naiveté during their last days in Lothlórien.

With dawning horror, he had listened to Legolas whisper of the Ring's clarion call. And now aware that Khazad-dûm had not spurred others to shun the darkness, Gimli began to see other things. He saw how Boromir's eyes lingered on Frodo. He noted how Aragorn's indecision slowed their journey. And he marked how Legolas's songs turned from mirthful tunes to darker laments.

The Fellowship was in danger.

Jaw tightening, Gimli stalked away from the rest of the company. It seemed fruitless to debate the next step in their journey when evil had breached the Fellowship itself. Surely Aragorn could see it! Or…perhaps not. Gimli stared across the Anduin, willing the shroud to part. But the veil of mist persisted, and the eastern shore remained hidden to dwarven eyes. Perhaps it was not all that lay hidden. Perhaps doubt cast a similar veil over Aragorn's mind. Perhaps he could perceive the growing danger but did not yet have a clear knowledge of its source. We are blind, both inside and out, Gimli mused soberly. But though the mists hang thick, the enemy is certainly not idle.

They were running out of time.

He sensed more than saw a whisper of cloth at his side, the only herald of Legolas's arrival. Gimli looked beyond Legolas, dimly spying the forms of the rest of the Fellowship. Now that his attention turned to them, he could hear voices rising and falling in a heated fashion. "They argue still?" he murmured.

"Yes."

Gimli shook his head, but he was unable to discern words over the roar of the Anduin. "What more do they say?"

"Nothing that has not already been said." A pause. "I am going scouting. If the enemy has boats, they may already search this side of the Anduin. We must learn their movements."

Gimli looked up in alarm. "You should not go alone!"

Bright elven eyes glittered from the darkness of Legolas's drawn hood. "In these mists, others would only hinder me. I will be more swift and silent unburdened by company." He started away, moving before Gimli could think to follow. "If Aragorn asks," he said, glancing over his shoulder, "tell him I will not let the enemy approach unannounced."

"And if we decide to leave?" Gimli challenged.

"I will return in an hour."

There was a note of authority in Legolas's words. Gimli recognized it immediately. He had heard Legolas speak in this manner only once or twice in Lothlórien, but he would never forget the way the Galadhrim gave way before that tone. It was the voice of a woodland prince intent upon his purpose, and if Legolas truly wished to have his way, none could gainsay him. Recognizing a fight he could not win—and weary of fights within the Fellowship—Gimli did not hasten after Legolas. He silently wished him the blessings of Mahal and turned away.

The debate amongst the others had ebbed. They were breaking apart now, the hobbits moving to set up camp and Aragorn and Boromir moving to…well, by Gimli's judgement, to create distance between one another. Except that Gimli knew neither was wont to retreat. This was but a momentary reprieve. It would not endure long.

"Aragorn," Gimli greeted cautiously as the Ranger drew near.

"Gimli," said the other.

It was a half-hearted greeting at best since the Ranger never took his eyes from the Anduin. Gimli ventured a glance at the rest of the Fellowship. Boromir was now far enough away to be little more than a shadow. Gimli shuddered at the thought. Unaccustomed to such disquiet, he fell back upon his dwarven heritage and summoned the boldness that both blessed and cursed his race. "What now?"

The question was enough to draw Aragorn from his silent reverie. "What now?" he echoed.

"Whither our course?"

"Whither indeed?" Aragorn muttered, his hands arms shifting beneath his cloak. "What would you counsel, Master Dwarf?"

Gimli raised his brow. Not since before Lothlórien had Aragorn asked for his advice, and Gimli marked this as a good omen. Perhaps Aragorn was looking beyond his own indecision. Beyond his own weakness. Perhaps he had recognized uncertainty and sought assistance in casting it aside.

"In truth, is counsel even of worth?" Aragorn continued before Gimli could answer, his words brittle. "The enemy and the elements seem to have dictated our course thus far."

Or perhaps Aragorn was simply making conversation. Gimli sighed but resolved to continue. He could not reach Boromir. Legolas had already attempted as much with disastrous results. And Gimli was losing the ability to reach Legolas, consumed as the elf was with his own temptations. But Aragorn… Aragorn was not beyond his words. Or so Gimli hoped. "Then what do these enemies and elements dictate?" he asked. "If we are to be ruled by them, I would know their decrees."

Something about Gimli's tone must have startled Aragorn. He saw the Ranger's eyes darken, and for the first time in what might loosely be termed a conversation, he had Aragorn's full attention. "At the moment, they decree we remain here," Aragorn said slowly.

"And afterwards?"

Aragorn's eyes narrowed. "We will seek the portage way that takes us past Sarn Gebir."

"Boromir agreed to this?"

A long silence. "Yes."

"But not willingly," Gimli hazarded. "This delays his road to Minas Tirith."

"It is too dangerous to take Frodo to Minas Tirith," Aragorn said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "The Steward of Gondor… I know him well, Gimli. He is a wise man, both stern and strong. A worthy ruler of a worthy people. But he rules a failing kingdom. Desperation makes men overly bold."

A weight lifted from Gimli's heart. "Then you do see it!"

Aragorn's eyes turned sharp as flint, and his jaw tightened. "Of what do you speak?"

Gimli met the stare evenly. "Of desperate rulers and desperate sons. Of desperate service to desperate realms and the shards of hope where none should exist." He broke from Aragorn's gaze long enough to confirm that the hobbits were occupied and Boromir was little more than a shadow in the mists. "We fear the enemy on the eastern shore," he murmured, turning back to Aragorn, "but the enemy is already among us. Within our Fellowship lies a weapon that can sunder the chains on faltering lands, forging them strong beyond reckoning. Those sworn to the defense of such lands cannot help but feel Its call."

Aragorn held Gimli's eyes for a moment more, his face as still as though it had been chiseled from stone. Then the Ranger's shoulders relaxed, tension flowing down his form. "I was foolish to believe no others marked it," Aragorn said quietly. "But I had hoped to contain the division in this company."

"As had I," Gimli sighed. "And so I said nothing. Perhaps I should have. Perhaps together, we might have found support against it."

"Perhaps," Aragorn answered, though he did not sound as if he believed it. "Well, then, we have broken our silence. Let us now speak openly. I asked for your counsel, and I will have it: Whither our course, Master Dwarf?"

And for a moment, Gimli caught a glimpse of the Ranger he knew before Khazad-dûm. Before Gandalf's fall. Gimli saw the steely eyes, heard the authority ring in Aragorn's voice, and nearly forgot the question as Aragorn's shoulders straightened, accepting the weight of command. "Whither our course?" Gimli repeated, more to remind himself that he had been asked for counsel than for any other reason. He looked to the Anduin. "Not east," he said quietly. "Or rather, not at the moment. We know the enemy prowls those banks."

"The enemy may also prowl the western banks," Aragorn pointed out.

"Legolas investigates that possibility."

Aragorn straightened and turned, surveying the Fellowship. "I thought him merely hidden by the mists," the Ranger hissed. "Fool! If he is found—"

"He is not of a mind to be found. Or reasoned with, for that matter," Gimli interrupted, alarmed that Aragorn only now marked the elf's absence. "He promised to return in an hour."

Aragorn shook his head, the set of his jaw speaking more than any words.

"In regards to my counsel," Gimli continued warily, "I agree we should seek the portage way. And we should follow the Anduin for as long as it will have us. But after that, we must consider the purpose of this Quest."

"To venture into Mordor and to destroy," Aragorn said quietly.

"But how is that to be accomplished? How is the Quest to succeed?" Gimli asked. "Not through strength of arms, or so spoke Master Elrond. Still, I cannot fathom how we shall enter Mordor without help. Surely there are spies and servants of the Enemy in abundance, and surely all passages are watched."

"And what help would you seek against such a threat?"

Gimli frowned, folding his arms over his beard. "Perhaps Boromir is right. Perhaps we should strike for Minas Tirith. But in secrecy!" he added quickly when he saw the rising objections upon Aragorn's face. "If we could enter Minas Tirith without word of our true mission, perhaps Gondor would be willing to supply us with a diversion so that Sauron's forces might turn their attention elsewhere."

Aragorn's face was grave, his eyes narrow. "Such a diversion would cost Gondor dearly, and their only currency is blood. What would you tell the Steward to justify the payment?"

"We could say we possess a new elven weapon. A wizard's trick, perhaps. Or we could even make an outright claim upon Isildur's Bane! Did not Boromir mistake his dream's omen for an orc arrow? And we shall say that we must enter Mordor for this weapon to work upon Sauron."

"You assume Boromir will say naught to his father. And you assume the Steward of Gondor will be satisfied with our words alone. I fear such will not be the case. He is shrewd and far-seeing. He will know there is more than what we say, and he will question Boromir."

Gimli spared a glance for Boromir, who now paced the far side of their small bay. "Boromir wishes to bring Gondor help," Gimli said slowly, thinking carefully about his next words. They felt like betrayal, but the warnings in his heart could not be silenced." What if we left Legolas, Merry, and Pippin with Boromir in Gondor? They are not any army, but Legolas represents Thranduil while Merry and Pippin are Halflings. Perhaps that will be enough for Boromir and he will aid us in convincing his father. Perhaps such portents as they signify will be enough to galvanize his people into a last defense while the rest of us enter Mordor."

"You wish to sunder the Fellowship further?"

"We are already sundered, Aragorn."

The Ranger pressed his lips together and looked toward the Anduin. "Your words ring true," he said at length. "In more ways than you might think." He fell silent a moment more, and then, "A Ranger, a dwarf, and two hobbits. With this paltry force, you would dare Mordor?"

"Sam will not be left behind," Gimli said with a shrug.

"Agreed, but it is not his presence I question. "

Gimli felt himself bristle. With effort, he cooled his growing rage. "In Lothlórien, a way to return to the Lonely Mountain was offered me. I declined. The only hope for my people is the enemy's utter destruction, and—"

"Nay, you misunderstand. I have no qualm with any of those you say should enter Mordor. As for those you suggest we leave behind, Boromir will of course remain in Gondor, and Merry and Pippin… Their hearts are true, but they would never escape Mordor unscathed. I would spare them that, if possible. Rather, I wonder that we are leaving behind Legolas." Something in Aragorn's face shifted. "Are the two of you again at odds?"

Gimli stared at Aragorn. "You wish to take the elf with us when we turn east? Into the land where the enemy's strength will be greatest?"

"He will not willingly leave us, and he alone possesses a ranged weapon. I could ask him for a loan of his woodland bow, but he is the better archer."

"He is also the more perilous to Frodo!"

Aragorn blinked.

Gimli blinked back.

Aragorn's brow furrowed, and his eyes darkened. "I have been a fool," he whispered.

"You mean you did not—"

"How did you see?" Aragorn demanded. "What did you see?"

A slight breeze stirred his cloak enough for Gimli to see the Ranger's hands clasp his sword hilt. Were he not a proud son of Durin, Gimli might have admitted to taking a step back. The air around them chilled, and even the roar of the rapids seemed to fade. "No more than what Legolas has confided," he said, his own body tensing. He then thought of woodland songs turning to lonely laments and bright elven eyes turning cold and hard. "Well…not much more."

A pause. A haze. And then…

Aragorn loosed a deep breath. His hands fell to his sides. His cloak swung shut. "Thank the Valar," he whispered. "So long as an elf can give voice to his peril, he can fight it still. I am grateful he has spoken to you." He watched Gimli for a long moment, seeming to wait for something. "I would voice my own peril," the Ranger eventually said, "but I have no wish to fight you."

Gimli's frowned.

Aragorn inclined his head. "Your weapon. Or do you still deem me a threat?"

With a start, Gimli looked down at his hands to find them clenched tightly about the haft of his axe. Moreover, his feet had instinctively shifted apart, and his weight was forward in readiness for an attack. Shaken, he released the haft and watched the axe clatter onto the shoals. His breath hitched as he looked at his hands, opening and closing them. "I…I do not know what—"

"Do you not?" Aragorn asked. His soft words drew Gimli's eyes as a mirthless smile curled his lips. "It is as you said: We are already sundered. Even those who may not desire It are not immune to Its workings."

"But how—"

"Even as we vow to keep It safe from ourselves, that vow is twisted to violence against others who threaten what we protect. And perhaps also violence against Frodo if we deem our companions too strong for him." Aragorn's eyes glittered in the thick mists, seeming to pierce both fog and thought. "Tell me this, Gimli: Would you take It by force if Legolas sought to wrest It from Frodo?"

Gimli held his breath. He could not answer. He dared not answer.

"And how long until this violence breaks forth?" Aragorn continued mercilessly. "How long until a perceived threat becomes real by our own making?" He shook his head. "Was that not the temptation offered the dwarves by the Seven? To preserve what was? To ensure none would disrupt or take that which did not belong to them?"

Equal parts rage and horror swept through Gimli. "You presume much," he managed.

Aragorn bowed his head, his eyes closing. "My friend, we have not presumed nearly enough. And until we do, I fear there will be no answers for your earlier questions: What now? And whither our course?"

Silence fell between them. The Anduin raged. After some hesitation, Gimli retrieved his axe from the rocks.

"Legolas will return in an hour?" Aragorn asked.

"So he said." The words were difficult to voice. Gimli's mouth was dry, and his heart pounded. He had cursed their blindness only moments before, but how blind had they truly been? How blind were they still?

"Then look to your wits, Gimli," Aragorn said, and once again was a glimpse of the Dúnedan chieftain that counseled with Gandalf before Khazad-dûm. "You have until his return to recover yourself. I will take Legolas to seek the portage way. He is best suited for finding it, and as we search, I will reacquaint myself with his thoughts. It has been too long since he and I took counsel together. You and Boromir will be charged with the Fellowship's defense while we are gone." He paused for a moment, his gaze cool and measuring. "Can I trust there will be balance betwixt the two of you?"

Gimli glanced toward the others, his eyes moving over Boromir's distant form and then falling upon the hobbits huddled around the provisions. "For the time being," Gimli heard himself say. "With help, we will manage."

His assurance seemed enough for Aragorn, who nodded and stepped away. For his own part, Gimli found himself wary and uneasy. For weeks he had fretted over the division within the Fellowship, but Aragorn's words now gave him new divisions to fear.

The Anduin's mists continued to hang as veils. The Fellowship moved in shrouds, concealed from their enemies. Concealed them from each other.

Gimli shivered.

 

-0-0-0-0-0-0-

"Hard was my parting from Lothlórien," Gimli said, watching Aragorn closely. Only days ago they had exchanged words in the mists. Only days ago, they had revealed their fears and blindness to one another. "Yet I have come so far, and I say this: now we have reached the last choice, it is clear to me that I cannot leave Frodo. I would choose Minas Tirith, but if he does not, then I follow him."

Gimli kept his voice even, but he knew Aragorn would see the flicker in his eyes. He would perceive the doubt and reservations. For all that the sun shone bright and fair on the lawn of Parth Galen, the shadows in the Fellowship were thicker than ever. Struggling not to reveal too much, Gimli silently challenged Aragorn to see the wisdom in seeking help. Or barring that, to remember Gimli's counsel in choosing Frodo's companions.

"And I too will go with him," Legolas said, breaking into Gimli's thoughts. "It would be faithless now to say farewell."

Gimli's hands fisted. He recalled how cold elven eyes had watched Boromir closely these past few nights. He recalled how those same eyes now turned just as frequently to Frodo, shrewd and calculating. Gimli sent a warning look to Aragorn, but the Ranger was already speaking.

"It would indeed be a betrayal, if we all left him. But if he goes east, then all not need go with him; nor do I think that all should. That venture is desperate: as much as for eight as for three or two, or one alone." Here he paused, his eyes briefly falling upon Gimli. There was a hint of a nod—acknowledgement so swift Gimli wondered if he imagined it. Then the Ranger continued. "If you would let me choose, then I would appoint three companions: Sam, who could not bear it otherwise; and Gimli; and myself."

The debate exploded. Merry and Pippin raised loud protests, claiming a right to accompany Frodo. But Gimli loosed a sigh of relief and sat back, ignoring the sharp elven gaze that followed him. Mordor was indeed a desperate venture, as Aragorn named it, but with the Fellowship reduced to only four, at least there would be less worry that one in the company might seize the Ring. Indeed, Gimli considered their current venture to be gravely desperate. Legolas grew more unpredictable with every passing hour, and as for Boromir—

Gimli broke from his thoughts and looked about. Where was Boromir…?




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