After we came down to the river, Aragorn devised a walking order. Legolas he appointed the rearguard because of his keen elvish eyes. Gandalf and Aragorn were to take the lead. Gandalf as the leader of our group and Aragorn because he knew the way. Behind Aragorn the hobbits would follow and then Boromir and Gimli. Sam was to take the pony and walk behind the man and the dwarf. I got to trudge behind them – once again back to weary feet and blisters. Two months in Rivendell had made my feet forget how twenty miles of walking a day feel. But Aragorn obviously expected this reaction. He provided me with his yellow, smelly salve in an unobserved moment. I was grateful beyond measure.
It was strange to walk with such a large and diverse group of people. The group dynamics in the fellowship were totally different from the small group which had travelled from Bree to Rivendell.
I had not spent much time with any of my companions in Rivendell, occupied with fencing and learning as I had been. I guessed that I had been kept away from the others on purpose until Gandalf, Aragorn and the powers that be in general trusted me to keep my mouth shut.
In Rivendell, the hobbits had kept much to themselves, apart from Sam. After his master had recovered and it had been decided that they would not turn back, Sam had followed around any elf who would have him and had stayed in the Hall of Fire until the last elf turned in every night. More even than Frodo's resilience and courage, it was Sam, who was a constant surprise to me. He had Bilbo's excellent memory for verse and stories. And by now I had noticed that he kept a very bright and perceptive mind hidden away behind his unassuming nature and his sometimes childlike innocence. I liked Sam best of all the hobbits, although he in turn did not really like me. He did not approve of a woman going about in trousers and out into the wilderness on her own.
I had also seen quite a lot of Aragorn, either fencing or in the company of Arwen, Glorfindel, Gily and several other elves.
I had fought Gimli once but apart from that, I had only met him once after the council on mid-winter's day. Legolas I had seen from a distance once or twice, watching him practice with his bow and then again at the winter's solstice.
Boromir I had not seen at all until the day we left, and Gandalf had kept to Elrond's study most of the time.
In short, we did not know each other at all but had to get to know each other on the way, much as I had come to know the hobbits and Aragorn on our way from Bree to Rivendell.
We walked almost fourteen hours during the second night with only very short breaks every four hours or so. When Aragorn allowed us to get some sleep during the middle of the day, I felt as groggy and disoriented as if I was suffering from a massive jet lag, say Frankfurt to L.A. or at least Chicago. And I did not sleep well. My feet kept on walking in my sleep, walking, and walking and walking; when the watch – this time it was Gimli – roused us late in the afternoon for our one real meal a day, I felt even more tired than when I had crawled into my sleeping bag.
As soon as the shadows of twilight covered the hills, we set out again. Each step my feet seemed to become heavier and my back hurt in a steady, dull ache.
This set the rhythm for the next days. We walked as soon as dusk covered our steps and slept as soon as the sun rose high in the sky. But even if we slept hidden by a thicket of brambles, I imagined sharp inimical eyes gazing down at me and thus barely managed to doze. Our main meal was never enough to satisfy a hobbit; or a young woman I might add. Gandalf and Aragorn only seldom allowed us to light a fire, so our diet was pretty monotonous, way bread, dried fruits, cereal, hard cheese and dried meat. And the only thing that is good about dried meat is that you can chew it longer than the best chewing gum.
Sometimes we found blackberries or blueberries, but those only served to enhance our cereal and give me indigestion.
That was another thing Tolkien never wrote about. Aragorn told me off on the second day for slipping off into the bushes for certain necessities connected with the human digestive system. He told me that I should save that for when we made camp. I blushed furiously, but he explained it to me very matter-of-factly. They wanted to make it more difficult for any enemy to simply follow the stink of our leavings.
Each morning the first duty, when we made camp, was to dig a latrine. Each evening, before we struck camp, the last duty was to bury the latrine. Hopefully this would be enough to prevent anyone following our tracks by simply following his nose.
Though, after having to use the latrine after Gimli one day, I really doubted if we could ever succeed on that account. But even discounting the dwarf, two men, one woman, four hobbits, one wizard, one elf and one pony, which could not be convinced to save things for the camp site, produced enough feces and manure that you really only had to follow your nose to find us, one and all.
The next thing which happened thankfully did not happen to me. For once I did not make a fool of myself. Merry did. He used the wrong kind of leaves on his back end.
Think nettles or poison ivy liberally applied to the sensitive skin of your rear end.
I have to admit that I laughed, too. Luckily Aragorn's athelas salve worked on Merry's bottom as well as on my feet. Pure magic, that weed.
After three or four days my feet and my back got used to walking fourteen hours and fifteen to twenty miles a day. I was still desperately tired and freezing most of the time, but at least I managed to take in my surroundings again, and how my companions were doing.
We were hiking through a landscape of bleak hills at the foot of the Misty Mountains, which were slowly bending westwards. What had looked like a white spot of nothing much on the maps I had studied in Rivendell, in reality was a wilderness of rocks and deep valleys with icy, turbulent mountain streams. The paths we took were narrow and winding, and more than once I had trouble to negotiate a passage across an almost sheer face of rock dropping into a deep abyss swirling with the strong currents of a river running down from the glaciers.
Legolas was most helpful. He could stand behind me, where no one else could have found a toe hold, and lead me forwards one step at a time. And he never sniggered but always kept a blank elvish face. I missed Glorfindel. And Gily.
Two weeks after we set out from Rivendell, the weather suddenly improved. The icy wind, which had continually blown from the East, turned during the night, and in the morning the sun came out. A pale and tired winter sun, but a real sun nevertheless. At the end of an endless night's march we reached a low ridge, where ancient holly-trees grew. They had massive grey-green trunks, which looked as if they had been carved from the rocks of the hills and not like wood at all. I had never seen holly grow like that. But their gleaming, dark green leaves and shining red berries cheered us up to no end; the first patches of colour after two weeks of grey all around us, day and night. Well, apart from Merry's bottom supposedly, but I had not been allowed to see it.
We were now very close to the mountains. Just to our left a high range of three individual peaks rose as high as the sky. Gandalf explained where we had come to Frodo, a few feet away from me. But I recalled Glorfindel's sombre face as he pointed out to me the peaks and the country at their feet. "This was elvish country, long ago. Men call it Hollin. But to us it was Eregion, once, long ago."
"I need no map," Gimli interrupted the wizard. He was gazing out before them, and his eyes gleamed with deep longing. "This is the home of my ancestors, where my fathers worked of old. The image of these mountains is preserved in many treasured heirlooms among the dwarves, be they made of metal or of stone, and kept alive in many songs and tales. They stand tall in our dreams: Baraz, Zirak, Shathûr."
Gimli turned to me and pointed to each peak as he named the mountain. "I have seen them only once before and only from far away, but I know them, and I know their names because under them lies Khazad-dûm, the Dwarrowdelf. The black pit, or Moria, as the Elves call it."
He gestured at the mountain on the left. "There is Barazinbar, the Redhorn."
He pointed to an especially cleft and rugged looking mountain at the centre of the range. "And this is Caradhras, the cruel."
My stomach cramped at this name. I swallowed dryly, trying desperately to look unconcerned. I did not like heights. I did not like mountains. I did not like caves. Should I tell Gandalf about the Balrog, or did he know already that a dark threat was waiting for him to provide the final tempering to call forth the White Wizard?
My ears were filled with a rushing sound as Gimli explained about the other mountains.
"And there behind are the Silvertine and Cloudyhead; the Elves call them Celebdil the White and Fanuidhol the Grey, but to the dwarves they are Zirkazigil and Bundushatûr. There a deep valley parts the Misty Mountains, Azanulbizar, the Dimril Dale, and the Elves call it Nanduhirion."
Somehow his explanation reminded me of Verdun, where innocent, round green hills are the only reminders of millions of dead soldiers of the First World War. I felt sick.
Gandalf gave me a wry smile, but he turned to the hobbits and explained in a bright voice. "We are heading for the Dimril Dale, and then we will climb the pass called Redhorn Gate at the far side of Caradhras. If we manage that, we will come down the Dimrill Stair to the valley of the Dwarves. There lies the Mirrormere and the icy springs of the river Silverlode."
At that Gimli chanted a verse in the strange growling tongue of the dwarves, but he repeated it for us in the common tongue, and there were tears in his eyes. "Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram and cold are the springs of Kibil-nala… I can hardly believe that I shall see them soon."
"And may you have joy of their sight, Gimli," Gandalf murmured, more to himself than to anyone else. "But be that as it may," the wizard continued, turning to us. "We have to get going, and we have to reach the secret woods and then the Great River, and then –" The secret woods, I thought. Lothlórien. And the river, Anduin.
"And then?" Merry asked. "Where do we go from there?"
"To the end of our journeys," Gandalf sighed. "But for now be glad that the first stage of our journey is over, and that we have safely returned to elvish country. Though it was long ago, the elvish blessing is not completely drained from this earth." He looked at the holly-trees, but his eyes were full of shadows, which had nothing to do with the darkness of these days.
Legolas had moved to touch the holly-trees. But he shook his head and instead placed his long fingers against a boulder whose even angles suggested that it had once, long ago, belonged to a building.
"Elves dwelt here," he agreed in his strangely accented dark voice. "But they are strange to me. They are not my kin, not Silvan elves, but Noldor. There is no memory of them left in the grass or the trees. But the stones still grieve for them. 'Deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone.' They are gone. They went to the Havens and were allowed to sail across the Sundering Seas long ago." There was an unmistakable tinge of bitterness to his voice.
In the shelter of the holly-trees and the blessing of the long departed elves, we dared to light a fire for the first time in many days. As Gandalf had indicated that we could rest the next day, we did not extinguish the fire as soon as we had eaten our dinner, but kept it burning lowly, using dry wood to keep the issuing smoke to a minimum. Everyone but Aragorn relaxed. The ranger however walked restlessly in the shadows of the trees at the edges of the dell.
I watched him, trying to remember if anything had happened at this place. It was difficult to remember the details of the books. Sometimes I confused them with the movies, and this reality, if it stuck with anything I knew, went by the books.
Had something happened here?
Or had the incident with the crows been only in the movies?
And if something had happened here, could I, should I do something?
But when I finally made up my mind to talk to Gandalf about having a bad feeling about this place, Aragorn was already explaining what the matter with him was. "It's not the wind I miss. I am as happy to be warm as you are. But I have walked through the country of Hollin in many years and many seasons, and though there are no people living here anymore, there are many creatures at home in the wilderness, and especially many birds have always lived here. But now the country is completely silent for miles around. Neither bird nor beast dares to move. There seems to be an echo to our voices. It is strange and I don't really understand it."
Gandalf looked at Aragorn, and his eyes were suddenly dark and serious. "Is it perchance only the surprise at seeing four hobbits and the rest of our motley company? Or is it something else? Something darker?"
Aragorn seemed to listen intently, but then he shook his head, defeated. There were dark shadows under his eyes. If we had slept little on the road, Aragorn had slept less. "I just don't know, Gandalf. There is something in the air, something strange… A watchfulness, a fear, perhaps, that I do not know of this country."
Gandalf sighed deeply. "We have to be more careful. One should always listen to a ranger, and especially if the ranger is Aragorn. Put out the fire and stop talking. Rest quietly. The enemy might be watching us."
Sam had the first watch, and my stomach filled with warm food for the first time in days I fell asleep at once. And I slept deeply, peacefully and without dreams until Pippin shook me awake. One look at the hobbit's face told me that something untoward had happened. Pippin gave me a quick, whispered account of the crows and crebain passing over our camp.
Dismal prospects, especially for a hungry hobbit. A cold meal and setting out as soon as possible instead of a good night's rest. Sam was muttering some complaints to Frodo, but I was not close enough to hear what they were talking about. But the sturdy gardener would not be any happier about a cold meal than the youth, I thought.
We set out when the light of the winter sun had faded to a red glow reflected by the glaciers of Caradhras, and the first pinpricks of stars appeared in the swiftly darkening sky.
Aragorn led us on a good path which was broader and much better kept than the last trails we had walked on, and so we made good speed, aided by the light of the full moon, which made the last fallen stones of buildings long vanished and gone gleam darkly among the shadows of the night. This was indeed a bleak and dismal country.
When dawn was already close at hand, a shadow passed over us. We all felt it, but only Frodo had the courage to ask what it had been, and Gandalf either did not know or did not want to explain about this new dread.
We walked on as soon as night fell after another uncomfortable, cold meal. The next two nights came and went uneventfully, with us steadily climbing a winding path up into the mountains. Uneventful: painfully gasping, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to ignore the light-footed dance of Legolas behind me, or the steady rhythm of Bill, the pony, and Sam in front of me, sleeping as peacefully as you can if your are almost frightened to death on a bed of sharp rocks, eating cold and awful food, hardly keeping it down. That kind of uneventful.
Aragorn and Gandalf had an argument about which way we should go. Aragorn did not want to go through Moria, Gandalf did. Did he know what was waiting for him there? Should I tell him? But every time I mustered my courage to talk to the wizard, he caught my eye and almost imperceptibly shook his head. I kept silent. I kept being worried out of my head. When Boromir had the nerve to add his suggestion of choosing the way around the Mountains, I wanted to scream at him.
He slightly redeemed himself in my eyes when he convinced Gandalf of having everyone carry some wood to save us from freezing to death high up the slopes of Caradhras.
But in Boromir's eyes gleamed a strange, feverish fire. For the first time I asked myself if anyone had taken the time to talk to Boromir about the evil influence of the ring and shielding his mind. I took care not to stay too close to Frodo, although I would have liked to comfort him, and up until now I had been fine and noticed no evil power taking hold of my mind. But I did practice the visualizations Glorfindel had taught me every morning and every night, no matter how tired I was. The ring had scared me too much to be lazy about these precautions.
The next night, going was rough. In many places the road completely disappeared, at times it was blocked by fallen rocks and tumbled boulders. The wind had grown piercingly cold again. Ultimately we were caught on a narrow path between a sheer face of rock above us and a deep ravine filled with darkness below us. Legolas, by now used to my fear of heights, wordlessly extended his hand and led me on, one step at a time.
When we reached the top of the slope, snow started falling.
I knew what would happen. I could not change it, and I did not know if it would help anything to convince Gandalf and Aragorn to turn back early. But I would have loved to tell them to just leave me here in this peacefully falling snow, waiting for them to turn back.
As I was trudging along, clinging to the elf's hand, I replayed variations of what I could tell them in my mind, all the time walking on, one weary, careful step at a time.
After another two hours' worth of laborious climbing the snowstorm became too strong to continue, and Gandalf allowed us to rest for a bit. As if on cue, the snow stopped. I looked around at the thick heaps of snow all around us and sighed. The mountain really did not like us, whether stirred up by Saruman or not. The mountain would not let us pass. This path was closed to us.
The wind was singing in the clefts of the rocks above us and below us. "There are fell voices on the air," Boromir called out and drew his sword.
"It may only be the wind," Aragorn objected, but his voice lacked any real conviction. "There are many things with little love for those of us walking on two legs in this world. And even if they are not in league with the enemy, they may be perilous to us."
"Caradhras was always nicknamed the cruel," Gimli added, trying to brush clumps of ice out of his beard. "And that was before the enemy's time."
"If we cannot defeat the enemy, it little profits that we know it's only a mountain," Gandalf muttered.
"Is there nothing we can do?" I asked voicing what I saw in Pippin's frightened eyes.
"We'll have to wait out this storm. Further on we have to get out into the open with no shelter at all from snow, stones or any other attack." Gandalf said.
"And it won't help to turn back now, either," added Aragorn. "There was no place more sheltered than this cliff-wall."
"Shelter!" Sam objected. "Then I'll call a wall and no roof a house from now on."
He was right. But there was nothing we could do, and so we huddled together in the growing mounds of snow blown up all around us.
And much as Frodo's experience of the snow and the cold was described in the books, my teeth stopped chattering after a while, and I felt myself growing warm again. I fell into a blissful doze, my mind wandering back across leagues and leagues of dark no-man's-land to Rivendell, looking for Glorfindel. When I entered his study at last, I was disturbed to find him deep in thought, his eyes dark and sad. I reached out to touch him, but when he looked up, he was not at all glad to see me. Get back at once, he seemed to shout at me. Tell them that this will be the end of the hobbits and yours, too. Go! Go now or it will be too late!
I came to gasping and sputtering, acutely aware of the cold again, shivering uncontrollably, my teeth chattering so hard that I was afraid I'd break a filling.
"Aragorn," I whispered. "Gandalf." The wizard and the ranger turned to me, their eyes full of worry, and their lips blue with cold. "Glorfindel. He says to turn back. It will be the death of the hobbits. And I can't make it either."
"At least make a fire," Boromir suggested. "You have to do something."
Gandalf sighed and passed around a small bottle made of leather. "One swallow each," he cautioned. "It's miruvor, the cordial of Imladris, a most precious draught. It was Elrond's parting present to me. Pass it around."
Whatever it was, it burned like fire, chasing away the cold and the exhaustion within moments. But the storm grew even worse. The mountain seemed to be determined to kill us once and for all.
"Make a fire," Boromir implored Gandalf and Aragorn. "Please! Look at the little folk and the young lady! They won't live to see the dawn if you don't keep them warmer."
That was the first time Boromir acknowledged my existence at all. Up until now he had not spoken to me at all. I did not feel all that bad with the Miruvor inside, but as I looked at the hobbits, I knew that Boromir was right; and I hoped that I did not look like the hobbits because if I did, I might not last the night either. The hobbits were hunched together, their faces and hands blue with cold, their eyelids drooping, they could barely keep themselves upright.
I looked down at my hands, and found that they had turned a lovely turquoise shade. I had never thought to ask about gloves, I mused. I had not felt my feet in several hours. I hoped that I had not lost a toe or two. I had seen such things on TV; it had looked ugly and painful even on TV and thinking about experiencing that kind of thing myself in real life in the foreseeable future , did not make the thought any prettier. I sighed, and my breath seemed to freeze in the air. All my foreknowledge did not help in this battle against the mountain and the forces of nature.
I raised my head and looked at Gandalf. The wizard looked tired. When he noticed that I was looking at him, he raised his eyebrows questioningly. Was he asking me if the fire was necessary or a great risk? I shrugged and tried to smile, but that hurt my lips, which were raw from breathing into my scarf.
"Let's make a fire," Gandalf said at last.
We built a great heap from the wood we had been carrying, but the ground and the wood were too wet; it was obvious that neither man nor elf could get a fire started under these conditions. Gandalf stared at the wet wood for a long moment, and then he bent down and picked up a branch. In a voice more powerful than his appearance as an old man would allow normally, he called out: "Naur an edraith ammen!"
Gandalf thrust both his staff and a branch into our heap of wood. Green and blue flames leapt up around the staff and the wood caught fire at once. When Gandalf removed the staff from the fire, it was unscathed. "If anyone has been watching us, I at least am revealed to them now," he muttered, his voice full of fatigue. "I have written Gandalf is here in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin."
But we were too tired and too frozen to care for the added threat of watching eyes. We crowded around the fire eagerly, and within minutes the hobbits and I were groaning with the pain of life returning to almost frozen extremities. Aragorn once again produced his yellow salve and made everyone rub it into their feet and hands. Pure bliss! Warm feet, warm hands, warm me!
I must have dozed in my corner because when I looked up again, the sky was bright with the coming dawn, and the snowfall had slowed down to leisurely drifting single great flakes now and then.
"Dawn is not far now," Aragorn said.
"If any dawn can get through these clouds," commented Gimli.
Boromir stepped up to them. "I think the snow is growing less. And the wind has calmed down."
We would get out of here. I sighed softly. We would get out of here to go to Moria. Should I tell Gandalf what would happen? The old wizard sat close to Frodo, who in turn was staring with big frightened eyes into the brightening sky.
Gandalf sat hunched and tired, and in his hands he was turning and turning his unlit pipe.
It was necessary that he fell. He had to fall to be able to return as the White. Middle-earth would need the power of the White Wizard.
If I warned him, more harm than good might come of it.
But I knew that Aragorn would never forgive me if he realized that my knowledge might have prevented the disaster.
As I looked up, I realized that dawn had come indeed. The grey landscape of the day before had vanished. I was looking at a silent world of snow. Rocks and gnarled trees had turned into beautiful and alien forms of white domes and cupolas, strange figures and sculptures shaped by the snow. There was no noise at all; everything was muffled and quiet in this winter wonderland. There was no sun, and the clouds were low and heavy with the promise of even more snow.
Gimli pulled himself to his feet. The snow at the edge of our campsite reached easily up to his chest. "Caradhras has not forgiven us. Those clouds are full of snow and other nasty surprises, which he will throw at us if we don't disappear in a hurry."
There was no other option. We had to turn back. But this was easier said than done. Only a few feet away from the ashes and the sludge of our campsite the snow was blown into snowdrifts almost as high as Aragorn.
"Perhaps you could melt the snow with the fire of your staff," Legolas suggested to Gandalf. The wizard snorted. "Perhaps you could fly over the mountain and catch a southern sun for us. I need something to work my magic on. I have no power over thin air."
Boromir listened to the exchange with growing impatience. "If splendid minds are at a loss, bodily strength has to prevail! Look, you can still see the faint outlines of the path we came up on yesterday going around that rock down there. The strongest of us will have to shove the snow aside, and the little folk and ladies may follow."
"I'm not a lady," Gimli grumbled. But he winked at me, and I was relieved that he, at least, had no problem with my presence.
Without further comment, Boromir turned and started in on the snow. He was half a head smaller than Aragorn but more powerfully built. Working together, the men were soon forcing a tunnel through the snowdrifts, although they sometimes seemed to be almost drowning in the masses of snow all around them.
Legolas watched them for a while, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Then he turned to me and grinned outright. "The strongest to seek the way? And little folk and ladies to follow? Is that what you say-" he called out after Boromir. "Well, I say: a ploughman may plough, and a fish might swim, but running lightly on sand or grass, or over snow: that's what an elf is for."
He gave me a small bow and then turned and leapt onto the top of the snowdrift next to the camp. He wore not boots, only light leather shoes, and although he was tall and in spite of his slender built must have weighed more than a hobbit, he left almost no imprint in the snow. He waved at Gandalf. "Farewell," he called out. "I am off to find the sun!"
Then Legolas turned around and ran away, his steps as surefooted as if he was running on firm ground and not on the slippery surface of snowdrifts.
The rest of us could do nothing but wait for the return of either the men or the elf. We sat huddled together, silent, and increasingly miserable in these cold and damp surroundings.
After a long moment Gandalf rose from the ground and walked along the edge of the campsite, leaning against the rock face at the far end of the cliff shelter. This might be an opportunity to talk to the wizard. I got to my feet and walked over to Gandalf. He glanced at me but did not say anything.
"I hope I'm not bothering you," said I hesitantly.
"Oh, you do, all of you, all the time; but go ahead," Gandalf said, somewhat grouchy.
"We will go the other way now, won't we?" I asked. "The dark way?"
He turned and looked at me, and his eyes were dark with the knowledge of many things and many possible paths into the future. He looked weary and old.
"Yes," he said after a moment's silence. "We will take the way of the shadow. You don't have to worry about telling me. I know a shadow lies on my road. And it will not make it easier if I know which form the shadow will take. This is a trial I have to pass on my own." He paused for a moment.
Then he smiled at me. "You keep up well. Don't let yourself be fooled by Boromir's behaviour. He is lonely in this fellowship. He wants to talk to you. But be careful. You know why."
I gulped nervously and nodded. The ring. I had felt the presence of the ring again during the night, like an insane whisper somewhere at the edge of my mind. I would have to pay more attention to my shielding.
At that moment, Legolas came running up along the edge of the path laboriously carved into the snow by Boromir and Aragorn.
"Well," the elf called out to us. "The sun I could not bring; she is walking blue fields to the South, and a little wreath of snow on Redhorn's shoulders does not trouble her. But I could assuage the troubles and toils of our strong men. They were in despair, down around the bend, and almost buried in the greatest snowdrift of all. I gladly told them that the drift was not much more than a wall. Behind it the snow suddenly grows less, and only a little way farther down it is only a thin white coverlet to cool a hobbit's feet and delight the eyes of a lady."
"See," Gimli grumbled. "I told you so. It's this mountain. Caradhras does not love Dwarves and Elves. He wants to catch us and keep us."
"But he made a mistake," Boromir interrupted, breathing heavily, his cheeks red, covered in snow from his head to his feet. "Your mountain has discounted the strength of men too easily. And you have strong men with you, luckily. Though a few spades would perhaps have served you even better. We have broken through that wall of snow down yonder, so that those of you not as swift-footed as the elf may rejoice."
"But it's still a lot of snow," Pippin objected, his voice full of apprehension. And indeed, even where the men had made a path through the snow, it was still as high as my knees, reaching easily up to the hips of the hobbits. "How are we to get down there on our own?"
"Not on your own," Boromir said. "Although I am tired, I have some strength left yet, and Aragorn, too. We will carry you." He looked at me, his eyes dark with implications.
"Nope, but thanks," I said lightly and smiled at him. "Not that I don't like to be carried by strong men, but I think I'm big enough to walk down there on my own."
The strong man smiled back at me, for the first time really looking at me. "I've never implied anything else." Then he bent down and let Pippin climb on his back. "Cling to my back," he advised. "I will need my arms down there."
Aragorn carried Merry, and I followed just behind. It was tiring to shuffle through the knee-deep snow, but in the light of the day, without storm and pursuit, it was almost fun.
The great snowdrift which had made Aragorn and Boromir almost give up was as high as two men on top of each other. I had never seen so much snow in my life! It looked like a fortress made of snow, with only a small gate at the bottom. On earth I would have taken out my camera and snapped a picture at once. Here, I just stopped for a moment, tilting back my head and tried to fix the sight in my memory. Then I passed the gate of snow, and indeed, on the other side there was almost no snow at all on the ground, dwindling from high as the sky to nothing within a few feet.
Putting down Merry and Pippin, the men went back to carry down Sam and Frodo, this time followed by Gandalf, who was leading the pony, with Gimli perched precariously on its back. Legolas followed as rearguard.
As soon as all of the company had reached the far side of the enormous snowdrift, the drift collapsed, showering all of us with snow. Within seconds we looked like a bunch of runaway snowmen – snowwoman? Snowhobbits?
Gimli came up sputtering, a definitely irritated snowdwarf. "That's enough, you evil old mountain! We are going; we're away as quickly as we can!"
It was already almost noon when we started on the path down into the valley again. Going down was far easier than climbing up, but we were tired to the bones. Especially Frodo looked dead on his feet.
Suddenly Aragorn and Gandalf, who were leading our group again, halted and looked down into the valley, their faces worried.
"What is it?" I asked apprehensively.
Aragorn pointed down. There were many small black specks whirling in the air.
"The birds are back," he said.
Gandalf sighed heavily. "There's nothing we can do. We have to go down at once. We will not last another night up on Caradhras. And maybe they don't have anything to do with us at all." But he did not sound convinced.
We continued down on the narrow, winding path we had climbed with so much difficulty yesterday. A strong wind was blowing down from the white peak which loomed menacingly above us. The wind sighed and sang in the rocks as if the mountain was laughing, and it pushed at our backs incessantly, shoving us down the path, back into the valley.
Down we go, down we go, I thought, my mind picking up the rhythm of my steps. Down we go, down we go and then into Moria.
I shivered, but not from the cold.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.