Snaga of Mordor - Chapter Six - Into the Goblin Caves

"I still can't believe they let me through!" Arwen exclaimed as she spread everyone's cloaks to dry in a corner of the cave that Fili and Kili had found. The two Dwarves had been sent out to find a place where all sixteen of them could shelter, and they had done it quite admirably. Arwen wished they could have lit a fire, as Oin and Gloin, two other Dwarves, had wanted, but Gandalf, for reasons of his own, had forbidden it. She dug into her bag and came up with a piece of bread, which she ate with immense appetite - they had been walking all day. "Did Elrohir's cloak fool them that much?" she went on, wondering aloud.

"Oh, I don't know if it was the cloak at all," Gandalf replied from the other end of the cave, spreading out his blanket, "as much as what they saw."

Arwen stared in dawning comprehension. "You mean you - you put - oh, you rotten person!" she laughed, balling up Elrohir's wet, borrowed cloak and throwing it playfully at the wizard. "You put magic on me so they wouldn't see!" Her amused grin gave the lie to her scolding tone, and Gandalf merely caught the cloak and threw it back at her with deadly accuracy. It hit her in the face, and the Dwarves laughed, clapping both Gandalf and Arwen on the back good-naturedly. The hobbit, Bilbo, sat at one end of the cave, smiling, but looking too nervous to join the merriment. He was perfectly at ease, however, when it came to sharing out the food, and when the Dwarves lay out on their blankets and told stories of their past exploits, and of their plans for their gold. Arwen enjoyed them at first, but eventually she got bored listening to endless tales of what I'll do with my great-great-grandfather's gold drinking goblet and I remember when my uncle's grandmother forged the spear for an Elven-king - it all seemed to be quite the same thing. The last thing she remembered was Thorin speaking gravely about a great jewel that had once belonged to his house, and her eyes drifting shut...

When she opened them again, it was very dark. She had snapped awake at some sound, and was looking around for the source of it when she felt something snatch her arm. She cried out in shock and tried to wrench out of the grasp of whatever was holding her, but five other hands reached out and gripped her, hauling her to her feet. Bilbo was already fully awake and being hustled down a corridor that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere in the cave wall. The Dwarves were being likewise seized and shoved down the corridor. Her wits were working well enough, now, to tell that the creatures that were holding them all were goblins. Arwen spared a terrified glance behind her for Gandalf, but he was gone. Have they gotten him, too? she wondered as the goblin behind her gave her a kick and urged her forward.

Arwen had no idea how long she, Bilbo, and the Dwarves were dragged down the dark tunnels under the mountain, but it seemed like forever. At one point, a goblin took out a whip and began striking at their heels. Arwen bit her lip hard at the pain and walked faster. She would not run for them, though - no matter what was happening, she was an Elf, and would retain her dignity, if not her freedom.

Finally they came into a huge cavern. A fire blazed in the center, and Arwen caught sight of their ponies herded into a corner before three goblins came at them and chained all of them, hands behind their backs. The rough links of the chain rubbed hard on Arwen's wrists as the goblins dragged them to the end of the cavern, where the Great Goblin sat on his rock of a throne. Arwen longed to stand upright and proud, as she had a feeling her brothers would, but common sense made her bow her head to hide her Elven face. She gritted her teeth in anger as the Great Goblin accused Thorin of being spies. She flinched as the Great Goblin mentioned Elves - hopefully they just thought she was of the race of Men. Otherwise, judging by the hate in the Great Goblin's voice, she had no hope of leaving the cavern alive.

Then Arwen bit back a gasp. One of the goblins had taken Thorin's sword, Orcrist, of Elvish make. She had no doubt that the Great Goblin would know it to be such.

He did. "Murderers and Elf-friends!" he screamed as he caught sight of Orcrist. "Slash them! Beat them! Bite them!" He went on screaming, jumping off his stone in rage and running at Thorin as though he were going to bite the Dwarf's head off. Arwen stumbled back, sparing a fleeting moment to wish that she had her sword in her hand, not in her pack -

And every single light in the cavern went out as though on command.

Blue sparks started to leap up from where the fire had been a second before. Arwen jumped out of the way of the sparks, trying to free her hands from their chains. Then she heard a sword scrape out of its sheath, and saw it gleam as it slid neatly into the Great Goblin where he stood. She gave a cry of joy as she recognized the voice that spoke then, saying, "Follow me quick!"

"Gandalf!" she whispered, her face splitting into a grin of relief as she followed a pale light that doubtless came from the wizard's staff. Dori, one of the Dwarves, took Bilbo on his back so they could go faster, and they started to run after Gandalf. Arwen paused for a moment to snatch her sword from where it lay ("I'm not going anywhere without this!"), then went on after Gandalf. Before long the wizard halted them and cut through their chains with his sword. He counted them quickly, and then led them on.

It was harrowing madness, racing through the tunnels of the goblins, trying to avoid them, while all the while the goblins' pounding footsteps echoed in their ears. Arwen's heart was in her throat every time she heard the goblins behind them, and she clutched her sword-hilt tightly. Bilbo was more of a hindrance than a help, as the Dwarves had to take it in turns to carry him on their backs, which slowed them all down. Arwen flashed a look behind her and half-stifled a little scream of horror - she could see the goblins' torches licking through the darkness behind them.

Gandalf dropped behind them all, Thorin at his side. They turned a corner, and Gandalf's sword flashed free of its scabbard. Thorin pulled out his own blade, and Arwen quickly drew hers before Gandalf could stop her. The goblins raced around the corner, saw the three Elven-blades glittering with a hard shine by the light of their torches, and started screaming. Gandalf and Thorin plowed in among them, carving up the goblins that could not get away from their blades. Arwen stayed behind, standing protectively in front of the Dwarves, her sword ready. But she did not get to use it; the goblins were so terrified of Gandalf's and Thorin's swords that they didn't even try to get past them and make for the Dwarves. Barely winded, Gandalf and Thorin sheathed their swords as the goblins ran screaming into their tunnels. "Hurry!" said Gandalf in a low voice. "They will be back once they get past their fear." Arwen took his advice to heart and urged the Dwarves to run, doing likewise herself.

"Why...did they run...when they...saw...your...swords?" she panted to Gandalf as they ran.

"Glamdring and Orcrist were legendary in the goblin wars," Gandalf replied shortly. Arwen knew that tone of voice and said no more.

It seemed, once again, that they traveled forever under the ground. Arwen was beginning to think that they were never going to get out of the mountain when Dori, in the back, gave a shout. Arwen and Gandalf spun around, and Arwen let out a cry as she felt goblin fingers winding around her arm. She wrenched free, but not before the goblin bit the fleshy part of her arm. In pain and rage, she drew her sword, praying that she would not hit one of the Dwarves or Gandalf by mistake. She held out her arm, and when she felt the goblin touch it again, she swept her sword neatly through him, as she had done to practice dummies on the practice fields with her brothers. She heard the goblin let out a scream of pain, and she thrust out her arm again, but something slammed into her, and she toppled to the floor. She leaped to her feet and yelled, "Thorin, it's Arwen!" as the Dwarf made for her - in the dark, his vision was not nearly as good as hers. He checked his swing and whirled around to stab a goblin. Arwen sank into a crouch, her eyes raking the darkness, both hands gripping her sword. The hand that the goblin had bit was bleeding sluggishly.

A flash of light lit the tunnel. It assailed Arwen's eyes, now accustomed to the dark, but if it was painful to her, it was a thousand times as painful to the goblins, which lived all their lives in the dark. They screamed almost as one and fled the tunnel, their hands over their eyes. "Follow me, everyone!" shouted Gandalf's voice. Arwen shoved her sword back into its scabbard and followed the wizard and the sound of the Dwarves' boots on the tunnel floor.

They fled down the tunnels, breathing hard but making no other noise. Arwen realized that she was incredibly hungry as her stomach began to ache along with her sides. She clutched her right side with one hand and her stomach with the other and forced herself to run on.

"Over here!" called Gandalf. "There ought to be a door..." He passed his hand over the top of his staff, and the top of it lit up.

By the faint light, Arwen could see a dim outline that might be the door Gandalf spoke of. "Here!" she called as loudly as she dared, beckoning to the Dwarves.

They came over to where she stood. Gandalf looked in the direction Arwen pointed in and gave a swift nod. "That's it," he confirmed. He strode over to it, wedged his fingers between the crack between the door and the wall, and pulled it open. The Dwarves and Arwen streaked out of the door and ("Thanks be to Eru!" Arwen gasped) out of the mountain. They ran down the slope of the mountain and into one of the little dells below it, breathing hard, inhaling the clean fresh air as best they could while running.

They stopped in the dell to count their number. "Thorin," Gandalf muttered under his breath. "Balin and Dwalin, Fili and Kili, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur, Oin and Gloin, Dori, Nori, and Ori, Arwen - where's Bilbo?"

Everyone started and looked around them. The hobbit was nowhere to be seen.

The Dwarves began muttering. Arwen heard Oin grumble, "Confusticate that hobbit!" and Bifur asked loudly why they had ever taken him with them in the first place.

"Well," said Gandalf, "we cannot go on without knowing whether Bilbo is dead or alive, and where he is."

Arwen pitched in - she had liked the little she had seen of the hobbit. "And if we know that, we should certainly try to rescue him!"

"He is my friend," Gandalf put in, "and I feel responsible for him. I wish to goodness you had not lost him."

"Why did we ever bring him?" Bifur repeated.

"And why couldn't he just stay with us instead of running off?" demanded Dwalin.

"Gandalf," asked Gloin, "why didn't you pick someone with more sense than Mr. Baggins?"

Ori said loudly, "He's been more trouble than use so far. If we have to go back into those tunnels to look for him, then drat him, I say."

Gandalf rounded angrily on Ori. "I brought him, and I don't bring things that are of no use! Either you help me look for him..." Gandalf continued lecturing Ori, and then moved on to Dori, chastising him for dropping Bilbo when the goblins had caught up with them. Arwen listened, wondering how long Dwarves tended to argue about a question that seemed, to her, to have a reasonable answer - that they go back to look for Bilbo. If she had not been wondering, she might have noticed something moving in the bushes nearby, but she did not.

Dori was giving a long explanation of his innocence. "...dashed out of the lower door, and helter-skelter down here. And here we are - without the burglar, confusticate him!" he finished, borrowing Gloin's expression.

"And here's the burglar!" cried a voice among them. Arwen started and jumped as Bilbo materialized out of thin air in front of them all.

The uproar and astonishment that followed nearly deafened Arwen, as all the Dwarves leaped to their feet and started yelling their shock that Bilbo was among them. Arwen herself was not exempt from that, but she noticed that when Bilbo told his story, Gandalf looked at the hobbit sharply from time to time.

Then she let herself ignore it, and listened as Bilbo told them all about how he had had a riddle contest with a creature called Gollum, who lived deep in the mountain, and how he had avoided the guards and gotten out. But as glad as she was that Bilbo was safe, Arwen couldn't help wondering why Gandalf had looked at him that way, and if there was a part of his story that the hobbit had not told them.

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