An Aussie in King Aragorn's Court part 12 - The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm
The Company fled across the smooth stone floor of the Dwarrowdelf. From all sides their enemies raced towards them. Vastly outnumbered, and with little hope, save that of their flying feet, they ran on behind Gandalf, his staff blazing a way through the dark. Far ahead in the distance, they could dimly see the outline of a great archway. It was further than it looked.
Hideous cries could be heard from above. Coralie looked up as she ran, alarmed to see the shadows of Orcs tracing the walls as they crawled out of spaces in the ceiling overhead. Their arms and legs akimbo, like squat, ugly spiders.
"God! This is worse than Eight Legged Freaks and I hate spiders! Now I can add Orcs to my list!" she sped on, her feet compelled by the grim certainty, that death awaited any who faltered. Her shoulder hurt like hell, but at least the pain wasn't as blinding as before.
Suddenly, they were overtaken by their monstrous foes and found themselves surrounded by a sea of slathering faces, baying for blood. Orcs, too numerous to count, rattled their crude blades and shields at them. The Company held up their weapons in readiness for the fight of their lives. Coralie grasped her laser light around her neck. One Orc leapt out at them from the mass of seething monstrosity and challenged them with raised scimitar. She shone her light in its eyes as Gandalf's staff grew even brighter. It fell back bawling in pain.
A low rumbling roar, filled the chamber, blotting out the hideous gurgles and cries of the Orc's with its fell power. In the distance, a blood-red element reflected on the many pillars beyond where the company stood, holding their ground. The Orcs seemed to cry out in alarm. Another low growl echoed the former, only this time much closer in its power to afflict. Woe fell upon the faces of the Orc's, who suddenly panicked and ran in every direction away from the Company.
"What is this new devilry?" asked Boromir. The fear caught in his throat.
Gandalf lowered his head briefly, whilst Legolas' dismay drained all the blood from his features. A dread and terror fell on all their hearts as the red glow crept closer.
"A balrog. A demon of the ancient world. This foe is beyond any of you. Run!"
Turning with newly awakened fear, they fled towards the archway looming in the distance. The hellish roaring was still behind them, yet drawing closer as they reached the door. Boromir was the first to descend the steep stairway as he flew through. He came to a frightful halt at the precipice of an abyss, where the steps suddenly terminated with abrupt finality. Swaying at the brink, unable to bring his body under command, his torch fell into the terrible chasm as he fought to regain balance. Legolas' arm shot out quickly around his chest and brought him back to relative safety.
The others followed, breathless, avoiding the same error, as they had witnessed the near disaster that Boromir had almost come to. Legolas led the way, jumping down the stone stairway ahead of them. Gandalf and Aragorn came last, the latter making as if to make a stand and fight the fell beast as it advanced toward them. The wizard grabbed his shoulder with urgency.
"Lead them on Aragorn. The bridge is near. Do as I say!" he emphasized. "Swords are no more use here!"
Aragorn looked questioningly at Gandalf, but knew better than to argue with him.
The Company clattered down a severe stairway, carved out of the ancient stone, high above the chasm, which threatened them on both sides. They halted at a narrow gap in the steps. Legolas jumped easily across the breach.
"Gandalf!" he waved him across.
The wizard jumped down to Legolas with staff aloft in the dizzying blackness. Coralie followed next, falling into their arms. She winced at the pain that freshly assaulted her shoulder. A black arrow shot into her backpack. Several others zoomed overhead, whilst others bounced off the stone steps. Legolas fired an arrow in return. The offending Orc fell screaming from his perch.
"Merry! Pippin!" Boromir tucked both hobbits, one under each arm and made the perilous jump. As he did so, the steps he jumped from broke off, making the gap even wider.
Aragorn suddenly picked up Sam and threw him across the divide to Legolas. The Elf caught him easily. Aragorn turned to Gimli.
"Nobody tosses a dwarf," he said dourly before making his leap. Unfortunately the fissure was a little too wide for his stout legs. Teetering on the brink, Legolas reached out and grabbed his beard.
"Not the beard!" Gimli yelled with pain, as he was hauled over the edge.
Again the crumbling steps broke away as Gimli jumped. Aragorn flung Frodo back as he scrambled to regain the stair, grappling with the empty space below where his feet once stood.
From above came the haunting grumble of their relentless adversary. The walls reverberated and collapsed near the archway they had just run through. Great stones answered his growl and dropped onto the steps behind Aragorn and Frodo. They staggered on an island of stone, now teetering and lurching as it searched for support.
Aragorn grasped Frodo's shoulder.
"Hold on!" he cried. "Lean forward!"
With hearts in their mouths, the Company watched the two balancing on the tilting steps. For an instant, the stone faltered, then swayed towards them. Aragorn and Frodo launched themselves at Legolas and Boromir, as their stony parapet crashed into the stairs below, and hurled them towards the two waiting catchers. With hurried relief the Fellowship continued their escape down the stone steps.
The stairs gave way to a great hall bordered by a black chasm on one side with the bridge, their long sought goal on the other. Beyond that, the Eastern Door and the safety of sunshine awaited them. They were almost there. The Bridge, sans railings, crossed an abyss of unknown depth. It was some fifty feet in length across, an ancient defence of the Dwarves, in case the first hall was taken. Friend or foe would be forced to cross in single file. An enemy host would be strongly disadvantaged.
As The Company sped through the last hall, the Balrog revealed himself at last, ascending as it were from the very depths of hell. His cloven feet thundered on the stone floor in pursuit of his quarry. Shadow and flame, its mane kindled with flaming tongues of fire, challenged their hearts, and endurance during this last race for freedom. Each fiery stride was equal to ten of their own. The struggle to maintain hope against such an adversary waged war in every soul, as in single file they were forced to cross the bridge.
Gandalf was the last to cross over. Realizing that the enemy was close upon them, he wheeled to face him, Glamdring gleaming cold and white in his hand. The Balrog halted his forward march. The two foes faced each other without retreat. Smoke and flame enveloped the fell creature as he stretched out his wings and roared in sinister defiance of Gandalf's stand. The wizard held his ground.
"Gandalf!" cried Frodo in desperation for his dear companion.
Dismay fell upon all. The Balrog seemed to grow and increase in malevolent strength and menace as he roared his challenge at the wizard, who stood alone and determined in spite of the doom laid upon him. Coralie felt the dread foreboding of the Balrog flood through her entire being. Her courage dissolved into the shadows that dodged every crevice of her heart. The others called out to Gandalf, only half aware that their cries dropped like stones at their feet. Her chest tightened against the effort to breathe. Bowing her head, she bent all her will to dislodge the chains that had bound themselves around the confidence of her spirit, and found she couldn't do it.
"Oh God!" she cried. "This isn't funny anymore." She thought as terror pressed down on her from every side. She tried to call out to Gandalf and found that nothing emerged but a hoarse cry. Her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth.
"Ha! Not as brave as you thought, are you?" the derisive laughter echoed in her head. Coralie staggered under the weight of contempt that had suddenly invaded her mind and heart.
"What?" The accusation was flung back again with full force. Quailing under the assault on her soul by this malefic voice, she could mount no defence against the logic of its argument. She had no answer for it. Her spirit felt crushed, defeated.
Then, from somewhere deep within her, deeper than even she remembered, she heard a tiny voice singing a tune that sounded vaguely familiar.
"That will not help you. You are doomed!" The other voice snarled.
She shook her head against the intruder. Now what had she heard? What was that tune? A child's voice? Whose?
"Shepherd...my Shepherd? Think Coralie! .....Leads me , waters..." She shook her head, desperate to make sense of the random words that accompanied the growing familiarity of the tune. The laughter in her head grew louder as if to drown out the other. Faintly her voice took shape for a moment.
"The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want....."
Her tongue stumbled over every forced syllable as it fell from her dry mouth.
"The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want....." Her voice faltered. She tried again. "The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want, He makes me down to lie....
Her voice not even a whisper plunged into the depths of her spirit, only to be thrown back at her with derisive laughter. Every morbid iron link that bound her heart, held fast, and resolute.
The Balrog raised his fiery whip to assault the lone, grey, figure that stood firm.
"You cannot pass!" declared Gandalf.
Making no answer, the Balrog drew himself up to an even greater height, and spread forth his wings. Then bending down he roared his brazen defiance, at the wizard, now seemingly shriveled as a gnarled tree before the storm of his baleful passion.
Coralie's desperation increased. The old hymn with the young voice broke out in her head again. It was a song she'd learned in Sunday School. She could remember singing it
at church. "How did the words go?"
"What good will that do you now?" The contemptuous voice had returned, sneering at her efforts.
"Oh God!" she cried with all her might. "Help me!" Sweat framed her brow with painful effort. The old hymn struck up the chords of memory again.
"The Lord's my Shepherd,
I'll not want,
He makes me down to lie,
In pastures green,
He leadeth me,
The quiet waters by." Her voice barely above a whisper at first had returned the bold cry of her inner being as she cried out to Gandalf.
"Yea, though I walk,
Through Death's dark vale,
Yet will I fear none ill,
For Thou art with me
And Thy rod,
And staff me comfort still"
Gandalf still stood, firm and undaunted.
"You cannot pass!" he repeated. "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun. Go back to the Shadow! You shall not pass!"
"He cannot stand alone!" cried Aragorn drawing his sword suddenly running back to the bridge. "I am with you Gandalf!"
Boromir leapt after him. "Gondor!"
A bright light enveloped Gandalf with power and majesty against the overwhelming darkness. The Balrog replied with a stroke of his fiery sword. A stab of white fire met the Balrog's opposition, his molten blade fell into the void below. Gandalf swayed a little, took a step backwards and held his ground.
Coralie rushed after Aragorn and Boromir.
"Gandalf!" she cried. "Yea, though I walk through Death's Dark Vale, Yet...." Legolas pulled her back. He had chased after her, sure that some madness had come upon her, desperately driving her forward to destruction.
Lifting his staff at that very moment, Gandalf cried aloud and smote the bridge as he brought the end of it down with tremendous force at his feet. There was a blinding flash and the staff broke in two. The Balrog stamped his cloven foot onto the bridge and made to advance. The bridge crumbled and broke below his weight. With a terrible cry he plunged him into the black pit below. Gandalf momentarily remained on the trembling tongue of stone that prevailed. Exhausted by his effort, he turned around in order to follow the others, the fiery whip of his fallen foe lashed up and wrapped itself around the wizard's knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss.
"Fly, you fools!" he cried, and was gone.