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What If ...?

One Title: Your Story

A Fairy Tale, Middle-Earth style

Games People Play

Friends in Small Places

The Dangers Arising From Travelling with Hobbits

OppositesSummary: Gandalf has his doubts about the reasoning behind Elrond’s choice of companions for Frodo. But then, Elrond thinks it’s sheer madness to send Merry and Pippin along... Neither of them, however fully understand just what the Hobbits will bring to the quest... Strictly Book!Verse. Rated K/U Suitable for All.

‘This is madness, Elrond, sheer madness! When you have the might of Glorfindel at your disposal, when you have two courageous sons, well known to Aragorn...’

‘Every course is madness in these times, every course is folly, Mithrandir,’ Elrond said. ‘I cannot send my sons; they are not pure Elvenkind and while you and I know it matters not, there are those with whom it would weigh too heavy. Nor can I send Glorfindel; he is too great, even when he hides his power it leaks out of him, tangible, gleaming... to our enemies, he would be such a beacon as would reveal your position where’re you might be...’

The two old friends glared at each other.

‘As if I am not beacon enough,’ Gandalf muttered.

‘You, at least, are able to mask your power quite effectively.’ Elrond carefully did not speak of his forebodings, his sense that, perhaps, Gandalf would not be with the company long enough to shine too bright... ‘Have you not you yourself said that not even Glorfindel could storm the Dark Tower, nor open the road to the Fire by his power? In any case, Glorfindel is just... too obvious. And Erestor would not approve. Besides, you are known to wander in the wild; my seneschal no longer roams far from our borders.’


‘Well, then.’

‘But, Elrond, must you? Thranduilion?’

‘You know Legolas, he has many qualities, he has met Aragorn, he has had dealings with the creature Gollum; the son of Thranduil, having seen for himself how tricky Gollum is, will be unlikely to underestimate him again. And anyway,' Elrond continued, Mithrandir's silence a rankling condemnation, 'I did say that in place of Merry and Pippin, who really ought not to be going on this quest, I would seek to send one or two of my household...'

Gandalf made a sound in his throat which could have signalled reluctant acknowledgement but which really was more of a comment on Gandalf's opinion of the perceived wisdom of the Lord of Imladris... he refrained from asking who might Elrond have chosen, the housekeeper, perhaps? Or Lindir, so they could all have a nice sing-song around the camp fire?

'They do say, 'go not to the Elves for counsel,' although they then rather spoil it by adding a polite qualifier,' the Wizard said. 'Be that as it may... Gimli, the son of Glóin? Are you forgetting your recent history? These two, their fathers...'

'Yes, indeed, their fathers have issues, but...'

'In the same way that Glorfindel and the Balrog had issues, perhaps?'

'Will not you hear me out? It is their very antagonism which compels me to include them. Consider, Mithrandir; this entire company is rich in contrasts, contradictions... I recognise the potential for chaos, but sometimes such extreme energies can be creative, not destructive! Opposites attract, Gandalf! You know this, you have seen it... the very diversity of the company, its tensions will be its strength, and you, my friend, friend to all in the company as you are, you will be the one to steer their course, to channel those tensions against the common foe... it is what all Middle Earth must do, now, and if you can achieve it with our little company, then there is hope for the world yet...'

Gandalf pursed his lips, but behind the thickness of his beard, it went unnoticed.

Still, he considered Elrond's words as he wandered the Last Homely House, as he talked with Bilbo and the other Hobbits, as he made his quiet preparations...

...Merry and Pippin, like to each other in some ways, yes. Young, quick, fun-loving. Frodo, already injured, and serious, silent more often than he was laughing these days. Sam, worrying, almost parental in his care and concern... Yes. Even amongst these four, as close as they might be, were contrasts, opposites in tension.

And then, take the Men. Aragorn, so humble, striving to be worthy, terrified he might fail... Boromir, arrogant in his pride at being the son of the Steward, already having decided in his own mind that Aragorn would never be good enough for Boromir to serve him... Opposites, indeed, the son of the Steward’s character and Aragorn's, with no doubt who was the better Man...

Gandalf’s thoughts came back to Thranduilion. A humble prince, a hunter, never trading on his status as the son of the Elvenking, seeing himself only as protector of the Greenwood, servant of its people... one might wonder what sort of a king would allow his people's precious prince to guard a prisoner in the forest... but that wasn't the right question. The question was: what sort of a king would not wish his son to understand the trials of his subjects? It must have cost Thranduil greatly to put his son at such risk, it must have been hard to let him ride out with the news for Imladris.

How hard would it be for the Elvenking to hear that Elrond had summarily decided Legolas’ fate without consideration or communication?

It was to be hoped that when Thranduil did hear the news, the messenger would forbear to mention that the son of Glóin was also amongst the company...

** ** ** **

Underway a good two weeks, the weather cold, knives in the wind from the east, the company beginning to settle down to the work of walking and learning each other. Gandalf, of course, had the advantage of some familiarity with the company to one degree or another.

Boromir, perhaps, was the one the Wizard understood the least, but his brother Faramir was a true-hearted soul which boded well for the nature of the brother, and certainly he was kind and genial towards the Hobbits... after all, if you wanted to know the true nature of a person, you watched how they behaved towards the weakest and most vulnerable present... Gimli, too, was a little less well-known, but his father was a Dwarf of character... the son, so far, had proved strong and tireless, stalwart and stoic as he stumped along, keeping up easily with the rest in spite of his burden of chain mail... he was quicker than one would expect from a Dwarf, his movements decisive, keen, and his eye was swift to see. His tongue ran swiftly, too, as did his temper, and he seemed permanently on the brink of misunderstanding anything any but Gandalf, or the Hobbits, said to him.

It seemed like belligerence, but the Wizard knew otherwise; it was self-defence, protection, all the long history of the Dwarves’ struggle against discrimination and adversity causing Gimli to build a battlement of abrupt words and sharp temper... he seemed as hard as the rocks of the land, as solid as its earth, as enduring as the mountains.

Contrasted with Gimli’s stolid, earthy presence, Legolas seemed ethereal, a creature of spirit and air, treading so lightly on the land you would wonder if he’d ever been there. A fine shot, an agile and tireless fighter, a loyal friend. But he was uneasy, out of his element, an Elf alone in a way that was not natural to him... well, that was something Thranduilion and Gimli had in common, each were the sole representative of their kind... Gandalf did not consider himself in such context, of course; rather, he had decided, long ago, that he was an honorary member of each of the races of Middle Earth (those who were not evil, at least) and prided himself on being able to fit in anywhere.

In general, though, the contrasting abilities of the company had made for a somewhat colourful journey down through what otherwise would have been sere and hard lands.

As for the Hobbits... in a way, they felt almost like the family Gandalf didn’t have, children or grandchildren... nephews, perhaps, Merry and Pippin particularly in need of guidance and support. Their humour was of great worth, though. It was leaven to the serious demeanour of Boromir, Gimli’s grim, stalwart silences.

Legolas, Gandalf noticed, conversed with Aragorn, but spoke mostly with the Hobbits, always there with a song, a cheering word, and if Elf and Dwarf spoke to each other only from necessity, then at least they did not argue.

At least, not yet.

The first inkling of trouble came during their journey into Hollin, when Legolas spoke up about how he could hear echoes of its past from the stones: ‘Deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us, but they are gone.’ They are gone. They sought the Havens long ago.’

‘Whoever heard of an Elf hearing the song of stone?’ Gimli muttered into his beard.

‘The ears of the Elves hear many things, Gimli, son of Glóin,’ Gandalf said in friendly warning. ‘Even those mutterings intended to go unheard.’

‘The sounds of stone are my business...’

Legolas walked up swiftly.

‘Then why do you not heed them more?’ he asked, ‘why leave them to lament uncomforted?’

As Gimli prepared an angry retort, Legolas was gone, across to join the Hobbits, to speak in low tones and tell them such stories of the land as had reached Mirkwood.

The Dwarf grumbled and muttered, glancing at Gandalf as if to guess whose side of the argument he might be on, but the Wizard kept his countenance carefully neutral. When Gimli reached out a hand to gently pat a rock at his side, Gandalf even pretended not to notice.

So, opposing outlooks, differing views, the gentle hearts of the Hobbits, unhardened yet by trouble, the resolute and dour attitudes of the warrior souls amongst them, the resolutely light demeanour of the Elf annoying the defensive Dwarf more and more each day... Gandalf could feel it building...

** ** ** **

Caradhras the Cruel, gifting them snow on snow on snow... Gimli muttering again, his words the sole weapon he could bring to bear against the weather, but adding only to the general gloom and despondency, and Legolas shaking his head, on point of speaking, restraining himself. Gandalf, seeing the end of even Elvish patience in sight, drew him to one side and addressed him quietly in Sindarin.

‘What is the matter, Legolas? There is something, I can tell.’

‘It is... how depressing, the words he says! They all suffer, they are all cold, and wet, and miserable and yet he piles more distress upon them with his words of the cruelty of the mountain, of the reach of the enemy, there is more snow awaiting us, if the dawn can pierce the clouds! It is so defeatist, how can they bear to hear it and keep heart?’

‘It is his way, Legolas Greenleaf, as much as it is yours to sing and laugh your way to comfort. He seeks the worst that can happen so as to prepare best for it, to meet it on his own terms.’

‘I will never understand Dwarves!’

‘Indeed, and is not that at the heart of all the dealings between your two peoples, Legolas? The Dwarves cannot comprehend the Elves and the Elves do not understand the Dwarves? No matter. Perhaps it starts here, with one Elf trying and one Dwarf making an effort...’

‘I do not see him making an effort. Nor how telling oneself stories of doom might be heartening.’

‘Because once you have imagined the very worst that can happen, the reality is never as bad.’ Gandalf smiled, his eyes crinkling. ‘I know. Elves have long memories, and have lived through terrible things; you can imagine such scenes of dread as many here could never comprehend. But do not hold it against the Dwarf, that he seeks to brace his spirit.’

‘I do not, indeed. I only wish he would do so without lowering the spirits of the Hobbits.’

‘Well, that can be your job, cheering them up.’

‘Is not that how it always is? The Dwarves create misery and the Elves attempt to repair the damage they have made?’

‘Now, I would not put it quite like that... Legolas, please, for my sake, try.’

‘And you ask this of me because...?’

Gandalf smiled again.

‘Why, because of the two of you, it is he who is more stubborn, of course.’

Legolas smiled a slow, gentle smile.

‘Think you so, Gandalf? You have met my father, do you think a yielding temper would have been an advantage in dealing with him?’

‘Perhaps not. Then say, rather, that you are more likely to know when to yield for the good of all, if you must.’

Of course, Gandalf mused, as the night drew on to its dregs, Legolas didn’t suffer from the weather in the same way the others did; he was... well, not quite waterproof, as such, or immune – the Elf felt the cold, he felt the wet, but it didn’t reach into him in the same way it did mortals...

Yet for all he was not prey to the bite of the weather, Legolas understood. ‘...they all suffer,’ he had said, not including himself, but seeing the discomfort and pain of his friends. Yes. A good heart, that Elf, not generally proud and superior as some could be, even to the point of making silly jokes about going to fetch the sun, running lightly over the snow as if he were just a breath of air, while Gimli sank almost to his neck in the cold, white, enemy drifts...

** ** ** **

It was not until Moria that Gandalf saw Legolas’ shadow side, the echo of his people’s pride, and even then, there was no harm in him, not really. Having stated he did not wish to go to Moria, nevertheless, he had followed the company without complaint. He stayed near the back, at first, close to Frodo and Sam, but Gandalf could feel the grief washing through him, grief at the death of the two sentinel holly trees outside and it was almost as if the Elf was drawing near to the Hobbits for the comfort of remembered, shared laughter, even though there was no laughter left in them, it seemed.

The Elf was – somehow touchingly – afraid of the dark here, Gandalf realised with a start, although Legolas was not admitting it by any hint or word or demonstration of fear to begin with. Just his step, though still light, was less carefree, his voice less often heard and when he did break his silence...

‘It is dreadful here, it is like to one vast dungeon,’ Legolas whispered in low tones, driven to voice his fear in the hopes of lessening it, Gandalf thought, for it was to the Wizard the Elf addressed his comment.

‘You are not seeing it at its best,’ Gandalf began gently, but Gimli had heard what he had not been supposed to hear, his auditory capacity, as seemed to be the way of Dwarves, heightened to hear all possible insults.

‘Aye, and you will know all about dungeons, laddie, with that father of yours... the tales my dear old dad told me of the treatment he and his friends had at the hands of the Elvenking...’

‘What? Rescue and shelter from the forest, food when they were starving? It was only after they refused to speak honestly to him that he was compelled...’

‘Compelled my eye! And how dare, how dare you compare the great halls of my fathers to that dirty, miserable cave your father hides himself away in...?’

‘How dare you, Dwarf? My father’s halls are vast and lofty, lit with lamps that mirror the stars and echo to our songs...’

‘Dirty and dreary and dim! And noisy! I tell you, Elf...’

‘Tell him later, my good Gimli!’ Gandalf said, interrupting the hissing invective before it could grow too violent. ‘For the moment, tell me which of these passages you think is the one we need? Hmm?’

Gimli bristled in the dark, and Legolas’ steps for a good hour afterwards were stilted, offended, even when Gandalf patted his arm in well-meaning consolation.

‘Legolas Greenleaf, I need your help also,’ the Wizard said softly, using Sindarin. ‘You are far from the woods of your home, but your eyes are still keenest, your senses sharpest to pick out any trace of outside air. Hold your courage in readiness but, I beg of you, try not to antagonise the Dwarf! We are all on this quest together for a reason.’

Even if that reason was Elrond not wishing to risk his sons...

They trailed on through the darkness until the walls receded and Gandalf risked a brief light, startling after so much gloom,serving more to create shadows, really, than to bring reassurance and comfort. Ranks of pillars marching, three gaping entrances, smooth walls...

Half-promising them daylight in the morning, Gandalf called a halt. Finding a corner where the draught from the doors was less, they clustered close against the vastness, seeking comfort in proximity. The Wizard held his breath when Sam asked about the Dwarves of Moria, curious as to whether they had lived in such ‘darksome holes’...

But if Gandalf had expected Gimli to take offence as he had at Legolas’ early comment (which had been really far less offensive, and not addressed to the Dwarf anyway) he was surprised; Gimli’s reaction was quite the opposite, in fact; he answered sternly at first, perhaps, but then, moved by some impulse, got to his feet and began to recite a song of Durin, of Moria.

He showed a surprisingly good voice, too, not at all what one would expect from how he generally spoke and grumbled and mumbled away, singing – chanting, really – a song of history, of beauty, of industry when the world was younger. Of course, as soon as he had done, he grew shy, and withdrew, pretending the song was all. It was left to Gandalf to answer Sam’s questions about Moria, and mithril, and Durin’s Bane.

And Legolas, listening to the chant in the darkness as if it were a lifeline, and after that, Gandalf sensed the Elf looking, glancing across at Gimli through the darkness as if trying to discover something more behind his thick, staunch crust.

During his watch, Gandalf pondered again all the contrasts in the company... what had Elrond said, that Gandalf would unify them, be the one to explain each to the other, where old prejudices could meet and be transformed to new friendships? But no, not his influence, but the Hobbits were the ones to thank for the relative peace in the company. They had never been at odds with the Elves, or been unfriendly to the Dwarves, or even paid much attention to Men, and so their questioning innocence was not skewed with old enmity or secret agendas; they asked from simple curiosity and that could not but be successful in creating new understandings, their questions acting as catalysts for the others to explain their personal mysteries and bring them forth into the light for all to see.

For in the morning, there was light, shafting down dimly from holes cut through the mountains out to the skies in the open world above...

Gandalf hid his secret relief; he knew, now, where they were, and the glimmer of high daylight brightened all their hearts. But there was a long way to go to reach the outside world and discoveries still to be made...

Of course, the tentative mood of hope couldn’t last.

The sudden revelation of Balin’s tomb was a stark reminder of where they were and the dangers that could be lurking, even now, beyond the edges of the light... Gimli stood, grieving with the full weight of all his shattered hopes and, from respect, Gandalf gave him what time he could. From the corner of his eye he saw Legolas lift a hand across his chest and lower his eyes in salute, mouthing the words of an ancient Elvish prayer.

Presently, as if driven by some need to get away from the dreadful reality of the death of Balin, they all began moving, seeking, searching. Discoveries of broken and rusted weapons, traces of old blood were not comforting... Gandalf discovered a book of records, and they gathered to try to decipher it, Gimli stirring himself to try to help, eager for news, even if it was all bad, and Gandalf gave the book into the keeping of the Dwarf for later.

For it was time, now, to press on, the journal entries finishing in dread and panic, and they returned to the hall, knowing now at least which way to go, but there was no time; even as Gandalf sought to gather the company, it happened.

The attack, while expected, was fierce. Everyone fought as best they could – Gimli stationed near Balin’s tomb, his axe circling death, Legolas’ bow singing, the Men with their swords, each fighting as individuals, but all with the aim of keeping the Hobbits safe... and Gandalf, acting almost without thought, giving orders, his mind racing, splitting, one part of him harnessing his ancient powers, the other looking always to the escape... there was Gimli, standing now as if entranced in misery, head bowed by the tomb of Balin... before Gandalf could respond, he saw Legolas dash across to the Dwarf, grab his arm and pull him away, speaking low and urgently about how his death would not avail his honoured dead, and the duty of service to the living should now be his consolation.

But then there was no time even for thought as Gandalf was thrown deeply into the fray...

Exhausted, all but spent, the Wizard almost fell down the steps to catch up with the company. Speaking as lightly as he could, trying not to frighten the Hobbits, he drew Gimli to his side, drawing strength from the Dwarf’s courage, supporting his grief by his own companionship. With luck, and determination, they might yet come through this unscathed.

Or some of them would...

A narrow bridge, the enemy all around, fire and flame and Legolas giving a cry of fear such as Gandalf had never thought to hear the Elf utter as their enemy was revealed, shadow and flame and ancient evil...

The Wizard braced them as best he could, issued orders, sent them on and stood on the bridge against the Balrog, facing its dark conflagration with his own...

... and his enemy fallen, but he, on the brink, clutching the edge of hard, broken stone, the last few seconds stretching out even as he saw Aragorn try to turn and run back... they would be all right, Aragorn would lead them... where they were headed was comfort and wisdom... Legolas had begun to understand Gimli, and even if the Dwarf was not close, yet, to understanding the Elf, it was a start; Thranduilion was more swift to forgive, more patient of heart. He would cheer the Hobbits, Aragorn would protect them...

They would be fine.

He sought for fitting last words of comfort, but time was running short...

‘Fly, you fools,’ he said as his hands failed, as the lash of the Balrog, implacable, dragged at him and the rock slithered up past his loosened fingers...

** ** ** **

A dark time. A red time. Pain and cold after the heat of flame. A bright time... all skittered past in flickers of dawning consciousness, in the passage of time... he was a feather on the breeze, blown about by fate, he was hearing voices but they might as well have been the whisper of the wind in the trees. The rustle of the leaves was all the speech he understood, he was not of this place...

This place.

He had been sent back...

Lothlórien and healing and tales of new hope...

** ** ** **

Well met, indeed, very well met, to see the three of them again amongst the trees of Fangorn... Aragorn, as ever he was... the Dwarf and the Elf, working together now, talking about how to defend against him... of course, they did not need to defend against him, but they were confused, perhaps.

Or was it he who suffered the confusion...? There were moments, still, when he struggled, when he did not know if he was hero or villain, grey or white, new made or older than the world itself...

But these three, he knew. And as he looked, he read the bonds of friendship in how Elf and Dwarf echoed each other’s stance, how they stood ready to fight or fall together, and he wondered how this change had come about, since they had been such enemies at first. Polite enemies, true. Opponents, perhaps, was a better word...

And yet, was it so surprising that after such enmity should be such comradeship?

‘Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer,’ it was said, and if one followed that sage advice, what would happen should that enmity turn to friendship? After all, one learns more about an enemy than one does a friend, because one is more invested in knowing if there is a threat.

And so now, Gandalf smiled to see, amidst the confusion of power around him, that these two who had bickered and snarled at each other in the dark of Moria had moved as one, ready to strike the perceived enemy, to die together or for each other.

Legolas, endurance honed to wisdom, Gimli, suffering hardening and toughening him, their fears for the Hobbits the unifying force which had driven them on, beyond exhaustion, beyond hope, bringing them here, now, to the very place they needed to be.

Listening , telling tales around the camp fire, hearing how often Gimli or Legolas returned in talk to Merry and Pippin, voiced relief they were safe, relived their dread on discovering their burned and lost equipment, their concerned speculation for Frodo and Sam, it struck him again how the Hobbits, even by their absence, could bring different peoples – enemies, even – together just in memory, just in thought... a never-ending source of surprise, Hobbits.

Setting off the next morning, a hard road still ahead, Gandalf could not restrain the flickerings of hope within his heart.

‘We ride for Meduseld,’ the Wizard announced, both challenge and victory in his voice, and as Aragorn wheeled Hasufel into place, and Legolas told Arod where to head, Gandalf felt himself smiling, his heart lighter than it had been for many months as the two broke into song as they rode, despite the fact that Gimli now rode with Gandalf and Legolas alone on Arod, their odd harmony of light tenor and gruff baritone, somehow mingling into one fine, strong song, and surely, if one Elf and one Dwarf could, in these hard days, strike up such a friendship, then perhaps that day was not so far off when all Dwarves and all Elves could unite against the common enemy.

...Yes. One should never underestimate the dangers of travelling with a few friendly, hopeful, hopeless Hobbits: sooner or later, you would end up being friends with the whole world.

Whether you liked it or not.

** ** ** **

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