Reflections in the Dark
Reflections in the Dark
The soft but distinct sound of clattering rocks echoed back and forth, their quiet noises seeming to grow rather than diminish as they filled the tiny space between the cave's walls. Covered in dust and feeling very much as though he had just downed an entire cask of Mirkwood's strongest wine, a stunned dwarf blinked his eyes slowly and tried to raise his head. He stopped as soon as he began the movement. Pain flashed through his mind, creating a kaleidoscope of colors that was disorienting at best and nauseating at worst.
What had happened? And why couldn't he see? His eyes were open, he was fairly certain of that, but he couldn't see his hand in front of his face. Although, that could be because I cannot get my hand in front of my face, he noted despairingly as he tried moving first one arm and then the other. His left shoulder felt as though it was dislocated, and he was fairly certain that his right wrist was broken. Something had happened to his right leg, too, but he was completely unable to say what. And unless he regained his sight in the near future, he would probably never be able to tell what had happened to his right leg since he couldn't seem to reach it. But fuzzy memories were returning to him, and he could now piece together some of the events that had led to his current situation.
He'd been visiting Legolas in Southern Ithilien. After a time, the two had set out northward with the intention of spending a week in Faramir's company, and on their way they had stopped at Henneth Annűn to visit with Bergil and Beregond, who were temporarily stationed there. Bergil, with his typically endless supply of enthusiasm, had informed them of a newly discovered cave system about a mile or so to the west that they were now using as a storage facility and offered to give them a tour. Such eagerness was not to be disappointed—at least in Gimli's opinion—and much to the dismay of the elf, they had followed Bergil to this new cavern. Legolas had naturally been reluctant, but a few low blows to the prince's pride on the part of the dwarf had ensured his presence for the tour, though certainly not his excitement.
And it had all been going so well! Gimli had been interested to note that the cave system seemed to extend back into the bedrock for several miles, though Faramir's men had not ventured quite that far yet. The dwarf had then started convincing Bergil that they should take it upon themselves to discover the endless depths of the caverns—Legolas had contributed several arguments as to why they should leave altogether—and then…and then what? Gimli groaned slightly as he attempted to remember. After that part, things became fuzzy. He remembered a sudden trembling in the ground, and he remembered feeling the rocks shift underfoot. He remembered sensing the imminent cave-in moments before it struck, and he remembered realizing that Legolas was directly beneath the weakest point in the tunnel's structure. He'd launched himself at the elf, hoping to push him out of the way, but after that…after that there was nothing but a blur of jumbled images. Bergil had yelled something, rocks had begun to fall, torches went out, and then all was darkness. Gimli almost remembered something striking his head, but he wasn't certain about that part. In fact, he really wasn't certain about much of anything.
"Legolas?" he called out, wincing with the effort that it took to utter the elf's name. His ribs were also screaming at him, and he suspected that one or two might be cracked. "Legolas?" he called again, having received no response the first time.
Yet the dwarf's only answer was the echo of his own voice. Frowning, Gimli once again tried to lift his head, hoping that something about this movement would miraculously restore light and sight, but as before, a throbbing headache made certain that he wasn't going anywhere. But he had to know if the elf had made it out! Had he pushed Legolas hard enough? Or had the cave-in been too extensive? Was the elf trapped as he was? Or was he…was he…
Gimli stopped himself before he could finish that thought. He was unable to even consider the possibility that Legolas had perished. An elf did not belong underground—something Legolas had pointed out several times before entering the caves—and to die far below the earth, buried in a tomb… That was no fate for an elf. Gimli would never forgive himself if Legolas had…if that stupid elf had…
"Legolas?!" Gimli tried once more, but as before, the elf did not respond. "Bergil?" Gimli called, changing tactics and hoping that someone else was out there so that they might tell him of the fate of his friend. But silence reigned supreme in the darkness, and Gimli was alone.
Calm, the dwarf told himself firmly, feeling adrenaline begin to creep into his system. Focus and remember what your father taught you. Remember your survival training. Where are you? Do you sense any other cave-ins? Are any with you and unconscious? Can you find a way out?
Unfortunately, answering these queries was far easier said than done. The last question, in particular, was rather difficult, since Gimli didn't think that he could move himself, preventing him from finding a way out. But he could answer the other three questions. He knew exactly where he was. He was about a mile away from the cavern's main entrance. At the moment he could sense no more imminent cave-ins, and so was safe from that threat for the moment. And as for companions, Gimli was coming to the conclusion that he didn't have any. It had taken a while for his scattered thoughts to settle, but now that he was thinking clearly—or rather, as clearly as circumstances would permit—he had realized that he could hear no one else in the cave with him. And had anyone else been present, he should have heard them breathing. Even Legolas could not completely silence the whispers of his breath when deep underground, for the echoes amplified all noise. Thus, if there were others in the room, then they were dead.
That thought didn't exactly sit well with Gimli.
Patience, he ordered silently. Jumping to conclusions shall accomplish nothing. Take what facts are known and work from them.
Forcing himself to stay calm, the dwarf started to go over what he did know about his situation. He was the only living being in the cavern. It was pitch black and he could not see. He was injured and could not move. Seriously injured, Gimli amended. There was a distinct fuzziness about his thoughts that did not stem entirely from the head wound, and he was beginning to detect something warm and sticky on his injured right leg. Blood. And probably quite a bit of blood if I am already feeling so poorly. This could become interesting, the dwarf thought wearily.
Attempting to focus on something other than his injuries for a moment, Gimli let out a breathy but rather substantial shout in an effort to determine what was left of the cavern, using the echoes as a means of judging distances. The results were not reassuring. His echoes came back almost immediately. The collapse of the ceiling had apparently done much damage and the tunnel in which he'd been traveling was now a very small cave. Which means that air shall become a problem, Gimli sighed. Although there is still the possibility of ventilation near the top of the pile. And that shall have to be my hope, I suppose.
The dwarf shifted uncomfortably, attempting to find a position that did not pain his leg so much, but the effort was fruitless and cost him far more in energy than it should have. So Gimli opted for lying still and doing nothing, clearing his mind and slowing his breathing. Unfortunately, after a few minutes of this, the dwarf decided that if nothing caught his attention soon, he was going to go mad. He could almost hear Legolas arguing that he was already mad for insisting that they enter the cave in the first place, but Gimli could think of no rejoinder for the elf's argument. In fact, he was beginning to believe that his friend was right. Never before had the dwarf felt quite so…alone. Gimli was certainly not unused to caves, and this was not the first cave-in he'd endured, but for some reason, the rock walls seemed to be pressing in upon him and he was finding the situation very uncomfortable.
Perhaps Glóin had been right. His father had warned that association with an elf could very well ruin Gimli, especially if that elf happened to be one of Thranduil's sons. Glóin had warned of shifting values, of changing perceptions, and, ultimately, of betrayal. Gimli had brushed off the counsel at the time, knowing them to be the voice of outdated prejudices, but maybe his father had been right in a way. Legolas had certainly been affected by his friendship with Gimli. He was slightly more impatient, better at understanding the whims and fancies of mortals, and he endured the stone walls of Minas Tirith better than any other elf in Southern Ithilien. And if Gimli could change his friend, why could not Legolas change Gimli?
Deciding to follow this train of thought since it kept him from focusing on his pain—which was starting to grow—Gimli began examining more of his own behavior and mannerisms. To his great astonishment, he found quite a few traits that might be construed as elvish. In his private quarters back in Aglarond, Gimli had obtained a few potted plants and had set them next to the gaping windows that looked out upon Helm's Deep. While there were certainly other windows in the colony, none were quite as spacious as his, and none of the other dwarves had plants growing in their quarters. Beyond that, Gimli was far more at home in a forest than others of his kin, and he seemed to have developed a strange amount of patience, particularly when compared with the fiery temper he'd possessed in his youth. And in addition to this, Otin, his second-in-command, had once asked Gimli to refrain from looking at him for long periods of time. Confused by this strange request, Gimli had requested an explanation. Otin really couldn't give him one except to say that Gimli's gaze was…disconcerting. Eomer had once remarked that he could sometimes see Legolas's gaze in Gimli's eyes. Gimli had immediately slugged the man for such an insult and was then forced to deal with the incensed guards who wished to execute the dwarf for striking the king. Eomer had laughed uproariously on the floor in the meantime, considering this a just reward, but all the same, these events pointed to the same unfathomable conclusion. Gimli was becoming…well…elvish.
If dwarves had giggled, Gimli would have done so rather hysterically. The very thought of a dwarf becoming like an elf was a concept so absurd as to be hilarious. But dwarves didn't giggle, and so Gimli made no sound. In this, at least, he was standing fast in his proud dwarven heritage, for giggling was definitely the prerogative of the elves. Curiously enough, the elves would fiercely contest this point, as Gimli discovered once after he had laughingly accused Legolas of giggling. The prince of Mirkwood had taken great offense and coldly informed the dwarf that elven warriors did not giggle. In the end, Gimli had decided that it really depended upon how one defined the term. To his ears, Legolas's mischievous, high-pitched laugh—which he usually uttered when the dwarf fell for a particularly vile prank—was a giggle. Legolas preferred the term "snicker," but the dwarf decided that "snicker" better applied to Eomer's laugh. Eomer snickered, Aragorn chuckled, Faramir chortled, Imrahil had a strange, breathy laugh that was usually preceded by a snort and could almost be classified as a giggle, and as for Legolas…well, Legolas giggled. So did Arwen, come to think of it. Gimli wondered what the queen of Gondor would say if she was told that she giggled…
In any case, regardless of what elves actually did when they found something amusing, Gimli had come to learn that one of the fastest ways to make Legolas stop laughing was to tell the prince that he was giggling. Of course, then he had to deal with an indignant, sulking elf for the next hour or so. Gimli had yet to decide which was worse. At the moment, though, he would have welcomed the elf in any form, giggly or sullen, so long as he could learn that Legolas was safe.
And now the dark mood from before was back as Gimli remembered that he still did not know what had happened to either Legolas or Bergil. Or any of the men in the tunnels, for that matter. There was no guarantee that this cave-in had been limited to a single area. Gimli could dimly remember a disastrous day when he was very young during which over half of the mines in the Blue Mountains collapsed, all because of a cave-in that started in one of the newly excavated tunnels. None of the surviving dwarves ever talked about it anymore, but Gimli seemed to remember hearing that the death toll had been well over two hundred. If such a disaster had struck fair Ithilien…
The dwarf quickly stopped his thoughts yet again and tried to console himself. The bedrock here was different than the rock in the Blue Mountains. The damage should be limited to a confined area. Most of the men in the caves should be safe. Of course, those who happened to be in the confined area would not be so safe. I should have listened to the elf, Gimli sighed wearily, wondering if it was just him or if the cavern was becoming colder. I know not if I shall ever be able to tell you this, my friend, but I am sorry. If you are hurt, I am sorry. If you were frightened, I am sorry. I know what it takes for you to enter caves, and I should not have forced you to follow me into this one.
Gimli wondered what Legolas would say if he ever heard such an apology. The dwarf did not openly admit faults because he really had no need to do so with Legolas. Through a quiet look, he and the elf could communicate volumes of information, and it was in these looks that they shared grief, joy, humor, and the occasional apology. Speech had become something of an outdated tool as far as their friendship was concerned, and they only used it to voice insults when situations turned awkward.
But mayhap this particular offense will warrant a verbal apology, Gimli reflected, especially if that foolish elf is injured. Why did he not turn back? Why did he follow me down here in the first place?! He was under no obligation to enter this cave. He could have ignored my jibes. He could have remained safe and content in the outside world under those trees that apparently talk to him. He should have said something. He should have complained. Why did he not?!
But even as he mentally shouted his questions to the silent darkness, Gimli knew the answer. It was his own fault, really. If he hadn't insulted the elf's pride in front of Bergil and some of Gondor's men, then Legolas would have probably stayed outside. But even pride had not been enough to force the elf underground, and here again, Gimli felt the sting of guilt. He had insulted the elf's pride, yes, but more than that, he had begun to irritate his friend. And it was this annoyance, coupled with a stinging pride, that had ultimately forced Legolas to follow where no elf should ever go. If I had kept the banter on a lighter scale, it would not have come to this! Gimli moaned to himself. He would have stayed outside, pride wounded but intact, and I would not now be worrying about his safety! Why did I persist in annoying him!?
There were some that said elves were too flighty and scatter-brained for things to annoy them. Gimli liked to laugh at these simpletons, for he had learned to read the subtle clues that gave him a far more complete picture of an elf's temperament, particularly Legolas. The prince of Mirkwood might appear to be an unflappable being for whom life passed by without leaving a trace or a ripple, but in truth, Legolas could be offended. If one knew the trick, then it was actually quite easy to burrow beneath the elf's thick skin. And if one knew what to look for, it was very amusing to watch the outraged expressions, subtle though they were, fly across his face. It was a joy Gimli would have never learned had he not befriended an elf, and here was an intriguing paradox. To enjoy an elf's discomfort, one had to first enjoy an elf's friendship.
But then, I suppose that is true of dwarves as well, for I have also heard it said of us that we have no emotion other than greed for jewels and thirst for battle. Gimli sighed. In facing these misunderstandings, he and the elves faced a common enemy. To an ordinary man, dwarves were gold-grubbing, axe-wielding savages who took no thought for the welfare of others while elves were arrogant, pretentious fools who could not keep their minds on a single thought and had a dangerous penchant for mischief. Gimli would admit that there was some truth in this belief for both races, but the actual facts went far deeper. But simple people would be simple, and as both elves and dwarves were slowly vanishing from the world of men, there was little chance that these misconceptions would ever be corrected. And as time went on, eventually elves and dwarves would—
The dwarf's thoughts came to a screeching halt as reality suddenly turned on its head. Gimli stiffened and his hands grabbed at the ground as the world began to go into a spin. Sight was still a lost cause and so he could not focus his eyes upon anything to counteract the spinning. Thus, he was forced to endure as his mind filled with turmoil and his stomach began to voice its own protests. Around and around he went, knowing this was a product of faulty equilibrium but unable to convince his body of this. For a good minute or so, Gimli was certain that he was going to lose his morning's breakfast, and as wonderful as it had tasted going down, the dwarf knew it would not be so wonderful coming back up. But he tried to tighten his control over his body, and at length, his efforts were rewarded. The spinning slowed, his stomach quieted, and Gimli relaxed slightly. He was still feeling dizzy and light-headed, but that really couldn't be helped. He could do nothing for himself, and there was no one else—at least no one living—around to aid him.
But it would be a great tragedy to die here, Gimli thought mournfully. Aragorn would certainly disapprove, as would the hobbits if they heard of it. After all, I am the one who preached to them concerning the safety of caves. It would not do for me to go against my own lessons. Aragorn might enjoy the irony, but he would still not approve. And Legolas…Legolas would certainly have a few choice words to say. But then, Legolas always has a few choice words to say.
The dwarf sighed and decided that the cavern was indeed growing colder. It should have been impossible since he was underground and temperature variations were rare, especially when ventilation was limited. But nevertheless, Gimli felt a definite chill in the air. And he didn't think that the cave was causing it.
Although, some caves can seem quite cool, he reflected, his meandering brain taking him onto a new path. The deeper places of Aglarond tend to be colder than my own quarters. This was a phenomenon that Gimli was working to change. He had a rather far-fetched plan to heat all of Aglarond through an elaborate networking system of complex water troughs. When he had first mentioned this plan, the other dwarves had all looked at him askance—askance in a respectful way, for he was their lord, after all—and wondered if perhaps he had not gone mad. But it could work. Possibly. If a series of water conduits was positioned above the torches that were always burning anyway, then the flames would heat the water and the water could detour into various rooms and provide heat before being diverted back out to be warmed above flames again. Gimli wasn't exactly sure where the water would be coming from or what they would do with it when it reached the end of the downhill conduits, but something could surely be arranged. The dwarves were nothing if not inventive. But now it appeared that he would never be able to see this plan come to life, and Gimli felt a pang of regret.
This feeling sparked a series of other thoughts, and soon the dwarf was gathering together all the things that he regretted, a rather morbid endeavor but one that at least served to pass the time. The resulting list was not excessively long, but there were several very important regrets on it that troubled Gimli greatly. First of all, he regretted forcing Legolas to enter the cave. Had he not been so insistent, none of this would have happened. Next, he regretted having not bid Arwen farewell when he left Minas Tirith several weeks ago. He would never get the chance now. And he regretted that he would be unable to give Eowyn news of her brother in Rohan. Gimli also regretted never finding a truly fitting case for the three strands of hair that Galadriel had given him. He regretted not knowing whether or not his friends had lived through this cave-in. He regretted that his last words to Legolas had been upon the themes of claustrophobia and achluophobia. And last but not least, Gimli had a rather odd but pressing regret concerning the fact that he would never again hear Legolas sing.
With his thoughts turning yet again to his best friend, Gimli wondered what Legolas regretted in his life. The elf usually avoided speaking of the past save for a few vague references and casual remarks that might slip out in the course of a conversation. As a general rule, these brief glimpses into years long gone were informative and positive, but sometimes, Gimli though he caught something more. There was much he did not know about his friend, and occasionally, the dwarf saw pieces of this missing information in faraway looks that spoke of hidden longing and regret. The sea seemed to be the usual trigger point, but sometimes the mention of Mirkwood and Thranduil would also send Legolas into a land of thoughts that were tinged with sorrow.
Gimli also wondered if Legolas ever regretted granting the title of elvellon to a dwarf. Elvellon was usually reserved for those of the Edain who had proven themselves time and again to be loyal friends and faithful allies. No dwarf had been called elvellon since the Second Age. There was too much blood and grief between elves and dwarves to allow for that. But Legolas had brazenly set aside tradition and proclaimed Gimli's title to all the ministers and counselors of Mirkwood, despite his father's pleas to abandon such a rash act. The result was that Gimli, by order of Mirkwood's youngest prince, had been granted leave to pass through the elven homeland and request hospitality from the palace, an honor that no dwarf in the history of Mirkwood had ever been given. Legolas himself had become estranged from his father's court for the deed. He still retained all the rights and privileges of a younger prince, but there was now a feeling of tension whenever Legolas paid a visit to his home.
I suppose it is something akin to what I face in the Lonely Mountain, Gimli reflected wearily. After several petitions to Dáin's son, Thorin Stonehelm, who now held the title of King under the Mountain, Gimli had obtained permission for Legolas to pass through dwarven realms without escort and to enjoy the usual comforts that dwarves granted friendly travelers. Glóin had been outraged, as had most of the survivors from the time of Smaug. They remembered all too well the initial interference of the wood elves—while conveniently forgetting their assistance in the Battle of Five Armies—and granting free access to Thranduil's son grated heavily upon them. Gimli's perseverance had paid off in the end, but it had come with consequences.
With a tired sigh, Gimli noted that his head was spinning again. He wondered if the room was spinning, too, but since he couldn't see, he supposed that it didn't really matter. He was also feeling extremely light-headed and ascribed that to blood loss, for he seriously doubted that the wound on his leg had stopped bleeding. It felt deep, and without the ability to staunch or sear the wound, the dwarf was more or less at the mercy of his body's ability to stem the bleeding. And judging from the way his body was acting, he had very little faith in it. I wonder if I shall die first from lack of air or lack of blood, Gimli idly speculated. At least I shall not have to endure the pains of an infected wound.
The dwarf then stopped and thought about that, his mind going back over what had been considered. What a strange idea! Of course I cannot die first from one of those things, for that would I imply that the next cause would also kill me. It would be quite a feat for blood loss to kill me first and then for suffocation to kill me second. It would have to bring me back from the dead to do that.
A strange type of darkness was now creeping over Gimli, and he realized with some alarm that he was about to fall unconscious. This was certainly not a good thing. How he could fight off death if he was not awake? But the darkness was moving quickly now, and his dazed mind was in no condition to resist it. For a minute or two longer he struggled to stay conscious, but it was a losing battle. The pounding of his head became a distant thing, his aching ribs were no longer a concern, and his throbbing shoulder and wrist seemed to detach themselves and float away on the tides of dreams. And so it ends, the dwarf thought bitterly as he tumbled into dark silence. It is strange, though, Gimli mused as he considered this silence into which he fell. Of all the things that I regret, I think what I regret most is the fact that I will never again hear Legolas sing. But perhaps, my friend, you shall sing when my body is found, if that is accomplished. And maybe then I can hear your singing, somehow. Maybe you will break this silence. But until then, farewell, Legolas. I am sorry, and I will miss you.
And with this last thought, the dwarf felt his hold on consciousness slip and he dropped away into shadows.
Slowly returning to awareness, Gimli wondered how the noonday sun had managed to fit itself into the caves, because its light was now blinding him even though his eyes were closed.
"Gimli! Gimli, open your eyes. You will not do this to me, dwarf! Come! Show me the endurance of the children of Aulë. You boast of it often enough. Gimli!"
Apparently this voice was intent on calling him until he either answered it or his ears fell off from abuse, whichever came first. Or last, Gimli reflected, hearing a very familiar note of persistence. Perhaps I should say something.
"Gimli! Master Dwarf, if you do no open your eyes by the time I reach the count of five, I will shave off your precious beard and scatter it to the four winds!"
Odd, Gimli mused, thinking that he should know this voice but unable to place it in his foggy mind. He calls me his friend and yet he threatens to destroy my beard.
I wonder if he is serious.
I wonder if he is serious.
It is probably best to humor him, though…
It is probably best to humor him, though…
He sounds as though his mind is slightly addled.
He sounds as though his mind is slightly addled.
Pooling all his energy into the massive task of raising his heavy eyelids, Gimli moaned slightly and eventually managed to open his eyes. His sight was very blurred and the sudden onslaught of daylight did nothing positive for his headache, but he had done it. His eyes were open. Now if only the fog that seemed to have fallen over the world would clear…
"Welcome back, Gimli," someone said quietly, the voice rough with emotion and relief. "When first we found you, we feared the worst."
"Legolas?" Gimli questioned, squinting his eyes as he finally made out the figure of the elf hovering over him. His mind was starting to sweep out his hazy mental cobwebs, but it was a slow process and the dwarf was rather confused. His last memory was of his struggle to stay awake and stave off death. Apparently he had not managed the first objective, but somehow he had held death at bay. Yet what had happened after that?
"Gimli, if ever you push me out of the way again and then fail to see to your own safety, I shall string you up by this fine beard of yours in such a way that you will be forced to cut it off yourself in order to get down."
The dwarf's mind was not quite up to processing this rather complicated sentence, but instinct and long association with Legolas told him that it was probably an insult. The elf also sounded angry and upset, which meant he had been frightened and was only now starting to recover the fragments of his pride and dignity. "What happened?" Gimli murmured, still trying to account for the fact that he now seemed to be outside. His eyes were clearing now, and there was definitely a blue sky overhead. With a few clouds, his dazed mind helpfully informed him.
"What do you remember?" the elf asked, his hands probing Gimli's head gently.
The question was a test, and the dwarf had asked it of others enough times to know what Legolas feared. But he was fairly certain that he'd suffered no permanent damage to his mind, and so the spark of fear in his heart began to die away. "The cave-in," he answered, hissing as the elf's hands finished with his head and began to travel down his body. They had reached the shoulder that had been dislocated, and though Gimli realized it had been set at some point, it was still quite tender.
"My apologies," Legolas said quietly, his face unreadable but his eyes burning with distress and fear. "We cared for your injuries as best we could when we cleared a path to you, but I fear we may have missed something in the darkened cave. I can give you something that will—"
"Keep your medicines," Gimli grunted, wincing again when Legolas started running his hands over the dwarf's ribs. "I would rather know how I came to be outside."
"Would you rather be lying in a pool of your own blood?" Legolas asked, his voice turning harsh as he probed the dwarf's ribs again. "I judged the open air would be a far safer place to recover, and Bergil readily agreed with me. There are those who recognize my wisdom when it is offered, and Bergil is one of them. Other beings, however…" The elf trailed off and sent Gimli a scathing glare.
The dwarf sighed with the realization that Legolas was still fuming over the fright he'd been given. At this point, anything Gimli did or said would undoubtedly rile the elf's temper in one way or another and so the dwarf opted to stay silent. He had seen Legolas like this once or twice, and until the elf calmed down, talking to him held the same dangers one would find if one were to provoke a dragon.
"Your have four broken ribs," Legolas informed the dwarf after an awkward silence, drawing his knife and cutting open Gimli's tunic. "They will need to be bound. It is a wonder that none of them have pierced your lungs. Bergil!" Gimli squeezed his eyes shut and tried to silence his hearing as Legolas turned his head and began to shout. "Bergil, your aid is required."
"A little louder, if you don't mind," the dwarf muttered sourly, deciding that two could play the ill-temper game as he opened his eyes and glared at the elf "I do not think my head is pounding hard enough."
"Be thankful you were not buried beneath the cave-in," Legolas said angrily, ripping away Gimli's tunic and exposing an ugly black bruise over the dwarf's left side. "If that had happened, a pounding head would be the least of your worries."
"My lord, is everything well?" a new voice asked, and Bergil's face soon appeared over Legolas's shoulder. "Ah, Lord Gimli is awake. How do you feel, sir?"
"If you could convince this foolish elf to—"
"He has four broken ribs and I think two more may be cracked," Legolas interrupted. "I need something with which to bind them, and you will have to hold him up as I do so."
"One moment, then, my lords," Bergil promised, quickly disappearing.
"What of the other men in the caves?" Gimli asked, speaking before Legolas could continue his tirade.
"All have been found, but none were injured so grievously as you," the elf answered. "It took us well over an hour to find an alternate route by which to remove you, for we could not clear away the rubble in the main cavern and you would not answer our calls."
"I heard no calls," Gimli muttered. "Are you certain you were not struck in the head and imagined things?"
"Of all of us here, I think that you, Master Dwarf, should be most concerned with—"
"I have returned, my lords," Bergil suddenly interrupted, giving Gimli a conspiring wink before turning his attention to the elf. "How may I best be of aid, Lord Legolas?"
"We must raise Gimli off his back so that I may bind his ribs, and you must hold him for me while I do this," Legolas instructed, moving to the side of the dwarf.
"I can sit on my own," Gimli protested, even as he tried to keep his irritation back. He had to be careful in how much he protested, for if he fought against the elf too much, then Legolas would clamp down even harder on the dwarf's activities.
"No, you cannot sit on your own," Legolas informed him curtly, carefully sliding his hands under Gimli's back. "And now I will ask you to brace yourself, Master Dwarf, for this may be uncomfortable."
That turned out to be quite the understatement, and despite his own pride, Gimli heard himself cry out as his ribs shifted with the movement. The motion stopped immediately and he felt Bergil alter his position so as to better support the dwarf. One of Legolas's hands then gently touched Gimli's injured side while the other hand fell upon his forehead.
"Gimli? Gimli, are you—"
"Still here," Gimli whispered, his breath coming in painful hitches.
"I will not be long," the elf promised, the anger in his voice now replaced yet again with fear and concern. Then Gimli felt a wide strip of cloth begin to wind itself about his chest and he gritted his teeth as Legolas pulled it tight.
"You worried us greatly, Lord Gimli," Bergil said after a moment of silence. "When we first found you, we were uncertain if you lived. The loss of blood frightened us most, I believe, though we were also concerned for your head. You have a concussion, my lord, as well as a deep wound in your right leg."
"What else?" Gimli asked, hissing as Legolas wrapped several more layers of cloth around the dwarf's chest.
"Broken ribs, as Lord Legolas has told you, a broken wrist, your shoulder was dislocated but we reset it, various knocks and bruises, and possibly a sprained ankle," Bergil answered. "All things considered, you are quite fortunate, my lord."
Gimli rolled his eyes at this. There were times when he did not understand Bergil's eternally optimistic nature. The man could be cheerful while standing in the middle of a műmakil stampede, Gimli decided.
"Lay him down, Bergil," Legolas spoke up, tying off the last of his bindings. "And my thanks for your assistance."
"It was my honor, my lord. Shall you be requiring anything else?"
"Nay, but if you would send to Lord Faramir and tell him that our coming will be slightly delayed, I will thank you again."
"It shall be so, my lord," Bergil said, lowering the dwarf to the ground and moving off, leaving Legolas and Gimli alone again. Another awkward silence fell and Gimli wondered if he should say anything. The elf was still upset, but Gimli could sense that much of the anger had subsided. It would probably be safe to speak, but then again…
"If you wish for that medicine, I will give it to you now," Legolas said, taking the initiative and breaking the stillness. "But I cannot give you much, for you must be kept awake yet a while longer. I am concerned about your head."
"I do not feel much pain," Gimli murmured, staring up at the sky. His mind was straying to the thoughts he had entertained while still trapped in the darkness, and nagging voices were telling him that some of these thoughts should be acted upon. "Legolas…Legolas, I am sorry I made you enter the cave."
A short, surprised silence followed this announcement, and then the elf's hand came to rest on Gimli's brow. "You do not feel feverish."
The dwarf scowled, and if he'd had the strength, he would have slapped the hand away. "Legolas, I do not jest. I truly am—"
"Peace, Gimli," Legolas interrupted, his quiet voice taking on a soothing tone. "I know that you do not jest, but you need not apologize. I suffered no hurt. I have you to thank for that, though it grieves me to think that you may have been injured because you saw first to me. In truth, I should apologize to you, and also to thank you for it. And I should not have spoken to you so when you woke. For that, I also apologize."
"But had I listened to you outside the cave, then perhaps—"
"Gimli, at that time I was speaking from my own fears, not from any foreknowledge of what was to come," the elf answered, shushing the dwarf once more. "There was no reason for us to avoid the cave save for the fact that I was uncomfortable. Think of it no more, my friend. I am merely relieved that none were killed in this accident."
Gimli grunted slightly and closed his eyes, realizing that Legolas was not going to let him apologize. And it seemed that the elf was feeling a measure of guilt, too, though why that would be, Gimli didn't know. But Legolas usually felt slightly guilty when things went wrong. He was not nearly as bad as Aragorn was, but the elf did have a touch of what had been named the Ranger Responsibility Syndrome. But mayhap I can alleviate some of that guilt, Gimli thought. He will wish to aid me in some way, and while I am at it, I can satisfy that last regret of mine. Firmly controlling his pride, which protested violently against what the dwarf was going to do, Gimli opened his eyes again and found the elf watching him closely.
"Gimli?" Legolas questioned, apparently sensing that the dwarf was struggling with something. "Is aught wrong?"
"Would you…" Gimli hesitated, but having been in Legolas's situation several times before, he knew just how much the elf needed something to do at this point. He needed to be helpful and feel as though his presence was required. "Legolas, would you sing?" the dwarf blurted out.
The open surprise in the elf's normally placid expression was almost comical, but after a moment of shock, a smile spread across Legolas's face and he nodded. It seemed to Gimli that Legolas understood what the dwarf was doing, and the elf's eyes shone with gratitude. "Of course, elvellon. It would be my pleasure to sing for you."
"Thank you," Gimli murmured, closing his eyes and relaxing. There was a moment of silence during which Legolas selected a song, and then it began, soft and low at first but gradually building in volume.
Listening contentedly, Gimli soon realized that he recognized the song, and it caused him to smile. It was a song that he'd heard Lindir sing eleven years ago in Minas Tirith when the hosts of Rivendell had tarried for several weeks after escorting Arwen to her wedding. It was an old song from the First Age about a friendship between two elven warriors, bound so closely they might have been brothers, who had passed into darkness together and then emerged, changed but ultimately victorious. Gimli was rather amazed that he still remembered this song, but as he thought about it, he decided that it was truly no surprise. At the time when Lindir sang it, the dwarf had remembered the Paths of the Dead and the cursed gulls. He had remembered the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the desperate stand before the Morannon. And he had thought of how he and Legolas had stood side by side for each of these trials. Perhaps that was why he had felt so forlorn in the blackness of the caves. He was no longer used to being alone when darkness pressed close. And as he continued to listen to the song, Gimli realized that his fears in the cave had been empty. Even though they had been separated, the elf had been with him. The dwarf's reflections in the dark had laid bare the deepest thoughts of his heart, and they had taken him back to Legolas. And eventually, Legolas had been brought to him.
Thank you, Gimli sighed as his mind began to drift. He had not the energy to vocally express his gratitude, nor did he dare interrupt the haunting melody as Legolas's clear tenor soared through the notes. But he hoped that the elf knew just how much this song was appreciated, and somewhere inside him, a voice assured Gimli that Legolas did. Thank you, Gimli repeated, feeling his ties to the waking world dissolve and float away as fine gossamer cast to a summer's breeze.
When Legolas finished his song and found the dwarf asleep, he did not wake him, for he sensed somehow that the wound to Gimli's head was no longer a concern. And nestled in the embrace of an elven melody, Gimli fell into a deep, healing sleep, protected by a friendship that endured all darkness.