Up the Mountain
Note: Here on in until Lorien, I’m betting this will be quite dry. Just the same, I hope you enjoy!
The next two weeks were trial and testing. They walked continuously through no matter what the weather (which proved to be wretched and chilly for the most part) and usually at night. The plan was to go to Mount Doom through secrecy, and alert none of their presence. It was a bit harder to keep the two hobbits, Merry and Pippin, quiet long when they got antsy. Which happened quite regularly. Much to the annoyance of Gandalf.
As they drew farther into the journey, one day when the sun was clear and bright and the air was crisp, they reached a ridge with rocks, holly trees and much shade which Maegwen was grateful for. But as she looked off into the far distance, she could see three mountains peircing the clouds. She had been over mountains before: not those exact ones, but she hoped they wouldn’t be going over them any time soon. She shaded her eyes so she could see them better. She noticed from the movement of her hand while she breathed, her hand moved, and the sun went occasionally into her eyes. Maegwen was breathing hard.
“Are you alright?” asked a kind voice from behind her. Maegwen turned, and saw that Aragorn was standing there. In the days they had been traveling, Maegwen had learnt little about him, and not much of his ways of thought. She could usually read people easily; know their fears and doubts. Yet Aragorn seemed so strong and fearless. Trying to understand him at times was as hard as reading Dwarvish runes.
“I am. Thank you.” Maegwen said, smiling gratefully. It was nice to know he cared. Or acted like he cared.
“I still do not fully understand why you have accompanied us so far hither.” Aragorn admitted, as he put down his things under a rock’s shade. Maegwen walked over to him.
“What do you mean?” she asked. “Does not a woman have the same rights to go into battle as a man?” she hoped she sounded tough. She had the odd feeling that she had to sound tough. Aragorn was strong. He liked strength. Or that was what she thought. Aragorn loved Arwen, and Arwen was strong. Then the thought of Arwen’s glance at their last meeting made Maegwen sorrowful. Arwen had looked upon her with such venom.
“I suppose.” Said Aragorn as he sat down on the ground, looking up at her, and shielding his eyes from the sun’s rays with his right hand. “But I also believe that you have other motives.”
“Then Elrond has told you nothing?” Maegwen asked.
“Lord Elrond thought it better that you explain it. He seemed… angry when I asked him. I can see that you are carrying a child.” He nodded at her stomach. Maegwen blushed slightly and nodded. His bluntness would have made her angry, but she did not grow to anger.
“The babe’s father’s path crosses with our path somewhere down the line, and I am hoping we will reach there before the baby is born. I wish for him to see. He does not know I am having his child.”
“And who is the lucky man who will father him or her?”
The orphan smiled as she thought of Haldir. “Haldir of Lorien. Legolas told me we would be taking the path through Lorien.”
“Legolas’s word proved true. We will be.” Aragorn smiled. “And you plan on staying in Lorien, after we depart? For you know we cannot stay there forever.”
“Yes, I know that.” Maegwen came over and slowly leaned against a rock. “And I do plan on staying there.”
Aragorn nodded, satisfied. They spoke a little after, but speech died most among the Company, as Gandalf stood beside the hobbit Frodo, hand raised, as his deep eyes stared at the mountains.
“The land and the weather will be milder now, but perhaps all the more dangerous.” Gandalf said.
“Dangerous or not, real sunrise is mighty welcome,” said Frodo, looking from the wizard to the mountains, and then back.
“But the mountains are ahead of us,” Pippin put in. “We must have turned eastwards in the night.” He was looking about, and seeming rather confused.
“No.” Gandalf said. “But you see further ahead in the clear light. Beyond those peaks the range bends round southwest. There are many maps in Elrond’s house, but I suppose you never thought to look at them?”
“Yes, I did, sometimes.” Pippin said stoutly. Then he recoiled. “But I don’t remember them. Frodo has a better head for that sort of thing.”
“I need no map,” said Gimli with a twinkle in his dark eyes. “There is the land where our fathers worked of old, and we have wrought the image of those mountains into many works of metal and of stone, and into many strong tales. They stand tall in our dreams: Baraz Kirak, Shathur. Only once before have I seen them from afar in waking life, but I know them and their names, for under them lies Khazad-Dum, the Dwarrowdelf, that is now called the Black Pit, Moria in the Elvish Tongue. Yonder stands Barazinbar, the Redhorn, cruel Caradhras; and beyond him are Silvertine and Cloudyhead: Celebdil the White, and Fanuidol the Grey, that we call Zirakzigil and Bundushathur. There the Misty Mountains divide, and between their arms lies the deep-shadowed valley which we cannot forget: Azanulbizar, the Dimrill Dale, which the Elves call Nanduhition.”
“It is for the Dimrill Dale we are making,” Gandalf said, leaning on his staff. “If we climb the pass that is called the Redhorn Gate, under the far side of Caradhras we shall come down the Dimrill Stair into the deep vale of the Dwarves. There lies the Mirrormere, and there the River Silverlode rises in its icy spring.”
“Dark is the water of Kheled-zaram, and cold are the springs of Kabil-nala. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.” Gimli said, his eyes twinkling still. It was a fire Maegwen had never seen in dwarves. But then, this was the only dwarf she had ever really known. And her heart trembled too, but more so in fear. She did not like being underground too much. Caves seemed so much darker. She like to be among the trees.
“May you have joy at the sight, my good dwarf!” said Gandalf, not noticing her troubled face, and smiling slightly to Gimli. “But whatever you may do, we at least cannot stay in that valley. We must go down the Silverlode into the secret woods, and so to the Great River, and then — ” but Gandalf stopped, and looked very deep in thought.
“Yes, and where then?” wondered Merry, who stood beside Pippin, identical looks of curiosity in their cheery faces.
“To the end of the journey — in the end. We cannot look too far ahead. Let us be glad that the first stage is safely over. I think we will rest here, not only today but tonight as well. There is a wholesome air about Hollin. Much evil must befall a country before it wholly forgets the Elves, if once they dwelt here.”
“That is true,” Legolas said, gazing around. “But the Elves of this land were a race strange to us of the silvan folk, and the trees and the grass do not now remember them. Only I hear the stones lament them: deep the delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the Havens long ago.”
As the others talked and laughed, Maegwen lay on her back, and stared up at the sky. She thought about the route that Gandalf had stated. She was sorry that she wound not be with the Fellowship in the end, but she had much faith in them. She watched as the hobbits made jokes, and Pippin attempted at a song. Legolas looked about, as if reading old memories of the elves and the doings that had been done there. Gimli was silent and stared at the mountains. Boromir was numbly fingering his horn and his eyes were far off, but alert as well. Aragorn… where was Aragorn?
“What is the matter Strider?” asked Merry suddenly, cutting through her thoughts. Maegwen looked behind her to see Aragorn, or Strider to the hobbits for a reason unknown to her, walking back to them slowly, looking around thoughtfully. “Do you miss the East Wind?”
“No indeed. But I miss something. I have been in the country of Hollin in many seasons. No folk dwell here now, but many other things live here at all time, especially birds. Yet now all things but you are silent. I can feel it. There is no sound for miles about us, and your voices seem to make the ground echo. I do not understand it.” Aragorn looked generally puzzled.
“But what do you guess reason?” asked Gandalf, very fascinated in what Aragorn had to say. “Is there more in it than surprise to see four hobbits, not to mention the rest of us, where people are so seldom seen or heard?
“I hope that is it.” Aragorn said, though he sounded a little doubtful. “But I have a sense of watchfulness, and of fear, that I have never had here before.”
“Then we must be more careful. If you bring a Ranger with you, it is well to pay attention to him, especially if the Ranger is Aragorn. We must stop talking aloud, rest quietly, and set the watch.”
So below the among the holly trees and the rocks, they rested. Maegwen did not fall asleep for a long time. She had always found it hard to sleep through the day with the sun so bright, burning at her eyes. Eventually she did though, and to the cursing of Pippin she awoke.
“All because of a pack of crows! I had looked foreword to a real good meal tonight: something hot.” Pippin grumbled on while she stood.
“Well, you can go on looking forward.” Gandalf said. “There be many unexpected feasts ahead for you. For myself I should like a pip to smoke in comfort and warmer feet…”
“Did you see anything?” Maegwen asked Legolas who had walked over to hear what was going on. She did not understand fully what the commotion was about. Nothing to her had been explained. And Legolas told her. A pack of ‘crebain’ had passed over, and now the Fellowship was under order that they must be silent and stay in hiding. So they did. They hid among the trees, and watched the skies or tried to sleep. Maegwen was restless and could not catch a wink. The crebain passed over a few more times during the day before she did get any shuteye.
She was awoken at dusk, however, by Boromir’s soft tapping, and they began going again. They were going to Caradhras, and this caused Maegwen some anxiety, but the stars over head calmed her. They were not as bright or a beautiful as they were when looking at them from Imladris, but her heart leapt at the thought that Haldir might too be looking at those stars.
They walked all night, and little excitement came. But terror filled Maegwen as they walked in the early dawn as the moon began to shrink. She looked up, and saw that Frodo was too looking. The stars disappeared then reappeared quickly, puzzling Maegwen.
“Did you see anything pass over?” Frodo asked Gandalf quietly after holding a short gaze with Maegwen, and he knew he was not the only one to have seen it.
“No, but I felt it, whatever it was. It may be nothing, on a whisp of thin cloud.” Gandalf answered, looking upwards, the stars twinkling in his eyes.
“It was moving fast then,” Aragorn said quietly. “and not with the wind.”
The wind got colder as they still walked. They began to walk slower, however, as they went more up-hill than ever before. Soon, Caradhras was in full view. They stopped suddenly. Gandalf turned and spoke with Aragorn. Maegwen could not hear them, so instead while the hobbits spoke about what they were going to be eating and what they could be eating; she sat down and closed her eyes wearily. Her eyes snapped open suddenly, though, when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you alright?” Legolas asked in concern. Maegwen nodded.
“Yes. Just weary, but I am alright.” She said quietly.
“You will have some time to rest now. The others wish to have time to eat. Are you hungry?” Legolas asked, kneeling at her side. It was not until now did that the woman notice how hungry she was. She nodded.
Legolas bit his lip. “I fear that this journey has been very laborious on you. And we are not even half way there.”
Maegwen sighed. “I know. I suppose I was a little rash in thinking that this journey would be easy. I just wanted to see Haldir.”
Legolas smiled, but did not say anything. Boromir suggested that the company take a bundle of wood each for there was little chance of other means of fuel for a fire as they continued their journey up. So they loaded Bill, who Sam had volunteered to carry more wood, then continued on their way. As they continued to go, Maegwen felt herself getting very tiered. She also felt herself getting a little damp. Looking ahead, she saw what looked like a small mountain moving on its own. Of course, it wasn’t. It was only Frodo. But there was a cap of snow on his curly hair and hood. Sam was at her side, and panting as he went. The snow was coming down fast now, and blinding Maegwen, and she had to hold on to Legolas so he could guide her through the blizzard.
“I don’t like this at all.” Samwise muttered to his master as they trudged along. “Snow’s all right on a fine morning, but I like to be in bed while it’s falling. I wish this lot would go off to Hobbiton! Folk might welcome it there.”
Maegwen smiled as much as she could, then stopped walking. Everyone did.
“This is what I feared.” Said Gandalf. “What do you say now Aragorn?” he turned to the Ranger.
“That I feared it too.” Aragorn replied. “But less than other things. I knew the risk of snow, though it seldom falls so heavily so far south, save high up in the mountains. But we are not high yet; we are still far down, where the paths are usually opened all the winter.”
“I wonder if this is a contrivance of the Enemy.” Boromir said, walking over from behind the others. He had fallen back to make sure no one was left behind. “They say in my land that he can govern the storms in the Mountains of Shadow that stand upon the borders of Mordor. He has strange powers and many allies.”
“His arm has grown long indeed if he can draw snow down from the North to trouble us here three hundred leagues away.” Said Gimli at his side, snow piling on his helmet.
As if by some odd coincidence, the wind slowed and the snow fell little as they stopped. When they began to go, on the other hand, the blizzard came back with vengeance. The peoples of the Company were slowing. Pippin was falling back, Maegwen was shivering in the cold wind and Gimli was grumbling. The only woman of the Fellowship stopped. Boromir peered through the snow. They all ended their hike. Suddenly at her right, a rock, not very large but big enough to count, fell and Maegwen let out a shrill cry of surprise. Another rock fell, but missed them all, and kept going down the mountain.
“We cannot go further tonight.” Said Boromir. “Let those call it the wind that will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us.”
“I do call it the wind, but that does not make what you say untrue.” Aragorn said. “There are many evil and unfriendly things in that world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he.”
“Caradhras was called the Cruel, and had an ill name, long years ago, when rumour of Sauron had not been heard in these lands.” Added Gimli.
“It matters little who is the enemy, if we cannot beat this attack.” Gandalf said, leaning on his staff.
“But what can we do?” wailed Pippin, who was standing very close to his two cousins, shivering quite severely.
“Either we stop where we are, or go back.” Gandalf said grimly. “It is no good going on. Only a little higher, if I remember rightly, this path leaves the cliff and runs into a wide shallow trough at the bottom of a long hard slope. We should have no shelter there from snow, or stones – or anything else.”
Maegwen shuttered at the thought of the Company walking on: she was simply too tiered and cold to go much further. But the snow was blowing again, and it was no use in doing nothing. And she could not go back. Not after the words that had been exchanged between her and Lord Elrond. She’d go on, even if the others turned back.
“And it is no good going back while the storm holds. We have passed no place on the way up that offered more shelter than this cliff-wall we are under now.”
“Lovely.” Maegwen muttered sarcastically. Sam seemed to agree.
“Shelter!” he mumbled, shaking his head. “If this is shelter, then one wall and no roof make a house.”
The Company huddled as close together as possible as the snow continued to fall thickly around them. Maegwen could no longer see the sky beyond the larger flakes. The peoples about her were silent in thought or in chill, or both. Maegwen felt her eyes closing, and the heavy breathing of Gimli and Boromir at her left and right sides created an odd, melodious lullaby. Snow fell on her face and stuck to her long eyelashes, but she had not the strength to move them. She felt so comfortable, as impossible as it might have seemed. The snow gathering on her cape made a warm, yet wet, blanket. But the snow melted, and trickled downwards, thanks to the wonderful element that is gravity. She shivered. Still, the breathing of the others and the wind around her was so soothing, and the aches of her own body kept her inert and silent. Then, it was like something she had never experienced before. It was as if she was floating above the others: like she had left her body. Higher she flew. Higher, higher, higher…
Suddenly out of the chilling bliss she was shaken, and her eyes snapped open, then fell again.
“This will be the death of the halflings, and of the lady, Gandalf!” cried a voice from beside her. It was Boromir. He was holding her to his body for warmth, she had noticed. She could not move. She was just so tired. “It is useless to sit here until the snow goes over our heads. We must do something to save ourselves.”
“Give them this.” Gandalf said, passing a flask to the man. “Just a mouthful each – for all of us. It is very precious. It is miruvor, the cordial of Imladeris. Elrond gave it to me at our parting. Pass it round!”
After Boromir gave the flask to Frodo, he took only a little, then gave it to Maegwen. He whispered something into her ear, and said that she could take more, for he had taken only a little. Maegwen was puzzled by this. Boromir had been acting very warmly towards her (not to say she had been unfriendly). She thanked him silently, then passed on the liquid to Gimli at her left. Seconds after, she felt a strange strength enter her bones, and she was suddenly wide-awake. But it did not banish the cold.
“What do you say to fire?” asked Boromir, shifting where he sat. “The choice seems near now between fire and death, Gandalf. Doubtless we shall be hidden from all unfriendly eyes when the snow has covered us, but that will not help us.”
“You may make a fire, if you can. If there are any watchers that can endure this storm, they can see us, fire or no.” Gandalf said.
So Boromir tried and tried to start flame, but nothing would come because of the wind. Gandalf finally put a hand in. He put his staff end onto the wood, and called into the air ‘naur an edraith ammen!’ and flames of odd colours sprouted from the logs.
“If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them. I have written ‘Gandalf is here’ in signs that can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin.” Said the wizard. So they stood around the fire, which warmed their hearts as much as it did their feet. The fire danced in the hobbit’s eyes and shimmered in Legolas’s hair. The flames licked the cool, black air, and the night wore on slowly.
“The night is getting old.” Said Aragorn, looking off into the distance. “The dawn is not far off.”
“If any dawn can pierce these clouds.” Gimli grumbled. Boromir left his spot beside Maegwen, and squinted his eyes as he looked into the dark sky.
“The snow is growing less, and the wind is quieter.” He observed. The fire burned away, and there was no fire left, save the new bundle of wood thrown on. As the sun came slowly up, and the grey sky was lit, a scene was revealed which would have been beautiful if the situation had been different. Everything was covered in a blanket of snow, which glimmered slightly under the dim sky.
“Caradhras has not forgiven us.” Gimli said. “He has more snow yet to fling at us, if we go on. The sooner we go back and down the better.”
This sounded very appealing to the Company. Unfortunately throughout the night, the snow has piled very high from turbulent winds and such.
“If Gandalf would go before us with a bright flame, he might melt a path for you.” Legolas suggested, looking at the snow.
“If Elves could fly over mountains, they might fetch the Sun to save us.” Countered Gandalf amicably. “But I must have something to work on. I cannot burn snow.”
“Well,” said Boromir with a small grin. “when heads are at a loss bodies must serve, as we say in my country. The strongest of us must seek a way. See! Though all now is snow clad, our path, as we came up, turned about that shoulder of rock down yonder. It was there that the snow first began to burden us. If we could reach that point, maybe it would prove easier beyond. It is no more than a furlong, I guess.”
“Then let us force a path thither, you an I!” Aragorn said, and they went to it. Boromir went first, then Aragorn, and slowly they made what seemed like a sufficient trail. Still they toiled and went on, when Legolas, who had been grinning as he watched the men, turned to the others.
“The strongest must seek a way, you say? But I say: let a ploughman plough, but choose an otter for swimming, and for sunning light over grass and leaf, or over snow – an Elf.”
And he stepped up onto the piled snow. “Farewell. I go to find the Sun!” Then he ran off, with a little wave to Aragorn and Boromir. Maegwen saw a little glimpse of blood-thirst when she saw Boromir’s reaction from afar to Legolas’s wave. She laughed, though there were times she wished she was an elf.