A Tribute to the Elves of Helm's Deep
Letting out a heavy, relieved sigh, Gimli sat down. His body ached with bone deep weariness, and fatigue that spoke of a long night of exertion. His arms were heavy, and in his hands the dwarf could feel the phantom-weight of his great battle axe - swung countless times that night. But now his weapon rested next to him, embedded in the head of an Uruk-hai - the last in the long line of foes Gimli had slain that night.
Forty-three, he thought with glee and a certain amount of pride. His elven companion would be hard pressed to beat that! And yet, looking around him, the dwarf knew that his was but a small number in the total body count that night.
The battle of Helm's Deep was over, and more importantly, was won - prevailing against all odds. No doubt this battle would find its place among the tales and songs of the most epic battles fought in Middle Earth. And he, Gimli, Gloin's son, had been part of it! A satisfied grin playing upon his lips, the dwarf patted his current seat - the broad chest of his last kill. Now the only thing he needed to make this perfect was a good smoke. Gloin had taught his son early on that any respectable creature would finish a hard day's work, or battle, with a fine smoke - it was what set apart sensible people from mere beasts.
Searching his pockets, he did indeed find his pipe and the small leather satchel which held his pipe weed. The very last bit of pipeweed left in his stash. Carefully preparing his smoke, Gimli drew a sour face. Blasted rain! Last night he had been completely drenched in it, and it seemed that even his weed had gotten slightly wet. It hadn't been the best quality to begin with and this certainly wouldn't improve its taste. He had tried to obtain some new weed while they had been staying in Edoras. But the otherwise sensible people of Rohan, it seemed, had no taste for the finer art of smoking and thus could not help him out in this point - even after he had patiently explained to them exactly why he would want to inhale the smoke of burning grass through a long stick.
Well, it could not be helped now. With the help of his mercifully working flint stone, Gimli lit his pipe and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes. Releasing his breath slowly, he could not hold back a sound of utter pleasure. Perfect.
Opening his eyes, the dwarf saw his companion Legolas slowly making his way across the battlefield towards where he was seated, bow still in hand. Pulling on his pipe once more, Gimli used the moment to take a closer look at his friend, after this long night. On first glance, one wouldn't suspect that the elf had spent the night fighting to the death - killing countless foes only with a bow and two `flimsy' knives. The immortal's step was sure, his head held high, and except for the few scratches he showed no wound. Only on second sight, with an eye trained by journeying hundreds of leagues beside said elf, could one see the slight signs that he was not taking a stroll in the garden after a good night's rest. Legolas' step was slower than usual, lacking the slight spring that seemed to accompany him everywhere. And of course the dirt and grime covering the elf would have been a hint as well.
Gimli sighed and scratched his beard. Oh yes, the dirt. The same dirt was covering him as well - probably even more so than his friend. The dwarf could feel it, the sticky mess that was everywhere, clinging to every surface of his body. His clothes, his hands, his face, his axe, even his beard. By Durin, what must his beard look like! Gimli could feel the strands sticking together, practically glued into one mass by the rain, dirt, blood, grime, grovel, spit and other orc-fluids he'd rather not think about. A quick glance at his reflection, in the blade of a sword next to him, only confirmed his thoughts. It was hard to tell where dirt ended and dwarf began. The dirt was a part of him - or he was a part of the dirt, depending on one's view.
Looking up at his approaching friend, Gimli found him to be equally covered in filth. With one difference: While Legolas' body, face and hair were equally dirty, somehow the dirt was not part of him, as it was part of Gimli. The smudges clinging to the elf's face were a stark contrast to his pale complexion - and yet somehow they could not touch the elf himself. They looked out of place, painted on, and not like they had any right to be there. `Blasted elves!' Gimli thought, `Have to be pretty and completely perfect even after a battle!'
But before he could find a way to voice his thoughts, with the amused annoyance typical of their conversations since Lothlorien, Legolas had finally reached the spot where the dwarf was sitting. Pointedly not looking at his companion, he stroked his long bow, playing with the tip nonchalantly.
"Final count: Forty-two," he announced in a purposely casual tone. Gimli could hardly hide a grin, and was grateful for the blessing of his beard.
"Forty-two, huh? Oh, that's not bad - for a pointy-eared Elvish princeling." The look on the elf's face was priceless. "I myself am sitting pretty on forty-threeee," Gimli reported, unable to help the chuckle that escaped after stressing the last word. Legolas' eyes grew big. But then he whipped an arrow out of his surprisingly full quiver, cocked his bow, and let the arrow loose - faster than the dwarf's eyes could follow. Gimli found the arrow between his own legs, sticking in the side of the Uruk-hai he was sitting upon - mere inches away from Gimli's privates. Looking up at the elf, he found him grinning cheekily from pointy ear to pointy ear.
"Forty-three," Legolas stated merrily.
"He was already dead!" Gimli growled.
"He was twitching," the elf pointed out, cocking an eyebrow.
"He was twitching `cause he's got my axe embedded in his nervous system!" the dwarf roared, pushing the handle of his axe from side to side to prove his point, causing the Uruk's body to twitch madly.
Legolas watched him with an amused expression, before he simply shrugged. "Well then. You have passed my score by one. But I do not grudge you the game, so glad am I to see you on your legs." He glanced around and his face grew grim, "Many others were not so lucky tonight."
The elf's gaze swept across the battlefield, his expression unreadable. Gimli did not have to follow his look to know what his friend saw - devastation everywhere, hundreds upon hundreds of corpses strewn about. Orcs, Uruk-hai, men and elves lying dead between the rubble of the breached wall and the battlefield beyond, their blood mingling as it soaked the earth beneath them. Gimli closed his eyes and wondered whether he'd ever be able to forget the sights, sounds and smells of this day - so much blood and waste, torn bodies and smashed faces of friends and allies. Somehow the disfigured appearance of the Uruk-hai seemed even uglier dead than when they had been alive.
And those people who had survived the night did not look much better than the ones who had perished. Many of them had been wounded--some only slightly, others maimed for the rest of their lives, and still others not likely to survive the following night. Suffering groans and cries of pain seemed to sound from everywhere - begging for help or for a last act of mercy. Between it all staggered some of the luckier ones, their eyes wide and glassy, too shocked to fully comprehend what had transpired here.
Gimli sighed deeply and put out his pipe. He did not yet deserve it. The battle had been won, yes, but still there was much to do before celebration or rest.
Wearily climbing to his feet, the dwarf saw one of the few - oh, so very few! - surviving elves approaching them. And while Gimli thought that he looked vaguely familiar - at least as familiar as an elf could look to a dwarf - he could not pinpoint a name or the occasion where they might have met before. It had been in Lothlórien for sure, but more he could not say.
Coming to halt in front of Legolas, his face grim and his eyes intense, the strange elf spoke a few words in his own melodious native tongue, to which Legolas nodded.
"Yes," he replied in the Common Tongue, "it is time." With a last glance and a firm nod at Gimli, he walked off together with his kinsman.
Following their path with his eyes, the dwarf saw the two elves step to the corpse of an Uruk. Moving the foul creature aside, they freed the dead body of an elf buried beneath. Carefully, almost lovingly, the elf - one of Haldir's brothers, which they had met at the border of the Elven realm, Gimli's brain finally supplied, though he still found himself lacking a name - gathered the fallen warrior into his arms and carried him off towards the side of the mountain farthest from the Hornburg. Legolas slowly moved on, picking up another fallen elf and following Haldir's brother.
Then Gimli's attention was diverted by a wailing cry of distress, coming from the side of one of the few remaining towers, and he strode off to do his share of the after-carnage-work.
It was nearing dusk ere Gimli saw his companion again. Behind them all was a day of hard, gruesome labor. The clean-up after a battle was almost always as straining as the battle itself - sometimes even more so. The dwarf had spent his day helping out wherever he could - mainly clearing away remains of the destroyed Deepening Wall, and piling up the bodies of dead Uruk-hai outside the wall. Adding this strain to the way he had spent the prior night `working out', Gimli's body was now demanding its rightful rest - even more than before.
`Soon!' he promised himself, watching briefly as the sun finally touched the mountain peaks that towered over them. Others would spend the night watching, though none of the people in the Deep had spent their day idly.
Not long after the last Uruks had fled into the strange, deadly forest at the entrance to the valley, the women and children of Rohan had come out of their hiding place in the caves. They had greeted the kinsmen giving them aid with overwhelming gratitude and joy - and yet the day had been mainly one of grieving, tears and cries of despair. Women emerged only to find their husbands, brothers and sons lying slaughtered in the fortress. Children stumbled over the dead bodies of their fathers and friends. Not a single man, woman or child in the valley who had not lost a loved one. The tears of the living soon mingled with the blood of the dead, soaking the earth further.
But one thing that truly impressed Gimli was the reaction of the people of Rohan - they did not succumb to their grief, but gathered from it the strength to do what had to be done. The wounded were carried into the castle and tended to, food was distributed, the horses of the warriors were taken care of, the inside of the castle was cleaned of any bodies, lost weapons were collected, rubble was removed, and countless other tasks, both small and large, were fulfilled.
Gandalf was a white blur all day long, either commanding the efforts or in counsel with King Théoden. Éomer was leading the clean-up work in the battle field, while the Lady Éowyn seemed to be everywhere--lending a helping hand, providing a shoulder to cry on, or issuing a stern command wherever it was needed. Practically the only place one could find Aragorn was in the halls reserved for the wounded. Here the Dúnadan used every healing skill that had even been taught to him in an effort to help and save as many as possible.
The only one of his friends who seemed strangely absent was Legolas. When Gimli inquired about his friend, both Éomer and Éowyn said they had seen the elf only briefly throughout the day--sometimes freeing wounded warriors, but mostly carrying dead elves to the far western mountain side.
Deciding that seeing about his friend should be his last task for the day, Gimli set out in that direction. Wearily putting one foot in front of the other, the dwarf noted with satisfaction that the worst of the work was nearly complete. The injured were tended to, and the corpses of the fallen men had been taken away to be buried in a mass grave. This only left removing the ruins of the Wall and the remaining dead orcs and Uruks.
`Better take care of those soon - before they start smelling even more than they do already!' Gimli grimaced. But then he collected his thoughts - he had done enough cleaning for the day; the only thing he wanted to do now was check upon his elvish friend and find a quiet place to rest his bones. Then maybe he could finally have that victory smoke. Who knew, perhaps Legolas would join him. Not that the elf had ever needed much rest before, nor had he so far shown any appreciation for pipe weed, but it was never too late to change one's mind. And surely even an immortal deserved to take some rest after a night and a day like the last.
As he crossed over a small rise in the ground, Gimli finally saw what his companion had been up to all day long: Tucked away in the farthest corner of Helm's Deep were all the elves that had fought in this battle. And only few of them were moving--eight, to be precise, including his friend.
Out of two hundred - and one.
Two hundred elves had come from Lothlórien to help the people of Rohan in his fight.
And only seven of them had survived.
It just wasn't right! They were supposed to be immortal, by Durin! Gimli choked, staring at the scene before him.
The dead elves lay in two rows on the ground, carefully stacked over each other in five layers. Their cloaks were neatly wrapped around them, their faces and hair had been respectfully cleaned from any blood or dirt, and their weapons lay at their side. Their eyes were closed and they looked peacefully at rest. For a moment Gimli could almost fool himself into believing - oh, how much he longed to believe! - that they were only sleeping, tired after the long battle.
But elves did not sleep with their eyes closed.
For a few heartbeats the dwarf pondered just turning around and walking away. Even for a seasoned warrior like him this was almost too much. But he forced himself to stay. These elves had died - not only for Rohan, but for the whole of Middle Earth - when they could have just gone into the West and lived blissfully for the rest of eternity; the least Gimli could do for them was show them the respect they deserved.
Looking more closely, he noticed something peculiar. Between the bodies, parts of the long wooden spears of the Uruk-hai were being stacked--as well as what seemed to be pieces of the attack ladders and broken bows. And there was a decided smell of oil in the air, like the one used for making torches. With that, Gimli finally understood.
This was going to be a pyre.
They were going to burn the bodies, to leave nothing but smoke and ashes.
Somehow this felt wrong to Gimli. Granted he would be the first to admit that he knew virtually nothing about the burial rituals of elves, but he just couldn't image those high and mighty, ever elegant, nature-loving creatures simply burning their loved ones. Letting the flames mar and devour those delicate looking bodies, leaving behind only dirt. On the other hand, neither could the dwarf picture elves being buried in the ground or laid to rest in tombs of stone - too cold and dark. It seemed no proper funeral rites existed for an immortal race. There was no need for it in the natural order of things.
But obviously, with both Sauron and Saruman wrecking havoc in Middle Earth, the natural order had been severely disturbed.
Just then Gimli spotted Legolas, as the elf adjusted the position of a fallen comrade's weapon and cloak. Determined, the dwarf strode forward to be with his friend in this sad hour, and to show his respect to the deceased. But he was stopped short when he heard the hissed words spoken by the grieving survivors and saw the angry looks he was given. Even though the dwarf did not speak Sindarin, the general tone of the words was enough to understand: He was not welcome here.
Hearing the words of his kin, Legolas' head whipped up. His eyes turned into small slits, glittering dangerously, as he sent them an angry look. The Mirkwood elf replied to them in an equally sharp tone, before he turned to his friend. His features softened considerably, and with a small bow and a silent gesture he bade the dwarf to stay. For a moment Gimli glanced at the other elves, unsure what to do. Then, unconsciously bracing his shoulders, he nodded to Legolas silently. He would stay, but at a respectful distance. No need to start a fight with allies now.
The elves in turn seemed equally unsure how to handle the situation. There was a moment of obvious hesitation, and for a second Gimli feared that they still might pick a fight. But then, one by one, the elves turned their icy glares away from him and did what they seemed to do best with creatures who were `beneath them' - they ignored him. Dismissing the dwarf's presence as unimportant, the seven warriors went about their business--adjusting positions, checking the wood that was stacked between the deceased and cleaning the last of the faces. Legolas also gave Gimli a final look, as if to make sure that he would stay, before he turned his full attention to the work before him.
Silence reigned completely.
Gimli settled himself for a longer wait.
The sun was sinking lower and lower, finally touching the peaks of the western mountain.
The elves worked on in stoic silence, their movement determined and efficient but still loving, almost revering.
When they were almost done, Gimli heard the crunch of gravel under boots behind him. The soft and slow steps were coming towards them. Turning around, he found Aragorn standing behind him. His clothes were rumpled and soiled, his hair and beard worse than ever before in their journey. His face was drawn, tired and utterly battle-weary. In short, he looked exactly how Gimli felt.
The ranger's eyes were locked on the elves before him. He studied every single stilled face intently for a moment, probably committing them to memory forever. The sadness and grief in his eyes were obvious, but no tears showed. He was silent, like everyone else at the site.
After what seemed like an eternity, Aragorn slowly stepped forward to the pyre. The surviving Lothlórien elves immediately tensed, but did not voice any protest. It was clear, however, that while Aragorn's presence (much like Gimli's) might be tolerated, it was not really welcome.
With practiced ease the man ignored their reaction - he had most likely done so a lot in his youth and early manhood spent among the elven folk. When he stood in front of Haldir, he stopped. The Captain of the Lórien warriors lay in the middle of the pyre, his head pointing westward. His cloak stood out as the only red one in the mass of gray. Aragorn bowed his head and touched the elf's face gently, almost reverently. He mumbled a few quiet words that the dwarf could not make out. However, hearing was not needed to understand this. It was a final goodbye between fellow warriors.
After a while Aragorn stepped back with a last nod to the eight remaining elves. Taking his place next to Gimli, he proceeded to watch as the finishing touches were put to the pyre.
The sun had disappeared completely behind the mountain walls and dusk was falling quickly.
With the help of a flint stone a torch was lit, however, the pyre was not yet set to flames. The elves seemed to be anticipating some sort of unknown sign. They all stood perfectly still, facing the west, heads slightly cocked and eyes unfocused.
Gimli was watching his friend intently. Legolas seemed so very strange now, almost otherworldly - even more than he had been when the dwarf had first seen him in the halls of Rivendell. His posture unmoving, like a statue, his senses appeared to be focused on something that Gimli could not hear or see--waiting for something.
Suddenly the dwarf had to suppress the urge to shudder. This tension was almost as bad as it had been before the first attack of the Uruks last night.
Then the moment passed. Legolas blinked once and moved. The elves turned to face each other, exchanging glances and nodding curtly.
"It is time."
The burning torch was handed to Haldir's brother - Rúmil, Gimli's brain finally supplied. The elf stared at it for a moment, then shook his head. Turning to Legolas, he offered the torch to him. The archer's eyes grew wide and it seemed as if he wanted to refuse. But Rúmil was adamant in his decision, albeit still silent. So Legolas took the offered torch after exchanging another long glance and a curt nod with the other elf. He hesitated for another minute and stared blankly at the burning flame, the dancing light reflecting in his eyes. Taking a deep breath, Legolas finally stiffly stepped to the pyre. One last time he bowed his head deeply in farewell, the torch in one hand and the other hand placed on his chest over his heart.
"Hiro hyn hîdh ab `wanath abweneth." May they find peace... after death. He spoke with a soft voice. Gimli had heard these words before; Legolas had spoken them in the same tone when the three runners believed that Merry and Pippin had been burned along with the Uruk-hai the Rohirrim had slain.
Then the blonde elf bent down and set fire to the pyre. Walking around it briskly in a circle, he held the torch to three more places before he gently tossed it onto the middle of the body pile and stepped back.
Fuelled by the oil and the wood between the bodies, the flames quickly licked higher and higher. In a matter of moments the entire pile was afire, emanating intense heat. The flames reached into the darkened sky, as they slowly devoured the bodies of the elves who had fought so bravely last night. Gimli just couldn't take his eyes of them, his throat slowly constricting. He felt numb, wrapped in an all encompassing sadness. He watched until it became just too much, then he closed his eyes and looked away.
When he opened his eyes again, the dwarf faced the remaining figures in front of him. The eight elves stood in a circle around the pyre, once again totally still. Their eyes were focused on the fire alone. The dancing flames reflected in their wide eyes, glowing in golden red and orange and yellow, painting their fair skin and hair in a supernatural look. It was an enthralling scene, with a horrible beauty to it that belied its cause.
For a long time they all stared at the flames in front of them, the only movement and bits of sound coming from the flames and the wood as it cracked in the heat.
Then Gimli became aware of a reverberating, low sound that seemed to touch him to his bones. "Mmmmmm..." Gradually it grew louder and more intense, until he could identify it as a hum. The elves were humming! The monotone sound grew and as the elves opened their mouth became a deep tone, drawn out endlessly, "Aaaaaaah..."
Then suddenly, as if led by an invisible signal, the elves each stamped their right foot once and jerked left, in perfect synchronization. Gimli couldn't avoid his slight jump in surprised response. Continuing the low intonation, they started a slow procession around the fire, following the daily direction of the sun. Their steps were rhythmically and consciously set, their bodies swinging slightly back and forth with the rhythm their feet stamped. It was a dance.
And still their joined voices grew and the tone morphed into drawn out words - a song, or more of a hymn; ever so slow and yet so very strong.
Gimli could feel every single tone in his body, reverberating within him. The strange words seemed so familiar, like he had known them a long time ago and ever since--like they were a part of him. Yet they were forgotten as soon as a word ended and another begun. The dwarf was sure he would never be able to repeat them, though equally sure that they would come instinctively should he try to sing along with the elves.
The hymn became louder with every step of the procession, until the eight elves were singing at the top of their lungs. Their moving bodies glowed in the light of the fire, casting shadows on the ground that followed the dance. The flames danced along with them, licking at the singers, and the pyre sent showers of sparks high into the night, rivaling the appearing stars. The faces of the elves were alight, bathed in the golden glow of the flames. Their features were blank and strangely undistinguished, and Gimli felt hard pressed to identify his friend Legolas among them - they seemed all completely all alike. Stone-faced, perfect, unattainable creatures. Gimli loved them and hated them simultaneously.
But then he noticed something that didn't fit into the picture of the perfect stone-faces. There was a glistening on those faces, a wetness that reflected the fire light.
The elves were crying openly.
Gimli remembered clearly the fellowship's stop in Lothlórien after Gandalf's fall into the darkness of Moria. They all had grieved his loss deeply and shed quite some tears for him, along with elves of the Lady's wood. But after a while Gimli noticed that Legolas did not cry after the first day; neither did the other elves who visited the fellowship and sang laments for the Grey Pilgrim. Never mind the saddest song or story shared about the wizard in their camp - the elf's eyes remained dry. One evening it became too much for Gimli and he confronted the archer, calling him a heartless, uncaring, insensitive bastard-princeling--as well as other not so nice names. Accusations which only caused Legolas to grow silent and walk away, not replying. Aragorn pulled the dwarf aside later, and quietly explained about elves and some of their quirks. Despite what most people believed, they were a pretty emotional race. They cried freely and unashamed - but never twice over the same matter. Which was also the reason why they seemed to be a very melancholy race - their grief was hidden but nevertheless there.
That night Gimli left the camp and went to find the elf, to apologize for his harsh words. To his surprise, his apology had been accepted easily and Legolas offered to show him more of the Golden Wood while they were there. Their expeditions quickly became routine, and they became fast friends despite all their differences.
And now his friend was crying; crying once again for lost friends. Grieving for those who never should have had to die.
The elves' lament slowly went on, filling the air with it's inherent power. Rich, strong voices evoked ageless words of sadness. Tears were running down the faces of the elves, but their voices remained strong; no sob escaped them and no hitching or sniffing disturbed the singing. On and on went the dance of the eight elves. Round after round they circled the burning pyre, stamping a slow rhythm.
Gimli stood and watched them, unable to move. His mind seemed to be miles away from his body, detached. Nothing else mattered but the eight dancing figures. They were entrancing - nothing but moving shadows over light.
Time lost all its meaning. Above the scene stars appeared in the velvet blackness, their spark distant and their light cold as they slowly made their way across the night sky.
Vaguely, Gimli was aware of movement next to him. New 'spectators' had joined him and Aragorn. From the corner of his eye the dwarf could make out a mass of blonde hair - Éomer and Éowyn had come. Later there was also Gandalf and Théoden, and many others, showing their respect and gratitude to the dead. Gimli could feel their silent presence behind him, yet he never took his eyes of the fire in front of him.
And still the elves danced on. Throughout the night their pace would change slowly; from the slow rhythmic procession to urgent, quick, almost frantic movements--their feet stamping a powerful beat. Their long, drawn-out song would morph into grieving, angry shouts and wailing that echoed through the night. Their faces would start sweating from their frantic dance, the sweat mingling with the tears that still flowed down their faces, as they glowed in the golden light of the fire. And then they would slow down again to their majestic procession, with deliberate steps and the song of endless sound-words--to be followed with yet another cycle of fast, desperate moves.
Thus the night wore on, and the great pyre burned down more and more. Behind Gimli people came and left again; until in the wee hours of the morning there were only the elves, Aragorn and the dwarf left. The once roaring fire turned into a small kindle, then into glowing embers, until finally all that remained were ashes. The black of the night was replaced by shades of dark grey, and somehow - though it was hard to tell, encased as they were by the mountains - Gimli could tell that dawn was drawing near. The elves' rounds were slower and slower; their ancient song morphed back into nothing but long intonations. Their tears had dried, leaving behind once more stone-cold ethereal faces. Then, with a last sudden stomp and turn, the eight immortals stood perfectly still again, staring blankly at the cooling remains of the pyre. With their song and cackling of the fire gone, total silence reigned again in this far corner of Helm's Deep. But unlike last night, before the fire had been lit, the absence of sound didn't seem quite so painful and stifling anymore.
And suddenly, Gimli simply knew that somewhere far in the east the sun had just risen.
As the sun rose higher into the morning sky, the active bustling in Helm's Deep started again. With the very worst parts of the after carnage mess taken care of, King Théoden began to regroup his army, as well as his people. A good part of the men were gathered and readied to ride or march back to Edoras, with most of the refugees who fled into Helm's Deep from Saruman's army. Others were left at the fortress - to take care of the wounded who could not yet be moved, to clear up the battle field further and to start making repairs. Everyone had to know that it would be tough, even near impossible, to do any quality repairs on the gaping hole in the Deepening Wall. The men of Rohan would be hard pressed to rebuild it anywhere near as solid as it had been. A hard job indeed, and quite possibly a job fit for a band (or even a small army) of work loving dwarves--or so Gimli thought.
But thoughts like these would have to wait. For now there were other tasks waiting for them.
Gandalf was preparing to ride out of Helm's Deep and confront the wizard Saruman in his own lair, the Orthanc tower of Isengard. The three runners would accompany him wherever he chose to go.
So they were gathered in the yard of the fortress. Gandalf and Aragorn were involved in some last minute conferring with the king and Éomer. Meanwhile, Legolas was readying their horse - Durin curse its necessity. Gimli stood next to the beast, regarding it with unconcealed distrust - just why did they have to ride everywhere now? Look at how far and fast they had traveled on their own two feet!
New movement in the yard distracted Gimli from his grim thoughts. Looking up, he saw the remaining members of the elven army coming towards them. They had gathered their weapons, cloaks and other meager belongings and looked ready departure. They came to a halt in front of Legolas, displaying silent greetings and a show of respect with regal nods. But not a word was spoken. The elves were just staring at Legolas - who responded with his own nod and stared right back. Endless moments passed. Despite the clamor going on around them, the yard suddenly seemed utterly quiet to Gimli.
When the continued silence became too uncomfortable to bear for the dwarf, he spoke up. "You'll be joining us then on our way to Orthanc, then?" he asked.
Seven icy glares were turned in his direction. Oh, how he hated that 'better-than-thou' look from arrogant immortals.
"No," Haldir's brother replied finally, "We will not accompany you to the wizard's tower."
"So you'll head to Edoras with the rest of the army then and we'll meet you there?"
Again with the looks, this time with a slight twitch of their nose, "No. We will not be going to Edoras either." At this, the elf turned his attention back to Legolas and addressed him directly. "Elrond sent us to fight alongside man in Helm's Deep, and we did. Our work here is done now. We will head back to Lothlórien. You are free to join us."
Gimli's eyes grew wide. "What?! Head back to the Golden Wood. Why? When there is still so much to do, so much to fight?" he demanded.
The elf seemed to be affronted by the dwarf's enquiry. With a dramatic gesture, he tossed his hair back over his shoulder and lifted his chin a bit more.
"As I said, our work here is done. There is nothing left for us to fight for."
"But you are wrong! There's so much more to do now. The Dark Lord is growing stronger every day, and we are going to oppose him!" Gimli argued.
"There is nothing left for us to fight for," Rúmil repeated pointedly. "The coming battle is not ours. Hundreds of fine elven warriors died here and their fëa will never return to Middle Earth. Soon we will follow them into the west. The time of the elves is over. It may well be the beginning of the time of man - or maybe not. But no matter the outcome of this battle, our time here is ending. We will leave these shores soon." Again he turned to Legolas. "You are welcome to join us, kinsman. Or at least to accompany us a while on your way back to Mirkwood. What say you?"
Gimli was speechless. How could the elves not care whether Sauron won or not? How could they just give up and run away? And did Legolas feel the same? Would he choose to go with them?
Anxiously he turned his eyes to the Silvan elf, trying to read his expression. But Legolas' face was absolutely impassive, showing no emotion at all. For long moments he stood in silence, regarding the band of elves in front of him. Then he blinked once, squared his shoulders unconsciously and Gimli felt that a decision had been made.
"Thank you for your offer, Rúmil o'Lórien," Legolas spoke slowly, "But I must decline." A minute frown appeared on Rúmil's features, clearly indicating he was displeased by the answer. Still Legolas continued unperturbed, almost forcefully, "And I disagree with you. I say we have everything to fight for." Gimli saw a gleam return to his friend's eyes; a gleam that had shone brightly while they were hunting the Uruk-hai across the plains of Rohan. The gleam had diminished during the battle, and all but died in its aftermath, but now it was back with full force. "You may be right. Our time here may indeed be ending. But I refuse to just fade out," he told Rúmil, before he turned his gaze to Gimli, adding with a wry half-grin, "I prefer to burn out with a blaze!"
Gimli could feel an answering grin break out on his face - blessed be his beard for hiding at least a part of it.
The elves of Lorien seemed quite miffed by Legolas' answer. Rúmil gave one last haughty sniff and nodded.
"As you wish. Well then, good luck to you - you will need it." Casting a last disdainful glance at Gimli and then at Legolas, the commander of the remaining elves lifted his hand and gave the sign for departure.
The people milling inside the fortress watched in silence as the last seven members of the elven army marched out of Helm's Deep, their postures just as proud as they had been when they arrived two nights ago. As the group disappeared from their view, many gazes turned to the last elf remaining among men's race during this war. But the immortal ignored their looks and instead focused on his friend.
"Come, Gimli," he said, "let us find Aragorn. There's much work to be done still."