Contemplating Old Sayings
Author's Note: I don't know anything about breeding and horses in general – except that they are bigger and faster than me – so please excuse any inaccuracy.
A new log was tossed into the crackling fire, sending up a row of glimmering sparks which danced like fireflies in the dark. Unfortunately the not quite dry wood also caused a new cloud of smoke to rise up into the already smoke filled room. The fire cast a flickering light on the stone ground, painting wild red-golden patterns on it which danced merrily. But even combined with the row of torches hanging on the side walls the fire did little to chase away the dark gloom in the Golden Hall of Edoras.
Gimli heaved a sigh, staring into his mug of ale. On other days the big hall of the Rohan King might seem cozy, inviting story, song, dance and laughter. But right now its lingering darkness lasted heavy on its occupants. The strong rain that had been falling for eight days now, kept everybody from even trying to go outside, effectively trapping them inside the hall and its relatively few adjourning rooms.
The constant rain was also the cause for the poor ventilation of the chimney so that the smoke from the fire had taken permanent residence in the hall. Their friend and host, Éomer the King of the Riddermark, had repeatedly apologized for the conditions, claiming that this kind of weather was highly unusual this late in spring in Rohan.
Originally Gimli and Legolas had only planned on staying for a day or two at Edoras, visiting friends and catching up with the old days before continuing their way to the dwarven colony Aglarond. After his latest visit to Gondor and Ithilien, Gimli had convinced Legolas to come back with him and see what the dwarves had accomplished at the Glittering Caves during the last few years. But for now these plans had been delayed by a fit of bad mood from Mother Nature, which started shortly after their arrival in Edoras.
A new gust of wind was swept into the room when the door was opened for a short moment to admit a miserable figure, huddled into his cloak. Rarely did these newcomers that entered the hall bring any real news – nothing happening outside and still no break in the clouds in sight.
As a dwarf Gimli was more than used to being inside enclosed spaces for weeks and even months; a few times it had been years that he had not seen a single ray of sunlight. But right now Gimli outright hated being trapped inside; a fact that was mainly due to the heavy mood prevailing in the room. They all had been in here for too long with too little to do. By now all the famous and not so famous songs had been sung, all tales been told, all weapons sharped and battle experiences exchanged. The adjourning chambers had been closely examined and Gimli was convinced that he knew every pattern on any of the – numerous – horse figures, heads and carpets decorating the room.
The only pass-time that currently held some of Gimli's interest was a healthy cup of the strong Rohan ale and a good smoke. Dwarves were generally fond of friendly get-togethers with boozing and smoking – yet it was not something that you started in midmorning!
A sharp coughing drew Gimli's attention away from his drink. Looking up he found the source of this sound to be his long time companion Legolas. A cloud of biting smoke from the fire had drifted over to where the elf was seated. Impatiently he waved a hand in front of his face, trying to clear the air – the elf despised smoke in its natural form just as much as coming from pipe weed. The prolonged 'imprisonment' seemed to be even harder on Legolas than it was on Gimli. From experience the dwarf knew that his friend resented being in enclosed spaces, deprived of nature, sun- or star shine. It made the elf restless and after an extended period of time even slightly paranoid, as Gimli had learned in Moria.
But their stay at Edoras had also brought a new, unexpected revelation for Gimli: The elf also had troubles dealing with boredom. This realization had comes as a real surprise for the dwarf. Since Legolas was immortal and destined to witness the passing of dozens of centuries, Gimli had expected that he would also be used to long periods of inaction and idleness. Apparently this didn't apply to time spend indoors. During the last few days the dwarf had seen his friend become more and more restless until he was pacing up and down the Golden Hall.
Gimli supposed that the elf's mood was probably due to a lack of stimulation as well: Even though Éomer was a friendly and entertaining host, he was not quite up to elven standards when it came to conversation. As Gimli had learned during his stay at Rivendell and especially later on in Legolas' company, elves loved complex speech, talking in riddles and metaphors, hiding what they really meant and most important of all: never giving a definite answer or advice. Obviously among elves this was not considered annoying but rather was seen as a kind of sport; deciphering each other's meaning could keep them occupied for a long time (of which they had plenty to spend) without getting bored.
The Rohan culture was the exact opposite. The people of the Riddermark led a down-to-earth-life, always saying exactly what they thought and meant without overmuch political or diplomatic fuss.
And while both respective styles certainly had their allure, the two just didn't mix very well...
So after a few failed attempts, Legolas had given up on trying to play his guessing games and trick questions with Éomer. While their relationship had improved greatly since their first, rather high strung encounter, the two of them would most likely never be as close friends as Éomer and Gimli had become. But then, as far as he knew, Legolas wasn't close friends with very many people altogether, Gimli mused. The elf was friendly or at least polite to anybody they met, but always a bit reserved. There was only a small number of people that he allowed to know him better and call him 'friend'. Even though he would hardly admit it, the dwarf was secretly proud to be able to be able to count himself among Legolas' close friends, maybe even his closest altogether; an enormous feat, especially considering the fact that he was a 'Naugrim', a 'stunted one'. He had even been named 'elf-friend' and been told that he was the first dwarf to be called thus in centuries!
Gimli had seen his immortal friend in every kind of situation; at ups and downs, celebrating a victory and grieving for the lost after a bloody battle, singing to the stars and trees in clear night and wandering lost in his own world, hearing the call of the sea. And now, pacing the Golden Hall like a caged animal.
Gimli found himself following the elf's path with his eyes; down all the way to the entrance, then up all the way to the throne at the other end, turn around again and back to the crackling fire pit in the middle of the hall.
One of the logs in the fire chose precisely that moment to crash down, casting a cloud of stinging smoke directly into the elf's face. Giving a sharp cough, Legolas cast the fire an icy glare that few mortals could withstand for very long – but the fire just burned on, clearly unimpressed by this treatment. For a moment a deep frown combined with the typical elven indignant look passed over Legolas' face, until he obviously decided that unleashing his temper on the fire pit would be a waste of energy and dignity. With a last frown for the offender, the elf reassumed his restless pacing.
In a way Gimli was disappointed. For one thing because he secretly wished for something – anything! – to happen to lighten the dull, rainy day. But also because the dwarf was slowly beginning to worry for his friend. With their prolonged inaction Legolas was becoming more and more detached, losing his cheerful nature and submitting himself to a deep melancholy. The elf's posture was subdued, lacking his usual energy and power, as if somebody had cut half of the strings to a puppet. On bright days in Gondor or Ithilien Gimli had seen his friend almost glow from sheer joy, virtually pouring of grace and the legendary elven air of impalpability.
However, all that was left right now was a tired creature with slumped shoulders and sluggish movements. Even the immortal's eyes which were usually deep, sparkling pools of blue, mirroring the sky, seemed dull and lifeless, more grey than blue.
It was common belief among the dwarven race the elves could influence their surroundings and their mood and even change the weather at pure will. Entire tales coursed among the dwarves of immortals, calling on a thunderstorm or a cloudless night just to vent their frustrations and feelings.
However, Gimli had learned first hand that the exact opposite of that belief was true: elves weren't influencing the weather – their surroundings were influencing them and determining the elven mood. So while a bright summer day would send them into high spirits, no matter the time and place, a series of grey and rainy days could subdue and depress them.
Maybe he should share this knowledge with the rest of this people someday, Gimli mused. It might help to clear up some of the old superstition and prejudices the dwarves held regarding the First Born, and reconcile the races a tiny bit.
But before Gimli could further contemplate the thought, his last prayers to Aule were finally heeded and he was awarded with some action coming from his immortal friend.
Legolas had obviously reached the end of his rope. Halfway through his current round between the walls and the fire, the elf stopped abruptly, tossing his hair back with an impatient gesture. Glancing skywards, he let loose an impressive string of what Gimli deemed were elven courses – and probably particular strong ones, uttered in pure Silvan, since the dwarf couldn't remember hearing any of them in the time he had spent with his friend and neither was he able to translate any of them with his steadily growing knowledge of Sindarin.
The elf's antics drew some attention from the Rohirrim scattered in various corners of the Golden Hall, but Legolas paid them no heed. Still muttering he turned around, stalked to the huge wooden doors and pushed them open with an impulsive gesture. Ignoring the men's protest about the gust of wind and cold that he allowed to enter, the immortal stepped outside, leaving the doors wide open.
Sensing the chance for a bit of entertainment – if only in teasing his friend about his strange antics – Gimli left his comfortable place by the table and hurried after the elf. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Éomer follow him.
Reaching the doors, they found Legolas standing next to one of the mighty pillars just at the edge of the protecting roof, staring into the sky. The unforgiving wind was tearing at the elf's clothes, whipping his hair around his face and occasionally spraying him with a taste of the thick raindrops. Yet Legolas obviously wasn't disturbed by any of this. His stance was open; his face and palms turned upwards as he took deep, even breaths. Stepping outside as well, Gimli swore he could see the relaxation pass over the elf's posture, the tense, bent shoulders straightening.
A not so soft creak and click from behind them informed Gimli that Éomer had come out as well, diplomatically closing the doors for the sake of the men inside. For a moment nobody spoke; three pairs of eyes turned to the grey sky above which was still 'gifting' the plains with a steady douse. Gimli had to admit, even with the wind and the cold, going outside for a while was a true blessing. He took a deep savoring breath. The fresh air cleared his head and made the dwarf feel revitalized. If this felt already felt so good for him Gimli could only guess what it did for Legolas.
Another gust of wind sent a new, very wet spray directly into their faces and with a sour grumble Gimli took a step back further beneath the roof. But even as he did so, he heard an entirely different sound coming from his friend. A content hum escaped the elf and he seemed to lean forward into the spray like into a lover's caress.
Then something sparked the immortal's interest and he stretched, trying to gain a better view. Legolas gaze swept across the plains below the hill upon which Edoras stood, yet from his lower posture and with his 'mortal' eyes Gimli could not make out what it was that his companion saw.
Luckily the dwarf's pride was spared the need to ask what had captured the elf's attention. Legolas turned around to face Éomer, a look of mild surprise on his face.
"You leave your horses running free?" he asked the Horse Lord, gesturing towards the plains.
Stepping forward to the edge of the roof again and standing on his tip toes, Gimli could just make out about two dozens tiny, running figures, heavily blurred by the falling rain. He did not doubt that his elven companion was able to see them in full clarity and could probably even tell him what colors their eyes had, should Gimli ask – which he did not.
Éomer wistfully shook his head, a small smile playing around his lips. "Not as a general rule." He answered the immortal's question. "Yet these down there are a special kind. They are half-wilds, living free and mostly untamed. We don't ride them, but breed from them every other year or so. They make for some fabulous traits in their offspring – yet they are too proud and free to be controlled by man. It would be a shame to restrain them. Free they are and free they shall remain."
Legolas nodded, stepping out from under the roof into the falling rain and walking to the edge of the platform upon which the Golden Hall stood. "Proud they are indeed. Strong necks I see, and powerful legs and an unrestrained energy, running freely." His focus still trained on the moving figures below, the elf didn't seem to mind or even notice the rain that was drenching him, soaking his hair and clothes.
Silence fell between the companions, each of them contemplating their own thoughts. Just as Gimli was considering the comforting effect that a good, strong ale, taken next to the fireplace, would have on his bones after this short excursion into the horrid weather, he heard Legolas speak again.
"Proud and free indeed..." the elf mumbled, still standing in the rain, tall and unmoving like one of the Argonath.
But then he suddenly sprang into action, jumping down the flight of stairs and running lightly down the hill between the scattered houses. Yet he wasn't making his way towards the gates of the palisade that surrounded the town but racing directly towards the wall that faced the plains that he had been observing only moments before.
"Legolas! What are you doing, crazy elf!?!" Gimli bellowed through the sound of falling water drops.
Grinning Legolas turned around to face his comrades, never breaking his run. Jogging backwards through some puddles, he waved his hand merrily, soaked clothes and hair plastered to his skin.
"Worry not, my friend!" he shouted. "I shall return shortly!" And with that he turned his back on them again and leapt – seemingly effortless – onto the low roof of a small keep that leaned against the wall. A few well placed steps and jumps took him closer to the pointy top of the palisade. Another small hop and the elf disappeared from Gimli's and Éomer's line of sight, vanishing over the wall. It did not seem to bother Legolas that this side of the hill consisted solely of steep, uneven and unstable rocks that a goat would have trouble climbing down with all its limbs intact.
Gimli heard a sharp intake of breath coming from Éomer at the elf's action. The dwarf in turn only groaned unnerved, crossing his arms. He simply hated it when Legolas pulled stunts like that!
"Showoff!" he mumbled, tapping his foot.
The Rohirrim beside him was still staring at the spot where the elf had disappeared, his mouth standing slightly open. Eventually he turned to face the dwarf, an incredulous look still on his face.
Gimli decided it was time to take pity and ease the man's mind a bit. "It is as he said", he explained. "Don't worry about the crazy elf – he'll be back. He's not that easy to get rid off – even though there are some days when I wish it were so. And don't even try to understand the elves or their so called logic – it will only give you a royal headache, my King!"
Éomer just nodded mutely. It was then that he seemed to discover that his mouth was still standing open and he closed it, with obvious and conscious effort. Gimli thought the sight was quite comical.
They both turned to face the plains again, where the horses were now marching at a relatively lazy pace. For a while neither man nor dwarf spoke, the only sound coming from the wind and the splashing of the rain on the stone steps. But then the view before them changed, drawing an involuntary gasp from Éomer. Entering their field of sight was a new tiny figure on the land below, running towards the group of moving animals.
Gimli squinted his eyes, staring down. Through the mist of the falling rain he could only make out a pale moving dot which was Legolas' fair face and hair. The rest of his body was blurred too much, his clothing of greens and browns blending in with the surroundings.
But Gimli and the king weren't the only ones to notice the elf's arrival. The horses had also spotted him and now came galloping towards him at full speed. For the umpteenth time that day Gimli cursed the weather conditions; this time for blocking his view. Next the dwarf gave equal attention to inwardly cursing the 'crazy elf'. If Legolas didn't get out of the way soon he might easily be stomped to death by the mass of moving bodies!
Somebody in a high position seemed to be paying attention to Gimli's curses that day, for when the first horse of the herd was only a few dozen feet away from Legolas the rainfall suddenly became lighter, granting the two watchers a better view.
Right at the next moment the two parties clashed. Legolas stopped abruptly, while the horses thundered past him, their hooves missing him by inches only. Yet the elf never flinched at their closeness, rather he held out his hands, stroking the animals in passing.
But what happened next made even Gimli gasp aloud. The largest horse of the group obviously did not intend to pass Legolas by but was headed directly towards him! The black stallion had a striking similarity to the mounts of the extinguished Black Riders. Gimli guessed it to be the leader of the herd; even from the distance and with his untrained eyes the dwarf could tell that it was indeed a prime specimen, strong and beautiful – at least as far as horses went. But this beauty did not make it any less dangerous for his friend, especially when it seemed unintended to break its speed anytime soon!
The stallion only stopped when it almost collided with the elf, going up on its hind legs. Prancing back and forth in the wet ground, its raised hooves came dangerously close to the immortal's head. And yet Legolas did not step back, but raised his arms and danced lightly around the black creature as if this all was a child's play – left and right and right and left, his gaze always fixed on the stallion's eyes. Gimli would have betted that there was a smile on the elf's face and that he was thoroughly enjoying this possibly lethal 'game'.
Then the horse brought down its hooves, barely missing Legolas in the process. What followed next could only be described as a staring match between to equal opponents. Legolas stood completely still, while the black mount moved its legs restlessly; but neither left the other's gaze. Time stretched and tension filled the air, so strong that Gimli thought he could almost taste and touch it, like it was moments before a battle broke loose.
Then the moment ended and the stallion reared up again and threw back its head in an impatient gesture, opening its mouth in a shrill whinny that reached the two observers faintly. At the same time a gap in the clouds broke up and a single ray of light fell directly on the two figures below. The scene appeared almost otherworldly; light reflecting from the elf's drenched silver hair and the horse's black coat, causing them to glisten in stark contrast to their surroundings, both bodies tensed yet incredibly beautiful and filled with a certain grace.
Breaking the moment the mount came down on all four legs again and with a last shake of its head and a kick it thundered off. Legolas just laughed, waved his arm in the air and then took off, running after the herd at full speed. The elf was a fast runner, no doubt about it, but even he could not keep up with the galloping animals.
When they had put some distance between them and the elf, the horses suddenly changed directions. Going a wide loop, they circled around the stranger in their plains, so that they were coming to him from behind. Legolas just kept running, even as the herd crashed past him again, splashing him in the process. It was only when the leading horse came closer to him that the elf broke his rhythm: Holding out his hands, he grabbed the stallion's mane and pulled himself on its back – all in full run!
Up on the platform, Éomer's poor chin fell down yet again and Gimli's followed close behind. Legolas had always preferred to ride without saddle or bridle – Gimli had often enough suffered through it while riding with him – and also the 'pulling-himself-up-in-full-speed-stunt' was nothing new. But that had been his own trained mount Arod – these in contrast were untrained half-wilds who, according to Éomer, had never been ridden before! Maybe the elf did indeed have a dying wish, the dwarf mused. If the stallion should throw him off now, he'd most likely be stomped to death by the following animals.
However, Legolas seemed unconcerned by the possible danger he was in. Leaning forward to his mount's neck, he even seemed to edge it on to go even faster. And the stallion listened to him! Not even trying to get rid of the burden on its back, it bent its neck and increased its speed further until they were in the lead of the herd.
It was a sight that neither Gimli nor Éomer would forget soon: a band of wild horses and one elf going across the plains of Rohan in perfect unison at a neck-breaking speed, undisturbed by the rainfall. The horses splashed through the drenched earth, sending chunks of mud flying whenever they changed directions.
As much as he seemed to be in tune with his mount it could not be a very smooth ride for the elf. However, from the looks of it, Legolas was enjoying the experience immensely. Gimli could not tell his friend's expression from the distance, but his posture was open and relaxed; quite a feat in itself, considering that he was sitting on a wild, galloping horse. This new stunt was not quite what Gimli had had in mind when he had wished for some kind of action or entertainment to ease his friend's earlier mood, but this was obviously working just fine.
The dwarf figured that he should have guessed that Legolas would find something new to pass the time that the weather forced them to stay at the Golden Hall. After years and years of close friendship Gimli knew the elf well enough not to be easily surprised by anything he did any longer...
And yet this day was to hold one last surprise for the dwarf.
Deciding he could leave his companion alone to his 'sport' and since the cold wind and rain didn't exactly make for a comfortable watching position, Gimli turned to go back inside. Just then Legolas let go of his horse's mane and leaned back on the stallion's bare back. Holding on only with his legs pressed into his mount's flanks, the immortal stretched out his arms to both sides and let loose a triumphant howl. The sound echoed across the land and reached even the ears of the two people on top of the hill. The running horses followed the elf's example with a row of answering neighs and whinnies.
At precisely the same moment the seemingly endless rain stopped abruptly. The dark clouds broke open, flooding the plains with the soft light of the late morning sun.
And for the third time that day, Legolas left his friends speechless.
"What...? How...?" muttering in confusion, the king of the Rohirrim once again turned to his dwarven friend for an explanation.
"How did he do that?" Éomer asked, gesturing vaguely from the elf on horseback to the now sunlight sky which had been masked with a dull grey for so long. "This can't be pure chance of timing! Or can it?"
"Honestly, I have no idea, my Lord." Gimli answered truthfully, alternately looking at the king and staring down at his friend. "Maybe the elf sensed the change in weather coming, much as he did when we sailed up the Anduin from Pelargir during the Great War. Back then he told us to have hope when we saw none – it is possible that the same has occurred here."
In the plains below them, the wet grass and the soaked coat of the running animals were glittering in sun, shining like little diamonds.
Or maybe there was a different reason altogether, Gimli mused. Maybe his ancestors were right in their belief and the race of immortals was indeed able to influence and change the weather! There was only one thing that Gimli knew for sure about this: That he would never get a definite answer to this mystery, even if he should question his immortal friend about it.
And on the light breeze that was now playing about them, Gimli thought he could hear the faint echo of a clear, elven laughter.