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Summary: "So overwrought were the Company at Mithrandir's passing, that they tarried too long at the first glimpse of safety."
Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings, I'm just playing with the characters Tolkien created.
Note: Seventeen years ago, I first posted a story titled A Perilous Journey to Lórien to fanfiction.net. It went on to gain almost two hundred reviews and nearly one hundred favorites, for what reason I cannot fathom. The writing was terrible, and the plot even worse.
Here, I think, is the story as it should have been told. If you've read the other, I think you'll find this to be a completely different, and much superior, tale. I've kept only the setting and basic idea of the plot. The story picks up just after the events on the Bridge of Khazad-Dűm, as recorded in the books, and will closely follow the events after the fall of Gandalf—except where my own plot conflicts with said events. At times, the story will change events as actually written by Tolkien, but will not affect canon beyond Lothlórien, except, perhaps in the memories of the characters involved. Though some elements from the films may be present, this story is book-verse. Quotes from The Fellowship of the Ring will be italicized.
The shafts of light grew ahead of them, driving away the shadows of Moria. Here at last, was the way out of this dreadful place. Black Pit*, indeed, Frodo thought darkly as he struggled to keep pace with the others. He heard Sam at his side weeping, and then he found that he himself was weeping as he ran. Ahead of him, Legolas eclipsed the brilliant light of the entryway, the three arrows remaining in this quiver bouncing around like dark black shadows at his shoulder. Just behind the elf, huffing a bit, was Gimli. His heavy boots thudded quickly on the stone. Frodo risked a backward glance for his kin and was relieved to find them being herded, however kindly, by Boromir at the rear. Their faces were drawn and pale, and their eyes huge with tears and disbelief.
A clatter and hurried footsteps ahead jerked Frodo's attention back to the front. There was a guard of orcs crouching in the shadows behind the great door-posts towering on either side, and a tall orc stood blocking the way out. Frodo knew a moment of fear before Aragorn smote to the ground the captain that stood in his path. It was over before any of the others could join the fray, and the rest fled in terror of his wrath. At last the feeling of mortal peril began to ebb. The orcs would not have fled unless they had been outmatched and cut off. The Company swept past them and took no heed of them. By some miracle of Elbereth, they were emerging from Moria as the victors.
Out of the Gates they ran and sprang down the huge and age-worn steps. Each impact jarred Frodo's entire body, and he gritted his teeth at the stab of pain that lanced through his side and his chest. He heard Sam moan a bit beside him and remembered the dear gardener had taken wounds of his own in the mines, but he was managing. They all were. To not manage was to die. To fail.
Thus, at last, they came beyond hope under the sky and felt the wind on their faces, and as they fled, they could forget, for a moment the haunting dark of Moria and look on blue sky.
They did not halt until they were out of bowshot from the walls. Frodo stood apart from the others, struggling to catch his breath as he gazed out over the Dimrill Dale, still blinking a bit with eyes unaccustomed to daylight. It was shadowed by the Misty Mountains, but eastward he could see a golden light on the land. He reckoned it was but one hour after noon. The sun was shining; the clouds were white and high. He looked back. Dark yawned the archway of the Gates under the mountain-shadow. Faint and far beneath the earth rolled the slow drumbeats: doom. A thin black smoke trailed out. Nothing else was to be seen; the dale all around them was empty. Doom.
Grief at last wholly overcame him, the tears on his face cutting a trail through the dirt and filth of the mines. He was weary already, so weary, and yet they still had so far to go. Without Gandalf. The great, heaving sobs threatening to overtake him sent waves of pain lancing through his chest and side. Fire and darkness flashed through his mind, in time with each throb of agony. His heart still raced at the sheer terror of the Balrog. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, but in his mind all he could see was Gandalf falling again and again. "Fly, you fools." Instead of the calm he sought, his breaths only came faster, in little panicked puffs.
He'd acted so rashly, so naively, in agreeing to this Quest. And now Gandalf was gone. Though he was still surrounded with companions, the task fell to him alone and the weight of it was suddenly too much to bear. Gradually, the chapping mountain wind calmed him, its icy kiss grounding him to his present reality. At last, the grief of the others penetrated the fog and terror that had gripped his mind. He could breathe again, even if more shallowly than he was accustomed. Slowly, he loosened the hand that had been absently gripping the ring and turned, looking back at his companions. They had scattered over the hillside, each trying to give and take a bit of solitude in their mourning. Pippin's and Merry's cries were the loudest from their place on the ground, and Sam was in a daze. Poor Sam, Frodo thought with a bitter pang, he's never looked for any adventures, and I've dragged him into mortal peril. They've never known tragedy or heartache, and I've dragged them all here. Next to them, Boromir's face was a careful mask, though his eyes glistened, and he was clearly keeping guard over the little folk, as he so often called Frodo and his kin.
Frodo's attention went next to Gimli as the dwarf shifted and leaned on his axe. He made no effort to hide the tears spilling down and wetting his coarse beard. Frodo was struck suddenly by how, in his grief, the dwarf looked so very young. Gone was the gruff mask, though Frodo knew the dwarf would soon raise it again lest he appear vulnerable in front of the elf.
Almost as if he was accounting for everyone, his eyes continued on to Legolas. Grief welled up again, and his breath hitched at the bereft resignation on the elf's face. This is not the first sorrow in his long life, Frodo suspected, nor the last. Another tear fell, and despite the wails of Merry and Pippin, Frodo perceived the depths of sadness in the elf's eyes and considered that perhaps Gandalf in his long and wandering life had made many friends dearer even than hobbits.
At last, it seemed to Frodo's ears, the drum-beats faded and a large hand came to rest on his shoulder. He jerked in surprise, then hissed lightly at the pain of the sudden movement. That the perceptive ranger had not noticed told the hobbit more than he needed to know of the man's state of mind. He shifted his regard to the man. Aragorn. The heir of Elendil. The Ranger's gray eyes were misty, and his great anger had left him. Now he only looked weary and heart sick. His voice was rough when he finally spoke. "Come, Frodo, we must not linger here. He would desire we leave the gates of Moria and mourn him elsewhere."
He looked towards the mountains and held up his sword. "Farewell, Gandalf!" he cried. Frodo's vision blurred again with tears, and he felt he should turn away from the private moment, though Aragorn was speaking loudly. "Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true! What hope have we without you?"
What hope indeed, Frodo agreed.
The Ranger turned to the Company. "We must do without hope," he said. "At least we may yet be avenged. Let us gird ourselves and weep no more! Come! We have a long road, and much to do."
Frodo allowed himself to be steered back toward the others, the wind picking up and ruffling his hair.
"Aragorn!" Came a sharp warning from Legolas, and Frodo gave a shocked grunt as the man grabbed him by the shoulders and violently shoved him to the ground.
It took him a few moments to identify the little breezes as arrows flying perilously close to his head. Frodo's mind raced as Aragorn's weight pressed him even further into the cleft created by the ancient roadside drainage system. They had gotten clear of the high vaulted and vent-like windows above the gate that could have been used to pick them off had they stopped and rested too soon, and they had run down the steps, a smooth rock wall hewn out of the mountain itself at their right. Their senses had still been heightened from Moria, and they had all been careful to look for any sign of the enemy. Surely they hadn't missed something? Yet, here was evidence that they had.
The landscape lent a bit of natural protection, but also meant Frodo couldn't see what was happening—and if anything was worse than sheer terror, it was being trapped with no way to see what was happening, or protect oneself.
"Aragorn?!" He questioned frantically as it became clear the ranger was shielding him with his own body. Frodo hoped the small culvert was deep enough to keep them both safe, but the man's body muffled the sounds above him.
"They must have been waiting for us—to pick off whoever passed. I don't think they'll come out until nightfall—we are safe enough here, and we'll be safer yet when we rejoin the others. We were so caught up in our grief that we tarried too long at the first sign of safety. I am sorry, Frodo. I should have pressed us on."
He raised his voice slightly and called, still softly, "Legolas—can you see anything?"
Frodo wriggled until he could see out a bit and felt Aragorn instinctively ease his weight off of him. He sighed with relief as air came more easily into his lungs. Looking left, he saw that the others were relatively sheltered behind a crumbling stone ruin, the remains of an ancient guardhouse of Moria, perhaps. Really, only part of a wall remained. Behind it the rest of the Company huddled, weapons at attention. Legolas stood closest to the edge, an arrow nocked and already drawn.
Black arrows fletched with great black feathers littered the mountainside, but their direction was far to the right of the main Company.
"I wandered too far and now we've been cut off from the others." Guilt weighed on him more at present than the injury he had taken in the mines.
Aragorn sighed. "The responsibility is not yours. We were all too much in shock to have taken the proper precautions. But," he flashed him a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, "orcs have terrible aim, and we are going to use that to our advantage."
"Legolas!" It was almost a whisper, but Frodo knew the elf would still be able to hear. The elf immediately straightened and looked toward them. "At the count of three, I want you to pick off their main archer, if you can, and we're going to make a run for it." Frodo felt a shadow of fear in his heart. He had no doubt of Legolas' aim and quickness with a bow, but he'd seen the near empty quiver.
A quick burst of elvish from the ranger perplexed Frodo, but he could have sworn he saw a smirk appear on Legolas' face. He looked like he might have replied, but decided they were too far to hear any wry retorts.
"We just need enough of a pause while they rearrange positions to leap behind that wall, and then we'll be out of their range." The man told him soothingly. Pain forgotten, Frodo readied himself. He felt slow and stiff, and it would take him twice as many steps to cross the distance. To a man, it might not look so great, but for a hobbit, it was quite far. His heart warmed gratefully as he heard Sam plaintively inform Legolas of the very same thing. Truthfully, it was Aragorn's safety that concerned him. Bilbo's gift had already proven true; it was the man who was in greater danger if short hobbit legs slowed him down.
"Get ready, Frodo-Mîn, tâd, NĘL!*"
So many things happened at once. Aragorn sprang out of the culvert, hauling Frodo with him under one arm and propelling him toward the wall. Frodo's feet barely had a chance to touch the ground as they leapt, his legs scrambling uselessly in the air. He braced for the impact of the arrows even as Legolas stepped out swiftly in front of them from behind the wall and let fly two arrows in quick succession, automatically feeling for a third. Safe behind the wall, Frodo was forcefully delivered into Sam's arms, and he turned to offer Aragorn a relieved smile. Frodo's heart clenched as Legolas staggered back behind the wall to join the rest of the Company. Elves never staggered, at least not that he'd ever seen. They all seemed only to be capable of movements of infuriating grace and fluidity. Ignoring the pain in his ribs, he leaned around the man for a better view.
An expression of mild surprise was on the elf's face as he gazed down at his torso. Frodo's eyes widened, taking in at almost the same moment the blood on the slender fingers and the black fletched arrow protruding from the elf's side.
*The name Moria means Black Pit, and, according to Tolkien, was given to Khazad-dum by the elves after the dwarves awakened the Balrog. What I, personally, do not understand is how the Western Gates were inscribed with the name Moria during the time of Narvi, at the height of the dwarf kingdom.
*Mîn, tâd, NĘL!—One, two, THREE!
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