It was not the last drum beat. Another followed, rolling through Moria as ominous with foreboding as the first.
Distant, high pitched screeching followed, echoing through the unnumbered caverns of Moria, accompanied by the increasing throbbing of now, many drums. Lalaith remembered those screams. The war cries of orcs on the trail for blood. Her eyes shot around the room, wondering where the noises were coming from, seeming to be booming from the very stones themselves.
“Frodo!” Sam gasped, and Frodo looked down at Sting, the short sword at his hip, and drew it partway out, to see it glowing blue.
“It glows blue when orcs are close.” Lalaith remembered Bilbo saying once in Imladris, when he had proudly shown her his treasures, a hobbit sized shirt of Mithril rings, and the little sword, Sting. At the time, Lalaith had thought it no more than a clever trick. But now, the blue shine of the metal glowed like a warning beacon.
High, warbling shrieking came echoing at them, sounding closer.
“Orcs!” She hissed at the others.
Boromir ran to the wooden doors and peered out. “Boromir!” Lalaith protested, wondering at his foolishness, but could not grudge him for his bravery. He jerked back just as two black arrows slammed into the wood, scant inches from his face.
“Get back!” Aragorn shouted to the hobbits as he tossed his torch into a corner. “Stay close to Gandalf!” Aragorn rushed to the door, to help Boromir push the stubborn doors shut, their heavy wood dragging slowly over the stone floor as they did.
Once the doors were shut, Boromir gestured outward, announcing breathlessly, but with derisive calm, “They have a cave troll.”
Legolas snatched a heavy dwarf ax off of the floor, and pitched it to Boromir. Lalaith followed suit, tossing it again to Boromir who caught it deftly, and jammed it along with the one he had caught from Legolas into the joists of the door wedging it shut.
“Lalaith, go back with Gandalf and the hobbits.” Legolas ordered, drawing an arrow and fitting it to his string as he and the humans backed toward the sarcophagus.
“Why?” She asked in dismay as she drew her own arrow, and placed it against her bow’s string. She felt a twinge in the back of her shoulder, but ignored it. “I have not come on this quest to be coddled and treated like an infant.”
“Do as he says, my Lady.” Boromir said from her other side, his sword in his hand, his shield held at the ready.
Lalaith glared back and forth between Legolas and Boromir, furious. “No.” She barked, flatly refusing.
“Aragorn, tell her.” Legolas demanded.
Aragorn, his own bow in hand, shot a quick look at Legolas, then at Lalaith’s determined face. “We need another bow arm.” He said evenly, ending the argument.
Behind them, Gandalf tossed his hat aside, and drew forth his sword with a determined growl. The hobbits, with fearful, yet stalwart faces, drew their own little weapons, Sting glowing bright blue, in Frodo’s hands.
“Let them come!” Gimli growled hopping atop his cousin’s coffin as heavy, steady pounding began from the other side of the door, echoing the pounding in Lalaith’s heart. Though she was hesitant to admit it to herself, the valor of the audacious little bearded dwarf gave her courage, and Lalaith found herself feeling a measure of comfort to know that the ax wielding dwarf was at her back. “There is one dwarf yet in Moria who still draws breath!”
The wood began to crack as Gimli spoke, the blades of axes, black and wicked looking, began to pierce through. Legolas had accepted Aragorn’s decree with silence, but he did indulge himself one worried glance at her, which she returned tersely before they both focus determinedly on the splintering doors. Lalaith watched carefully for an opening large enough for her arrow to pierce, and when one of the vicious black axes cracked through, and pulled back, leaving enough space for her arrow to pierce, she released her arrow. It flew only a fraction of an instant before Legolas’ own arrow, and the two elven arrows flew through the same opening, both striking something in rapid succession. The unseen thing gave off an unearthly shriek and fell back. Aragorn’s arrow flew a second later, through another crack, and another creature screamed and faltered. But the arrows were not enough, and a moment later, the doors shattered inward as a horde of charcoal black orcs, with fierce, pig like faces, shrieking and snorting like a herd of wild boars, poured into the room. Lalaith, forcing panic down, released another arrow at the foremost orc, striking the foul creature in the throat. Legolas and Aragorn’s arrows follow, striking two more orcs, but this hardly slowed the tide of incoming orcs as three more leaped over the dead bodies of their companions.
Lalaith released one more arrow into the forehead of a particularly large creature with a head of black, oily hair and massive, sharpened teeth in its overly large mouth. Then in one swift motion, set her bow back in its place in her quiver, and drew her knives for close fighting as the orcs filled the room.
A deep cry bellowed from Gandalf’s throat as he charged forward toward the orcs, and the hobbits, finding their courage from him, followed suit, crying out bravely as they dashed forward, brandishing their sharp little swords.
Lalaith was sharply aware of Legolas somewhere to her left, still firing arrows into orcs, as she battled the foul things nearest her, dodging their vicious blows, ducking and spinning away from them as they tried to swing their axes into her, then jabbing her knives into throats or abdomens, ignoring the feel of black blood, thick and oily as it spilled onto her hands. She was only vaguely aware of everyone else, Boromir, and Aragorn, using his sword now, and Gandalf, the hobbits bravely stabbing at the legs and stomachs of the orcs, their small size a momentary advantage for them from the orcs who had not expected to battle such small beings.
But when she finished off the orc nearest to her, giving her a momentary lull and an instant to catch her breath, she became aware of a new movement near the door. The last orc coming through, was holding a chain, pulling something along behind it. A tremendous crash shattered the top of the doorframe as a club, larger than a hobbit’s body, smashed through, followed by a massive, drooling hunch backed thing with a squat, fat, horribly ugly face, which was throwing its head from side to side agitated, and angry. It must have surely been the troll Boromir mentioned, though Lalaith had never seen one before. Beyond Gimli, who was still standing on his cousin’s tomb, downing orcs left and right as they came at him, she saw little Sam, who found himself unexpectedly in front of the massive monster, peering up at it, hesitant and frightened. An arrow, released from Legolas’ bow, struck the troll in the left shoulder, agitating the monster all the more.
“Sam!” Lalaith cried, and moved as if to run to help him, but a group of five shrieking orcs came at her from her left, forcing her to turn and contend with them, leaving Sam to fend for himself. Fortunately, she saw him duck under the troll’s legs just as the massive club came smashing down on the place where he had been standing. Aragorn and Boromir also, had seen Sam’s plight, and had rushed in to help. But Lalaith could not help any of them as she set to the gruesome business of killing the orcs she dealt with now.
The two humans grabbed the abandoned chain attached to the troll’s neck, and jerked the creature back, just as it was near to smashing Sam, cowering in a corner, with one of its feet. In retaliation, it grabbed its own chain, and jerking on it, sent Boromir flying into the side wall, where he tumbled down, and lay for a moment, stunned, and weaponless. An orc, nearby, seeing its chance, lifted a knife to kill him, but in that instant, Aragorn flung his own sword, flipping it end over end, to bury with a sickening crunch, in the creature’s neck. Lalaith, barely pausing in her own battle with the orcs nearest her, could not allow herself a breath of relief for Boromir, though she felt it.
One of Gimli’s throwing axes, wedged itself in the monstrous beast, and the creature turned on Gimli, who leapt clear, just as its massive club obliterated Balin’s coffin. Lalaith winced and ducked as shards of stone flew over her head, one shard spinning into the skull of an orc that was coming at her with a wicked, doubled edged ax. Safe for the moment, she glanced quickly about, looking for the hobbits, and for Legolas, though, for the moment, no hobbits but Sam, now creatively using one of his frying pans as a weapon, could be seen. Perhaps they’d ducked behind one of the pillars at the back of the room. She hoped so. As for Legolas, her heart caught painfully on a beat, he was up on the ledge that surrounded the perimeter of the room, fighting orcs there. At the moment, he had two arrows at once set to his bowstring, and taking aim, released them both into the troll, knocking it back just as it was coming at Gimli from behind before turning back to the orcs coming at him on the ledge, spinning, slashing and stabbing at them as they fell before him.
Infuriated, the troll turned now on Legolas, and using its free chain like a whip, lashed it at him blindly, ragefully.
“Legolas!” Lalaith cried out as he dodged the first strike, and leapt up onto the ledge, wanting to aid him, if she could.
“Lalaith, get away! Get down!” Legolas scolded as he dodged another blow from the troll’s chain.
“Oh?” She shouted back, gesturing to the room filled with orcs, and glancing out at it. “Is it safer down there?”
But in her swift glance, she saw across the room, an orc, perched on the same level with the elves, armed with a bow, had drawn its string back to its cheek, and was taking aim, straight at Legolas, who was trapped by the troll’s chain lashing the ledge about him.
“No!” Lalaith gasped, and leaped down from the ledge, snatching her bow and an arrow in the same motion to kill the vile orc as she landed, but knowing as she did, that even with her elven reflexes, she would be too late. Then, as chaos raged around her, she saw nothing but the creature as it released the string of its bow, and knew in that moment, that the arrow would kill Legolas. But halfway across the room, as if out of nowhere, a sword swung in a high, wide arch, smashing the arrow right out of the air, and shattering it harmlessly against the ground. Just as quickly, Lalaith replaced her bow, and the unspent arrow, and turned to face Boromir whose sword had caught the arrow out of the air, and was gazing at her now, with a sad but hopeful expression, almost like that of a small puppy hoping for approval.
“Boromir.” Lalaith gasped, dashing to him, her voice coming out in a choking sob. “Oh, Boromir.” Then, in spite of all that was happening around them, she drew close, stood up on her toes, and planted a quick kiss on his bearded cheek. “Thank you.”
She drew back to see Boromir’s expression take on a glow as if she had just gifted to him all the mithril of Moria.
“You are welcome, my Lady.” He returned, and then turned away to continue battling what few orcs were left alive in the room.
Lalaith glanced back at Legolas, who had managed to lock the troll’s chain around a pillar, holding the creature, at least for the moment, in place. He was safe for now, she smiled, then turned and sprinted toward the orc who had nearly killed him, and leaped up onto the ledge to face it, her knives ready.
“Thaur lhug o Morgoth!” Vile Serpent of Morgoth. She barked at it, more furious than she thought was possible.
The orc backed away, snorting, in a voice that almost sounded like laughter, and hissed back at her, “Snaga.”
Lalaith gasped, reeling back. That same word the ring had uttered! The word that meant slave in the Black Speech of Mordor. How did this orc know anything of that?
The orc laughed again, and tossing its bow aside, drew a short, knife, and taking advantage of Lalaith’s momentary shock, lunged forward to impale her, but Lalaith recovered enough to spin away in the last instant, the blade slashing across the back of her shoulder. The orc’s arm continued on, lunging between her back and her quiver, wrapping around and cracking half of her remaining arrows, as the creature spun her toward the wall, slamming her back against it, jarring her knives from her hands, and putting a huge fist to her neck, as if it intended to crush her throat against the stone wall.
“Do not fear, Snaga.” The orc hissed in the common speech, holding her, dangling, several inches off of the floor. “Your elf lover will follow you to your precious Halls of Mandos soon enough, and all your companions after him. You will not have the ring to worry about any more.” The orc chuckled gutturally and sarcastically growled, “Not even your all powerful parents could foresee this end for you, could they?”
Lalaith barely heard the orc as she kicked at its chest, and clawed and scratched at its powerful paw. Somewhere, she could hear Sam screaming Frodo’s name, and it registered at the back of her mind, that something terrible had happened, for the fury with which the others all fought the few remaining orcs, seemed to intensify. But she barely registered it. She gasped as her air was cut off even further, still reeling from the white hot pain slicing through her shoulder. But suddenly the pressure against her throat was gone. She fell onto shaky legs as the orc reeled back. An arrowhead, and the blade of a sword had both appeared, suddenly protruding through both sides of its chest as it fell crashing back over the ledge, flailing its arms wildly through the air as it fell. It smashed its head against a pile of jagged rocks and lay still.
Legolas and Boromir stood, almost shoulder to shoulder, near the spot where Balin’s tomb had once been, now a pile of ruined stones and dwarf bones. Boromir’s hand was bare of his sword, and he was closing and opening his fist, staring down at the dead orc as if he would continue hacking it to pieces if he still held his weapon. Legolas however, raised his eyes to hers, offered her a sad, worried smile, then snatched another arrow, and turned away to battle the troll.
Something was indeed terribly wrong, Lalaith suddenly realized as her head cleared and she retrieved her knives, cleaned them, and returned them to her quiver. Boromir kicked the orc over, and yanked his sword out in one swift movement before turning, and with an angry shout, lashed into the few orcs left alive. Sam was shrieking like a little orc himself as he slashed his little sword furiously at the few remaining orcs, and Aragorn was rising shakily to his knees from where he had fallen on a pile of rubble near the wall, probably having been stunned momentarily by the troll as Boromir had been, earlier. Merry and Pippin were perched on the creature’s hunched back, shouting furiously as they stabbed at its massive head, and the monster was grabbing up at them, as Gandalf and Gimli hacked at its stomach and legs. But Frodo was nowhere to be seen.
The troll finally managed to grab Merry by one leg, and pulled him off its shoulder, batting Gimli down onto his back with one huge hand, and flinging Merry aside like an annoying insect with the other, but Pippin still clung tenaciously to the creature’s head, jabbing and stabbing at it, in spite of the monster reeling and flinging its head about wildly. Legolas dashed almost to the feet of the troll, an arrow drawn back to his cheek, hesitating only in fear of hitting Pippin on accident. But when the creature threw its head back, roaring angrily, then Legolas took his opportunity, and released the arrow, which flew straight into the troll’s mouth.
The troll, in the middle of an angry roar, suddenly cut off, and moaned, half in pain, half sadly, and for the briefest instant, Lalaith felt a twinge of pity for the monster. Then its legs buckled, and it collapsed, dead, to the floor, Pippin tumbling off its shoulders and rolling breathlessly to a stop.
The room was suddenly, ominously quiet, except for Aragorn who scrambled to the corner, blocked from Lalaith’s sight by a section of jutting stone. “Oh, no.” He murmured.
Lalaith’s heart sank. Not Frodo! She rushed around the ledge to see Aragorn bent over Frodo’s still form lying face down, a spear beneath him. Carefully, Aragorn turned him over, and Lalaith cringed, not wishing to see what she was about to.
But then Frodo moved. He sucked in a breath and moaned. Sam rushed to his side, his face hopeful. The spear, bright and bloodless clattered away as the little hobbit, gasping for breath, looked up at the faces gathered around him.
“He’s alive.” Sam announced, emotion filling his voice.
“I’m alright.” Frodo gasped, struggling to sit up with Sam’s and Aragorn’s help. “I’m not hurt.”
“You should be dead.” Aragorn breathed. “That spear would have skewered a wild boar.” And then Lalaith saw something glimmer at the base of Frodo’s throat.
“I think there’s more to this hobbit than meets the eye.” Gandalf said quietly.
Several buttons of his shirt had come undone, and as Frodo drew open his shirt to show everyone, she saw something beneath. Was it-, could it be Bilbo’s little shirt of mithril rings? She caught a delighted breath. There was a horrendous tear in the front of his shirt where the spear had jabbed, but the mithril shirt had held, sparing his life.
“Mithril.” Gimli murmured beneath his breath, then pronounced approvingly, “You are full of surprises, Master Baggins.”
“Goodness!” Merry said, coming behind Lalaith, his voice bright, having recovered from his flight across the room. “You’re wounded!”
“No, he’s not.” Pippin argued. “He’s got that metal shirt on. Didn’t you see?”
“Not Frodo, you nitwit.” Merry snapped back. “Lady Lalaith.”
Lalaith’s brows lifted in surprise. She’d forgotten all about her own injury, more concerned for the time, about Frodo. But now she again became aware of the searing pain through the back of her shoulder.
“Oh.” She sighed unhappily. “And that orc snapped half my arrows, too.”
“Morgoth take your arrows.” Legolas murmured, grasping her shoulders and spinning her around to examine the wound. “It is you I’m worried about.”
“Oooh! Ugg!” Pippin groaned a little too loudly, and Lalaith winced as Legolas began to peel back the slit cloth of her tunic, sticky and warm with her blood. “That looks like it hurts!”
“Pippin!” Lalaith scolded, a little too sharply from the pain. “It’s only a flesh wound!”
“What’re you talking about?” Gimli growled. “You’re bleeding like a stuck pig!”
“Please, everyone!” Lalaith groaned, pulling away from Legolas. “I am not comfortable with nine males ogling the back of my shoulder!”
“That bleeding needs to be staunched, my dear.” Gandalf said softly.
Lalaith sighed, then consenting, said, “Very well, but only Gandalf and Aragorn. The rest of you will kindly look away.”
Legolas’ brows twitched with a hurt look. But he said nothing as Lalaith turned so that none but Gandalf and Aragorn could see the slice across the flesh over her shoulder blade.
Pippin cleared his throat politely, scratched his ear, and softly mumbled to Merry, “I think she’s afraid Legolas’d like it a bit too much.” Lalaith flushed as Pippin spoke, and dropped her eyes downward, but Legolas smiled at Pippin’s words, feeling a little better.
“What is that?” Aragorn murmured to Gandalf under his breath, giving Lalaith the first hint that he had found something more than just a bad wound.
“Odd.” Gandalf said thoughtfully as he pressed something soft and wet against her wound, then covered it with a cloth as Aragorn tied it around her neck and beneath her arm with a longer strip leather. Raising his voice, Gandalf asked, “Lalaith, what do you know about these other strange marks on your shoulder?”
“Marks?” Lalaith asked, craning her neck. “But I have none.”
“If it is a birthmark, it’s the strangest I’ve seen.” Aragorn muttered.
“It is no birthmark.” Gandalf breathed, his voice grave. “It’s a brand.”