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"We should head for the Gap of Rohan," Boromir said, perhaps for the tenth time.

The Fellowship had set out that morning with much fanfare; the blowing of horns and the waving of banners. It was decided that since we knew the Enemy watched us there might as well be proper theater. Boromir had insisted on sounding the Horn of Gondor that he carried on his hip.

We had a dozen horses and ponies between us. Butterscotch was with Sam, and Carfax with me. Legolas and Beren had the same habit of walking and leading the pack horses to spare the beasts rather than riding, but they did not slow us down. Gimli looked uncomfortable on a stout pony, his grimace mostly hidden by his beard, and the rest rode with varying levels of ease.

There had been an issue at the stables before we left. The yellow-eyed nightmare of the King of Angmar had been captured after our encounter at Loudwater Ford. The creature had not attempted to run and had been markedly docile in the days since. My people pitied it, rather than despising, for it was in no way responsible for the place and manner of its upbringing, but the other animals had shunned it from the first. The hobbits visited it out of boredom or curiosity, and Sam, in his innocence, named it Glower.

"Because it sounds like flower," he had said, "but it isn't."

On the morning of our departure, Glower had watched us prepping and preening our mounts with a hot gaze, then thrown a fit. The shrieking of a nightmare is unbearable, particularly for other horses, and the stables had been thrown into pandemonium. Poor Butterscotch had ridden Sam into a tree. The ostlers did what they could to smooth matters by hooding Glower and leading him out into the paddocks while the Fellowship went on its way.

It had been generally taken as an ill omen, scarcely overwritten by the banners and horns and cheerful songs.

"Saruman watches the Gap," Mithrandir explained again. “We cannot go that way."

"I travelled from Gondor to Rivendell without harassment," Boromir said. "It did not seem so fraught to me."

"One man alone is different than a party, especially when that one man is of no concern to the Enemy, and the party includes the Ringbearer."

Boromir and Mithrandir had been debating most of the morning, with little input from the rest of the Fellowship. There were only a handful of passages through the Misty Mountains, and all of them inhospitable. The Gap of Rohan to the South would leave us open to harassment on two sides, between Isengard and the agents of Mordor, while the Mines of Moria promised dangers unknown. Gimli wanted to know what had become of his kinfolk who had travelled to reclaim the mines, but Mithrandir hinted that they had not been met with success. Under the circumstances, Caradhras appeared the least bad option. Of the three peaks that rose above Moria, it was the only one with a usable route, but was known to be a bitter and temperamental master. With grumblings from Gimli and Boromir we made our way with the jagged horizon of the the Misty Mountains as our guide toward Redhorn Pass.

The days were slow, and the party muddled through them more in politeness than in true Fellowship. Boromir seemed uncomfortable with Elves, standoffish, though he was at ease condescending to the Hobbits and the Dwarf. He told them war stories over our campfires whether it was requested or not.

"A troop of orc scouts had come sniffing around Harondor, nearly to the Mouth of Anduin," Boromir began. "The king sent me, his firstborn, to settle the matter, and I took two dozen riders to make good. The orcs had raided a settlement, Belfas, and we stopped there for supplies and information. It was a quaint little town, and they were grateful to host us."

"Choked with mirth," Legolas said.

"What was that?"

"Full of mirth," the Wood Elf smirked.

"Right, they were." Boromir went on. "Now Orcs are night creatures, day blind, so we did not set out until the following noon to catch them unawares."

"Sounds like a wet night," Gimli said gruffly. "Hung over to dry."

Boromir ignored him. “When we came upon the raiders, they had a pair of beasts such as you have never seen. Wargs we name them."

Sam raised his hand. "Wargs?"

"Yes, like wolves, but huge and flat faced. Some in Gondor say they are the abominable offspring of Orcs and wolves, and born with special cunning."

Gimli snorted.

"As I was saying, they had a pair of them as large as our horses, who naturally were not eager to charge. So those of us with crossbows fired from a distance, aiming all for the Wargs, and luck was with us. They did not die, but went mad with pain and anger and lashed out at their keepers. With the camp in shambles my riders were able to pick off any who fled on foot, and finish off the Wargs from a distance."

"An heroic tale," Legolas said, sphinx-like.

This went on until we reached the foot of Caradhras. Mithrandir insisted we go without fire at night. Boromir no longer felt the urge to regale us, and instead Beren would sing to help the evenings pass into rest. Some of the songs I recognized, others were his own, a rare originality among our kind, who have been singing some of the same verses for thousands of years.

Legolas was certainly impressed, and he joined in when he could, but Beren was not receptive to his overtures of friendship. They were both young, and they likely remembered the business with Thranduil and the loss of Beren's parents very differently

 

Caradhras was a big, brooding behemoth with a narrow range of welcome. A day in the foothills brought us to the steeps, where a series of switchbacks led into a snowy beyond whose end point was imperceptible. Elves are little bothered by heat or cold; our travelling clothes are light and loose and serve us in any weather. The hobbits, however, suffered; bundling themselves as amply as they could. Boromir was soon chapped and pink from the wind, but he would not allow himself any greater indulgence than Aragorn, who has learned to endure far worse as a ranger of the North.

"Put up your hood," I told him, "or the prince of Gondor will catch a cold for his pride."

Aragorn shook his head, ruefully. We had not spoken again of my secret, and in any case we kept our affections private. We had made promises to each other in the mallorn groves of Lothlorien, but Lord Elrond had decreed that our troth was only words until Aragorn took his rightful place as King of Men. For the most part we respected his decision. From time to time we would brush together, then part, but a journey like this was hardly meant for romance.

If anything, it was Frodo and Sam who were the prize couple. They slept nearly on top of each other, for the cold, and Sam's devotion bordered on worship. He often referred to Frodo as his "master," though it was hardly a matter of employment, or of lineage. It wasn't as if the hobbits had an aristocracy to speak of. The party looked on them with amusement, except for Boromir, who seemed flustered and confused by their relationship. Love was love.

A day into the waiting embrace of Caradhras and the way closed behind us. The trail disappeared in a crash of ice and snow, with the way ahead being scarcely better. In the far off I fancied I could hear a stentorian voice chanting dread words, but there was no one for leagues on any side.

"Saruman works against us," Mithrandir informed me. "He stirs the evil temper of this mountain even from Isingard."

"His power has grown."

"He overreaches," the aged one said, "eager to challenge the Enemy as an equal, and to catch us as so many mice in his grasp. It can come only to disaster."

We took shelter in a rocky underpass as the air thickened with a wintry storm that was far ahead of season. We tried for a fire but could not maintain it in the wind and slush, even with Mithrandir to command the sticks to burn.

"We could have passed by the Gap," Boromir said, "and crossed Isen into Long Strand and Lebennin and come to Gondor from regions nigh to the sea."

"Kazad-dum," Gimli countered. "By now the mines are bright with the work of my cousins, and Balin sits at the head of a grand table to welcome us."

Tempers were strained, so we tended the animals, ate and slept and went on, pressing into the weather. The mountain rumbled beneath us, rocks fell, and we lost a pack horse. The snow in the High Pass was piled higher than the little folk, and the men had to try and bully a passage through for them. Legolas, Beren and I could simply walk atop the snow, but that was no help for the others, or for our horses. A troop of Elves would have traversed this obstacle without a second thought, but for our Fellowship, it proved too much. Mithrandir appeared to grow weaker as we climbed, and I knew that he was constantly engaged in a battle of wills with Saruman; who sought our destruction and was the mightier of the two.

By the end of the third day in the embrace of Caradhras we were newly blinded by a blizzard and made scarcely any progress from the end of the second.

"This is madness," Boromir complained, and no one disagreed with him. The cold had begun to seep into my limbs, and it was becoming more difficult to find the sense of lightness that allowed me to walk atop the snowbanks.

There was talk of turning back, and the debate shifted one way and the other until only Beren still proposed that we go on.

"I know this is trying," he said, golden still beneath a scrim of frost, "but I fear darkness waits for us another way. There is a reason the Enemy does not want us to take this path."

"That may be," Mithrandir said, "but my strength is waning, and I worry it will fail us before we reach the Dimrill stair. This mountain is hateful, and Saruman need only prod it lightly for it to do its worst to us."

We turned back, and the way was easier only in that it had already been pressed and trod. The wind was at our backs, as if expelling us, and the horses were in danger of slipping, so we walked them. It was another day before we reached the site where an avalanche had covered the route of our retreat, and it was slow work for us to forge a path through it. By the time we reached the foothills, we had wasted more than a week on Redhorn Gate, and we were all in foul moods over it despite being free of the blizzard.

It was decided almost without speaking that we would try for Moria, and I had to wonder if that was what Saruman wanted all along, or whether he had intended for us to balk there as well and be forced to travel directly through his realm. It may have been that the delay itself was his main aim, for I heard wolves that night in the distance, and in the next their voices had drew nearer. Mithrandir forbid fire again, and if not for miruvor, the cordial of Imladris, the hobbits might not have made it down from the mountain.

Our aim was the main entrance to Moria, the Stair Falls, past Sirannon, the Gate Stream. It had been busy enough once, a brief span in history when Elf and Dwarf had worked hand in hand to the benefit of both. Those times were over

 

We camped at the foot of the incline that led to the Stair and the Falls, intending to scale them both the following morning and thereby enter Moria with a full day ahead of us. Rations were shared out, our packs already alarmingly lightened from the journey so far. Had things gone as planned, we would have already been safely following the river Silverlode to my grandmother's sacred groves. Instead we were still contending with the Misty Mountains. Aragorn completed a circuit of the camp and returned with worry weighing on his noble brow.

"There are signs of orcs here not long ago. A scouting troop at least."

"We will be out of their reach soon," I said, though I could not have been more wrong.

We were readying ourselves for sleep when the howls began. They had been quiet throughout the day and early evening, so it had seemed the pack had moved on. Instead, they had held themselves deliberately quiet and closed the distance with our party. The Fellowship was on its feet in moments, and Mithrandir reversed his order regarding fire, commanding we gather as much dry tinder as quickly as we could with a few logs. Aragorn moved to light it with flint and steel, but Mithrandir waved him aside and called out sharp words in an unwritten tongue that caused a snake of flame to break free of the wood as if it had laid dormant there all along. My vision blurred, and for a moment I saw the old wizard as he truly was, a majestic spirit ablaze with power, taller than a tree and ripe with potency. More, the staff he carried was the lesser of his accoutrements, for in the pouch at his side there was a precious implement, Narya, the Ring of Flame. How? How had Mithrandir come to possess one of the three Rings of Elves?

The moment passed, my vision fading, and he was merely an old man in a broad brimmed hat again. Then the wolves came.

They surrounded us like a crew of bandits, hanging just back from the light of the blaze, slathering. They ranged in size and hue, but among and just back from the ring were larger shapes urging the others on. Wargs, each the size of Butterscotch at least.

Aragorn drew Narsil, and the beasts fell away from its gleaming edge. Bows were readied, and the hobbits huddled at the center of us. I went to Carfax, who viewed the surrounding wolves with little more than disdain while the other mounts bucked and whinnied in anxiety. On his back was a wrapped weapon, Aeglos reborn, and I calmly brought it forth.

Mithrandir stalked forward, shouting and waving his staff. "Back! Back fiends! You'll find no easy prey here!"

From behind the circle came the laughter of Wargs, a high pitched chant like the chattering of apes.

One of the wolves lunged, and an arrow took it in the throat. Then Boromir charged to break the line, swinging his sword in wide arcs to scatter them. The wolves gave way, but it was a trap, separating him from our group and pitting him against a Warg. It snapped at him, and the others would have taken his heel had I not brought Aeglos into the mix. The tip was bright silver edged with white, and the beasts feared it.

"Away!" Mithrandir grasped a coal from the bonfire and sent it among them, where it exploded in a shower of sparks. More laughter from the Wargs, and Boromir came stumbling back among us, unwounded but without victory.

Legolas and Beren stood back to back, snapping arrows at any snout that ventured within the light. Mithrandir tossed more sparking missiles among the pack, and they finally broke in a mass of howling fur and chattering fangs. In all of that, only three wolves had been slain, and no Wargs. They had been testing us, and would choose a time to attack when we were less ready.

"We cannot stay here," Aragorn said. "We need to attempt the Stair."

"I wasn't planning on sleeping," Gimli said. He had stayed at the sides of the hobbits, his axe ready to defend, and now he picked up a brand from the bonfire.

"Good," Mithrandir said, "carry as much of the flame with us as we can, for it is inimical to all dark things."

We were packed in moments, and once again leading the mounts because they could not be trusted on the Stair if we were set upon by wolves. We took the incline in a hurry, hearing the voices of beasts in the wood all around us, a pack of many dozens. And more than that, the occasional cry of what could only be an orcish throat. But our salvation was not to be found before the Gate of Moria.

The river had been dammed, and the whole area before the Gate was flooded with glassy and unfathomable black. When we reached the top of the Stair we had already seen that there was no fall. All that water had been blocked by crude timber and stones, the Gate had been drowned. We could hear the laughter of the Wargs below us.

"There is another route," Mithrandir said. "Dwarves always carve a second route."

"It will be hidden," Gimli said, "and I have never been this way."

"Nevertheless." Mithrandir bade us return down the Stair, and we followed a cliff down to a lake where the water had been diverted. The pack chose this opportunity to make their attack, falling on us in a wave.

The Wargs moved on swift feet, and silently when they chose. I almost did not react in time to the shapes among the trees. Each of us was assailed so that we could little help each other. A Warg rushed me, its jaws wide enough to crush my skull, and Aeglos whipped up almost of its own accord

 

The spear point entered its mouth and tore open its cheek into two flaps. One of its claws ripped open my vest, but I turned aside as its weight came down and so pulled myself away. Aeglos was light for its size, but still an awkward weapon to use at close range. I kicked the Wargs in its ribs to try to win some distance, and it snapped at me in return. The fight was thick around us, and the horses had broken, surrounded and harried by wolves. Frodo had Sting out, waving it to ward away the fangs, and there was a faint blue sheen to the metal, warning of the nearness of orcs.

Mithrandir set a Warg on fire, and its howls of pain and panic shook us all. As my own opponent turned on me I dashed for the cliff wall. It followed. I ran up the wall a few paces, turned end over end and came down on the Warg spear first. Aeglos parted flesh and muscle, missing the spine and passing through ribs to punch out of its belly. The beast jerked, ripping the spear out of my hands and trying to flee only to have an arrow strike it in the eye and bring it down. Beren nodded at me.

It was only a matter of moments, but the pack had been dispersed. Our mounts were all dead or fled, all save Butterscotch, who stood quavering beside its master, and Carfax, who had met the foe head on. Aside from that, the Fellowship had escaped with scratches and tears. Boromir quickly bound a wound on his forearm, and we set out quickly. The night was still alive with evil sounds.

"Princesss..." Startled, I pointed my spear to the shadows under a nearby tree, but there was nothing for me to fight. This was not the first time I had heard the voice of the Witch King on our journey, but on other occasions my blood had not been hot and I had been able to pretend that I'd heard nothing. The wraith was following me, invisible, and yet sometimes I caught glimpses in the corners of my eyes.

Aragorn, pushed down the spear point. "Are you hurt?" he asked.

"No," I said, "only jumping at shadows."

He watched me a moment. "Shadows are not always empty."

We went on.

Down into a defile we sank, where the water was still and dead. Mithrandir had visited Moria before, and he remembered the door being in this region, but it was well hidden. With the cliff on one side and the water on the other, we could have been pinned there if the pack struck again, but they seemed unwilling to enter the defile, which had a rotten stench and a film of greenish algae atop the water. The strip of land by the rock wall was barely wide enough for us to travel single file, but no one wanted to test the lake.

It was Frodo who pointed. "There! At the end of the strand!"

Moonlight had come from behind a cloud to reveal what was etched into the stone. Ithildin, a rare mineral that was visible only by the lights of the sleeping world, had been used to mark the door.

The emblem of Durin, an anvil and hammer surmounted by a crown with seven stars, hung above the twin trees of the high Elves and the star of the House of Feanor. Topping those sigils were words in Elvish script, which Mithrandir read aloud.

"The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, Friend, and Enter. I, Narvi, made them. Celebrimor of Hollin drew these signs."

Seeing the name was a shock. How strange to think the same hand that had graven these stones had forged the Ring we sought to carry under his door.

"Open it," Boromir said.

"It takes a password," Gimli said, settling his axe across his back. "But I don't know it, and if my father knew it, he did not say."

"I did not need it before," Mithrandir said, tugging at his long, white beard. "Once these doors would have stood open to all comers. Now I am not sure."

"We are trapped here," Boromir said, "with wolves at our backs."

Beren stepped away from the group and found a seat on a jutting stone. I saw he had taken a bite to his thigh, and it still needed tending. I went to him.

"You should have bandaged it," I said, and I dug out some cloth from my saddlebags to help him.

"We needed to keep moving more than I needed a bandage," he said, but I saw that his leggings were stained with blood, and droplets had followed him where he walked. Some had surely fallen in the water.

Seeing no point in an argument, I helped him dress his wound, a crescent of deep punctures that required stitches, while Mithrandir and the others deliberated over the door.

"Are you glad you came?" I asked.

He laughed. "I am glad. There wasn't anything for me if I stayed behind, and here at least I can watch over you."

"You're the one who is always being wounded."

"Fairly said." He didn't seem bothered by my assessment, and suddenly I felt uncomfortable with his blithe companionship.

"Am I so important?"

He nodded, his eyes catching flecks of starlight. "You are to me."

Warmth bloomed in my cheeks, and I looked away over the water. There were ripples in it, as if from fish, but I did not like the sight.

"I didn't say so before... I'm sorry about your eye. I feel responsible."

"You're not, and anyway, I see keenly enough with one."

The ripples grew more frequent, approaching us. I rose.

"What is that?" I said, just as a snakelike limb burst from the water, wrapped around Beren's wounded leg, and jerked him into the lake.

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About the author

WilliamMyrl

Bio: Okay, so I'm just going to go into the whole thing.

I dropped out of high school, and a couple of years later I was in prison for robbing banks. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I was diagnosed as bipolar and started seeking and participating in treatment and taking medication. After nearly 13 years in prison, I was granted a conditional pardon by the Governor of Virginia, and my sentence was reduced to time served.

While I was incarcerated, I was published by REED Magazine, CURA, and the Carolinian. My work appeared in several PEN Anthologies, and I was awarded seven different prizes in various categories by the PEN Prison Writing and Justice Program.

I'm currently working with Shadow Alley Press to publish my Gamelit novels, and I one day hope to be able to support myself through my writing. Until then, I work at Subway.

Eat Fresh.

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