Gandalf doled out another swallow of miruvor, but this time the cordial of Imladris did not do much to dispel my apprehension, even if it warmed me and woke me up some.
I was tired and frightened. I did not want to go to Moria. I knew what was going to happen. What was worse, I knew I must not try to prevent it. It was necessary.
I forced myself to eat some dried fruit and cheese. I drank half a bottle of water.
It was a silent meal all around; everyone was exhausted and occupied with his own fears.
After the meal, Gandalf called for a council. I would have liked nothing so much than to say, look, guys, there obviously is only one way left to take, leave them to the council and get into my sleeping bag. I sighed softly. I sat down cross-legged between Legolas and Aragorn.
The fire was warm and comforting. Gandalf's voice roused me out of my doze.
"We have to decide where to go from here. One thing is clear, however, we have to rest for the night. The scramble up and down the pass has tired everyone."
Not everyone, I thought. Legolas is still pretty fit. I yawned. But it's easier to keep going all night if you can sleep with your eyes open while walking.
The issue was, of course, whether to through Moria or to the Gap of Rohan. Gandalf and Gimli wanted to go through Moria. Aragorn did not want to go through Moria. Boromir wanted to go to the Gap of Rohan. Legolas did not want to go through the mines. The hobbits were frightened either way.
"What do you think, Lothíriel?" Gandalf suddenly asked pointedly.
I jumped at being addressed individually. No one had ever asked my opinion on anything up until now. I blinked at him. Aragorn, on the other side of the fire, gave me a warning glance.
I would not say 'let the ring bearer decide'. That was the meanest thing to do to burden someone who had no idea where we were going with the responsibility of the decision.
While the discussion had been in full swing the wind had turned and had become stronger. Now it was hissing and howling among the rocks and trees of this desolate valley.
"Moria,"" I said. "How the wind howls!"
Gandalf inclined his head. Aragorn closed his eyes. He had apparently seen this decision coming. Suddenly the ranger tensed. In a fluid motion he jumped to his feet.
"How the wind howls," he called out. "That is not the wind! It is wolves! The wargs have come!"
Gandalf jumped to his feet, too. "Now we cannot wait for the morning. The hunt is up!"
"How far is it to Moria?" Boromir asked.
"Some fifteen miles as the crow flies, and maybe twenty as the wolf runs", I muttered, for some reason remembering the lines from the book, rolling my sleeping bag back up. No sleep tonight either.
"There is a door south-west of Caradhras," Gandalf said. "Some fifteen miles as the crow flies, and maybe twenty as the wolf runs."
Legolas threw me a strange look. Rats! Had I said that out loud and he had heard me?
Trust Lothíriel to make a mess of things.
Within minutes we were ready to leave. Boromir did not make any wise-crack comments about hearing wolves being worse than fearing orcs. Sam was much too frightened himself to say anything reassuring to Pippin.
After a few miles hastening in the general direction of the gates, we came upon a small hill crowned with a circle made of gnarled old trees and huge fallen boulders. It looked almost like an ancient sacrificial site. Or at least that would have been my impression had I still been on earth. Where on earth Germanic priests of ages long gone and forgotten would have sacrificed a virgin to their heathen gods, we got a big fire going to keep away the wolves. I really hoped that tonight we would not end up being the sacrifice. With no heathen gods to implore to, it would be such a waste of nice, plump (well, not really, not anymore) sacrifices. And I was not a virgin, anyway.
If you are scared out of your wits, you come up with the strangest ideas.
I kept telling myself – inside my mind this time – that I did not have to worry; after all I knew we would get into and out of Moria, or at least, I knew that the rest of the fellowship would. As I was not in the stories, I did not know what would happen to me after all. Oh, sweet logic! Why did my brain pick this moment of all possible moments to remind me that my fate was far from sealed?
Bill the pony was just as scared as I was. He stood as close to the fire as he dared, sweating and tossing his head. Sam was crouching next to him, looking wide-eyed into the darkness. Suddenly the hobbit jumped back and almost fell into the fire, giving a small scream. I looked at the spot where he had been looking, and my heart skipped a beat.
The darkness had yellow, evil eyes.
We formed a ring around the fire without being told; in one hand our weapon of choice, in the other a long branch of dry wood, which could be set on fire quickly.
There were eyes gleaming in the darkness all around the hill.
In a gap between boulders and trees a huge shape was advancing, growling menacingly.
My sympathy with wolves was dwindling rapidly.
Gandalf strode forward, holding his staff in one hand, Glamdring in the other. He seemed much taller than he looked during the daytime, deadly and dangerous, just as menacing as the wolf or warg out there in the darkness.
"Listen, hound of Sauron!" Gandalf cried, his voice hoarse, but commanding. "Gandalf is here! Fly, if you value your foul skin, or I will shrivel you from tail to snout!"
The wolf snarled, and all around the hill howling rose up, sounding almost like insane laughter.
The wolf leapt in attack.
The wolf stopped mid-jump.
The wolf jerked back.
The wolf fell down, pierced through the throat by a long elvish arrow.
I had not even seen Legolas string his bow.
Suddenly the yellow eyes in the darkness were gone.
The darkness was eerily silent; the only sound the moaning of the wind.
My heart was beating like a drum, my throat dry.
What had happened now?
When nothing happened for twenty minutes, we settled back down around the fire.
We kept our eyes away from the fire, watching the darkness.
The hours went by and nothing happened.
We grew very tired. The hobbits were dozing, and I felt my lids drooping, too.
In the western sky the thin, pale moon was setting, its light barely piercing the thick clouds.
I sighed. Perhaps the wolves had gone, afraid of Gandalf's power. Smart wolves.
Just then a storm of howling broke out all around us, and suddenly the night was full of leaping grey shadows.
I had barely the time to get my sword out of its scabbard. A huge grey shape was falling from the sky towards me. I lunged wildly and felt as if my arm was wrenched from the shoulder.
I screamed with the pain. But the wolf screamed louder and ran away.
I grasped the hilt of my sword with both hands, ignoring the pain in my shoulder.
I planted my feet in a secure stance.
I looked into the darkness and waited for the next attack.
I did not have to wait long.
A huge snarling wolf leapt out of the darkness, going for my throat.
But this time I had been ready.
My stance held.
I was sprayed with a shower of burning hot blood.
The wolf, its throat cut, disappeared into the night.
The foul metallic smell of blood made me gag.
Suddenly I found myself caught between two large wolves, and I could have sworn they nodded to each other before they jumped.
I had a second to think – I can't do this – then I was dragged away from the fire, my sword stuck in the ribs of the first wolf. Colliding with the trunk of a tree, I screamed in terror.
I felt something pass my head with a swishing sound, and then I hit the ground, hard.
Without thinking, my body remembering the endless drills in Rivendell's gymnasium, even if I did not, I came back to my feet and wrenched my sword out of the dead body of the wolf. A well aimed arrow was sticking out of its heart.
I ran back to the fire, and not a moment too soon. Gandalf shouted a command, and the trees all around the hill burst into flame. The tree I had been under literally exploded.
The wolves had enough and fled.
I collapsed next to the fire, the last reserves of strength I had build up in the endless exercises in Rivendell and the hard marches to Caradhras utterly spent.
"You fought well," someone said. I looked up, and had trouble to focus my eyes for a moment. I was so tired that I was beginning to see double. Boromir.
"Thanks," I croaked.
"You don't have much style," he added. "And you need more strength. But your blows were killing blows. Where did you learn to fight like that?"
"Rivendell. Glorfindel said I had to be able to defend myself if I was to go with the fellowship." I blinked my eyes against the grogginess.
Boromir looked slightly dishevelled, and there was a gash across his right cheek that was still bleeding slightly. Other than that he looked awake and vigorous. Now he raised his eyebrows in amazement. "You learned all that in Rivendell? But you have been there only a little more than two months! You have real talent, for a woman."
Right. For a woman. I forced a smile. After all, this was the nicest thing he had ever said to me. "Thanks."
Boromir gave me a curt nod, then rose to his feet and walked over to Aragorn. I could not hear what he said to Aragorn, but the ranger came to me shortly afterwards and asked if I was hurt in any way. It turned out that my shoulder was only strained, no ligaments torn or anything serious. Aragorn produced another small box of athelas salve. Did I mention that I love athelas? It really is the most wonderful plant that ever grew in Middle-earth, or anywhere else.
Merry woke me after sunrise. I could not remember falling asleep. The hobbit sported a black eye. Trust Merry to be in the thick of it. When got to my feet, I could not suppress a yelp of pain. Each step a searing pain ran from my shoulder to the soles of my feet.
The hobbits moved as if they had a good night's rest. Hobbits are much hardier than humans. Much hardier than I am, anyway. Sam had a nasty scratch across his chin.
But all in all, we could count ourselves lucky. One strained shoulder, two scratches and one black eye, and all casualties on the wolves' side.
Well, at least they should have been, but where the carcasses of the wolves should have been, we only found a few scattered arrows.
"It is as I feared," Gandalf said. "Those were wargs, werewolves. No ordinary wolves hunting for food in the wilderness would have attacked like that."
"And they will be back tonight," Aragorn added.
Cheers! I thought. This should decide the interrupted council of last night, shouldn't it?
The last vestiges of the night's storm had dissipated, leaving a surprisingly blue sky, and a soft spring sun, which was almost warm. The country we walked through in the morning was barren and desolate, a desert of red stones and thorn bushes, now and again clumps of dry brown grass and from time to time scrawny mountain oaks. There was no sign of anything alive, not even birds seemed to live here.
At last we came upon a small path on the banks of a dry riverbed. The riverbed was broad and shallow; once upon a time it must have held a strong river. Now only a tired, brown rivulet remained, trickling slowly down the rocks in the middle of the riverbed.
We did not dare to rest for longer than twenty minutes at noon, barely enough time to eat something. Haste was on our minds, and the remembered echo of foul, howling voices in the night drove us on.
At the remains of some great waterfalls, broad steps had been carved into the red rock of the ground. I was out of breath and sweaty when I finally reached the top of the stairs. From there I had a beautiful view at a dark, unmoving surface of a lake. A soft breeze carried the putrid smell of dead things rotting in the water up to us. Behind the lake rose a cliff side that was unnaturally smooth.
"These are the walls of Moria," Gandalf said unnecessarily.
Down the slope of the hill we went, up the next hill and down again, and we were at the edge of the lake. The stink of decay was thicker close up. The water looked not so much like water than like some kind of gross, black slime.
We walked around the lake, keeping as far away from the water as possible. White branches were lying at the edge of the water. I took a closer look and gulped with sudden nausea.
Bones, not branches.
This was worse than the movies.
No bones in the movies.
No smell in the movies.
No wolves in the movies.
To get to the gates we had to wade through a disgusting, stagnant, stinking rivulet of the lake, which extended right to the cliffs. Thank god that I wasn't a hobbit. I shuddered at the thought of having to walk through this kind of water with bare feet.
Neatly caught between the cliffs and the disgusting lake, our company halted.
I slumped down on a boulder and looked back at the way we had come.
The light of the day was waning quickly. Already the pale crescent of the moon had risen, casting a ray of pale light across the lake. The surface of the lake was moving in lazy rolling rings, and at its centre a few yellow bubbles rose to the surface. Why the hell had Tolkien to be correct about all the gruesome details, I thought irritably.
I turned around again to see what the others were doing. Gandalf was pointing his staff at the rock face and was murmuring a few words in his secret language. Silver lines appeared as if on cue. Gandalf translated the runes and began trying out his opening words.
And here we go, I thought. I knew what would happen. The minutes dragged on. The doors did not open. We divided up the baggage the pony had been carrying between us, leaving a bundle of extra blankets and winter clothes to be eaten by the wolves. Sam hid his face in the mane of the pony, letting no one see his tears.
I wished, I could comfort him.
The doors did not move.
My shoulder started to really hurt again. The pain did not improve my temper.
If I asked a simple question, I would not really be telling something I could not possibly know, wouldn't I?
I looked back across the lake apprehensively. The wolves would return soon. And the watcher in the water would wake any moment now. I walked over to where Gandalf was sitting. He glared at me, daring me to make another stupid remark, such as Pippin and Boromir had come up with.
"Do you think you translated the runes correctly?" I asked the wizard point-blank.
"I thought 'pedo' means 'say' and not 'speak'."
Gandalf opened his mouth for an angry reply, and then closed it again. He nodded at me and rose swiftly to his feet. He walked over to the doors.
"Mellon," he said in a clear voice.
The doors opened.
A shared sigh of relief went up all around. We shouldered our repacked, heavier back packs. The pony remained standing at the edge of the water, looking lost and uncomprehending.
Sam's eyes were red. I felt tears stinging in my own eyes, as I watched Gandalf warding and blessing the pony.
What the hell, I thought suddenly and walked quickly over to Sam. "Don't ask how I know it," I whispered into the hobbit's ear. "But I promise you will see Bill again. Nothing will happen to him."
Sam's eyes widened; he gulped briefly, but he did not turn his head.
Once again I felt the penetrating gaze of Legolas on me. I raised my head and glared at the Elf defiantly. I was fed up with this quest for the day.
We walked into the dark opening of the gates. We had not yet reached the top of the stair, when something dark rose up from the water and large, fingered tentacles were groping along the bottom of the stairs, trying in vain to reach us. From the outside we heard a panicked neighing and then the sound of hooves galloping away.
With no prey within reach, the tentacles gripped the huge doors and slammed them shut behind us. With a shattering noise, which reverberated through the ground like a small earthquake, the doors were shut, and all light was lost to us.
The trap was set and the mice on their way.
"Poor Bill," Sam whispered next to me. "Wolves and snakes."
After a short pause he added,"Thank you, Miss,", in a very low voice. I smiled at him. At least Sam felt better, if only momentarily.
"Whatever was that in the water?" Frodo asked, his voice shaking.
"I don't know," Gandalf answered. "But there are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world."
My stomach lurched sickly. Indeed, I thought. I felt sick.
Gandalf raised his staff, and the grey wood began to radiate with a white, pure light. In his right he carried his sword, which gleamed faintly in the light of the staff.
From behind the doors a broad and fairly undamaged stairway rose into the darkness.
Gandalf took the lead, lighting the way. Gimli was close behind him, his eyes gleaming with eagerness. After Gimli followed Frodo, who had also drawn his sword. Both blades, I recalled, would turn blue in the vicinity of orcs. Legolas and Aragorn made up the rearguard and I walked with the hobbits and Boromir in the middle of our group.
At the top of the stairs an arched passageway led on into impenetrable darkness.
There we halted briefly, catching our breaths, and Gandalf gave us another small sip of miruvor. "Be careful with the water," Gandalf cautioned, when he noticed Pippin drinking greedily. "There is no wholesome water left in these mines. If all goes well, we should reach the other side in three or four days. Our water has to last until then."
Although all of us were very tired, and the darkness of the mines even subdued the indefatigable elf, we were more than willing to keep going for a few hours. Only Gimli felt at home in this gloom and was unfazed by the weight of the mountain above our heads.
Gandalf chose a tunnel for us to enter without hesitation.
The passage twisted a couple of times and then straightened out, all the time leading us down. When the ground became level again, the air had grown stuffy and hot.
For the first time since we had left Rivendell, I felt warm. I was not able to enjoy the feeling.
Although the tunnel was winding and changing its direction again and again, and although we passed many dark openings of other tunnels, some wide, some narrow, leading away into an even thicker darkness, Gandalf pursued his course unerringly.
After some time of walking along without any disturbance, my spirits rose slightly.
Then we came to the first crack, which ran across the entire width of the floor.
It was not really wide, perhaps one meter or three feet and a few inches, give or take, but it dropped into a fathomless abyss.
We had to jump.
And I, just as Sam, had forgotten about the ropes.
Did I mention that I am scared of heights?
I took me about five minutes to gather enough courage to jump across the fissure.
I staggered, and did not object when Boromir caught my arm to steady me. "Thanks. I am frightened silly of heights."
"I am afraid of spiders," the tall warrior said, glancing at the low uneven ceiling uneasily.
We did not have to go far to reach the next crack in the floor. This one was wider, and I felt all shivery, as I took a run to jump across it. I felt thoroughly sick by now.
How I envied the elf, who seemed to fly across those gaps.
Please, I prayed silently, don't let the bridge be like the one in the movies. Please. Pretty please.
Later in the afternoon I almost died.
We reached a spot where there were two chasms only a few feet away from each other. The first was small, again about three feet or so. The second was almost two metres wide, not quite the seven feet I remembered from the book, but close enough. And there was not enough room to take it at a run. I had to jump it cold. It did not help that Pippin needed several minutes and a lot of encouragement to try the jump. He swayed precariously for a moment, when he landed on the other side.
I swallowed dryly, my hands shaking and clammy with sweat. I felt tears burning in my eyes.
I can't make it, I thought wildly. This is why I'm not in the story. I never made it out of Moria!
"We will jump together," someone said to me softly. I looked up, my stomach lurching sickly. Boromir smiled at me encouragingly. "You take my hand." He just took my left hand.
"Now we go as far back as possible. Look straight ahead, at Gandalf's staff."
"Now I count to three, and we run. We run right to the edge and use it as a jump-off. Lean forward as you jump. The worst that can happen are scraped palms and knees. I promise. Ready?"
"Yes," I gasped.
"One, two, three."
A dizzying second I was suspended in the air above the mighty chasm, the sound of churning water drifting up to me.
Then I was flat on my face, lying partly on Boromir.
Wincing slightly, the man sat up and smiled at me. "See, I told you. Nothing to it."
I was too shaken to even nod. I remained on the ground for several minutes before I was able to get to my feet and go on.
This was not the last fissure we had to jump as we continued through the tunnels of Moria that day, but it was by far the widest. Everyone felt uneasy, as we trudged along in the twilight behind Gandalf's staff. But Frodo was beyond uneasy, he was positively jumpy. He kept looking back across his shoulder, as if he could see things in the dark mouths of the tunnels opening to the left and to the right of our passage that we others could not see, and whenever we stopped, he inclined his head slightly as if he was listening for something.
And every time Frodo looked back, I felt Boromir, who was walking next to me, tense up.
The ring, I thought. He must be feeling the ring.
Around midnight we reached a round hall with three archways, apart from the one we had come from, leading away into the darkness. All of the tunnels seemed to lead into the same general direction, but Gandalf did not recall – if indeed he had come to this hall during his previous visit to Moria – which of the three tunnels we should take.
"We had better stay here for the remainder of the night. All of us are weary. And I am too weary to think which way we should go." The wizard walked around the hall and halted suddenly at a low stone door, hidden in the shadows to the left of the great archways. It could be opened easily.
Merry and Pippin rushed inside, happy to have found some shelter from the uncanny darkness of the tunnels. They almost fell into a hole in the ground.
Aragorn was only just in time to catch them at their shoulders. "Let the guide go first," he reprimanded them. "If I had not kept an eye on you, you might still be wondering when you were going to strike the bottom."
"This must have been a guardroom," Gimli commented, completely unruffled. "And that are the remains of a well." He kicked a rusty bit of metal which might once have been a bucket away into the corner.
I huddled down as far away from the well as I could. I hated black holes. I hated chasms.
Pippin, however, did not seem sufficiently terrified by the dangerous jumps we had had to take. He crept to the edge of the well and stared into its depths for a long time. Suddenly he made a small movement, and I jumped from my corner, my heart in my mouth. I had forgotten about the stone! Oh, bloody fucking hell!
The sound of the pebble hitting the walls of the well echoed through the hollow shaft.
"What have you done now?" cried Gandalf, rounding on Pippin.
"It was just a pebble," Pippin said with a mutinous look on his face.
"Fool of Took!" Gandalf exclaimed. "This journey's serious, not a walking-party! Do that again and I will throw you into that hole after your pebble!"
Gandalf turned his back on the young hobbit, and Pippin crept back to the other hobbits, his ears flaming red.
I was counting the beats of my heart.
When I had reached 398, out of the depths from far, far below, the sound of knocking drifted up to us. Echoes rose in the shaft and died down. A few seconds it was absolutely quiet.
Then, somewhere below, but not as far below as the first knocks, a series of low rhythmical beats answered the first. This time the echoes were muffled sooner, and everything went quiet again.
I rubbed at my forehead with icy hands. Was this already the chamber where the Orcs attacked the fellowship? Or had that been later and somewhere else?
"That was a hammer," Gimli said. "Or I have never heard one. And it was some kind of code."
"Yes," Gandalf agreed, glowering at Pippin. "Thanks to that idiot hobbit our presence in Moria has been noticed already."
As a reward, Gandalf made Pippin take the first watch.
But Gandalf remained awake along with the hobbit, smoking his pipe in silence.
I fell asleep, watching the dim glow of the pipe lighting up in the darkness near the door, to the rhythm of Gandalf's breathing.
When Gandalf woke us, I had lost all sense of time and place.
We had a quick breakfast, and then we started down the right tunnel. We walked without any further incidents for eight hours. This tunnel was taking us upwards again. And to my immense relief, its floor was smooth and even with no cracks and fissures.
It had to be close to nightfall, when we came suddenly to the end of the tunnel. Passing through a pointed archway, we came to stand in a black and empty space. From the darkness a breeze of cool fresh air was blowing into our faces.
"Ah," Gandalf said. "We chose the right way. We have come to the halls above the Dimrill Gate. I think I can risk a little real light here."
He raised his staff above his head, and white light flared up like a great floodlight.
The sight of the immense hall was even more awesome than Peter Jackson's vision of Moria as presented in the movies, although he was surprisingly close to the real thing, I mused, looking up the huge columns, trying to see the ceiling far above me. But I could not discern the roof of this great hall, it was too far above. Walls, pillars and floor of this immense hall were made of black stone, which was polished to a shiny finish, looking like glass, like black obsidian, but not like the rock of a mountain shaped into a cave. Where the white light of the wizard's staff hit the stone, it flashed and glittered. Again there were three more entrances to the hall. One on the far side of the hall, barely discernible in the shadows, and two closer to us, on either side of the hall.
But great as the hall might be, and it was greater, and with lights surely more beautiful than the gothic cathedrals I had seen on earth, I did not like to camp there for the night. I felt vulnerable in this large dark space, with the four dark tunnels leading right up to us.
Gimli favoured us with a rendition of a ballad about Khazad-dûm. Sam liked it. I was simply glad not to have to listen to the silence of the darkness all around us.
I had the first watch together with Legolas.
No sound, no light, no movement in the shadows.
I was tired enough to fall asleep at once when my watch was over.
I woke to pale shafts of light hitting the black floor of the hall at regular intervals. The air of theses pale beams of sunshine was filled with tiny motes of dust.
Gandalf smiled at us, relief in his eyes. "We have reached the east side of Moria. We have come out too high, but if we descend from here, we should be able to find the Great Gates before the afternoon and have our evening meal above the waters of the Mirrormere."
My heart started racing. My mouth was suddenly dry. My temples were throbbing.
No, I thought. We won't. You won't.
But I did not say anything, and dropped my gaze quickly to hide the expression on my face from the others.
We went through the northern arch and on through a wide corridor. At its end bright sunlight slanted onto a slab of white stone in a small square chamber. The others walked up to the chamber quickly. I followed reluctantly, staying at the rear with Aragorn. He looked at me with a strange expression on his face, but he did not say anything.
Inside the chamber, the other members of the company were standing in silence around Balin's grave.