1. A Twist of Fate
"Rope!" he muttered. "No rope! And only last night you said to yourself: 'Sam, what about a bit of rope? You'll want it, if you haven't got it.' Well, I'll want it. I can't get it now."
FOTR, "The Ring Goes South"
A Twist of Fate
Doom! Boom! Frodo felt the throbbing drumbeats in his bones. Desperate to run but unable to tear himself away, he and Sam tarried on the bottom step of the eastern stairway of the Second Hall of Old Moria. Nearby stood Merry, Pippin, Gimli and Legolas. Behind them--up the stairs, across the hall and out the Gate--freedom beckoned, enticingly near. Faintly, Frodo caught the clean scent of a mountain breeze, diluting the acrid stench of smoke and fire that choked the air in front of him. So close! But they could not leave—not yet
A few dozen feet away, a chasm opened: lightless, vast, and for all any of them knew, bottomless. The treacherously narrow bridge, across which they had just sped, hung over black emptiness. In the center of its fragile span was Gandalf. Aragorn and Boromir stood behind him, valiant and foolish—for what could they do? What could anyone, even Gandalf, do against the terrible thing that threatened to cross the bridge? Frodo could hardly bear to look at the creature. He could feel it searching hungrily for the trinket that dragged at the chain on his neck. Frodo's heart lurched in his chest. The Balrog knew what he carried, and wanted it. The monstrous creature would not hesitate to destroy every one of them to get it—and Middle Earth would have not just one Dark Lord, but two. What could possibly stop that fate from becoming reality?
The hobbit's gaze fell on the familiar grey-cloaked figure, leaning heavily on his staff. Just moments ago, Frodo had overheard the wizard's muttered words. I am already weary. And he looked weary. His shoulders sagged and his chest heaved as he caught his breath after their headlong race through the mines. Yet there he stood, between evil embodied and the rest of the Fellowship, daring to block the advance of the demon of darkness and fire. As Frodo watched, Gandalf seemed to gather what remained of his strength and pull himself to his full height. He brandished the great sword of Gondolin into the flickering red light and called out in a clear deep voice.
"You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass!"
Frodo's heart thrilled with hope at the sound of those words. But a moment later, his hope faltered—for the Balrog leapt fully onto the bridge and towered over Gandalf. Darkness flowed out from the demon like great wings. It swung its glowing whip, and the ends of the thongs snapped near the wizard's face. He flinched, and a red streak appeared on his cheek. The Balrog hissed with laughter.
Suddenly, the hobbit's vision dimmed. Time slowed. In his mind's eye he saw something that his heart could not bear to believe. He choked on grief that was greater than his fear. The moment of premonition passed, as quickly as it had come, and the awful reality before him came back into focus.
The Balrog raised its flaming sword. Glamdring met it with a sparkling crash. Red splinters flew up and scattered. Gandalf's balance shifted; he stepped back a pace.
"Sam!" Frodo whispered, clutching his arm. "Your rope! Get it out, now!"
Sam's brown eyes met his, and Frodo measured the terror he read there against his own. A split second passed.
"Yes, Mister Frodo!" Sam swung his pack from his shoulder and dug quickly. Since Master Took had been forced to leap a seven foot gap with that rope tied to his waist as protection, Sam had taken to keeping it on top of his possessions. He'd sought out the precious thirty-ell length in their final days in Rivendell "Here it is!"
Frodo grabbed the coil and ran without considering that he was running toward the deadliest creature any of them had ever seen. Merry cried out behind him, and Legolas reached out to try to restrain him as he sped past. Frodo ignored them and kept running. He was at the bridge. He stepped forward onto it.
"Boromir!" he cried. The man did not acknowledge him. Frodo grasped his elbow and shook it. "Here! Take it, in case he... in case someone slips!"
The Steward's son turned his head and saw what the hobbit thrust toward him. The warrior's dark grey eyes widened. He nodded. What use, after all, would a sword be here? Swiftly, he sheathed his blade and took the coil. He folded one end of it back on itself and knotted it double: a hand-hold, should one be required. He made ready to toss the loop.
"You cannot pass!" Gandalf cried. The power in his voice thundered through the expanse of the massive Hall and echoed on its stone walls, far away in the darkness. Frodo staggered, nearly losing his balance at the edge of the chasm. Sam was there, clutching his arm, dragging him back.
"Come away from there, Mister Frodo!" Sam cried in a choked whisper.
The two hobbits stumbled toward the stairway, watching in awe as the being they had only known as a wise guide and old friend gave a great cry and smote the bridge with his ancient staff. The wood shattered with a blinding flash. Frodo heard rather than saw the stone of the bridge crack. In one motion, the far half of the bridge sagged and dropped into the darkness. The Balrog shrieked with rage and fell into nothingness. Sam gasped, and Frodo's heart leapt into his throat as the slender span of rock thrust out and quivered over the open space, the wizard still balanced upon it.
Then it happened, just as Frodo's fleeting vision had revealed it: the fiery whip flew upward as the monster disappeared. The thongs wrapped about Gandalf's legs even as he turned to escape, yanking his feet out from beneath him. Glamdring glittered and spun into the darkness as the wizard twisted and fell, first to his knees, then as the weight dragged at him, face down and sliding. His hat toppled into the pit. He clutched at the edges of the bridge, chest and body splayed out along the narrow span, his legs dangling over the broken end. The stone began to grind and shake.
"Fly, you fools!" he cried hoarsely.
And then the rope was there, next to his white-knuckled, straining fingers, where Boromir had tossed it with a shout. "Mithrandir!"
He had it!
Aragorn swiftly sheathed Andúril and added his strength to the task as the wizard, his right hand grasping the loop, scrabbled to keep a hold on the stone with his left. The span shuddered again, and the men retreated from the unstable bridge, playing rope out as they ran. The rest of the Fellowship poured from the stairway and joined their hands to the slender twist of fiber, on the chance that their leader might not fall.
"Hold on!" Boromir shouted from the back of their line. He braced his feet and wrapped the rope behind his broad back, anchoring it.
The remaining bridge broke into pieces and collapsed. They watched in horror as Gandalf vanished into the darkness with the crumbling stone. The rope went slack--but a second later, it stretched taut. The Company heard a thud and a muffled groan as the wizard crashed into the rocky wall of the chasm. A terrifying moment passed before they had control of the rope again.
"Now!" Aragorn cried. "Pull! Everyone, pull!"
Slowly the rope strained upward. The weight was greater than that of one man, for the Balrog was still tethered to the wizard's legs. The rope bounced; Gandalf was trying to kick his attacker loose. Suddenly a voice roared from below the edge.
"Get back! Back!"
A sheet of flame shot up. The rope slid a few feet as the Company twisted their faces away from the heat.
"Now! Together!" Aragorn cried. "Pull! Pull!" Eight sets of hands worked together, the skin of their palms chafed, their muscles straining. The rope passed up, foot by foot. As if they woke from a trance, their pursuers suddenly began clamoring and shouting, and a rain of arrows began to fall. Darts skittered on the stones around them.
Boromir cried out. "Nearly there! Aragorn, help him--I'll anchor you!"
The wizard's hands could just be seen at the edge. Boromir leaned backward and clenched his teeth in a grimace as Aragorn and Legolas sped forward to drag Gandalf up directly. Frodo felt the sudden increase in weight, and nearly fell before he pulled with all his reserve. He heard Sam and Merry groaning, and Pippin saying, "He can't fall, he can't fall..." over and over.
The Elf and the Ranger had Gandalf in their grip, pulling up on his arms and shoulders. Boromir, Gimli and the others kept the rope tight.
"Frodo!" the wizard gasped. "Sting!"
Frodo blinked, startled to hear his name. He had been focused solely on pulling.
"Frodo!" Aragorn cried. "Your Elven blade!"
The Ring-bearer dropped his hold on the rope and sped toward the chasm, drawing Sting from his belt as he ran. The others slid the wizard up and onto the floor. Gandalf's knees were on the stone, and wound about his scorched robe was the Balrog's sizzling lash. The glowing thongs had twisted back upon themselves, binding his legs tightly. The rest of the whip was stretched over the edge, dangling into darkness.
"Quickly! Cut it!" Gandalf hissed.
The hobbit leaned over the edge. A jolt of heat hit his face as he glimpsed a glowing thing swaying below. Legolas gripped his shoulder. Frodo reached with the blade and sliced through with one swift cut. The Elf jerked him backward as the Balrog screamed in rage and released a final blast of fire. They heard his curses echo and fade into the abyss.
Frodo felt himself pulled to his feet, while at his side Aragorn dragged the wizard up and onto his. The loosened thongs fell to the floor. Arrows continued to fall. Orcs cursed and yelled. A dart struck Frodo in the center of his back and bounced off. Another whizzed by, missing Aragorn's head by an inch.
Gandalf shook free from Aragorn's grip and pushed him forward. "Go! Lead them!" he gasped. "Up the stairs, through the Great Hall and out the Gate!" The wizard seemed to gain strength as he spoke. "Run, I shall be right behind you!"
As Frodo began to run he heard a thump and a moan. He turned and saw one of his companions lean forward, holding his ribs. Blood spurted from between his fingers, where a black shaft protruded.
"Boromir!" the hobbit screamed.
The others froze as the stalwart man of Gondor staggered to his knees. Aragorn was the first to move. He leapt to Boromir's side and began to raise him up.
"Leave me," Boromir groaned. "Get out of here!"
"No!" Gandalf said sharply, as he turned back toward the fallen man. "Gimli, lead the way… The rest of you, run for the light! Be wary, the Gate will be guarded... Fly!"
Frodo looked back to see the wizard grasp Boromir's arm and drape it over his shoulders. He nodded to Aragorn. They reached behind the sturdily built warrior, clasped one another's wrists, lifted their companion and carried him up the stairs.