The Company stood rooted to the spot as empty darkness poured into the chasm where Gandalf had fallen.
“No!” cried Frodo. He would have run back to the brink, but Boromir swept him up into his broad arms as he ran. Black arrows rained down upon them. Ducking and weaving the Company raced up the final steps away from the Bridge of Khazad -Dûm.
At the top was a long echoing passage. Frodo heard Sam weeping as he ran and realized he was weeping too. Running on, they found that great shafts of light began to pour in through high windows above them. Sanctuary was near. A guard of Orcs, hidden in the shadows, challenged them before the great door posts that led to the outside. Aragorn slew their captain in his wrath, as the rest fled.
Coralie felt herself being pushed and dragged along by Legolas. She was only half aware that her feet were tripping as she ran blindly in the dark. It made no difference. Gandalf was dead.
Fresh air and sunshine bathed her face as they flew down the great steps outside the Eastern gate of Moria, not daring to stop until they were at the bottom out of bowshot. Overcome by grief, the Company halted for some measure of respite. Merry and Pippin fell sobbing to the ground along with Sam. Anguish struck at all their hearts. Lost in a fog of grief, Frodo wandered aimlessly about, not caring where his feet took him.
Aragorn called to the Elf. “Legolas, get them up! We must make ready to leave as soon as possible. I will tend to the Lady’s wounds for they are severe, and then we must make haste to leave this place.”
“Let them have a moment for pity’s sake!” cried Boromir with dismay.
“By nightfall these hills will be crawling with Orcs,” answered Aragorn “The Sun sinks early, we must be far away before nightfall. The moon is spent, and it will be dark tonight.” He looked about for Frodo who had wandered a little ways off.
“Frodo!” cried Aragorn, bringing him back to his senses. He turned to face him, eyes heavy with sorrow.
Weary with heaviness of spirit, Legolas moved amongst the hobbits, offering what aid he could.
Aragorn strode over to where Coralie sat in the dust with her pack. He knelt down and removed his kit. “Lady, we must tend to your arm before we go further. Here, let me help you with your pack,” he said as he undid the straps.
He knelt in front of her, noting her glazed expression as well as the dark purple bruise that had formed across her forehead. Seeing that her Clie was still attached to her left wrist, he removed it and switched it off. The red light for digital video faded. He started to remove her jacket. The blood had dried upon the sleeve and stuck to her skin. As Aragorn removed it, the wound started to bleed afresh.
“Not a sound does she make,” he thought grimly to himself. “She is far too quiet.”
Drawing her jacket gently over her hand, he noted that she made no resistance. Her eyes seemed dull and heavy to his gaze.
“There is a first aid kit in my pack.”
Legolas had joined Aragorn and almost winced at the hollowness of her voice as she spoke. He rifled through her kit. Finding the little red box, he handed it to Aragorn.
“See that little brown bottle of iodine. Pour that on the wound. That will kill anything, but it hurts like hell.” Aragorn opened the bottle and sniffed at it.
“Coralie, I have some athelas that I gathered near Weathertop. That would……”
Before he could finish his sentence, she grabbed the open bottle from his hand and poured the contents over the wound. She then let out a yell that made them all jump at the suddenness of it. Falling to her side, she cradled her left arm in agony.
Legolas picked her up. “Twould have been better to let Aragorn use the athelas, Lady.”
Coralie ignored him and spoke with deliberate effort to Aragorn. “There should be enough bandages there to make a sling as well,” she winced as Aragorn applied a swab and wrapped her arm. Placing her wrist in the sling he constructed, he shook his head and smiled trying to encourage her.
“I have seen grown men cry like children over much less than you have suffered today on the battle field, Lady. You are very brave Coralie, but you are also the most willful woman I have ever met.”
“Just put it down to PMS!” Coralie snapped. Aragorn and Legolas looked at her without understanding.
“PMS!” Coralie repeated. “Do I have to spell it out for you? You know? How cranky women get some times?”
They still looked at her, trying to find the meaning for her outlandish behavior.
“Yeah, well PMS may make some women a little hard to get along with, at that time of the month, but in my case it makes me certifiably insane!” she screamed. Aragorn held up his hand as if to quieten her.
“Lady, this is hardly the sort of subject you should be bringing up, out loud in front of all these men,” he chided, whilst giving her arm the once over. Legolas looked at her, and nodded in agreement with him.
“Why not?” her voice rose. “We’re all adults here aren’t we? Oh I forgot! I’ve fallen into some ancient time warp and women should be seen and not heard….right? Sort of like children. Or better yet, we should be stuck on some pedestal until we get dizzy from the height and fall willingly into your arms?”
“Lady, you are not in your right mind,” assured Legolas.
“Not in my right mind? How dare you! Look here China! I’ve been on many a camping trip with blokes, my whole life long and I know how to take care of myself. Do you?” she challenged, thrusting out her chin at him. “All I can say is, Thank God, I’m enough of a greenie to carry a spare sea sponge with me, cause I’m sure as hell not going to find a supermarket out here!” she threw out her arm in a wide gesture as she struggled to her feet with her pack.
Legolas and Aragorn tried to help her, but she shrugged them off. Aragorn held her gently by her shoulders.
“I am not going to let you carry that pack considering all that has happened. Clearly, to my mind, you are overcome by grief, although you struggle to hide it with your brash behaviour.”
He gazed long and hard at her. What was that he saw behind her eyes? Fear? Mistrust? Defiance? Of him? He dismissed the thought almost immediately. It was something else altogether and concern gnawed at the edges of his thoughts.
“Excuse me,” Gimli broke in. “Perhaps, the lady would allow me to carry her pack for her. We dwarves are known for our endurance, and it would not be a difficult burden to bear.”
Coralie looked down at Gimli’s worried face. “Well, since you put it that way,” she condescended as he slipped the pack onto his shoulder.
“Now, why wasn’t she so reasonable with us?” asked Legolas to Aragorn.
“You have much to learn about women, Master Elf,” laughed Gimli as he watched Coralie flounce off. “Let me give you some advice. It would be wise to stay out of her way, for a little while at least. That is if, you value that fair head upon your shoulders.”
Aragorn turned to the rest of the Company. “Let us gird ourselves and weep no more! Come! We have a long road, and much to do.”
Rising, the weary Fellowship looked about them. The sun shone bleak in the afternoon sky. To the north, the dale was lost in the shadows of three white peaks that towered above. Celebdil, Fanuidhol, Caradhras, the mountains of Moria glinted in the sunlight. Their white faces cold, and stern framed by the crisp blue sky. High up in the glen, the mountains’ threshold was bathed in a film of mist from a lattice -work of falls, that fell to the dale below.
“Yonder is the Dimrill Stair,” said Aragorn, pointing to the falls. “Down the deep-cloven way that climbs beside the torrent we should have come, if fortune had been kinder.”
“Or Caradhras less cruel,” said Gimli shaking his fist at the silent monument. “There he stands smiling in the sun!”
Surveying the landscape below them, they could see the long oval shape of a lake, wrought as a spear-head thrust deep into the northern glen, its southern tip lost in the haze of shadows beyond their sight. The sapphire face of the waters lay quiet and smooth, with no reflection cast upon its surface.
“There lies the Mirrormere, deep Kheled-zâram!” said Gimli sadly. “I remember that Gandalf said; `May you have joy of the sight! But we cannot linger there.’ Now long shall I journey ere I have joy again. It is I that must hasten away, and he that must remain.”
The Company followed Aragorn, down the road from the Eastern gate of Moria. A great paved road had once wound its way there, amidst the heather and sedges that now broke through the pavement where they trod with heavy feet. Rounding a bend in the road, they drew closer to the green sward above the lake. A single stone pillar, broken at the top stood not far from the road, near the water’s edge.
“That is Durin’s Stone!” cried Gimli. “I cannot pass without turning aside for a moment to look at the wonder of the dale!”
“Be swift then!” said Aragorn glancing back at the Eastern Gate.”
“Come with me Frodo!” cried the dwarf, springing from the road. “I would not have you go without seeing Kheled-zâram.” Frodo followed the running dwarf slowly drawn by the beauty of the still, blue water in spite of his grief; Sam came up behind.
Gimli stood beside the stone and looked up at its cracked, weather beaten face. Runes, now faint with long years of weathering could barely be seen.
“This pillar marks the spot where Durin first looked in the Mirrormere,” said the dwarf. “Let us look ourselves once, ere we go!”
Stooping over the dark water, at first they could see nothing. Eventually, the surrounding mountain peaks, began to reflect in the sapphire water a profound blue, with their white snow caps appearing as plumes of flame reaching far into the eternal sky above.
In that space, they saw jewels begin to form, as deep sparkling stars, though it was still daytime and the sun shone above them. Their own shaded reflections were not mirrored in the lake’s surface.
“O Kheled-zâram fair and wonderful!” said Gimli. There lies the crown of Durin till he wakes. Farewell!” He bowed, and turned away, and hastened back up the greensward to the road again.
Turning south, the road went quickly downwards, some way below the mere where a deep pool of crystal, clear water gurgled over a stone lip, to run swiftly and noisily down the rocky channel below.
“Here is the Spring from which the Silverlode rises,” said Gimli. “Do not drink of it! It is icy cold!”
“Soon it becomes a swift river, and it gathers water from many other mountain streams,” said Aragorn. “Our road leads beside it for many miles. For I shall take you by the road that Gandalf chose, and first hope to come to the woods where the Silverlode flows into the Great River – out yonder.” Following the direction in which his hand pointed, they could dimly see the stream leaping down the trough of the valley until it disappeared into a golden haze in the distance.
“There lie the woods of Lothlórien!” said Legolas. “That is the fairest dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land. For in autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold. Not till the spring comes and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees is smooth and grey. So still our songs of Mirkwood say. My heart would be glad if I were beneath the eaves of that wood, and it were springtime!”
“My heart will be glad, even in the winter,” said Aragorn. “But it lies many miles away. Let us hasten!”
Frodo and Sam managed to keep up with the others for some time, but eventually fell back a pace and lagged behind. Sam had a nasty gash on his forehead that burned like fire, and he felt a little lightheaded. With every step that Frodo took, he gasped for breath that did not easily come. His side ached where the troll had battered him with his spear.
At last Legolas turned and seeing how far back they had fallen, called to Aragorn. Aragorn ran back with Boromir in tow.
“I am sorry Frodo!” he cried, full of concern. “So much has happened this day and we have much need of haste, that I have forgotten you were hurt; and Sam too. You should have spoken, when I was tending Coralie. We have done nothing to ease you though all the Orc’s of Moria were after us. Come now! A little further on there is a place where we can rest for a little. There I will do what I can for you. Come, Boromir! We will carry them.”
The Company soon came upon another stream that ran bubbling to join the Silverlode as it fell away to the west. Forming a single stream, they plunged over a little rapid into a level dell lined with fir trees, where it danced over shiny pebbles on its way. Coralie looked at her watch. It was only three o’clock in the afternoon. She looked up concerned, noting that the sun was already westering.
“What troubles you Lady?” asked Legolas. She had not spoken since Aragorn had strapped her arm back at the Eastern Gate, and as this was completely out character, for her, so far as he had come to know it, he was a little concerned.
Sighing, she looked at her watch and then at the sky. “The sun is starting to set and it is only three hours since noon.”
Legolas nodded. “Yes, you are right. Night fast approaches. Don’t worry Lady. We shall be on our way soon enough.”
Coralie made no reply, and only nodded at Legolas as she went to sit down on the grass.
Concern darkened his features as he watched her walk away. Gimli and the hobbits were busy gathering firewood to make a small fire. The air was chill with the expectancy of a fast approaching night. Pippin drew water from the stream when the fire had kindled. Merry walked over to Coralie who was leaning against her backpack, where Gimli had placed it, trying to find some support for her stiff shoulder.
“Are you alright Coralie? You look a little green around the gills, asked Merry, a little worried by the blank expression on her face.
Coralie’s eyes lurched up towards him. Was that Pippin or Merry in front of her? She couldn’t tell. Her head was pounding and a sick feeling had sunk into her stomach along the road.
“Be a good lad will you, and fetch me the little red box and my water-bottle out of my pack. It has some aspirin in it, and I could really use some at the moment, “she asked weakly.
Merry went straight to her pack and dug out the box and water bottle.
“What’s aspirin?” he asked handing them to her nervously, worried about what she was going to do to herself next, after witnessing the incident with the brown bottle.
“Painkillers,” Coralie replied as she tore open a packet and swallowed the contents. Resuming her former position on the pack, Coralie leant back and closed her eyes, trying to ignore the spinning feeling that reeled behind them.
Merry went back to the fire where Pippin was tending two pots of water.
“This one’s for tea Merry, and this one’s for Aragorn apparently,” said Pippin pointing them out to his companion. “Don’t know what Aragorn is going to do with all this hot water though,” he continued, thinking that plain hot water would not nearly be as satisfying as a good cup of tea.
“Well, let’s hurry up and make some tea. Coralie looks like she could really use a good cuppa at the moment.” Pippin looked over where she lay with her eyes closed and nodded in agreement. Merry took one of the pots of warm water over to Aragorn, who then poured some into a cup.
He examined the gash on Sam’s forehead.
“Luckily for you Sam, the cut is not deep. It should heal well when I have tended it.” Aragorn reached into his pouch.
“You’re not going to put that brown stuff on my forehead that made Coralie yell are you?” he looked up fearfully at Aragorn.
“No Sam,” laughed Aragorn in response. “I promise I will use only athelas.” With that he poured some clean water into a cup and crushed some of the dried leaves into it. The fragrance lifted the little hobbit’s spirits.
“Good! You had me worried for a moment then,” winced Sam with relief as Aragorn tended to his wound.
“Good luck, Sam!” he said. “Many have received worse than this in payment for the slaying of their first orc. The cut is not poisoned, as the wounds of orc-blades too often are. It should heal well when I have tended it.” Aragorn looked over at Frodo when he had finished with Sam.
“Now Frodo, it is your turn.”
“No. I’m alright, really,” he replied weakly.
“I disagree with you Master Hobbit. I still marvel that you are alive at all.”
Lifting Frodo’s jacket and mail shirt off him gently, he laughed as the silver corslet shimmered before his eyes and held it up for all to see.
“Look, my friends!” he called. “Here is a pretty hobbit-skin to wrap an Elven-princeling in! If it were known that hobbits had such hides, all the hunters of Middle Earth would be riding to the Shire.”
They all gazed with wonder at the Mithril shirt that Aragorn held up. Now they could see it fully, rather than just glimpsing it beneath Frodo’s shirt as before after the battle with the cave troll. It shimmered in the afternoon light.
“Bless the old hobbit,” said Merry. “Remind me to thank Bilbo for giving you that Mithril-coat to wear, when we get back Frodo.” Frodo nodded in return.
Aragorn dressed the dark and blackened bruise that was spreading underneath Frodo’s ribs with athelas and soft pads, before binding them. After he had finished, he handed the Mithril-coat back to Frodo.
“The mail is marvelously light,” he said. Put it on again, if you can bear it. My heart is glad to know that you have such a coat. Do not lay it aside, even in sleep, unless fortune brings you where you are safe for a while; and that will seldom chance while your quest lasts.” He stood up and called Legolas over to him.
The hobbits began to feel refreshed and heartened as the pungent odor of the leaves continued to bathe their senses.
“Here, Legolas. See if you can persuade Coralie to allow you to bathe that bruise on her forehead with this pad that I have soaked in athelas. I do not like the look of her at the moment.” Legolas answered with a grim nod and walked over to her. She was still leaning against her backpack, favoring her left arm in the sling. Legolas knelt down before her. At first she looked at him without recognition, his features appeared blurred in the afternoon shade.
“Lady?” he enquired as he applied the damp pad to her forehead.
“Huh?” She appeared not to notice as he tended to the bruise. The sweet scent of the athelas wafted on the air. Recovering slightly, she looked up into Legolas’ worried face. He smiled weakly at her.
“Now to what ill use, have you been putting that pretty little head of yours to? That is a nasty bruise you have managed to acquire.”
“I had a fight with an Orc. He came off worse than I did though. I reckon he’s got more bruises than a bucketful of rotten apples.” Her hand crept up to the laser light around her throat and gripped it until her knuckles whitened. Legolas sighed with relief as he gently unwound her fingers and held her hand in his.
“At least she still has her sense of humour,” he thought.
Merry approached, balancing the cup in his hand.
“Here, Coralie. A nice, warm cup of tea for you. This should fix you right up,” he said placing it gingerly in her outstretched hand. Thanking him, she took a little sip. The fragrant liquid warmed her as she drank. She was feeling a little chilled. Aragorn had managed to place her torn jacket around her shoulders before she got angry with him. Now just why was she upset with him? Being unable to remember clearly, she found comfort in another sip of tea.
Legolas examined her bruise in the fading light again.
“I really don’t like the look of that bruise Coralie. I think we should have Aragorn take a look at it.”
“Look it’s just a bruise. Nothing to worry about,” she almost snapped.
“And what about your arm then? How does it feel?”
“How do you expect it to feel? The arm’s been dislocated and stabbed both in the same day. I would say that it hurt… a lot,” she was losing patience with these incessant questions.
Legolas could see the unshed tears in her eyes, and decided not to press the matter further. He wondered at her. It was not hard to see that she was in great distress of both body and mind. Tightly wound as a coil she was. He sighed with frustration. Why was she rebuffing all of his attempts to aid her?
Pippin brought a plate of food over.
“Now that we have a camp fire again, we can make a proper meal. Here Coralie, this is for you,” he handed the plate and flashed a smile as he did so.
“Ah! That was Pippin,” she thought. “I recognize that impish grin.” Looking down at the plate, she realised that she had absolutely no appetite. Her grief and pain threatened to swallow her.
“Try to eat something Coralie. You haven’t eaten since morning,” said Legolas beside her. He still held the athelas soaked pad against her brow.
“Well I would, if you’d remove your hand so I could see what I was supposed to be eating!” she snapped.
Legolas stood up. “I will leave you to it then,” he said as he walked away.
Coralie grimaced. “Now why was I so mean to him? He’s only trying to be helpful.”
“You don’t deserve any help!”
The black voice in her head made her start. “Who said that?” she suddenly jerked and spilled half of her food on the ground.
“Who said what?” asked Pippin beside her as he started to clean up the mess. “Coralie are you alright?” he asked kindly.
“Yes! No! Oh I don’t know!” her head was pounding. She wanted to cry, but the tears would not come.
Pippin took the plate from her. “Never mind, Dear. I can see you are out of sorts, and not the least bit hungry. Let me get you a fresh cup of tea,” she weakly nodded yes in return.
“I see she chased you off, then?” Aragorn half questioned Legolas as he joined him on the sward with the hobbits. It was more of a statement of fact really. They both watched Pippin fuss over her with a fresh cup of tea.
“At least, he seems to have remained in her good graces,” replied Legolas wryly as he nodded toward the little hobbit who had rejoined her on the grass.
Aragorn smiled at his friend. “Looks like little Pippin has a way with the ladies, that you and I are both severely lacking in,” he laughed at Legolas’ downcast expression. “Don’t worry, my friend. If I know anything about women, it will soon pass, and the sun will peep out from behind the clouds again, no matter how thunderous they may appear!”
“Perhaps, but she is like no other woman I have ever met, nor you for that matter. How can you be so sure?”
“You have trusted me thus far, haven’t you?” winked Aragorn.
Legolas arched an eyebrow at him. “Next time that bruise needs bathing, Aragorn, it’s your turn.”
“Now listen to you two!” said Frodo standing up. “She’s just a girl. She can’t be as daunting as carrying the ring into Mordor, can she?” he asked shaking his head at them. “I will do it if necessary. After all. I am the ring bearer aren’t I?”
Aragorn and Legolas challenged him with amused laughter.
“Perhaps the hobbit has something there,” said Aragorn turning to Legolas who broke into a wide grin.
“Go on then Frodo. If needs be. I will protect you with my bow!” he laughed.
“And my sword,” said Aragorn joining in on the fun.
“Really, Frodo. Don’t listen to them,” interjected Sam standing up beside his master. “A fine pair of…What did she call Aragorn earlier? Oh yes…Smarty Pants! That’s right! You should both be ashamed of yourselves… what with the Lady injured and all. Come on Mr. Frodo. I will go with you to see how she fares.”
“Now Sam. No need to get angry,” cajoled Frodo as he noticed the exchange of bemused smiles between Aragorn and Legolas. “Wish me luck!” he called over his shoulder as he and Sam strode over towards Coralie.
“He doesn’t need luck,” said Aragorn. “He’s got those big blue eyes on his side.”
Legolas clapped him on the shoulder as they both stood up.
“Really?” he said in mock amusement.