Lalaith Elerrina--Ward of Rivendell - Chapter 8
The soft morning breeze coming off the slopes of the Misty Mountains, smelled of snow, and high alpine flowers as it swirled around Lalaith where she stood, perched on a rock, scanning the southern terrain, the land the fellowship would be traveling that day.
Their future path did not seem as if it would be difficult to traverse, unlike the broken rocky slope of tumbled land upon which the Fellowship now found itself, and Lalaith turned her attention to her right.
Frodo and Sam were a few steps away from her, Sam bent over a fire where sausages and biscuits were sizzling in a pan. Bill, the horse, was nearby, hidden in a thicket of trees, contentedly snuffing out forage for his breakfast.
Frodo was seated on a lip of rock, overlooking the other two hobbits and the humans who were a step down the sloping side of the hill. The soft clang of steel against steel was coming up from that direction where Boromir was tutoring Merry and Pippin on their swordsmanship, while Aragorn sat nearby, puffing on a pipe of hobbit-weed, occasionally calling out instructions to the two hobbits.
Boromir was patient with the hobbits, Lalaith admitted to herself, much like an older brother, and Merry and Pippin, especially, seemed to have become his favorites. He no longer seemed as boorish and uncouth as he had when Lalaith first met him. He actually seemed kind, even chivalrous, she thought, remembering the morning she'd woken to find herself wrapped in his own cloak. But there was still something about him that troubled her. Perhaps, she thought, she hoped, it was only prejudice against the race of Men that made her feel so. But why did her feelings of apprehension and suspicion flare all the more, whenever she saw him watching Frodo's ring in the rare moments when the hobbit allowed it to be visible?
Since her first encountered with the One Ring, she had not heard its hideous voice in the choppy, hissing, painful tones of the Black Speech, but even now, she could still remember the feeling of revulsion and dread, the cold, and the fear she felt. And it seemed odd to her, that Boromir should seem to be so attracted to it, as if the ring had exactly the opposite effect on him. And it frightened her.
"M'lady?" Sam called out, trotting up to the rock where Lalaith was perched, carrying a plate with a few sausages, held out to her. "Would you like one? Brought all the way from Hobbiton."
"What?" Lalaith laughed, turning to face him, and hopping down from her rock. "I've never had hobbit food before. Are they very good?"
"Pagh!" Came Gimli's usual grunt of disgust. He stood with his fists on his stout hips near to where Gandalf sat resting atop a large rock, looking thoughtful as he smoked his own pipe. "The elf-girl's never eaten a sausage! And you've been alive-, How many years?" He shut his mouth quickly with Legolas' stern look from where the Prince of Mirkwood stood on the other side of the rocky basin, surveying the land to the north as Lalaith had been watching the south.
Lalaith ignored Gimli, and promised Sam, "I'll eat a small piece. But you'll have to do something for me."
Sam nodded eagerly, and with his fingers, carefully tore the end off of one of the sausages, and offered it to her.
Gingerly taking it between thumb and forefinger, she popped it in her mouth, chewing briskly, and swallowing just as quickly, before smacking her lips and testing the aftertaste in her mouth.
"Hm." She nodded brightly to Sam. "A bit more spicy than elven food. But not bad."
Sam brightened, and Lalaith's smile grew. He was a bit reserved than Merry and Pippin, but she could see that he craved her approval as much as the other hobbits did. And though he did not talk as much, he was always sweet and thoughtful when he did.
"Now, what did you want from me?" He asked, his expression open and waiting.
Lalaith glanced around, and seeing that no others were paying attention, smiled, and said, "Only her name."
Sam's brow furrowed. "Pardon? Whose name?"
"The hobbit-lass you keep thinking about."
Sam's eyes widened, and his jaw dropped. "You don't-, I mean, Elves can't-, read minds, can they?"
Lalaith shook her head, laughing lightly. "No, but I've seen you with that look in your eye, every once in a while. Someone's back in the Shire, waiting for you."
Sam flushed furiously, and ducked his head.
"Well?" Lalaith softly laughed.
"Rose." Sam muttered to the ground.
"Rose?" Lalaith asked, as he managed to lift his head and glance up into her eyes.
Sam shrugged, and grinned, shuffling his bare little hobbit feet. "Rosie Cotton's her name."
"I'm certain she is as pretty as her name." Lalaith smiled.
"She's prettier." Mumbled Sam to the ground again. "But, she's not exactly waiting, so I'm not sure if-,"
"Oh, she will." Lalaith assured him.
Sam looked up, hopefully. "She will? Are you sure?"
"Well, Sam," Lalaith sighed, "you like this Rosie Cotton, yes?"
Sam nodded emphatically.
"And knowing you, you wouldn't like her if she was silly and flighty. And since she's not, she must be a wise hobbit-lass. And since she is as wise as she is," Lalaith smiled and finished, "she'll wait for you."
Sam's honest little hobbit face took on a look of utter thankfulness. "Oh, I hope so." He sighed. But then, his eyes widened, and his head shot around toward the fire again.
"Frodo's breakfast! I'll burn it!" He gasped, and darted away from Lalaith, back to the fire where he poked at the sausages and biscuits, then speared several more onto the plate, which he carried carefully to Frodo.
"If anyone asked my opinion," came the rough, annoyed voice of Gimli nearby as he approached near Gandalf, "which I know they're not, I'd say we were taking the long way `round."
Lalaith directed her attention to the dwarf and shook her head tiredly, watching Gandalf as the old wizard's eyes turned to Gimli who stood below him, looking up at him with intensity written on his bearded face.
"Gandalf, we could pass through the mines of Moria. My cousin, Balin, would give us a royal welcome."
Lalaith shuddered at the very name, Moria, and visions of black bottomless pits, empty and silent, void of life and light, shivered through her mind. Her eyes shot to Gandalf, hoping he would not give the answer she dreaded.
"No, Gimli, I would not take the road through Moria unless I had no other choice." Gandalf answered calmly, and Lalaith breathed a sigh of relief before turning back, and hopping up, once again, onto her rock to peer southward.
Her slight smile of relief, however, was extinguished quickly as she squinted into the clouds in the distant sky. What was that dark, shifting cloudy mass in the hazy distance? It had not been there, before.
A scuffle erupted behind her, down on the level where the humans and the two youngest hobbits were. Listening absently, while watching the black, shifting cloud swell and grow larger, Lalaith understood from Merry and Pippin's laughter and exclamations, that the two of them had suddenly, for reasons of their own making, decided to wrestle Boromir rather practice. But that seemed suddenly very unimportant to Lalaith.
"Legolas!" Lalaith called urgently over her shoulder.
He turned from his own perch, and darted across the hollow, to leap nimbly upon the rock beside hers, peering intently at the same black mass.
"That cannot be a mere cloud." She breathed, pointing.
"What is that?" Sam's voice echoed her own query in the common tongue.
"It's just a wisp of cloud." Gimli called out, his voice irritated.
Lalaith squinted at the mass, making out individual shapes now, black wings slapping at the air. "Crebain?" She asked Legolas quietly, who said nothing, but his eyes took on a look of alarm.
"It's moving fast." Boromir's voice answered from below. "And against the wind."
It was a cloud of crows! Lalaith realized with sudden horror. Huge crows, Saruman's spies!
"Crebain, from Dunland!" Legolas shouted.
"Hide!" Came Aragorn's commanding voice from behind her.
In an instant, the rocky hollow erupted into a flurry of activity. Sam grabbed a pot of water, pouring it quickly over the fire to extinguish it, and packs were snatched up, as bodies darted under rocky overhangs or into the shelter of the undergrowth. Legolas snatched Lalaith's hand, and the two of them scampered down off the rocks, and into a tangle of brittle shrubs. The growth was sparse, and low along the earth, forcing them both down against the cold, rough ground.
"Legolas!" She gasped, struggling against his hold, and the stiff scratchy thorns of the underbrush. "Bill! We forgot about Bill!" She scrambled as if to rise and fight her way out of the tangled thorns, but Legolas' sturdy hands grabbed her shoulders firmly, and forced her back down.
"Sam will see to Bill, Lalaith!" He hissed in her ear, his voice pleading. "Stay down!"
And that moment, with maddening squawks, and the hissing of thousands of black, feathered wings churning and beating the air, the cloud of crows shot over them, circling round the now deserted hollow. Glancing up through the plaited branches, Lalaith could see their glistening black bodies, flash over head, whisking through the rocks as they circled once again, wheeled in the air, then turned back in the direction they'd come.
Legolas released his hold on Lalaith, breathing more easily, now that the loathsome black birds were gone.
"Are you hurt, Lalaith?" He asked, removing his arm from her shoulders, and rising to one elbow.
"No. You?" She gasped shaking her head and pushing away, so as to increase the distance between them. They were betrothed, not married. She reminded herself sternly. And in spite of the rocks and thorns, and the vile crebain pounding the air overhead for those few frightening moments, having Legolas so near her, alone like this, was more exhilarating that she wanted to admit.
Lalaith shook her head to clear it as the two elves scrambled out from under the thorny foliage and dashed back up the rocks to join the others, emerging from their hiding places, and gathering around Gandalf.
"The passage south is being watched." Gandalf muttered in disgust. "We must take the pass of Caradhras."
He glanced up at the high, peak above them to the east, and everyone else followed his gaze. The mountain's name meant Red Horn, but now it was blanketed deeply in white snow. It was a tall and formidable mountain, pushing nearly straight up into the blue sky, and it was not surprising to hear groans of dismay coming from the hobbits. Lalaith glanced over at them pityingly. Merry and Pippin were looking up the mountain with grimaces painted on their faces. The journey over the mountains would be especially difficult for them, but still, if they could not take the south road, Caradhras was better than going through Moria.
"Here, Pippin." She offered, going to the youngest hobbit who was now struggling wearily to put on his pack. "Let me help you with that."
"Thanks." He returned, with less than his usual enthusiasm as she lifted the backpack onto his shoulders.
That one word alone, spoken so wearily, offered to remind Lalaith that the hobbits especially, were going to need as much help crossing over the mountain, as they could get.
"Lalaith, my dear." Gandalf, who was trudging at the front of the group, leading the weary line of them up the knife edge of a snow covered ridge, turned and motioned to her, beckoning her to forward, to his side.
Lalaith gave Legolas' hand a gentle squeeze before she released it, and jogged up past Bill and three of the hobbits through the snow to the old wizard's side. "What is it, Gandalf?" She asked, as the he put a gnarled hand on her shoulder and continued to trek beside her up through the snow, and the cold, thinning air.
"How are you holding out?" He asked kindly, though his voice was tired.
"Better than the hobbits, I'm afraid." She sighed, gazing back at Sam's furry bare feet, covered in snow. She knew their feet were tough enough to go anywhere barefoot, but the sight still made her shiver. "What of you?"
"I'm not as young as I used to be." He sighed in consternation, and chuckled good naturedly. "But I do seem to have a little strength left in these old bones of mine."
"And what of the ring?" He asked quietly, his voice suddenly growing solemn. "You have not heard it again, have you? Has it said anything to you?"
She shook her head. "It has not so much as whispered a single word to me since the first time I heard its foul voice in Imladris."
"That may be good." Gandalf nodded thoughtfully. "But then again, it could be because the ring has turned its focus elsewhere for a time." He looked at Lalaith, and his eyes grew gravely serious. "On someone else."
Lalaith instinctively glanced behind them, down to the end of the line where Frodo and the two humans were struggling upward. Boromir was trudging several paces ahead of Aragorn and Frodo, and appeared tired, struggling to breath in the cold, thinning air, and moving only slowly, one foot after the other, his heavy shield slung sloppily over his back. But poor Frodo, Lalaith cringed sympathetically, appeared completely drained. Frodo was clearly not used to being in such thin air. His head was hanging wearily, and his motions were of one who was terribly exhausted.
And suddenly, Lalaith caught a quick gasp, Frodo slipped, and fell backward, tumbling head over heels through the snow, to be snatched and picked up in Aragorn's sturdy arms. Lalaith breathed a quick breath of relief, as Aragorn set him on his feet, dusting the gathered snow from his shoulders. Frodo was unhurt, but there was still concern on his face when he tucked his hand inside his shirt, checking for the ring.
"It's not on him." Lalaith murmured at Frodo's expression, so that only Gandalf could hear. "It's fallen, somewhere there, in the snow."
Gandalf turned as well, his expression swiftly growing concerned.
Something glistened in the white broken snow their passing had disturbed, halfway between Aragorn and Frodo, and where Boromir had stopped to turn. The ring of gold, still on its chain, peeked up through the snow, blinking in the hard, cold light.
Lalaith froze as Boromir moved down, bent, and slowly lifted the chain from the snow, with the glittering ring dangling from it. "No, Boromir, give it back to Frodo." She whispered beneath her breath. "Please."
Boromir held it up to his eyes, completely entranced, seeing nothing for the moment, but the shining of the One Ring.
"Boromir?" Aragorn called from below, his hand on Frodo's shoulder. Frodo looked up at Boromir, waiting with fearful expectancy.
"'Tis a strange fate that we must suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing." Boromir murmured softly into the cold air, speaking to no one. "Such a little thing."
"Boromir!" Aragorn called out, forcefully this time. The sound of his name seemed to break Boromir of his trance, and he glanced down at Aragorn and the hobbit as if seeing them for the first time. "Give the ring to Frodo." Aragorn ordered firmly.
Slowly, Boromir approached them, the ring slowly extending in his hand
"As you wish." He answered carelessly, at last close enough for Frodo to reach up, and snatch the ring away. Lalaith released a breath once it was at last in Frodo's hand, not realizing until this moment, that she had been holding it in. "I care not." With that, he gave a small chuckle, mussed his hand through Frodo's curly dark hair, and turned away again.
Lalaith cast a somber glance at Gandalf to see a knowing look in his eyes. She shivered at more than the chill in the air, and said nothing more.
The sharp, driving wind, blowing shards of snow into their faces, gave the Fellowship no opportunity to talk as they struggled along a narrow, snowy ledge, through the deep, nearly shoulder high snow.
Legolas, light on his feet, was able to walk over the top of the snow without making more than a soft impression. But Lalaith, who had seen how far down the precipice plunged, was more comfortable down in the snowy trench with the others, than walking along the narrow ledge of the snow. She had Bill by the reigns, trying to coax the poor horse along, while the four hobbits, their cloaks pulled tightly about them, were slung in the humans' arms, their round little faces red with cold and misery. Gimli walked just ahead of Lalaith, his own face, what she could see of it beneath his beard, was red and raw as well, but he hid his discomfort as he march along, too proud, Lalaith guessed, to admit in front of elves that he was miserable. He was mumbling something beneath his breath, something about the roaring fires of Moria, roasted meat, and the generous hospitality of dwarves.
Lalaith shook her head to herself. Even now, she would rather be here, than in the lifeless pit of Moria, no matter what Gimli claimed.
Something whispered at her through the whipping, hissing wind, and Lalaith looked up, wondering at first, if someone had spoken to her. And then she heard it again. A cold chanting voice, and she straightened suddenly, frightened. Frodo was slung in Aragorn's arm, just in front of Gimli, and for a moment, she was certain that his ring was speaking to her again, because the voice was foul, and dark, and filled with hate. But no, she decided after a moment. It wasn't the same voice she remembered, though it was similar. It was coming from the distance, far away, and down off the mountain.
Her suspicion was confirmed, when Legolas, following behind her, suddenly scurried past her, over the narrow lip of snow to a ledge in front of Gandalf, and stopped there, craning forward into the lashing wind and the shards of ice driving into his face, and listening carefully.
"There is a foul voice on the air." He called back.
"It's Saruman!" Gandalf shouted, just as a thunderous crash erupted above them, and overhanging rocks cracked away from the mountain's face, and came rushing and crashing down over their heads.
"Legolas!" Lalaith cried, and he skipped back against the side of the cliff just as a boulder cracked against the edge of their narrow shelf, where he had been standing a moment before, its impact shuddering through the stone beneath their feet, and tumbled, with all the other rubble, down into the precipice below them.
"He's trying to bring down the mountain!" Aragorn shouted into the wind. "Gandalf, we must turn back!"
"No!" Gandalf returned, shooting Aragorn a withering look. With effort, he clambered up onto the very edge sheered clean of snow by the boulder that had almost
His chanting seemed to do little more than agitate the ire in the voice of Saruman, and a moment later, a fierce crack of lightning shattered the tortured, boiling sky overhead, smashing against the snowy crest of the mountain directly above them.
Lalaith's eyes shot upward, dreading what she would see as a torrent of snow came pouring straight down at them from the cliffs above. She was aware, barely, of Legolas darting out, to snatch Gandalf back against the cliff, just as the mass of snow poured down on them piling around her and over her, covering her in a dark, heavy blanket of ice, cold, bitter, suffocating. She fought to breath, but only ended up with a mouthful of bitter, dirty ice.
Where was Bill? She wondered, as she fought her way in the direction she believed to be up. He should have been right beside her. And where was Legolas? Her mind cried. Where were any of the others?
She heard her voice somewhere above her, shouting her name, "Lalaith!" It was Legolas' voice frightened and panicked, and she coughed and sucked in a fierce breath just as her arm broke through the surface of the avalanche, and pushed the snow away from her mouth. She glanced quickly around. "I'm here." She called to Legolas, several paces ahead of her, still fighting his way out of the snow. "We must get the others out." She turned to her side as she felt a movement there, and hurriedly scooped the snow out and away from Bill's flaring nostrils, away from his face, and his large, frightened eyes. The poor pony had no idea what was happening to him, or why. She touched his soft, trembling nose to give him a moment of comfort, then turned to the other side, and plunged her hand down into the snow, finding the scruff of Gimli's neck, and pulled as he fought his way up, and out, grunting and groaning, and shouting curses at Mordor and Saruman as his thanks for her help. The others were, to her relief, breaking through as well, some with Legolas' help, and though everyone seemed shaken and stunned, miraculously, no one seemed seriously hurt.
"We must get off the mountain!" Boromir shouted to Gandalf, once he managed to find his breath again. "Make for the gap of Rohan, or take the west road to my city!"
"The Gap of Rohan takes us too close to Isengard." Aragorn argued in return.
"If we cannot pass over the mountain, let us go under it!" Gimli offered eagerly. "Let us go through the mines of Moria!"
Lalaith pursed her lips tightly at the look that took over Gandalf's face with the mention of the word. Gandalf was their leader, and from the look of trepidation on his countenance, he clearly did not wish to go through the dwarven mines of Moria any more than Lalaith. There was no chance they would be forced to go into those dark, endless tunnels.
At last, Gandalf opened his mouth, and with great reluctance, said, "Let the ringbearer decide."
Lalaith's eyes shot to Frodo, sheltered beneath Aragorn's arm. Frodo glanced helplessly at Sam beneath Aragorn's other arm, but Sam could give him no answers.
"We cannot stay here!" Boromir shouted again, his hands tightening around the shoulders of Merry and Pippin as they shivered violently beside him. "This will be the death of the hobbits!"
Lalaith glanced once again at Frodo. No, Frodo. Not Moria. She whispered in her mind. Perhaps the Gap of Rohan is still open to us. Let us try for that. Not Moria.
But against her wishes, Frodo, shivering, answered, "We will go through the mines." And the words sounded like a death knell on her heart.