Lalaith gazed up the steep staircase they were ascending, its heights disappearing into the unknown darkness above them where the light of Gandalf’s staff, and the flickering
blaze of a torch Aragorn carried, found among the bodies of the dwarves, could not reach. Though it had been three days, Lalaith still had not overcome her revulsion at seeing the twisted remains of the dwarves who had once inhabited Moria. She had never harbored any benevolent feelings for Gimli’s race, but for these to have been murdered the way they had, cut down seemingly with little warning, she could not help but feel angry, and sad. No one deserved to die this way.
No matter where she looked, it seemed, there was a dwarf skeleton, still dressed in rusted armor, often still holding a weapon in a bony fist. Where had the orcs, the goblins come from so suddenly, that all these dwarves had been caught unawares, and so quickly wiped out? She wondered to herself. And had it been only orcs? Was there something even more dangerous than those foul creatures, lurking in the shadows of these silent mines, mines that had once been thriving and noisy with busy little dwarves mining their precious mithril?
Behind her, she heard a soft clatter, and she turned quickly, but it was only Pippin and Merry, struggling up the steep staircase, clambering on their hands and knees.
“Pippin!” Merry hissed.
Pippin’s foot had slipped momentarily, but Merry had steadied him, and he was fine, now. Pippin even glanced up and waved at her cheerily. She returned his smile, and surveyed the others. Maneuvering up these steep stairs was not as easy for the others, as it was for herself and Legolas.
Aragorn caught her eye, and offered her a slight smile and nod, but when her eyes found Boromir’s he only grimaced sadly, and glanced downward at the steps. There was something that was troubling him. He had barely spoken to her these last few days, or even looked at her. Perhaps it was only the mood Moria brought on. Lalaith thought, hopefully. Perhaps once they were out the other side, he would feel better. She hoped she would. Being in these endless caverns, without the scent of clear air, of growing things, of flowers and trees, Lalaith was beginning to feel despondent, less hopeful than she usually was. She was even beginning to wonder if the memory of daylight, of trees and waterfalls, and the soft glow of the moon at night, were only memories from a dream. If these dark tunnels of Moria were the only true reality. Were it not for Legolas, her reminder of things as they were in the outside world, she may have begun to truly believe such memories were only dreams.
Above them, Gandalf had stopped, gazing on a scene that Lalaith had not yet come level with. She and Legolas drew to the tops of the steps moments later, to a short level ledge where the stairs grew less steep, and curved around to the left, rising up to a landing where three doorways stood, each one like the other. Gandalf was leaning tiredly on his staff, his countenance troubled, studying each door in its turn. So far, he had known his way unerringly, but suddenly, he seemed less sure.
As Lalaith and Legolas drew to his shoulder, and the others clambered tiredly to the tops of the steps, Gandalf, without turning, murmured reluctantly, “I have no memory of this place.”
“Ooh.” Pippin muttered, folding his arms, and rocking back on his heels. “What do we do, then?”
Lalaith nudged the hobbit sharply, fearing that Gandalf might not be patient with Pippin’s question, but Gandalf did not grow angry. Rather, he simply turned, and with a tired lift of his eyebrows, he said resignedly, “Rest, and wait. That is all we can do, for now.”
Lalaith sat with her back against a cold rock, her arms folded across her knees, her eyes closed, her head resting wearily on her arms.
The hobbits sat by themselves, smoking their little pipes, and talking in low tones, except for Frodo, who sat a little way off, apparently deep in thought. Gimli sat by himself in a corner as well, not speaking, keeping to himself and to his own somber feelings. Gandalf sat above them all, on a rock facing the three doors, puffing on his pipe, his mind in deep pondering. Aragorn and Boromir sat together, Aragorn puffing thoughtfully on his own pipe, facing away from the two elves. But Boromir beside him, was partly turned, sometimes watching the elves with a sad glaze to his eyes, sometimes gazing off into the dark nothingness of Moria beyond the cast of their lights.
Lalaith’s senses, though, barely registered anyone else but Legolas who leaned close, his hand gently massaging her shoulder, as had become his habit whenever they rested, since entering Moria. She had felt no pain there since they had come into the mines, but his touch was so gentle, so comforting, that Lalaith did not have the heart to tell Legolas this. Nor, by the contented look on his face, did Legolas want to know.
“Are we lost?” Pippin murmured from a corner. Her eyes opened and focused on the little hobbit.
“No.” Merry’s voice returned.
“I think we are.” Pippin answered.
“Gandalf’s thinking.” Merry assured him.
“Merry?” Pippin asked.
“Are you listening to the hobbits?” Lalaith asked with a smile, as she looked up into Legolas’ face.
Legolas nodded, and smiled softly. “They add color to our Fellowship. And they make you laugh. For that, I am indebted to them.”
She smiled, feeling a glimmer of encouragement at his words, and leaned closer, turning her face into his shoulder, inhaling the warm, musky, masculine scent of him. “You smell like the trees of Mirkwood.” She sighed. “You make their memory real, and I remember they’re not just a dream.”
“And you smell like the flowers of Imladris in the spring.” Legolas answered, planting a kiss on the crown of her head.
“Ai,” she sighed. “Spring. As long as I can remember, you have always made a garland for my hair with the first spring flowers of Imladris.” She lifted her head and smiled sadly up at him. “Had we not come with the Fellowship, we would have married in the spring.”
“And we will, still.” He vowed. “Do not doubt it.” He smiled, though his eyes were serious.
“It is difficult, Legolas, to not doubt everything I once was so sure of, here in this dark, lifeless pit, on this dangerous quest.” Lalaith’s eyes were shimmering with tears now, and she blinked them hard to keep Legolas in focus. “I wish Isildur had destroyed the ring when he had the chance.” She whispered. “I wish none of this had happened.”
“So do we all.” Legolas said. He wanted to say more, but could think of nothing to say. Instead, he pressed his cheek against her hair, and closed his eyes, once again breathing in the sweet scent of her. Indeed, she smelled of lilacs, lilacs and roses, and all the sweet things of the gardens of Imladris, that he remembered.
Lalaith sighed, and propped her chin into her hands, brushing tears from her cheek as Legolas continued to rub her shoulder gently. From this angle, she could see the two humans. Aragorn’s back was turned to them, still puffing slowly on his pipe. Surely he had heard and understood every word spoken between the two elves, but he made no sign that he had. That was his way. As for Boromir, he did not understand elvish. Lalaith glanced at Boromir, whose eyes, were turned, for the moment on her. His gaze seemed sad, hopeless, and-, Lalaith narrowed her eyes, was there a hint of envy in his gaze? But Boromir gulped swiftly, and glanced away before she could decide.
“There’s something down there.” The voice came from Frodo, higher up the steps, standing near Gandalf now. His voice was a whisper, and perhaps meant to be kept hushed. But Lalaith’s keen ears heard him anyway. Lalaith lifted her head, forgetting Boromir. Frodo’s voice was filled with alarm, and she traded a concerned glance with Legolas. Were orcs-?
“It’s Gollum.” Gandalf answered Frodo calmly. He barely turned his head. “He’s been following us for three days.”
Lalaith knew of Gollum, as did Legolas. The creature who had once had the ring in his possession before Bilbo, Frodo’s uncle, found it in the tunnels of the Misty Mountains, and took it to the Shire.
“Gollum is here?” She asked Legolas, surprised that her elven senses had not detected the creature before now. Legolas shook his head, indicating his own bafflement. He had not known of Gollum’s presence either.
“Gollum?” Frodo repeated. “He escaped the dungeons of Barad-dûr?”
“Escaped?” Gandalf asked, turning to look the young hobbit in the face. “Or was set loose? And now the ring has brought him here. He will never be rid of his need for it.” Gandalf sighed grudgingly. “He hates and loves the ring, as he hates and loves himself. Smeagol’s life is a sad story.” He stopped at Frodo’s questioning expression. “Yes, Smeagol, he was once called. Before the ring found him. Before it drove him mad.”
Lalaith knew this story as well. Smeagol, and Deagol, his cousin who found the ring in the waters of the Anduin. Smeagol had killed Deagol for the possession of it, and lost himself entirely to the ring’s control.
“It is a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.” Frodo hissed vindictively, glancing behind him.
“Pity?” Asked Gandalf in mild surprise. “It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. And some that die, deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo?” Gandalf paused as he allowed the hobbit to absorb the question posed to him. “Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgment.” Gandalf murmured gently. “Even the very wise cannot see all ends.” He sighed thoughtfully. “My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.”
“I wish the ring had never come to me.” Frodo sighed unhappily as he sank down on the rock beside Gandalf. “I wish none of this had happened.” His thoughts echoed Lalaith’s from moments before.
“So do all who live to see such times.” Gandalf said kindly. “But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide, is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case, you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”
“Indeed, it is.” Legolas murmured near Lalaith’s ear. “And we two are meant to be here, to help Frodo on his way to Mordor.” Lalaith turned to look at him, and he smiled. “And there is your own journey, Lalaith, to make. As you told me, the night before we left Imladris. To confront your past. To defeat the fear that haunts the deeps of your memory. Whatever it is, I will be beside you, to the end of it.”
“What did I ever do, to earn such devotion from you, Legolas?” She asked quietly at last. She had not meant for her voice to sound so sad, but it did.
Legolas’ eyes probed hers deeply, as he moved his hand from her shoulder to her face, and touched her cheek gently with his fingertips. “I could not name any one thing, beloved.” He murmured gently. “Perhaps, thousands, millions of little things you’ve done, for as long as I’ve known you. Or perhaps, your simply being you. Lalaith Elerrina.”
“Ah!” Gandalf’s voice echoed cheerfully, bringing everyone’s head up. “It’s that way!” He exclaimed, nodding to the door on the left.
“He’s remembered!” Merry exclaimed, popping his pipe out of his mouth, and jumping to his feet.
“No.” Gandalf explained as Legolas rose to his feet, drawing Lalaith gently up after him. Everyone else scrambled to their feet as well, and followed Gandalf as he took up his staff in his hand, and shuffled into the shadows of the tunnel. “But the air doesn’t smell so foul down here.” He leaned over Merry, and placed a hand on his little shoulder. “If in doubt, Meriadoc,” he said with a smile, “always follow your nose.”
The tunnel beyond the doorway Gandalf had chosen, led down a long dark stairwell, curving around in the darkness, showing nothing beyond the curve of the chiseled stone walls that forever curved downward, glimmering mutely in the light of Gandalf’s staff, and Aragorn’s torch.
Just when Lalaith was beginning to believe that the stairs would go forever downward, the light of Gandalf’s staff glimmered off of a doorway ahead, and the steps leveled out, leading out this new door, and onto a stone landing, where the steps, edged with the broken remains of vast pillars, turned to their right, and descended to a flat, level place that stretched away into the darkness, in all directions, lined with what appeared to be long, even rows of pillars, reaching up into the murky darkness above their heads.
“Let me risk a little more light.” Gandalf murmured softly as the group reached the bottom of the steps. And the stone in his staff glowed ever brighter, illuminating a vast portion of the pillared chamber in which they now found themselves. “Behold,” Gandalf said quietly, but with power, “the great realm and Dwarf city of Dwarrowdelf.”
With the increased light of Gandalf’s staff, Lalaith could clearly see the intricate carvings on the pillars, and the vast pillars themselves, stretching up to an arching ceiling high above her head, cracked and fissured now, but still showing the care and detail, and the pride with which the dwarves had once carved them. Even with Gandalf’s staff casting a brighter glow, it did not show them what the darkness continued to hide in the distance, the rows of pillars stretching on into the fading shadows, away from the light. Her mouth opened into a small, silent circle, impressed with the vastness of the work, and the skill of the Dwarves.
“There’s an eye opener, and no mistake.” Sam murmured, speaking the thoughts the rest of them had not uttered.
Lalaith took a quick glance at Gimli as the company began moving once again. The dwarf was gazing upward, with reverence in his expression. His eyes were a little shinier than they usually were, and she wondered what the dwarf was thinking. Had he been here in times now past when it was lit with the bright fires he’d so lovingly described before? Had he seen Dwarrowdelf in its glory? Surely he had, for he’d mentioned that his cousin lived here.
Poor Gimli. Lalaith could not help but think. And now this cousin Gimli had mentioned, Balin, his name was, had surely fallen too, will all the others she had seen.
The Fellowship continued on in silence for a space of time. The light from the torch and Gandalf’s staff stretched before them and behind them, each pillar beginning to look the same as the one before. But Gandalf seemed to know his direction, and Lalaith took comfort in that.
“Huh!” Gimli grunted suddenly. And without warning, darted away from the group toward a set of open wooden doors in the nearby wall, the wood cracked and broken as if with axes, and blistering with goblin arrows.
“Gimli!” Gandalf ordered, but Gimli gave no sign that he had heard as he rushed through the doorway into a smaller chamber. Gandalf and the others had little choice but to follow, as Gimli faltered before what appeared to be a stone sarcophagus lit with what seemed to be real sunlight coming in from a window high in the wall, no larger than a hobbit’s hand width. The room, just as all the hallways and tunnels they had passed through so far, was littered with the decayed bodies of dwarves.
“No!” Gimli groaned, dropping to his knees before the stone coffin as Gandalf and the others gathered near. Lalaith sighed softly. She had never learned to read dwarven characters, but she could guess what the chiseled words in the top of the square stone box told Gimli, whose voice was thick with grief. “Oh, no!” He moaned. “No.”
“‘Here lies Balin, Son of Fundin.'” Gandalf read slowly and with reluctant finality. “‘Lord of Moria.’ He is dead then.” Gandalf took off his hat with a low sigh. “It is as I feared.”
Gandalf turned to the side, handing his hat and staff to Pippin who stood near him, to bend over a skeleton seated against the side of the coffin, bits of gray beard still clinging to the bones of its face like traces of spider web, a massive, thick paged book still sheltered in its fleshless fingers. Gently moving the lifeless hand aside, Gandalf picked up the book, and lifted it in his hands, gingerly opening it, and softly blowing dust from its pages.
“We must move on.” Legolas hissed to Aragorn at his other shoulder. His fingers wove through Lalaith’s and tightened protectively. “We cannot linger.”
Aragorn turned and nodded slightly, but said nothing.
“‘They have taken the bridge and the second hall.'” Gandalf had turned to the last pages of the book, and was reading now, his voice low and somber. Boromir stepped forward past Lalaith, his arm softly brushing her shoulder as he did, to place a comforting hand gently on Gimli’s stooped shoulder. Poor Gimli. Lalaith sighed raggedly again. He was certainly not her favorite, but it pained her to see him suffering as he was. “‘We have barred the gates, but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes. Drums. Drums in the deep.'” Gandalf paused here and turned a page, the air of the room heavy with silence, and bated breath. He read slowly, and with deliberation. “‘We cannot get out. A shadow moves in the dark. We cannot get out.'” Gandalf read the last words with great heaviness in his voice. “`They are coming.'”
A sudden clatter from the corner beyond Gandalf brought his head sharply around. Lalaith gasped, and her eyes shot to Pippin, who stood near the lip of a well where another dwarf skeleton was propped. He had staggered back away from it, and was staring guiltily at the carcass, now headless, an arrow buried its chest. The hobbit, every curious, must have somehow touched the precariously balanced corpse, and had sent the skull tumbling down into the depths of the well behind it. No sooner had Lalaith’s mind register this than the rest of the body slipped and tumbled with a noisome crash, backward down into the black depths, pulling along with it, a long metal chain that rattled vehemently as it fell, dragging last of all, a cracked wooden chest, now empty, that banged incessantly at the stone walls of the well as it bounced back and forth downward through the shaft, the noise increasing and echoing, booming through the air about them, and even through the stones beneath their feet before the noise clattered away in the depths of the well, and finally, after endless seconds of echoes, died away.
Lalaith drew in a long breath, and slowly released it, dropping her eyes to the ground in a gesture of helplessness.
“Fool of a Took!” Gandalf snapped angrily at Pippin who gulped. His little hobbit face was filled with shame. “Throw yourself in next time, and rid us of your stupidity!” Gandalf roughly snatched back his hat and staff, as if yanking them from the grasp of some unworthy creature. He turned away as Pippin glanced downward, pathetically unhappily. But in that instant when they all heard it, Gandalf turned back, and stared fearfully at the black mouthed well behind Pippin. Lalaith could still hear it too, the echo, vibrating through all the stones of Moria, causing the blood in her veins to turn to ice.
The distant, rolling boom from a drum.