An Aussie in King Aragorn's Court ~ Chapter 8 ~ The Watcher and the Lady.

Gimli scampered up beside Gandalf. The lure of Moria was upon him and he could not get there fast enough. Together they led the company in that direction. There was but one road which they could follow. It ran beside the course of an old stream named the Sirannon, but whether Gandalf was astray, or the land had changed in recent years no sign of the stream was to be seen when they started out.

Frodo pushed past Boromir as he followed Coralie on the path and caught up to her.

"Hello Coralie! Do you think that we might borrow that music box of yours?" he asked eagerly.

"Of course you can Frodo. Just the player only now. No speakers. I don't think that poor Legolas could take anymore right now," she said looking back over her shoulder to where he walked with the other hobbits and Aragorn. Frodo laughed in agreement.

"You're right of course. Poor Legolas! His elf ears must really hurt."

"Yes, and I don't think he will ever want to listen to The Beatles again, poor fellow," she conceded.

"Beetles? How do you listen to beetles?" asked Boromir who had been trying to follow the conversation.

"Not those sort of beetles, Boromir. I was talking about The Beatles. They're a rock band," grinned Frodo.

"A band of rocks!" exclaimed Boromir. "I would ask you, Frodo Baggins, how one could listen to rocks as well, but I know your answer would be just as cryptic. Mayhap the lady can show me herself, what you mean sometime." He turned to Coralie. "I gather that this music box of yours is on your pack somewhere?"

"Yes it is. If you turn around, I will take it off." Boromir turned around and grinned down at Frodo who was looking quite pleased with himself. After a brief reintroduction on the workings of the player, he was running back down the path towards the others with his treasure held aloft.

"Don't worry Legolas. I left the speakers behind!" cried Frodo with glee as the others gathered around arguing whose turn it would be next.

Aragorn gave Legolas a questioning look.

"Let's just say that the hobbits are rather enthusiastic about loud, repetitive music." Legolas answered his unspoken thought. "All they wanted to do was sing along with The Beatles and hold the lady's hand over and over again." he sighed.

Aragorn looked at his old friend. "You really can't blame them for that, can you Legolas?" he chuckled.

Legolas smiled back at him. "In truth, I cannot."

"Was the music really that bad? `Twould seem to amuse the hobbits greatly if Frodo is anything to go by." Aragorn was watching Frodo skip merrily along with the music box in hand. "It does my heart good to see that little fellow happy."

"No...Aragorn. Don't misunderstand me. The music wasn't bad. It had a merry rhythm all its own. ... but, ..." his voice trailed off.

"But?" asked Aragorn prompting Legolas for more information.

Legolas turned towards Aragorn, eyes shining. "You should hear the lady sing!"

Boromir laughed heartily as he watched Frodo run back to join the others. This trip had held little cheer. The hobbits could always be counted on to provide some amusement, but things had changed dramatically since yesterday. He looked at Coralie who walked ahead of him in her leggings and t-shirt. It was a pleasant view from behind, now that he was carrying her backpack. He had never seen a woman dressed in such outlandish clothes before.

Boromir noted every step she took. The gentle sway of her hips, upon those slim thighs and shapely calves. A cool breeze had started to blow as the wind changed back to a northerly direction and gently ruffled her shining hair. He caught the faint smell of strawberries every now and then. She had asked him to stop so she could take out her ski jacket and jeans from her pack and put them on. He was as equally delighted by the view from the front. The  outline of her shirt which clung to her womanly form, beckoned his admiring eye. He made sure his stolen glimpses were discreet though, having learned his lesson that very morning. This was no easy mark, but clearly a lady of consequence. He had misread her entirely and was desperately trying to make up for his oafish behaviour earlier. She had mentioned something upon their first meeting about having a king as a distant sire. He could well believe it. Her self-assurance impressed him. Most women would twitter like tiny, peeping birds in his company, trying to impress this Lord of Gondor with their feigned modesty and deceptive virtue. However, here was a woman who cared not one little jot what he thought about her, and she had managed to inflict a sorry wound on his pride.

He wanted to make amends for the incident on the path with her that morning and helped her gallantly with her jacket, anxious to impress her with his knightly demeanour. She was close now. Her light scent was intoxicating. His hands lingered lightly upon her shoulders momentarily and he would have spoken softly to her, but she was totally unaware of his attention to the small details of her. With a stride she left him standing mute upon the path. There was nothing to be done, but to pick up her pack and follow.

Coralie put her head down and hunched her shoulders. The wind was becoming increasingly bitter. The day had started out so fine, almost spring like in mood and temperature. Now the provoked wind sought to make them pay for their previous optimism, darkening the day with his resentful breath.

"Look! There is the stream, Sirannon, the Gate-Stream," cried Gimli, pointing to the right of the path. The company hurried up to look down the slope where he was pointing. A deep channel had narrowly carved a way through the valley floor. The laughing water had long abandoned its previous course and only a mere trickle seeped through the water worn stones on its bed.

"Come! We must hurry on. We are late!" he said pushing on.

The company were footsore and tired, but wound their way doggedly along the winding track for many more miles before they took a brief and hasty meal.

"I'm so hungry, I could chase the horse and eat the rider too," said Coralie as she fumbled through her pack for her rations. The hobbits laughed to hear her talk so.

"You almost sound like a hobbit, Coralie!" Frodo chuckled as he stood beside her.

"I work hard and play hard, therefore I eat lots!" she replied, nibbling on a health bar.

"Then you are in good company, for hobbits love to eat more than anything else!" he grinned, accepting the food that she had offered. "Hmmm. This is rather good. What flavour is it?" he enquired.

"Banana," stated Coralie matter of factly. She did not know that bananas were unheard of in that part of Middle Earth.

"Then that is another new thing you've introduced me to Coralie," said Frodo. She looked at him in response.

"Banana," he responded. "Never had it before? What is it?" asked Frodo.

"Really! I just took it for granted that you had tried it at least once. I keep forgetting that I'm in the Northern Hemisphere in an ancient time and place. Bananas are tropical fruit Frodo and since we are a long way from the tropics, then you will have to go a long way to find another unfortunately," she answered.

Merry, Pippin and Sam came over to join Coralie and Frodo as they sat on the ground eating the remains of the health bar.

"Hello you two. What are you plotting now?" asked Merry inquisitively.

"Coralie's just been introducing me to the delights of banana, and she's been telling me that where she comes from, people are known as banana benders because they grow bananas there!" answered Frodo nodding his head for added emphasis.

Coralie reached into her backpack as Merry was just beginning to open his mouth.

"I'm one step ahead of you, China!" she said tossing a bar in his direction. "Make sure you share that with Sam though. Fair Dinks, I swear you hobbits are going to eat me out of house and home. Shame I don't have any worm tablets in my first aid kit. I'd be giving you lot double doses, " she laughed at the horrified looks on their faces.

Merry pointed at Coralie's left wrist.

"I've been meaning to ask you for a while, Coralie. What is that on your wrist?"

"Oh this? This, my friend is a watch. It tells the time," she replied.

"What? Like a sundial?" asked Sam incredulously.

"Not quite Sam. But close enough. The time right now is 5 minutes past 1 o'clock," she said looking at her watch.

The hobbits raised their eyebrows in disbelief.

"Does it play music like your music box?" asked Merry enthusiastically.

"No," laughed Coralie in response. "Here. Wear it for a while if you like!" She tossed the watch to him. Merry caught the watch with glee and strapped it on immediately. The hobbits then huddled together and examined it in detail. Frodo looked up at Coralie and smiled.

"Honestly, I do wonder what you're going to do next, but somehow I know it won't surprise me."

Gandalf signaled the company that it was time to move off. Tired and weary as they were, there was no point lingering any more. Aragorn came over to Coralie and the hobbits as they shouldered their packs in readiness for the journey before them.

"Let me help you with that burden, Lady."

Coralie made to protest, but Aragorn held up his hand.

"I know that you have freely joined us on our quest, and we are glad of your company Lady, but nevertheless we have need of both speed and strength now. I would not see you weighed down by this burden whilst there are good men available to carry your load. Besides, I do believe that it is my turn." He smiled graciously as he spoke and Coralie's protests melted beneath his knightly gaze. She nodded in acquiescence and took the path behind the hobbits.

"Wish I was a girl. Then Aragorn might carry my pack for me," said Pippin as he handed the Clie player to Sam, whose turn it was now.

"How do you know you're not?" teased Merry as he ran ahead whilst Pippin chased him in mock offence.

The day was growing old and the mountains knit their brows together, an unbroken wall of stone, as they followed the trail beside the withered stream. Aragorn looked ahead to where Coralie trod the trail without falter. She and Frodo were partaking in some animated conversation about the music he had listened to earlier. It was now Sam's turn with the music box, and he looked to be happily away with the faeries as he nodded his head and skipped along.

"Ah! My Lady. You seem to have not a care in the world and know not the dangers that may beset us upon the way. What folly could have persuaded the Valar to send you on our quest," he thought grimly. "I would not have chosen a woman to join us and Gandalf is unsure of what part you have yet to play. But I trust him in his judgment of you, and quickly did he take you into his confidence. He does not aught, without good reason. As for myself, I have known you but a short time, and I can see no guile in your heart, but instead a merry little spirit. Even I have forgotten the trials of our journey, if only for a moment. Whatever the reason you have joined us, matters not. Here you are and we must make do. I have vowed to protect the ring bearer with my life, but this I vow as well. You shall be as sister to me and if by my life or death I can protect you, I will." He set his face as flint as he followed behind.

Presently, their path rounded a sharp bend and they came to a low cliff where once a waterfall of deep measure had carved a cleft in the rock. A small trickle now fell fitfully to the rocks below.

"Indeed things have changed!" said Gandalf. "But there is no mistaking the place. There is all that remains of the Stair Falls. If I remember right, there was a flight of steps cut in the rock at their side. There used to be a shallow valley beyond the falls right up to the Walls of Moria, and the Sirannon flowed through it with the road beside it. Let us go and see what things are like now."

They ascended the stone steps easily, and Gimli sprang up them in the lead like a hare. When they reached the top they were dismayed to see the reason for the pitiful state of the riverbed they had followed. Before them stretched a still, dark lake. The sun hung low and golden in the westering sky yet no reflection could be seen upon its brooding surface. The Sirannon had been dammed and filled all the valley. Beyond the ominous water reared vast cliffs, their stern faces pallid in the fading light: final and impassable. No sign of entrance, not a fissure or crack could Frodo see in the frowning stone.

"There are the walls of Moria," said Gandalf, pointing across the water. "And there the Gate stood once upon a time, the Elven Door at the end of the road from Hollin by which we have come. But this way is blocked. None of the Company,I guess will wish to swim this gloomy water at the end of the day. It has an unwholesome look."

"We must find a way round the northern edge," said Gimli. "We must climb up by the main path and see where that will lead us. Even if there were no lake, we could not get our baggage- pony up this stair."

"But in any case we cannot take the poor beast into the Mines," said Gandalf. "The road under the mountains is a dark road, and there are places narrow and steep that which he cannot tread, even if we can."

"Poor old Bill!" said Frodo. "I had not thought of that. And poor Sam! I wonder what he will say?"

"I am sorry," said Gandalf. "Poor Bill has been a useful companion, and it goes to my heart to turn him adrift now. I would have traveled lighter and brought no animal, least of all this one that Sam is fond of, if I had my way. I feared all along that we should be obliged to take this road."

The day was drawing to a close, when the company with all the speed they could make, climbed up the slopes and reached the side of the lake. Bleak stars glinted in the sky above and the wind had now dropped to a distant murmur. They hurried forward, for they still had a mile or so to go in order to reach the far shore that Gandalf was making for; and he still had to find the doors. He pressed on at a great pace, and the others followed as quickly as they could. Finding a narrow strip of land that hugged the bottom of the cliffs and the shoreline, the Company followed after Gandalf as he led them on. Most of the trees that they passed were now drowned in the fitful black water of the lake. The only two living trees in that region stood a little apart from each other under the cliff. They were that largest holly trees that Frodo had ever seen. Their great roots twisted their way down to the water's edge, as they stood silent and grim, as if on silent watch before the wall.

"Well, here we are at last!" said Gandalf. "Here the Elven-way from Hollin ended. Holly was the token of the people of the land, and they planted it here to mark the end of their domain; for the West-door was made chiefly for their use in their traffic with the Lords of Moria. Those were happier days, when there was still close friendship at times between folk of different race, even between Dwarves and Elves."

"It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned," said Gimli.

"I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves," said Legolas.

"I have heard both," said Gandalf; and I will not give judgment now. But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both. The doors are shut and hidden, and the sooner we find them the better. Night is at hand!"

Turning to the others he said: "While I am searching, will you each make ready to enter the Mines? For here, I fear we say farewell to our good beast of burden. You must lay aside much of the stuff that we brought against bitter weather: you will not need it inside, nor I hope, when we come through and journey on down into the south."

"But you can't leave poor old Bill behind in this forsaken place, Mr. Gandalf!" cried Sam, angry and distressed. "I won't have it and that's flat. After he has come so far and all!"

"I am sorry, Sam," said the wizard. "But when the Door opens I do not think you will be able to drag Bill inside, into the long dark of Moria. You will have to choose between Bill and your master." Gandalf laid his hand upon the pony's head and spoke in a low voice. "Go with words of guard and guiding on you," he said. "You are a wise beast, and have learned much in Rivendell. Make your ways to places where you can find grass, and so come in time to Elrond's house, or wherever you wish to go."

At first Sam stood silently beside the pony as he weighed up the obvious choice he must make in his mind. Bill nuzzled him gently and put a nose to his ear. Suddenly Sam burst into tears and started fumbling with the straps holding the provisions on his back. Aragorn and Coralie went to help him.

"The mines are no place for a pony, Sam; even one so brave as Bill," said Aragorn as he took off Bill's halter and lead rope.

"Bye, bye Bill," sniffed Sam. The pony gave him one last nuzzle before turning on his hooves.

Coralie laid a comforting hand upon Sam's shoulder. "Don't worry, Sam. I'm sure he knows the way home." She brushed quickly at the tears that were forming in her eyes.

Turning, she walked over to where Aragorn had laid her pack. Sam had returned her Clie player and Coralie took out the batteries and placed them in the recharger. Luckily she had thought to take it out when they stopped for lunch and had allowed it to store enough energy that afternoon as they walked along. Next she wearily unstrapped her skis and poles from the back of her pack.

"Goodbye K2's. You have served me well upon the slopes, but I fear that I shall ski thee no more," she said wistfully. "By Jingo! I'm starting to sound like them!" she shook her head and pulled out the contents of her pack. Next she laid her Ski Jacket, pants and boots beside the skis. "Farewell, Rip Curl and Raichle, I am loath to leave you behind before I begin this dark journey, but can see no use for you in there! Oh My God! I am talking like them!"

"Who are you saying goodbye to and who are you talking like?" asked Legolas puzzled.

"Oh Leggy! I'm saying goodbye to my ski gear. I don't suppose I will ever see it again," she sighed.

Legolas smiled in sympathy. "You never know Lady. Perhaps our road will lead us back here someday and we will find your things just as you left them. Besides. I wouldn't mind trying that...what did you call it? Snowboarding?... Again with you sometime."

"I shouldn't be upset about leaving this stuff here, Leggy. Poor Sam just lost his pony and feeling sorry for myself just won't do. Anyway it might be for the best. I'm not sure I'd want to keep skiing here in Middle Earth as it is a dangerous business, and if I broke my leg who would fix it? If you know where there is a beach, I reckon I'd rather go surfing instead," she replied.

"Surfing?" asked Legolas surprised at her request to find a beach. He was trying to fathom exactly what she meant by surfing. Coralie realized that he did not quite understand.

"Surfing, Leggy, is actually quite similar to snowboarding, except you ride a wave instead of the snow. I'm sure you could pick it up in a snap," She clicked her fingers to emphasize the point.

"Nevertheless, if there is a way, I will bring you here myself so you can retrieve your belongings," he assured her. "I am curious Lady. What are these surfboards made of and how do you manage with a dress when you go `surfing' Or do you wear breeches as you have on now?"

"Well, the boards are usually made of fiberglass, but since I know that we won't be able to get any of that in Middle Earth, a nice light wood should suffice. It would be pretty primitive, but the Hawaiians managed quite well with wooden boards for centuries....and as to what I wear? I can't imagine surfing in a dress or a pair of jeans. The idea is not only ridiculous, but quite dangerous. Drowning does not feature highly on my 'to do list' this year. I would be more inclined to wear my bikini in the surf," and added with a wicked grin and a wink. "But depending on whether the beach was deserted or not, I may even consider surfing in my birthday suit."

This time it was Legolas' turn to blush. He hastened up to where Gandalf was still standing between the two trees gazing at the blank wall of the cliff, as if he would bore a hole in it with his eyes.

"Well here we are and all ready," said Merry; `but where are the Doors? I can't see any sign of them."

"Dwarf-doors are not made to be seen when shut," said Gimli. "They are invisible, and their own master cannot find them or open them, if their secret is forgotten."

"Why am I not surprised," said Legolas. He was pressed up against the rock as if listening.

"But this Door was not made to be a secret known only to Dwarves," said Gandalf, coming suddenly to life and turning round. He walked forward to the wall. Right between the shadow of the trees there was a smooth space, and over this he passed his hands to and fro, muttering words under his breath. Then he stepped back.

"Look!" he said. "Can you see anything now?"

The grey stone shone under the moon's influence, and silver threads as faint lines of writing began to appear, where the wizard's hands had passed. At the top of the arch Elvish characters were interwoven. A crown with many stars sat atop a hammer and an anvil. Below these shone a single great star shaded by two elegant trees which were framed by two pillars drawn on either side.

"There are the emblems of Durin!" cried Gimli.

"And there is the Tree of the High Elves!" said Legolas.

"And the star of the house of Feanor," said Gandalf. "They are wrought of ithildin that mirrors only starlight and moonlight. It reads; The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak friend and enter."

"What do you suppose that means?" asked Merry.

"It's quite simple, if you are a friend, speak the password, and the doors will open," said Gandalf.

"That is plain enough," said Gimli. "If you are a friend, speak the password, and the doors will open and you can enter."

"Let me see now," thought Gandalf aloud. "Annon Edhellen, edro hi amen! Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth lammen!" he said in a commanding voice. Everyone waited in anticipation, but the sullen stone did not respond.

The wizard sighed and repeated the words in a different order. Still nothing happened. Over and over again, Gandalf tried many different versions of the original spell he had spoken without success. He altered the phrases as many different ways as his mind could both conjure and remember.

"Edro! Edro!" commanded Gandalf at the doors. Their silence only served to weary him all the more. He sat down and took out his pipe in frustration.

Coralie walked over to Merry and Pippin who were huddled together near the waters edge. They looked up at her approach. She was wearing her hooded fleece over her t-shirt. Around her neck she wore her laser light on a chain.

"What's that?" asked Merry.

"This is a laser light. I thought it might come in useful in the dark. See!" she shone it down at the rocks at their feet.

"I'm certainly glad that Gandalf didn't make us swim this lake to get to the other side. It looks awful. We may be a ways inland, but for all I know, there could be a bloody shark in it or something!" she looked quite relieved.

"What's a shark then?" asked Pippin, ever curious.

"A shark is a big fish that lives in the ocean, Pippin. It has many rows of teeth and could bite you in two as easily as snapping a twig. I guess it's the only thing we Australians are truly afraid of, being beach lovers and all," she answered.

"What do you do at the beach?" asked Merry.

"We swim and surf the waves mostly. But we're always on the look out for sharks. They're a real menace. Of course, statistics say that you have more chance of being struck by lightning than being eaten by a shark, but then a shark is a lot more scary, don't you think?"

"Never Fear! Merry's here! If I saw a shark I would throw a rock at him and slay the beast for you Lady!" Merry suddenly picked up a rock and threw it into the water.

"Do not disturb the water!" Aragorn had grabbed Pippin's hand, as he was about to follow suit with a rock of his own.

Frodo suddenly stood up and looked at the Doors that had confounded Gandalf.

"It's a riddle! Speak `friend' and enter. What's the Elvish word for friend?" he asked Gandalf.

"Mellon," answered Gandalf.

Suddenly, there was a great crack. The doors were now clearly outlined in the pale moonlight. Now divided in the middle, they stubbornly opened outwards in order to admit them. The outline of a shadowy stairway leading upwards could just be seen in the cavern beyond. The Company stared in wonder. Picking up their packs, they edged warily into the looming cavern.

"Soon Master Elf, you will experience the fabled hospitality of the Dwarves; roaring fires, malt beer, red meat off the bone. This my friend, is the home of my cousin Balin. And they call it a mine. A mine!" Gimli exclaimed.

"I could do with a beer right now, " said Coralie.

Boromir looked at the ground at his feet. He gasped. "This is no mine - it's a tomb!"

The stairs were littered with many skeletons, and decayed bodies, their armour cleft with the stains of war. Gimli cried aloud in disbelief. The hobbits and Coralie gathered together, afraid of what they may see next.

Legolas bent to the ground and picked up an arrow. "Goblins!" he cried. He pulled an arrow from his quiver and strung it in one fluid motion.

"Gee. He pulled that off as quick as a bride's nightie!" thought Coralie, trying not to get alarmed. She thought perhaps that if she maintained her sense of humor, she'd be less likely to panic and get the vapors or some other such nonsense.

The Fellowship drew their weapons; their swords rang in the darkness. Coralie grasped her ski pole. She had taken the basket off the bottom. It was all she could think of to use as a weapon under the circumstances. When she first landed in Middle Earth, she had unexpectedly flown over the heads of a band of orcs who were hunting the Fellowship on the slopes of Caradhras. True, the men had done most of the fighting and she'd only belted a few dead and dying ones over the head with her skis and stabbed others with her poles when they landed on the ground beside her. It had all happened so fast that she had no time to think about it and just reacted to the situation she found herself in. She wasn't blind. She had noticed the weapons they all carried and felt it wise to have one of her own. Rather impromptu, but hopefully effective. Although she really hoped that it wouldn't come to that.

"Oh dear!" she thought to herself. "Why didn't I persist with those martial arts lessons? I only have a smattering of kung fu left in my head from all those Bruce Lee movies. Dad did teach me to box a bit for self defense." She'd grown up with three brothers and they often rough housed together. "Yeah a real tom boy I was...fat lot of good it will do me right now.....been a lady for too long I fear! Do I still have a good left hook?" These thoughts rambled through her head as they started backing out of the cavern. "I'm not going to have the vapors. I'm not going to have the vapors...." she repeated as a mantra to herself.

Suddenly Frodo gave a cry of alarm and fell backwards. Before the others could respond, he was dragged back into the water by a long pale green tentacle. The hobbits and Coralie sprang after him. Sam was on his knees stabbing at the arm that held Frodo with his knife. For a moment the tentacle released its prey. Calling for help, they tried to drag Frodo back inside the doors. Almost instantly twenty other arms came hissing out of the water and knocked the hobbits and Coralie out of the way, seizing upon Frodo once more.

Boromir, Legolas and Aragorn came running out at their cries, weapons drawn. The water boiled and a great hideous creature like unto a giant squid emerged. It roared and opened its mouth, revealing row upon row of teeth as well as its intention to swallow Frodo whole. Legolas released an arrow at the sinuous arm that held Frodo aloft by one foot. Running into the water Boromir hacked at the tentacle and caught Frodo as he tumbled into his broad arms. Aragorn slashed at another.

Boromir turned and ran with his precious cargo.

"Legolas! The eye! Shoot it in the eye!"

Legolas' aim found its mark. The monster screamed in agony as they ran for the gate.

"Into the gateway! Up the stairs! Quick!" shouted Gandalf leaping back. Boromir still carried Frodo as he ran for the gate. The hobbits scrambled behind him. Legolas grabbed Coralie by the arm as Aragorn brought up the rear.

They were just in time. No sooner had they run through the gateway, when the groping tentacles writhed across the narrow shore and fingered the cliff-wall and the doors. They seized the doors on either side, and with horrible strength, swung them round. There was a thunderous echo as great boulders came crashing down from the ceiling and walls, threatening to engulf them in their ruinous fall as they ran for their lives. All light vanished in that instant. The darkness smothered them with its finality.

"Well, Well!" said the wizard. "The passage is blocked behind us now and there is only one way out - on the other side of the mountains."

"Who will lead us now in this deadly dark?" asked Boromir, still shaken.

"I will," said Gandalf, and Gimli shall walk with me. Follow my staff!"

Gently he blew on the crystal at the top of his staff. A faint radiance brightened upon their worried countenances. One by one, Gandalf, surveyed the members of the Fellowship. He stopped at Coralie. "Are you alright My Dear?" he asked, concern lighting his features.

"I'm fine. Don't worry about me. How's Frodo?" she said with a slight tremble in her voice.

"I'm alright, I think," he trembled.

"Oh you poor thing!" Coralie ran straight over to him and gave him a squeeze.

"I should get snatched by a watery creature more often if this is the reward I get," he tried to sound confident.

"Me too!" sounded the other hobbits at once suddenly forgetting their previous ordeal at the prospect of getting a hug. Coralie shook her head and embraced each one in turn, glad to fulfill the simple request considering how close they had all come to disaster.

Gandalf held up his staff.

"Now let us face the long dark of Moria. Be on your guard. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world. Quietly, now. It is a four-day journey to the other side. Let us hope our presence may go unnoticed," said Gandalf as he began to climb the stairs with Fellowship in tow.

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