Gimli took a long pull on his pipe.
It was a lucky thing, the Hobbits finding those barrels of pipe-weed.
He turned to Legolas relaxing next to him on the sun warmed rocks.
“Really, laddie, you should try this pipe weed. You don’t know what you’re missing!”
Then Gimli noticed that the Elf’s eyes were closed.
“Oh well,” he thought. “The Elf probably is tired.”
Suddenly an evil grin slid over the Dwarf’s face. He leaned forward and, taking a large pull on his pipe, blew a cloud of smoke directly into Legolas’s face.
For a moment, nothing happened; then Legolas suddenly screamed.
“Darkness! Darkness comes, and from it there is no escape!”
Legolas’s frenzied cry caught his sleeping companions by surprise.
Aragorn had been dozing as he sat and the Hobbits had been asleep for some time.
At Legolas’s outburst, they all leapt up; Merry and Pippin blinking in the sunlight, Aragorn had half drawn Anduril before he realized what was happening.
When they had blinked the sleep from their eyes, to their surprise they were not being attacked, no one was being harmed. In reality, Gimli was sitting on the ground next to Legolas, holding his pipe in his hand, with a strangely guilty look on his face.
Aragorn took all this in in the space of an instant. Sheathing Anduril once more, he knelt down by Gimli and the sleeping Elf.
Looking Gimli full in the face, he spoke in a low, deadly, voice. "Gimli, as you were seemingly the only one awake, I forced to ask you; WHAT ON ARDA WAS THAT CRY ABOUT?!"
Gimli was fairly certain Aragorn was not truly angry. However, the Dwarf could not help quailing slightly under the piercing gaze.
Until that moment, Gimli had never noticed how much Aragorn resembled his foster father, Elrond.
Gathering his wits, (and his courage,) Gimli bravely tried to bluster his way out of the situation.
"How should I know? I was sitting here, smoking my pipe, when the blasted Elf started screaming and woke you lads up! Almost making me drop my NEW pipe I might add," he said, inclining his head to Pippin.
"Gimli," said Aragorn in a warning tone. He looked as if he was about to say something which might be rather hazardous to the Dwarf's health, but, luckily for Gimli, Legolas started screaming again.
"Ashes! Fire! Smoke! Burning, burning! All is burning! No, please no! Not the Beeches!" The cries were pitiful to hear. Legolas's companions watched helplessly as he thrashed wildly, but did not wake up.
Aragorn caught his shoulders and shook him gently.
"Legolas! Wake up, mellon nín!"
Legolas slowly stopped thrashing and opened his eyes.
"Yes, mellon nín. I am here."
Legolas shut his eyes for a moment, then opened them again; a light of fear shining in their clear, blue, depths.
"A shadow of fire and smoke lies over me," he murmured.
"Easy now," Aragorn said soothingly. "Gandalf has returned to us from the Fire, we shall not lose you to it!"
"Tis not the Shadow of Fire which haunts my dreams," Legolas said quietly. "My fear finds it's strength in flickering campfires and common wood smoke."
Aragorn did not seem to know what to say.
"I cannot understand it. The only previous times that such things have happened to me were..." His voice trailed off and he turned suddenly on Gimli.
"Gimli," he said, in a voice like cold steel. "What did you do?"
"What do you mean, laddie?" asked Gimli nonchalantly, leaning back and taking another pull on his pipe.
"I mean," said Legolas grimly. "Did you blow pipe smoke in my face?"
Gimli squirmed uncomfortably. The others all stared at him, waiting for an answer.
"Well, I suppose I might have," he mumbled after a moment.
Legolas sighed. "I thought so."
Gimli was becoming annoyed now.
"What do you mean, 'You thought so,' you blasted Elf? What does a bit of pipe smoke have to do with you waking up screaming your head off?" he asked indignantly.
"I, I... NO! It's nothing!" Legolas shook his head violently and crouched into a ball, as if trying to shut out everything around him.
"Legolas," began Aragorn.
"No! It doesn't matter!"
"I believe it does matter. And I believe you need to tell us exactly what IT is."
Legolas sighed and, although he did not leave his crouched position, slowly began to speak.
"I was very young. Young even by your standards. I had wandered away from the palace and gotten lost in the forest. It grew dark and I could not find my way home. Suddenly, I heard a strange noise. A noise I had never heard before." He paused. "Pray to the Valar I never hear it again. It was a forest fire. By the time I found out what it was, it was too late to escape. I climbed a tree to try to hide. I had never seen a huge fire out of control before. The only fire I had ever seen before was in fireplaces, or pits in the ground, carefully watched. I had never seen it out of control, devouring living trees like paper!" His voice caught and for a moment he could not continue. "When it reached the tree where I hid, the tree screamed! I had never heard such a sound of pure terror. My whole mind was caught up in that awful sound!"
Gimli suddenly interrupted him. "The tree screamed? Laddie, I don't want it to seem like I'm accusing you of lying, but that seems a little far fetched!"
Legolas turned to look at him with pain filled eyes.
"I wish I was lying, my friend. You know that my people can communicate with trees. I am even more sensitive to them than others. Yes. The tree screamed. All the trees screamed actually, however I had been able to ignore them all until the tree I was actually in contact with, screamed. The sounds were terrible. And so was the smoke! It filled my eyes and nostrils, almost suffocating me. I must have lost consciousness. I was found by one of my father's patrols, still in the tree which had somehow not burned down. They could not wake me, so they had to carry me back to the palace on a litter. I lay unconscious for many days, no one could wake me. When I finally did awake, I was terrified of any fire. I could not even bear to have a candle in my room! Eventually I was able to overcome most of my fear, but even now, centuries later, smoke or being constantly near a source of flame can make me disoriented and frightened; sending me into dark dreams of fire and burning. He fell silent, bowing his head.
Everyone sat in silence for several moments.
"I am sorry," he said, raising his head. "I did not mean to wake you. The dreams just feel so real..." His voice trailed off and he shuddered.
"You shouldn't be apologizing, laddie!" Gimli burst out suddenly. He blushed slightly. "If anyone has apologizing to do, it's me!"
"And what would you apologize for, my friend? For unintentionally causing me anguish; by doing something you had no idea would harm me? Nay my friend. There is no need for apology."
Legolas turned his head away and would not meet his friends eyes.
For a moment, everyone sat, wondering what to do.
Suddenly, to the surprise of his companions, Merry moved over to where Legolas sat hiding his face.
"I know what it's like," he murmured, laying his small brown hand on the Elf's shaking shoulder.
Legolas raised his tear stained face and regarded Merry with confused wonder.
"I was just learning to walk. A house near ours caught fire."
"I thought Hobbits lived in holes?" said Gimli suddenly.
Merry turned and glared at him.
"Most do. However, we Brandybucks, and most everyone else that lives by the River, live in houses. WOOD houses," he added.
Gimli grunted and fell silent once more.
"A mother had left her baby asleep inside while she hung up laundry outside. The baby woke up and knocked over a lamp. The whole house caught fire." He stopped for a moment, unable to continue. "The mother ran inside to rescue her baby. The house collapsed, trapping them both inside. There was nothing anyone could do. Legolas, I'm sure the screams of the trees were terrible, but they could not compare with the screams of the mother and the baby as they were burned alive." He paused again, tears running down his cheeks. "My mother thought I was so young I would not remember it. Would that she had been right! I have never been able to forget the sounds of their screams, or the smell of their burning flesh." Merry could not speak any more. He sank to the ground, emotionally exhausted by remembrance.
No one moved.
At last, Legolas stirred.
"But Merry," he said slowly.
Merry looked up. "Yes," he said.
"You smoke!" Legolas blurted out.
"You have never shown a fear of fire! How is this possible?"
Merry thought for a moment.
"I guess it's because I realized that fire is not inherently evil. If I tried to run from everything in the whole world that could hurt me, I would never stop running! Fire is not alive! It can do great harm, but it can also do good! I had to realize that the fire itself was not trying to hurt me!"
Legolas thought about this for some time.
"Thank you, Merry," he said finally. "I will think about what you have said."
He turned to the rest of the fellowship.
"Well! Time goes on and the mists are blowing away, or would if you strange folk did not wreath yourselves in smoke! What of the tale?"