The air was hot, difficult to breathe, and flames, shooting sporadically from fissures in the cracked stone, leaped about them as they sprinted toward the narrow bridge coming into their view, arching over a vast, deep black chasm.
“Over the bridge!” Gandalf shouted, urging them on. “Fly!”
Pippin, his little legs churning to keep up, tripped slightly, but Lalaith snatched his shoulder, steadying him, and glanced backward as she did. She wished she had not, for out of the curtain of flames, leaped a creature she had seen only in nightmares. It seemed to be formed entirely of boiling lava, with nothing more than a thin crust of black crackling stone for flesh. Its spine bristled with a sheet of flames, as spikes on its back, and on either side of this ridge of flame, were massive, bat like wings, with fire-red flames creeping through the cracking fissures on the surface of its black stone skin. Upon its massive, skeletal head were two horns, curling toward its face, where its blazing nostrils flared.
Arching its back toward Gandalf who had turned to face it, it opened its giant mouth and roared, exposing the flames that boiled within, and sending a wave of blistering heat rolling across their backs.
Then rising to its full height, it stomped after them, jarring the stone beneath their feet as came at them. Gandalf now, turned and ran, the last of the Fellowship, behind Legolas and Lalaith.
The bridge, drawing ever nearer, was too narrow but for one to cross at a time, and Legolas dropped back a step, for Lalaith to go ahead. Though the sight of the Balrog filled her with fear, she was growing weary. It was because of the knife slice across her shoulder, she knew. All the firing of arrows, and the running had not helped to keep the wound closed, and she was feeling the effects more with every step. Still, she forced herself faster, for Legolas’ sake, and for Gandalf’s, the only two behind her as she sprinted across the bridge, not allowing herself to look down into the seemingly bottomless pit below them, until she had reached the other side, and turned, grateful to see Legolas arriving safely as well. Now only Gandalf was left to cross.
But- what was he doing? Gandalf had stopped in the middle of the bridge! He turned around once again, facing the Balrog, and with more fury than she had ever seen in him, pronounced, in a voice that thundered, “You cannot pass!”
“Gandalf!” Frodo shrieked. But if he heard, Gandalf gave no indication.
“I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.” Gandalf declared as the Balrog rose to its full height, flames seeping from every crack in its skin to show its fury. “The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun!”
Gandalf raised his staff and his sword, and a sphere of white light materialized around him, just as a monstrous flaming sword appeared in the Balrog’s fist, and came down upon Gandalf. But, as if the white light was an impenetrable shield, the sword crashed against Gandalf’s staff and the sphere of light, throwing off a shower of sparks, but doing no harm to the wizard.
“Go back to the shadow.” Gandalf seethed.
The flaming sword in the Balrog’s fist mutated into a whip, and the creature of flame and shadow cracked it viciously against the stone at the edge the abyss over which Gandalf stood as one of its clawed feet thudded down onto the bridge.
With no sign of fear or intimidation, Gandalf again repeated in a voice that echoed through Moria, “You shall not pass!” He brought his staff down with a crack, on the stone of the bridge before him, and a rumble, as of thunder, rolled from the spot.
Enraged, the Balrog’s nostrils flared, and it raised its whip again, its other foot stepping further out onto the bridge. But as it came, the stone, cracked by Gandalf’s staff, gave way beneath it. And the Balrog tumbled backward, roaring as it went, plummeting down into the impenetrable blackness below.
Gandalf drew a deep breath as he watched the creature fall, then turned away. And a slight smile of relief began to form on Lalaith’s lips. But Gandalf had turned away from the Balrog too soon.
With one last, mighty thrash, the flaming whip cracked upward, lashing around Gandalf’s ankle. Lalaith’s smile dropped away, replaced by a look of horror. The whip jerked him down, and he tumbled over the broken edge of the bridge, his sword and staff falling away into the abyss as he clung precariously to the last bits of rock.
With a gasp, Lalaith darted forward, but Legolas snatched her around the waist, and pulled her back. Frodo tried as well, dashing toward Gandalf, only to be grabbed back by Boromir.
“Gandalf!” Frodo screamed, his voice fraught with terror.
“Let me go, I beg of you, Legolas!” Lalaith pleaded, fighting against Legolas’ firm hold. “There is time still to save him. Please!”
In the back of her mind, Lalaith understood. Orcs were already coming out of the shadows beyond the bridge. There was truly nothing she could do, without dying as well But still, it was Gandalf! Dear Mithrandir. Her wise, gentle friend for as long as she could remember. Could they do nothing? He needed them! She jerked against Legolas’ grip, but he only held her all the tighter.
Gandalf managed to pull himself up only enough to see their agonizing faces, his own expression filled with urgency, not for his own sake, but for theirs, as he hissed, “Fly, you fools!” And then, Lalaith’s heart stopped. He dropped away into the dark shadows of the abyss.
“No!” She shrieked, and struggled, but Legolas grip held her firmly.
“No!” Frodo screamed echoing Lalaith’s cry, his face a wretched mask of disbelief and anguish, his pain filled cry echoing about them. Even with Gandalf gone, Boromir still had to bodily lift the hobbit in his arms to keep him back as Legolas dragged Lalaith along after him, around one last corner, and up a flight of stone steps, where sunlight, almost a foreign thing to her now, was streaming through.
“Aragorn!” Boromir shouted behind her to their companion lingering behind. She could hear the hiss of orcish arrows flying through the air, and the crack as they smashed against stone. But it did not matter to her now as the sunlight streamed around her, and she found herself on a mountain side, fresh air and the scent of growing things flowing about her, the mountain sloping down into a sea of green, winding through with small streams.
At last Legolas’ hold relaxed, and she jerked, almost angrily from him, to fall into a heap on the rough stone in grief and exhaustion, unable to contain the sobs that ripped from her lungs, unabated. She was barely aware of all that was going on around her. Gimli was insisting he go back into the mines to take on the orcs, and Boromir was having to restrain the dwarf as he had Frodo. Merry was weeping a short distance off, with Pippin, completely collapsed in his lap, sobbing. Sam was a short distance away as well, crying alone in his own grief.
“Lalaith-,” Legolas said softly near her shoulder, his hand touched her gently, but she wanted no one now.
“Leave me.” She ordered bitterly between sobs, waving a hand dismissively, not even looking up. She felt him reluctantly withdraw his hand, and feared she had hurt him, but she could feel no more grief than she already did. She finished, more softly, “Just-, leave me.”
“Legolas,” Aragorn’s voice cut at her, unwanted, through her cloud of misery. “Get them up.”
“Give them a moment for pity’s sake.” Boromir pleaded, paces away.
“By nightfall, these hills will be swarming with orcs.” Aragorn returned with authority, sliding his sword back into its sheath. “Lalaith also continues to lose blood and the herb I need to staunch her blood grows there, but not on these mountains. Come, Boromir. Legolas. Gimli, get them up.”
Lalaith felt Legolas’ hand once again on her shoulders, gently drawing her to her feet. This time she did not protest, and even managed to raise her eyes to his, noting his face written with a quiet grief of his own. She had not noticed before, consumed in her own pain, and felt a stab of shame.
Aragorn stepped toward Sam, and lifted him, setting him upon his feet. “On your feet, Sam.” Aragorn said softly to the unhappy hobbit, gently slapping his shoulder. He turned around, his eyes searching, as he called, “Frodo?”
The other hobbit was already wandering off, staggering weakly down the mountain, his back to them.
“Frodo!” Aragorn called again.
The little hobbit stopped, and turned, saying nothing as tears streamed from his eyes, and one fell from his cheek.
“Lalaith, you are only growing weaker.” Legolas said, placing a steadying hand on her arm. “If I must, I will carry you.”
“I have strength enough.” Lalaith turned to him, struggling to offer him a grateful smile through her tears. “I will not slow us down. I can still run, for now.”
Legolas did not seem convinced, as he reached for and took her hand in his. “I’m staying beside you, at least.”
She nodded wordlessly, and started with the others in a quick trot toward the green below, where the trees of Lothlorien began.
Lalaith’s limbs were feeling all the more weighted, and even her neck was beginning to feel the heaviness of her head as the Fellowship came at last to the trees which marked the borders of Lothlorien, and slowed to a welcome walk beneath the softly whispering branches, as leaves fell gently around her. Her brain was growing foggy, and no matter how she strained to focus, her senses grew only all the more clouded. With what little reasoning she still possessed, she realized it was because of her wound, because of her loss of blood. Perhaps if she had been mortal, she would already be dead. Even as an immortal elf, she knew she could still die as a result of the wound she’d received from the orc’s blade, but she felt no fear. She welcomed the shadows of the trees as they closed over her, grateful to have the scent and sight of Loth Lorien to soothe her addled mind. She knew these trees. These elves were the kinsfolk of her aunt, Celebrian, with whom she and Arwen had come here before. Of course, when she had come, she had been mounted on one of the regal steeds of Imladris, and dressed in an elegant, immaculate gown, with flowers garlanding her fair, flowing, hair, laughing with Arwen as they came. And now, dressed as she was, wounded and lethargic, covered in black orc blood, and her own blood as well, perhaps she would not even be recognized. She stumbled, and fell heavily into Legolas, who had remained faithfully by her side.
“Lalaith-,” he said quietly, in a voice that conveyed his concern.
“Legolas,” she returned softly, resting a hand gently against his chest. “I am so weary-,” she sighed shakily. “I am sorry-,”
He shook his head quickly. “There is no need to be.” He insisted gently, and easing a hand gently under her arm, he implored, “Come, let me carry you.”
“No.” She insisted, with a shake of her head. “I must stay awake.”
“Then lean on me at least.”
Lalaith did so, gratefully.
“Stay close, young hobbits.” Gimli hissed to Frodo and the others just behind her. “They say that a great sorceress lives in these woods. An elf-witch of terrible power. All who look upon her, fall under her spell and are never seen again.”
Who could the dwarf possibly be talking about? Lalaith wondered within her fogging mind, feeling a tug of annoyance at Gimli. There was no one like that in these woods. Lalaith looked back to glare at Gimli, but saw, beyond the dwarf, Frodo, who had faltered, his face taking on a worried, distracted appearance. He was glancing about, as if looking for something, as if he had heard a noise, or a voice, and he was searching for the source of it.
“Mister Frodo?” Sam asked behind him. This seemed to shake him out of his stupor, and he began walking again, though still with trepidation.
“Well,” Gimli said, not noticing Frodo’s faltering, “here’s one dwarf she won’t ensnare so easily. I have the eyes of a hawk, and the ears of a fox.”
Lalaith and Legolas both drew to a sudden halt at the sound of bowstrings being drawn back. In an instant, where there before had been no one, suddenly they were surrounded by Loth Lorien elves, bows bent, gilded arrowheads scant inches from their faces.
Legolas’ arm drop away from her as he drew his own bow and an arrow and pulled the string taut. Lalaith faltered, and almost fell, not realizing until now, how much weaker she had become, and how dependent on Legolas’ strength.
“The dwarf breaths so loud, we could have shot him in the dark.” Came a voice from beyond Aragorn. A voice she knew well, filled with a hint of arrogance, and slight scorn.
“Aragorn, these woods are perilous.” Gimli called from behind her. “We must turn back.”
“You have entered the realm of the Lady of the Wood.” The elf hissed at the dwarf. “You cannot go back.”
“Haldir?” She asked wearily, moving around Aragorn so that she could see him.
“Lalaith?” The tall, golden haired elf seemed taken aback for a moment, before he remembered himself, drew in a quick breath and bowed slightly. “Mae Govannen, Lalaith Elerrina, Elrond-iel. Vana Hiril o Imladris.” Welcome, Lalaith Elerrina, daughter of Elrond. Fair lady of Imladris. He greeted her. His wary gaze took in her haggard appearance, then traveled to Legolas. He eyed the Mirkwood elf carefully, his eyes pausing only slightly when he noticed Lalaith’s ring on his hand.
“Haldir o Lorien.” She returned, forcing herself to stay upright as she nodded slightly. She saw two other elves she recognized behind him, and nodded to them as well. “Rumil.” She greeted. “Orophin.” The two golden haired elves, only slightly shorter than their brother, returned her nod. A young elf maid stood near Haldir her head barely reaching his shoulder, the only female of the company.
“Lothriel.” She murmured, remembering the maiden’s name.
“Mae Govannen, Hiril o Imladris.” Lothriel returned with a shy smile, and lowered her bow, her gaze turning on Haldir, watching him with wide, childlike eyes.
“Haldir o Lorien.” Aragorn greeted, speaking softly and stepping forward to Lalaith’s shoulder. “Henio aniron, boe ammen i dulu lin. Boe ammen veriad lin.”
Haldir straightened his shoulders at Aragorn’s words, and he drew in a sharp breath. “You bring to us the fairest flower of Imladris, wounded and bloodstained, and you dare to ask for our help?” He demanded indignantly.
“Haldir!” Lalaith begged, feeling as if she were near tears from grief and weariness, and now, Haldir’s infamous, exasperating pride was only adding to her affliction. “Please. These are my friends.” She continued earnestly, speaking the common tongue for the sake of the others. She had little strength left; clouds of black billowed in her mind, threatening to shut out all that was around her, but she pressed on, knowing she could influence Haldir more than Aragorn, or any of the others. “They have not hurt me. We are companions on a perilous quest having seen great difficulty in Moria. We have even-,” her voice broke here, but she caught herself again, “lost one of our company. This wound was given me by orcs. If not for my companions, Haldir, I would be dead.”
Haldir’s brows twitched, and she could see his staunch arrogance abating at her pleading words. “Very well.” He said, a hint of softness coming into his voice as he nodded to Lalaith, and directed his next words at the group. “You will come with me.” He stated, and began to turn away.
“Haldir, a moment-,” Lalaith murmured, and staggered after him, putting out a hand as if to call him back, and he turned to her, just as the last of her strength faded, and she crumpled, falling into his arms that swooped to catch her gently.
She had a sense of others rushing near, Legolas, the closest, and Boromir only a step behind him.
“Lalaith!” Legolas pleaded, and she felt his warm hands on her cold face, and her brow, but only as if from a great distance. “Hear my voice! Open your eyes!”
Her eyes fluttered, “Legolas, beloved-,” she whispered. She tried to reach a hand out to him, to comfort him, to say more, but the black clouds of her mind were too thick, and too great, and they rushed in on her, blocking out all that was around her, and plunging her into darkness.