Five Senses

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Into The Forbidding Gloom by White Wolf


Proverbs

Title: Into the Forbidding Gloom

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: The location of this story and everything in it that don't belong to Tolkien are totally creations of mine. But I'll be happy to trade.

Summary: Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli run into big trouble during their search for Merry and Pippin.





~*~

Where thereís a will, thereís a way.

~*~

After traveling several hours non-stop, Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli, known as The Three Hunters, reached the crest of a small hill and finally came to a stop. All of them, even the seemingly tireless elf, was out of breath.

They had been moving as swiftly as they could, desperate to catch up to the hobbits, Merry and Pippin, who had been taken captive by the Uruk-hai at Amon Hen.

After catching their breath, the three companions stood side by side, staring downward toward the foot of the hill. Covering the entire area in front of them was a huge black cloud, undulating slowly like giant waves.

"What is this place? Do you know it?" Gimli asked his two companions.

"Iím afraid that I do." Aragorn answered. "Under there is The Green Swamp. Though Iíve never been in there before, Iíve been to this very spot once, and thatís as close as I cared to get."

The dwarf swallowed hard. He didnít like the sound of that. Anything that was so daunting that Aragorn didnít want to explore it, would definitely be a place he didnít want to see, either. Whatever the black cloud was hiding had to be ominous.

The churned up earth off to their right was a clear indication that the Uriuk-hai, with their captives, had come this way and entered The Green Swamp.

Gimli groaned, thinking how frightened the two little hobbits must have been, not only to be held by those foul creatures but also to face going into that menacing cloud. It made even the stout-hearted dwarf shiver. "Is there any chance that we can go around?" he asked hopefully.

"Merry and Pippin may not have been taken all the way through and out the other side. We have to make sure that they arenĎt still in there," Aragorn explained. "Hopefully, it wonít take us too long to check what we have to check and then get across the swamp." That statement was a very optimistic one.

Aragorn took a deep breath and stepped forward, striding swiftly down the hill. Gimli fell in line behind the ranger, while Legolas brought up the rear.

When Aragorn reached the edge of the cloud, he took another deep breath, sure it would be the last clean air his lungs would feel for a while, and then he started in. He was immediately swallowed up by the blackness. Even Gimli, following directly behind, couldn't see him. In turn, each one disappeared until there was nothing left outside but silence.

Legolas's elven senses were immediately affected. They became dulled, and he couldnít be sure which direction he should be heading in. That was an unusual feeling for an elf, and he didnít like it one bit.

"Are we all here?" Aragorn called from up ahead. His voice sounded muffled.

"Aye, I think so," Gimli replied in the same muted tone. He looked behind him but couldnít see anything other than the black cloud, swirling around him. "Elf, are you still with us?"

"I am here, Master Dwarf," Legolas informed him.

Aragorn kept moving, not willing to stop until he could see something besides this infernal black cloud. He could hear Gimliís boots treading on the ground, though his steps sounded as if they were drifting to him from far away. Legolas he wouldnít have heard, even if the elf had been walking across nothing but dead leaves on a garden path. Aragorn just had to trust that the elf was still following.

Gradually, the darkness began to give way to an eerie gloom that became a steamy-looking, sickly greenish light. It was what had given the swamp its name.

When Aragorn finally held up his hand to halt the two behind him, they all found themselves on a mossy bank at the edge of the green-black water.

All around them were trees that looked more like bark-covered skeletons. A few looked almost normal, though most looked as if they had been blasted where they stood by something evil and powerful. In clumps hanging from the leafless branches was moss, which waved gently, though the air was as still as death. At the base of most of the trees were roots that twisted out of the water like giant serpents in various forms of torture.

The elfís heart was saddened to think of what these trees must have gone through. They had no song and did not speak to him, though he didnít have the feeling that they were dead.

Aragorn stopped and looked around him and frowned. "Have either of you noticed that it doesnít look as if the Uruk-hai came this way? The path isnít torn up."

"Maybe they knew another way to go," Gimli offered. "I donít think tromping through this dreadful mess would bother them much. Theyíd likely enjoy it." He spoke with disdain.

"Perhaps youíre right, Gimli," Aragorn conceded before moving on.

After a few more yards, the friends came to the end of the path. Legolas pushed the plight of the trees and the mystery of what path the Uruk-hai had taken out of his mind and asked, "There is no solid ground anywhere that I can see except the way we came in."

"Look behind you," Aragorn said. As both the elf and the dwarf did so, the ranger remarked, "Thatís now gone, too. We have to go into the water."

That prospect was an exceedingly unpleasant one for each of them.

Aragorn looked at the horrible liquid. It was impossible to tell how deep it was. It might be too deep for even him and Legolas, which would mean that it would be far over Gimliís head. "Stay back, Gimli, until I know how deep it is."

He pulled a thin, elven rope from the small pouch he carried on his belt. Tying one end around his waist, the ranger gave the other end to Legolas, who secured it around his own waist.

Aragorn stepped off the bank into the dark water. After a few strides, the ground leveled out, coming to about mid calf.

The ranger continued walking until he had gone about twenty yards. Ripples spread out from his body as he passed . "Itís soft, of course, but still fairly solid here," he called back.

His eyes never left the water, keeping his sights on surface for any possible movement around him. He had a fear of being grabbed by something under the water that he could not see. It was a fear he had carried since childhood.

Bubbles appeared to Aragornís left, and Gimli pointed to them. He raised his ax, ready to launch it at anything that might appear. Nothing did.

Next to the dwarf, Legolas was just as ready with his bow. He had placed an arrow on the bowstring but hadnít drawn it back as yet.

"I guess this is as good a place as any to make our way across," Aragorn called out to his friends.

Gimli threw his beard over his left shoulder before walking out into the black water. He saw the quirk of Legolasís mouth and glared at the elf. "Well, I donít want to get it wet."

With an audible huff, he turned and made his way toward Aragorn, pleased that the water never got above his belt.

When Legolas reached Aragorn, he handed his end of the rope to the ranger, who untied the part around his own waist, curled it up and returned it to his pouch.

He then took his place at the rear, letting the keen-eyed elf take the lead.

They picked their way slowly and carefully, so they wouldnít trip on anything that might be hidden in the murky water.

All sound seemed to be swallowed up in the wavering mist around them. Likewise, there wasnít even the faintest movement to offer any relief from the humid, oppressive air. All that could be seen were the tortured trees, the green gloom, and the black water. Covering it all, just above the treetops, was the black cloud.

~*~

As the three walked, the texture of the swamp began to change. The water didnít get any deeper, much to Gimliís relief, but the bottom had turned to clinging mud. It sucked at their boots, forcing the pace to slow to a crawl. Even the light-footed elf had his problems.

Vines crisscrossed the spaces between the trees, forcing Legolas and Aragorn to duck often to avoid being snared around the neck. It was only when he passed the lowest vines that the short-statured miner had to duck, as well.

Once Aragorn reached up to pull away a piece of vine, and it turned out to be a slender, green snake. Startled, the man jerked and in a reflexive move, sent the snake flying away from him. From then on, he and Legolas both looked a little closer before grabbing for anything over their heads.

By the time they had reached the point where they didnít think they could force their feet to move another step in the mud, the companions found themselves staring at the path, which angled up out of the water just ahead of them. So it was with great relief that Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli made their way upon solid, though somewhat soft, ground.

Green moss was more prevalent here and covered just about everything. The air also seemed hotter, although that may have been due to the effort the three friends had just put forth while moving through the heavy mud.

Following the path, which continued to wind through the trees, Legolas came to a conclusion that had been puzzling him. "Do you get the feeling this path was made just for us?" He had noticed that not only was it going in the direction they wanted to, but they hadnít crossed any other path going in any other direction. The swamp was misty, but as far as he was able to see, there was no other dry ground anywhere.

"I definitely get that feeling," Aragorn replied, wishing he could argue against that logic but not able to offer an opposing view.

"Weíre being led?" Gimli asked, looking around, as if whoever might be responsible for the elfís reasoning could be visible nearby.

"It sure looks that way," Aragorn quickly confirmed. He had noticed the same thing Legolas had.

"Who knew we were coming here?" Gimli asked, shivering. He looked like he wasnít sure he really wanted to know the answer.

"Who indeed?" Aragorn said, pressing his lips together. Sauron quickly sprang to mind, but there could be many other possibilities, having nothing to do with the Quest.

"I think perhaps this whole place is meant as a trap," the elf reasoned. "Maybe it is not meant to be for just us, but for anyone who ventures here."

"You may be right, Legolas, but whatever the intentions, we have no choice but to keep going," Aragorn replied.

As the three hunters made their way along the path, the air grew even more oppressive and the gloom played tricks on their eyes. Despite the fact there was only defused light under the cloud, there were deep, black shadows, which

began to move toward them.

Legolas was the first to notice. "The shadows!" he shouted in alarm. "They move."

The closer the shadows came to the three companions, the more they seemed to take on a solid form, as nothing could be seen through them. But like regular shadows cast by sunshine, they were two dimensional.

One shadow swooped down toward Gimli. He ducked to the side, causing him to step into the edge of the water.

While Gimli was climbing out of the water, another shadow swooped down on Aragorn, but he saw it in time and side-stepped. He drew his sword and swung it at the shadow as it sailed over his head. When the sword made contact, the shadow vanished in a shower of sparks. The man was so surprised at that he stood for a moment and stated. Some of the tiny flames landed on the path, while others sizzled out when they hit the swampy surface.

Legolas dispatched two more shadows with his flashing blades, while Gimli used his ax to destroy all the dark forms that came within swinging range.

Aragorn didnít believe there was any intelligence involved in the attack. The shadows didnít appear to be working together. Also the destruction of their companions didnít seem to phase them.

"They are not attempting to avoid our blows," Legolas observed, sending a shower of sparks cascading, as he dispatched another dark shadow. "They are just coming straight at us and not maneuvering at all to match our moves."

"Yeah, I noticed that. Also thereís no strategy between them." Aragorn stopped talking long enough to swing at and quickly destroy another shadow. "One thing though," he continued, "they have numbers on their side. There are dozens of them."

None of the forms were getting close enough to touch any of the three companions, so Aragorn didnít know exactly what would happen if one of them did. He decided he didnít want to find out. He couldnít be sure, but he thought they were meant to do more than just frighten he and his two friends. Their touch could well be deadly. "Donít let them touch you," he warned. "They may be lethal."

Two shadows moved in behind the ranger, however, he was fully engaged with two more in front of him. They made no sound, so he was totally unaware of the ones he was facing away from.

Suddenly, Aragornís foot slipped, and he overbalanced on a swing, taking the ranger out of the reach of the shadow on his left and bringing his sword close enough to the one on his right to easily destroy it.

Then the ranger swung around to face the shadows behind him. With one swipe, another shower of sparks fell to the mossy ground.

Legolas was having just as much success. He was completely surrounded, but he spun in a circle. Since the shadows made no evasive moves, all the elf had to do was hold his long knives out in front of him. He cut through the forms as they came in range. Legolas made four complete circles before there were no more shadows near him.

Gimli was actually having fun using his mighty ax to create a continuous shower of sparks that lit up the whole area. There were so many of the little flames falling around him that they gave him an ethereal appearance.

The elf, the human and the dwarf were more than holding their own. They were able to keep all of the black forms from getting close enough to cause them any harm.

Gimli was grinning from ear to ear, as he looked around. So many shadows were being destroyed that more than just his area was lit up from the sparks. He laughed to see that the natural glow of the elven prince looked even more intense.

When the tiny flames burned out, all of the shadows were gone.

Still the dwarf didnít feel comfortable, and so he kept his eyes peeled for any sign there were more of the black forms nearby.

Legolas and Aragorn were doing the same. There would be no thought of relaxing their vigil until they were sure there was no more immediate danger.

Gimli squinted and strained to see if the darkness among the trees was moving. He couldnít be sure, but it didnít appear they were anything more than ordinary shadows.

Aragorn wasnít sure if another attack would come, but he, too, was going to be ready for anything the swamp might throw at them.

"I still do not believe those shadows were after us personally. They were just trying to stop anyone who happened to show up," Legolas stated, after thinking the whole situation through once more.

"Well, I always take it personally when someone - or something - tries to kill me." While the rangerís voice was calm, his face was still flushed from the battle.

"I feel the same way, lad," Gimli said in total agreement.

"We have to keep moving," Aragorn said, reminding his two companions of the reason they had come here to begin with. "I donít think Merry and Pippin are here any longer, but wherever they are, they are depending on us to rescue them. We have to find a way out of this dreadful place and find them." Aragornís tone reflected pure determination.

No one had been hurt, and now that the fighting was over, Aragorn couldnít deny that he had gotten a jolt of excitement from the encounter. He saw the smile on Legolas's face and knew the archer felt the same. Of course, the fact that they had won also had a lot to do with the feeling.

~*~

The Three Hunters continued on.

With a nervous smile, Gimli said, "At least the path here is fairly easy."

Just then the water to their left began to bubble. They all stopped, tightly gripping long knives, sword and ax, and waited to see what would appear.

A round, black form, resembling slimy leather, rose above the roiling water.

Legolasís immediate impression of the creature was that of a giant. A circular mouth opened. It contained no teeth but instead had a jagged ridge all the way around it.

The creature rose up higher out of the water. It was hard to tell where the head ended and the creatureís body began. The relatively small, wet eyes regarded the companions, turning first one eye and then the other toward them. Seemingly satisfied that these beings were not a real threat to it, the creature began to sink back into the water.

Gimli finally exhaled and relaxed for just a brief second. For thatís all the time he was given to do so.

Without any warning, the creature broke the surface of the water and launched itself with alarming speed straight at Legolas. Not even the elfís quick elven reflexes could save him, as the worm tuned its head sideways at the last second, so the huge open maw could encircle Legolas around the middle. The worm swept him off of his feet, and the leathery body then splashed head first into the dark water on the other side of the path from whence it had come, taking the elf with it.

Just before it disappeared, Aragorn threw his sword at the creature, hitting it in the rear section of its body.

A second later and Andķril vanished into the swampy water along with Legolas and the worm-like beast.

Gimli screamed Legolasís name.

The water bubbled and foamed, and then all was still and quiet. The only visible sign that anything out of the ordinary had happened were the rapidly disappearing ripples that had spread out from the creatureís plunge.

In absolute shock, Aragornís legs failed him, and he sank like a stone to the ground.

"We have to do something. We must go after him." Gimliís voice was small, not at all like his usual blustery gruffness. It was obvious that he was also in shock.

Aragorn put his hand on the dwarfís arm. The move was a silent gesture of defeat. He wanted to say that going after Legolas was a fruitless task that would not bring the elf back and would succeed only in getting themselves killed, but no words would come.

Gimli turned and stared out into the greenish-black water. For the dwarf, it was almost unbearable to have his elven friend swept away right in front of him before he could do anything. His ax fell from his nerveless fingers. "I...I didnít react," he chided himself in disbelief. "I should have done something."

Aragorn turned to look at Gimli. "It all happened so fast there was nothing to be done."

"You managed to throw your sword at the horrible thing. I could have done as much with my ax," Gimli replied miserably.

"Well, you see how much good it did. Donít start blaming yourself, Gimli. None of us had any idea anything like this would happen. Even Legolas wasnít able to react quickly enough to defend himself." Aragorn visibly flinched at the memory of the look of horror on the elfís face just before the worm took him under.

The stout miner said no more, but continued to blame himself. Maybe his ax and Aragornís sword together could have stunned the creature - could have done something to save their friend.

Gimli sat down next to the ranger. "How are we going to tell his father and Lord Elrond?"

"Iíll do it," Aragorn said woodenly. Since he couldnít reverse what had happened, it was the least he could do. He felt, right or wrong, that the pain he would have to go through in telling them was somehow deserved.

He was the leader. Yet, he hadnít been able to protect Boromir. He hadnít been able to protect Merry and Pippin. And now he had to add Legolas to the list of those he had failed. What a mistake Gandalf had made in handing leadership of the Fellowship over to him. Some leader he turned out to be. And he was supposed to lead the people of Gondor by becoming their king? It was laughable.

"Weíll both tell them," Gimli said firmly, leaving no room for Aragorn to argue, so the man simply nodded. Gimliís guilt was every bit as strong as the rangerís.

Reluctantly, Aragorn said, "We still have a mission to complete. We have lost Legolas, but hopefully we can still save Merry and Pippin." The thought that that might not be true was firmly shoved aside.

Aragorn and Gimli forced themselves to their feet and slowly started ahead. Their steps were slow and made with great reluctance. Neither had the heart to look back at the spot where they had last seen the elf. It was a horrible sight they would rather wipe from their memory.

Behind them the water was now perfectly calm and smooth, leaving behind no sign of the tragedy that had just occurred.

Aragorn couldnít help thinking of Andķril, now lost somewhere in the swamp. Itís loss didnít begin to compare with the loss of Legolas, of course, yet the blade meant a great deal to him, and he keenly felt itís absence.

All he had now was his dagger, the small knife he carried in his right boot, and his hunting bow. Those weapons, along with Gimliís ax, would have to be enough for now.

As the reforged Narsil, sword of Elendil, Andķril was an irreplaceable part of Aragornís heritage, but he still hoped to find another sword. Rescuing the hobbits without one might not be possible. He tried not to think about the fact that trying to rescue them without Legolas might not be possible, either.

~*~

The two forlorn survivors did their best to continue along the path, but they were weighed down by grief, and that made the going tough.

Aragornís head was down, and Gimli was dragging one foot ahead of the other behind the much taller man, so neither saw the form that was lying across the path until Aragorn almost tripped over it. He stared down at it in surprise.

When Aragorn stopped, Gimli moved around to the front, thinking the man no longer wanted to take the lead.

Gimli saw what it was that had halted the ranger and stopped in his tracks. The figure he stared at was covered in what looked like soggy, dead grass and tendrils of unrecognizable vegetation. Despite the matted look of it, there was no mistaking the golden hair that fanned out over the mossy path. "Legolas?" the dwarf asked in stunned disbelief.

Aragorn was on his knees beside Legolas in an instant. He turned him over on his back, pulling the elfís wet hair away from his pale face. He felt at Legolasís neck for a pulse and, much to his immense relief, found one. He leaned closer to the elfís ear. "Legolas, can you hear me?"

Both man and dwarf held their breaths until finally Legolasís eyes blinked several times.

"Is it really you, lad?" Gimli inquired, not sure if the reappearance of their friend was a miracle or some cruel trick being perpetrated on them.

"Aye, Gimli. It is really me," Legolas replied softly.

The elf tried to sit up but was held down by Aragornís firm hands.

"Not so fast, my friend. Let me check you first," Aragorn, the healer, told the elf. He didnít give Legolas time to argue before he reached out and began unfastening the archerís tunic and pulling his silk under tunic up, revealing one line of bruises across his chest and another line right above his hips.

Aragorn pressed the two areas as gently as he could. He didnít see Legolas clenching his teeth. "I imagine those bruises feel none too good, but amazingly no broken ribs. The skin is intact, as well. Roll over and let me look at your back."

When the elf turned over on his stomach, Aragorn saw no more damage than he had found on the front. He was relieved it wasnít worse. "youíll live," he pronounced.

Legolas rolled back over and a satisfied Aragorn helped the elf to his feet.

Gimli smiled at the good news, then asked, "How did you get free of that thing?"

"I want to hear the answer to that myself?" The ranger inquired, just as curious as Gimli.

Legolas refastened his clothing and then gave both of his friends a small grin. "I did not have time to get out of its way, so I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and did not try to fight what was happening.

"The creature began to settle on the bottom. It was trying to maneuver me around so it could swallow me, but I began ripping at its head with both of my knives. And I kept on until, thank the Valar, it spit me out. Once free, I did not know if the worm still lived, so I swam as hard as I could, when finally I came to this path. I did not see either of you, and I became dizzy, so I lay down. I must have passed out, because I do not remember anything else until you woke me."

"Your eyes were closed. We thought you dead," Aragorn whispered with obvious grief in his voice. "Seeing you taken like that was horrifying."

Legolas gripped the rangerís arm but did not speak. He didnít trust his voice right then. His throat had tightened up at the thought of how easily it could have been Aragorn or Gimli that the monster took.

Misreading Legolasís silence,, Aragorn became alarmed and looked the archer straight in the eye. "Are you all right?" When Legolas nodded, the ranger said, "Are you sure? You tend to deny serious injuries, if you think you can successfully hide them." His gaze dared the elf to tell him anything but the truth.

Swallowing to moisten his throat, Legolas said, "I am sure. I sustained no injuries other than the bruises you have already seen." He held his arms out. "See? No blood? No crooked bones, indicating breakage."

When Aragorn continued to stare at him, Legolas realized that he had better admit to some sort of complaint, or the healer in Aragorn would not be satisfied. "I am sore." He didnít intend on explaining further.

Gimli came to his rescue somewhat. "I would think so, after what that beast did to you."

"No need for worry, Gimli." Legolas looked at Aragorn and added, "Either of you. I truly am all right."

Aragorn gave the elf a spontaneous embrace, being careful to avoid hurting him. He was grateful beyond words for Legolasís safe return.

Gimli followed suit and gave the elf a brief but heartfelt hug.

Legolas was almost overcome at the display of affection from his friends. He smiled and nodded to them, but hoping they didnĎt see the mist that appeared in his eyes.

Knowing Legolas all too well, Aragorn backed off from further questioning. He knew that was all he was going to get out of the elf as far as a damage assessment was concerned, but he intended to watch his friend for any sign that there was more to the elfís injuries than black and blue marks.

The blond elf then began to pull the wet, rotting vegetation that remained in his hair and on his clothing. He wrinkled his nose at the foul odor of it.

Now that the scare and the tension were over, Gimli put both hands on his hips. "Leave it to a flighty elf to be so concerned with his appearance that he grooms himself in the middle of a horrid swamp after escaping the jaws of a monster."

"One must always try to look oneís best, no matter the situation," Legolas remarked in his haughtiest tone, though there was a twinkle in his eyes. He enjoyed the teasing he shared with Gimli, but in all seriousness, he knew how incredibly lucky he had been.

"We must leave this place and find our hobbit friends," the elf stated, dismissing any further concern on his behalf. "But first, I have something I think you will want." He was looking directly at Aragorn, who looked decidedly puzzled at those words.

Legolas reached down under a pile of the water-logged vegetation, pulled out a sword and handed it to Aragorn.

"Andķril!" the ranger exclaimed happily. "How did you get this? The last I saw of it, it was embedded near the hind end of that creature and went underwater with it."

"It grazed me, as I swam past it. I couldnít see anything down there, so I just pushed at it with my hand, worried it might be another creature of some sort. Imagine my surprise when I felt the hilt of a sword. I knew it had to be yours." Legolas's voice softened, as he said, "I know that you lost it trying to save me."

"Aye," Gimli said. "He threw it at the beast just before it disappeared underwater. I should have done as much."

"No, no, Gimli. Do not blame yourself. I am safe now, and that is all that matters."

"Aye, it is," Gimli argued, gripping the elfís arm. He knew that arguing about blame would be a fruitless endeavor. But he vowed to pay the elf back.

"How are we gong to get out of here, when someone doesnít intend for us to leave?" the miner then asked.

Aragorn looked as far ahead as his vision would allow. "Where thereís a will, thereís a way. We have the will. Now we just have to find the way."

~*~

It took another two hours, but when the three friends saw the path begin to turn upward and disappear into the black cloud, they were sure they had finally reached the end of their ordeal. However, someone or something had other plans.

Across the path only a few yards from their goal, Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli saw thick, twisted vines drop down from the overhanging branches of the trees along both sides of the dry strip of ground they stood on and form a curtain that completely blocked them.

Dumfounded, the dwarf asked, "Now what?" Confusion soon gave way to anger.

Gimli rushed forward, ax swinging. A warning of possible danger died on Aragornís lips, as the bearded miner began to hack at the vines.

After several minutes, it became clear that Gimliís efforts didnít seem to be making any headway.

It looked to both Legolas and Aragorn that for every vine Gimli cut, another one snaked its way down to take its place. The man was beginning to get concerned, so he stepped forward and added Andķril to Gimliís ax, followed quickly by Legolasís two flashing long knives.

Suddenly, another curtain of vines dropped down on the hunters. In seconds, all three were covered and pulled to the ground by the heavy mass.

"Get off me, you..." Gimli growled, a he fought vehemently to get loose from the thick cords.

The vines then began tightening around them.

Thrashing legs and flailing arms worked desperately to push the vines off of them. The huge pile moved in waves, as the people underneath fought for freedom.

Legolas and Aragorn had vines around their necks, and the breath was slowly being squeezed out of them. Both were struggling in vain to keep themselves from becoming victims of the suffocating fibers.

They were near unconsciousness, when Gimli managed to free his right arm, which held his ax. He chopped furiously until he was able to sit up. Seeing what was happening to his friends, he swung the sharp blade and cut the vines around his friendsí necks first and then those that had encircled their bodies. "Lads, are you two all right?" the worried dwarf asked.

The first to squirm loose from the bulk of the vines was Legolas, throwing off the last of those that were covering him. He sat up, gasping for air. Now he had a sore neck to add to his painful bruises.

He looked over and was relieved to see that Aragorn had worked himself loose, as well.

"How many more things are going to try and stop us?" Gimli grumbled, as he got to his feet. "I dare you," the irate dwarf challenged, shaking his fist in the air.

It took a moment longer, but soon Legolas and Aragorn had gained their feet and were watching Gimli. He was so furious, there was no thought of laughing at the pose he now presented.

"Remind me not to cross that dwarf," the elf said dryly.

Aragorn nodded, "If you remind of the same thing."

"Thereís the way out!" Gimli yelled, as he pointed to the place where the path rose up out of the cloud. "Letís discuss this outside before something else happens."

A few minutes later, The Three Hunters were walking out into the fresh air of early evening.

"We beat them, or it, or whatever," Gimli declared. "We found the way."

"And so we did," the ranger agreed.

Meanwhile, Legolas was staring up into the twilight sky. He watched as one star after another began to make its appearance, twinkling in the far-off expanse of the darkening heavens. There was pure joy on hisfair face.

"I have never been through anything like that in all my life," the dwarf declared, still visibly upset by the dayís experiences. "And I never want to again." He turned to look pointedly at Legolas, as he added, "Iíve had enough of green things for a very long time."

The elf regarded his friend with a sympathetic expression. "I do not care to revisit such a place as this again, either, Master Dwarf. That kind of greenery is not meant for elves to enjoy."

"Glad to hear it. I would be truly worried that that experience with the worm had addled your brain, if you said you liked that place, because it was green!"

Smiling, Aragorn gave Legolas a few more moments to savor the beauty of the stars he loved so much. He wanted Gimli to calm down a bit more and put memories of the swamp behind him. As for himself, he just plain wanted to fill his lungs with fresh air.

Soon, the ranger called for all of them resume their search for Merry and Pippin.

The End

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