Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Fifteen - The Bridge

Aragorn was right after her, racing towards the wounded Ringbearer. Novarwen got there first, and with all the strength she had, she threw herself onto the troll, as Legolas had done. The monster bellowed and shook his head to throw her back to the ground, but she clung tight, grasped her knife, and plunged it into his head. His dark blood spilled out and burned her when it rushed over her hand. Novarwen yelled in pain, but she clenched her teeth and stabbed again.

"Novarwen, move!" Aragorn's voice rapped out the order, and she jumped clear of the troll as the Ranger thrust the spear he'd pulled out of Frodo's body into the troll's. Again the animal roared, and Novarwen saw Aragorn shove the spear in deeper as she ran to Frodo's side. Sam was already leaning over him, holding his hand - there was no comfort she could give that wasn't already being given. Instead, she wiped her knife clean on her cloak and stood in front of the two hobbits. Any Orcs that came at the Ringbearer and his friend would have to deal with her.

A few Orcs did try to attack Frodo, but by the time Legolas shot a last arrow into the troll and killed it, their bodies were piled at Novarwen's feet. Again she wiped her blade free of black blood and stood aside as Aragorn rushed to Frodo. He took the hobbit's hands, whispering, "No. Oh, no." Novarwen sheathed her knife and joined him, staring at Frodo's too-pale face, feeling his cold hands. A tear dropped from her eye to her cheek.

Then he stirred, opening his eyes, moving carefully. Novarwen gasped as he sat up, breathing hard, but alive! "I'm all right," he gasped out, his hand on his chest. "I'm not hurt," he added in tones of wonderment.

"You should be dead," Aragorn breathed, utter relief on his face. "That spear would have skewered a wild boar!"

Frodo's tunic shifted on his body as he stood up, and through the opening shone... "Mithril!" Gimli murmured reverently. Novarwen had heard of the wondrous material, as hard as dragon scales and as light as a feather, but she had never seen it. Now she did, and it gleamed with a silvery light in the darkness of Moria. "You are full of surprises, Master Baggins," she said in awe.

"I think there's more to this young hobbit than meets the eye," Gandalf said behind her, his eyes twinkling at Frodo. The hobbit smiled at Gandalf, but the smile faded quickly as they heard the screech and scuttle of more Orcs, approaching them at a lightning speed. "To the Bridge of Khazad-dum!" Gandalf ordered, and they ran.

The Orcs caught them in the hall of Dwarrowdelf and surrounded them. Novarwen had her bow drawn, but the few arrows she had left would not be of much use against the millions of Orcs clustered around them. Only Gandalf's light kept them off, and Novarwen wondered how long the wizard could keep his staff lit.

Then, down the hall, there came a sound like none other Novarwen had ever heard, like the creaking open of an enormous iron gate. Red flaming light streamed into the hall, and the Orcs screeched and fled. Novarwen's heart beat ominously steadily. She was glad that the Orcs were gone, but whatever this creature was who could frighten them...that frightened her even more. "What is this new devilry?" Boromir whispered in a low voice.

Another creaking, opening sound. Gandalf lifted his head and gazed at the red light. "A Balrog," he said. "A demon of the ancient world." Novarwen had never seen Mithrandir so helpless, so...frightened. "This foe is beyond any of you." Then he whirled to face them. "Run!" he cried.

Novarwen spun around and obeyed enthusiastically, her heart now pounding madly. She had heard frightening tales of Balrogs, servants of the first Dark Lord, ever since she was three hundred years old, but not a one of them frightened her as much as those creaking sounds and that blazing light as red as flame. She ran faster and faster, wishing with all her heart that the others would run faster.

"Novarwen!" Legolas cried sharply. She halted just in time to miss tumbling down the sheer wall of rock that abruptly cut off the path. Her brother grabbed her and pulled them both back as she swayed to try to catch her balance. Novarwen stood up, her blood pounding in her ears. She had so nearly fallen to her death, so nearly lost everything...

Behind her, Gandalf whispered tersely to the Ranger, "Lead them on, Aragorn." She turned to see him pause. "Do as I say!" Gandalf cried. "Swords are no more use here!" Aragorn leaped down to a shelf of rock where the path continued. "Follow me!" he called.

Novarwen turned to Gandalf. His face was unusually weary and pale, even in the red light of the Balrog. "Mithrandir?" she asked, deliberately using the Elvish name for the wizard.

He looked up and met her eyes, startled. "Go, Novarwen!" he told her.

She hesitated. "Are you -"

"Go!" he cried, and she obeyed. The worry in her heart vanished as soon as she realized that she would have to concentrate every cell in her body on keeping her feet on these steeply sloping stairs that were the only way to reach the Bridge of Khazad-dum.

Halfway to the Bridge, placing her feet as carefully as she could without breaking her speed, Novarwen stopped. "Stop!" she yelled. "The stairs are broken off!"

Legolas slipped to the front and leaped across the gap between the stairs they were on and the stairs they had to reach. Novarwen crouched and sprang after him. "Gandalf!" Legolas called, and the wizard bent his knees and jumped. Legolas caught him, and Novarwen pulled him down to stairs lower down. Sam was next, looking distressed at the thought that Frodo was not going to be safe as soon as he was, but he jumped anyway. Novarwen squeezed his hand in comfort before she let him go. Then Boromir leaped, Merry under one arm and Pippin under the other. They made it, but with the extra weight, Novarwen thought it was a wonder that they had. "Come on, Gimli!" she called to him.

Aragorn, still on the broken-off side with Frodo, reached down to throw Gimli across the gap and was rewarded with a growl of "Nobody tosses a Dwarf!" Gimli crouched, jumped, and fell short. Novarwen gasped, but Legolas' hand shot out faster than thought and snatched at the nearest part of Gimli - the beard. "Not the beard!" the Dwarf growled, but Legolas kept a firm grip on it and pulled Gimli back up and on his feet. Novarwen grinned - she was starting to like the mutinous Dwarf.

Then the grin fell off her face. A huge boulder dislodged from the roof and smashed down on the stairs that Aragorn and Frodo stood on, cutting them off on an island of stone. To make matters worse, an arrow whizzed by her face. Novarwen quickly unslung her bow from her shoulder, fitted an arrow to it, and shot into the darkness. A scream pierced the air a moment later - it would seem that she had found a mark. Encouraged, Novarwen fired more arrows into the dark places above their heads, each time striking an Orc-archer.

"Put the bow away, Novarwen!" Legolas ordered. Quickly she obeyed, and saw the reason why: Aragorn and Frodo were leaning forward on their stone island, trying to make it crash into the stairs the others stood on, so that they had a way of getting to them. "Back," Novarwen said immediately. She pulled Gandalf and Sam farther back down the stairs. Boromir followed, the hobbits with him. She bent her knees, bracing herself for the crash of the stone island with the rest of the stairs, poised to turn and run for the Bridge the moment Aragorn and Frodo reached them.

Their stone island connected with a crash no smaller than Novarwen had expected. As soon as she felt the stone shake, she turned and ran down more stairs, to give Aragorn and Frodo space to get onto the rest of the stairs.

There it was, up ahead, the Bridge of Khazad-dum. With a gasp, Novarwen recognized it as the bridge in her dream. She automatically threw a glance over her shoulder at Gandalf, but the wizard seemed to be keeping pace with them. Novarwen looked ahead again and ran on, across the Bridge. She wanted to close her eyes in case Theryn suddenly appeared, but then she would have plummeted to certain death, so she kept them open.

She reached the end of the Bridge and the safety of the other side. The Balrog couldn't possibly cross the Bridge, could he? She hoped not. Novarwen reached out to grab Sam and pull him the last foot or so to the other side. One by one, the others came to stand by her. Novarwen counted as they came, putting herself as the first. Seven... eight... nine... Where was Gandalf? Suddenly terrified, Novarwen strained her eyes to see back into the red glaring gloom of the mines, and her heart caught in her throat at the sight of Gandalf in the middle of the Bridge, his back to them. Why didn't I tell him about my dream? she thought wildly. He would have known!

Perhaps the Balrog wouldn't come. Novarwen clung to that feeble hope, although she knew better. And then, to extinguish her last hope, the Balrog, Durin's Bane, leaped onto the Bridge, wielding a rope made of fire. "Gandalf!" she cried from the safety of the rock path.

He did not seem to hear her, but she heard his words all too clearly. "You cannot pass!" the wizard shouted at the Balrog. The monster stood its ground, but did not come closer. Theryn's not here, so it can't have been true! Novarwen thought frantically. May it please the Valar to let it not be true! "I am a servant of the secret fire, wielder of the flame of Anor!" Gandalf said loudly on the Bridge. "Dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun!" Novarwen began to push through the others blocking her way. She had to get to Gandalf, she had to tell him! Every moment she had to slip by someone was one more moment Gandalf did not know of the danger he faced.

"Go back to the Shadow," he spat at the Balrog, holding its gaze. The monster's lip curled, and it took a step forward.

Gandalf raised his staff high above his head. "YOU...SHALL NOT...PASS!" he cried. He smashed the staff into the Bridge at his feet.

The Bridge cracked off where the Balrog stood, and with a great roar, the monster of the deep fell into the abyss.

Then its whip lashed up only once - but once was enough. It lashed around Gandalf's ankles and dragged him to the edge. "NO!" Novarwen screamed. She ran towards him, but Boromir caught her by the wrist and Frodo, who was also trying to run to the wizard, by the waist. She screamed again, fighting like a wildcat to reach him.

Gandalf clutched vainly at the broken-off edge of the Bridge of Khazad-dum. He lifted his head and stared at them. "Fly, you fools!" he cried.

Then he fell.

A wordless cry ripped from Novarwen. It escalated as Boromir released her, but pulled Frodo away from the now raining down Orc arrows. It continued when Legolas grabbed her hand and pulled her after him down the passage and out of Moria. It only stopped when they emerged from the mines and the light of the sun struck her like a slap in the face. Then she stopped screaming as sharply as if the cry had been cut off.

While the others sank to their feet and wept, she wandered off by herself, staring into the distance and seeing nothing. I could have told him, she thought. I could have told him what he was going to face. I could have saved him, and I did nothing. And she knew as surely as she had known anything else in her life, that she never would and never could forgive herself.

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