One Geek To Rule Them All

Chapter 15

Previously:

Frodo looked up at the sky. Suddenly he saw or felt a shadow pass over the high stars, as if for a moment, they faded and then flashed out again. He shivered.

"Did you see anything pass over?" he whispered to Gandalf, who was just ahead.

"No, but I felt it, whatever it was." He answered. "It may be nothing, only a wisp of thin cloud."

"It was moving fast then," muttered Aragorn, "and not with the wind."

Chapter 15: The Pass of Caradhras

Nothing further happened that night. The next morning dawned even brighter than before. But the air was chill again; already the wind was turning back towards the east. For two more nights they marched on, climbing steadily but ever more slowly as their road wound up into the hills, and the mountains towered up, nearer and nearer. On the third morning Caradhras rose before them, a mighty peak, tipped with snow like silver, but with sheer naked sides, dull red as if stained with blood.There was a black look in the sky, and the sun was wan. The wind had gone now round to the north-east. Gandalf snuffed the air and looked back.

"Winter deepens behind us." He said quietly to Aragorn. "The heights away north are whiter than they were; snow is lying far down their shoulders. Tonight we shall be on our way high up towards the Redhorn Gate. We may well be seen by watchers on that narrow path, and waylaid by some evil; but the weather may prove a more deadly enemy than any. What do you think of your course now, Aragorn?"

Devin overheard these words, and understood that Gandalf and Aragorn were continuing some debate that had begun long before. She listened anxiously, for the knowledge of what was yet to come weighed far too heavily on her conscience to allow her rest.

"I think no good of our course from beginning to end, as you know well, Gandalf." Answered Aragorn. "And perils known and unknown will grow as we go on. But we must go on; and it is no good our delaying the passage of the mountains. Further south there are no passes, till one comes to the Gap of Rohan. I do not trust that way since your news of Saruman. Who knows which side now the marshals of the Horse-lords serve?"

"Who knows indeed!" said Gandalf. "But there is another way, and not by the pass of Caradhras: the dark and secret way that we have spoken of."

"But let us not speak of it again! Not yet. Say nothing to the others, I beg, not until it is plain that there is no other way."

"We must decide before we go further." Answered Gandalf.

"Then let us weigh the matter in our minds, while the others rest and sleep." Said Aragorn. Devin remained silent for a moment after their conversation ended; but then she set her jaw with determination and quietly pushed herself up and moved closer to them, feeling the time had come to speak. It was now or never.

"May I have a word?" She asked Gandalf in a low voice, trying to be discrete. "A certain matter has been weighing heavily on my mind for some time now, and it concerns you greatly. I have long debated with myself over the matter, and can no longer hold back; I must speak with you, before it is too late." Her words surprised the wizard, and both he and the ranger were concerned by the torn and troubled look in her eyes. Whatever the matter was, it disturbed her greatly. Gandalf nodded and took her aside to hear what she had to say. "I must agree with Aragorn." Devin continued earnestly, keeping to an urgent whisper. "We cannot trust the way through Gap of Rohan so long as we accompany the Ring, but I would sooner risk frostbite than enter the mines. I do not know whether or not I should be telling you this, but I could never forgive myself if I simply stood by and did nothing, and knowingly let a friend march to their death. The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. In the darkness of Moria, they awakened shadow and flame. It is not of the Ring, nor of the rest of us that I am thinking now, but of you, Gandalf. I fear for your life. I do not wish to pass through the mines." She finished grimly. Even a blind man could see how much speaking of this matter pained her. It was as if she were already mourning his loss.

"But it is necessary… or else, you would not be so troubled." Gandalf guessed correctly. If their attempt to pass over Caradhras was to be successful, then there would be no need to speak to him of the alternatives; and if there was no need for them to enter the mines, then she could have simply redirected them. It would seem their fate had already been tied to Moria long before the journey had ever begun.

"Yes, I believe it is…" Devin answered sadly, unable to look him in the eye. "According to what I have read, your actions in Moria will have a deeply significant and positive impact on the history of this world. But not everything has come to pass as I expected it to." In the book, Gandalf died and was later resurrected because Middle Earth still needed him, but there was now a shadow of doubt in her mind after finding the reality of this world to be so different from the story. "If you enter Moria, then I cannot guarantee your survival." Gandalf wore a grave expression on his face as he carefully considered her words. A slow, somewhat wan but rueful smile began to form on his wizened face. Looking into Devin's concerned blue-violet orbs, he found himself smiling fondly at the memory of another pair that had regarded him similarly in the past.

"You cannot guarantee my survival? I may be old, but I am not helpless, as I'm sure you well know. Do not worry, I have taken your counsel with all due seriousness, but while you may possess more foreknowledge of events yet to come than the rest of us, you are still only a very young woman in a great big world, and life always has ways of surprising us. You need not be so hard on yourself. The burden you carry is heavy enough as it is. Continue to shoulder it to the best of your abilities, and when you know better; do better, as you have been doing all along. I want you to continue to do so at your own discretion, but be careful! For you have taken a great risk by telling me all that you have, greater than you may have guessed." He cautioned her gravely. For while he now knew what must be done, and bore no grudge against her or his fate (whatever it may be), he found himself growing reluctant at the idea of possibly having to soon part with this world. "Well, try to get some rest." Said Gandalf on a lighter note, raising his voice so that it was loud enough for Aragorn to hear again, signaling the end of their private conversation, as he ushered her back over to rejoin the others who were still sleeping. "As you have said yourself, you cannot be entirely sure of our fate just yet, and there is little point in losing sleep over something that may not even come to pass."

In the late afternoon, while the others were finishing their breakfast, Gandalf and Aragorn went aside together and stood looking at Caradhras. Its sides were now dark and sullen, and its head was in grey cloud. Devin and Frodo watched them, wondering which way the debate would go, for she had not been the only one still awake enough to overhear the wizard and the ranger earlier. When they returned to the Company Gandalf spoke, and then they knew that it had been decided to face the weather and the high pass. Frodo was relieved. He could not guess what the other dark and secret way was, but the very mention of it had seemed to fill Aragorn and Devin with dismay, and Frodo was glad that it had been abandoned; but he noticed their announcement appeared to have done little to relieve Devin's anxiety. After all, she knew the odds of being able to successfully pass over the mountain were being stacked heavily against them.

"From the signs that we have seen lately," said Gandalf, "I fear that the Redhorn Gate may be watched; and I also have doubts of the weather that is coming up behind. Snow may come. We must go with all the speed that we can. Even so it will take us more than two marches before we reach the top of the pass. Dark will come early this evening. We must leave as soon as you can get ready."

"I will add a word of advice, if I may." Said Boromir. "I was born under the shadow of the White Mountains and know something of journeys in the high places. We shall meet bitter cold, if no worse, before we come down on the other side. It will not help us to keep so secret that we are frozen to death. When we leave here, where there are still a few trees and bushes, each of us should carry a faggot of wood, as large as he or she can bear."

"Oh, you've said something right, for once!" Kitty said, clapping him on the back in congratulations, though he felt somewhat slighted by her left-handed compliment.

"And Bill could take a bit more, couldn't you, lad?" Sam suggested. The pony looked at him mournfully.

"Very well." Said Gandalf. "But we must not use the wood—not unless it is a choice between fire and death."

"Oh!" Kitty gasped suddenly as it finally dawned on her who Boromir reminded her of. "Hey, hey! Boromir! 'Winter is coming.'" She said with a stern face, imitating Lord Stark's famous pose with his sword. Devin nearly lost it. The others stared at the two girls in confusion while Kitty proudly held her pose, and Devin held her sides, shaking as she nearly doubled-over with laughter. It felt good to experience a moment of cheer and to have the burden of the heavy and dark thoughts that hade been plaguing her of late temporarily lifted.

"Winter has been upon us for some time now." Said Boromir with a look that clearly showed he was questioning their sanity. Unfortunately, this only seemed to further Kitty's amusement, for she joined Devin in laughter.

"Yes, well," said Gandalf, "when you are quite finished making fools of yourselves, perhaps you would like to make yourselves useful."

"Sorry, sorry!" Devin apologized, wiping a stray tear from her shining eyes. "It was a cultural reference from another story that's popular in our world. Boromir happens to resemble the actor who played one of our favorite characters."

"Yeah, I was so pissed when they killed him off." Kitty said. Both girls suddenly froze and their laughter died in their throats as they remembered how this story was supposed to end for Boromir. 'No wonder he's doomed…' Kitty thought soberly. 'He's this world's version of Sean Bean.'

The Company set out again, with good speed at first; but soon their way became steep and difficult. The twisting and climbing road had in many places almost disappeared, and was blocked with many fallen stones. The night grew deadly dark under great clouds. A bitter wind swirled among the rocks. By midnight they had climbed to the knees of the great mountains. Their narrow path now wound under a sheer wall of cliffs to the left, above which grim flanks of Caradhras towered up invisible in the gloom; on the right was a gulf of darkness where the land fell suddenly into a deep ravine.Laboriously they climbed a sharp slope and halted for a moment at the top. Kitty felt a soft touch on her face as Devin held out her arm and saw the dim white flakes of snow settling on her sleeve. The two girls shared a wan smile. Normally they would have been positively delighted at the chance to see and touch some real snow, but they both knew what this would mean. Still, they had to try.They went on. But before long the snow was falling fast, filling all the air, and swirling into their eyes. The dark bent shapes of Gandalf and Aragorn only a pace or two ahead could hardly be seen.

"What I wouldn't give for some ski goggles!" Kitty said as she struggled to shield her eyes, while Devin squinted against the cold flurry of white.

"I don't like this at all." Panted Sam to Frodo. "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." Except on the high moors of the Northfarthing a heavy fall was rare in the Shire, and regarded as a pleasant chance for fun. No living hobbit (save Bilbo) could remember the Fell Winter of 1311, when the white wolves invaded the Shire over the frozen Brandywine.Snow was thick on Gandalf's hood and shoulders; it was already ankle-deep about his boots. He should have halted there to question their course, but he did not. Instead, they were stopped by a brief moment of panic when Frodo suddenly stumbled and took a tumble back down the path, but the girls, who were not far behind, quickly caught the hobbit and soon had him righted. Frodo quickly checked to see if the Ring was safe, and was horrified to find it and the chain missing from his neck. As they looked ahead to the ground where he had fallen, they saw that Boromir had already found them and now held the Ring aloft in his hand by the chain. The whole Company tensed when they saw this.

"Boromir." Devin said, but he did not hear her.

"It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt… over so small a thing." Boromir mused as he stared at the Ring, mesmerized. "Such a little thing." He reached up to touch it with his other free hand.

"Boromir!" Aragorn said sternly, calling him back to himself. Boromir started as he realized what he was doing and quickly dropped his hand. "Give the ring to Frodo." Though his eyes were filled with reluctance, Boromir did as he was bid and slowly moved to return the Ring to its proper bearer.

"As you wish. I care not." Boromir said as he handed it back, but Frodo was quick to snatch it away before the man changed his mind, for his smile was false, and the look in his eyes did match the spirit of his words. Boromir chuckled and tried to laugh the incident off as he reached out and ruffled the hobbit's hair before turning and walking ahead once again. It was only after his back had been safely turned on Frodo and the Ring that Aragorn loosened his grip on the handle of his sword beneath his cloak, and Devin breathed a sigh of relief. However, Frodo felt another pair of eyes on the Ring and realized Kitty was staring at his charge with an unnerving intensity.

"Kitty?" He asked with an air of uncertainty, drawing the others' attention to this fact as well.

"Are you all right?" Devin asked worriedly, placing a hand on her friend's shoulder. Kitty finally blinked and snapped out of her daze.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, it's nothing." Kitty said quickly, trying to shrug it off. "Hey, Devin, let's walk a little further up." She suggested a bit nervously, taking her friend's hand to lead her away as she put some distance between herself and temptation. Devin stared at her friend in concern as she followed, hoping the cause for Kitty's momentary distraction had simply been her usual fascination for shiny things kicking in, and nothing more sinister.

"Are you taking your meds regularly?" Devin whispered so the others wouldn't hear. Once they had decided to remain in this world and join Frodo and the others on their quest, Kitty had begun to hoard and ration her remaining pills for the long journey ahead, when she would undoubtedly need them most.

"Yes, yes." Kitty answered a bit impatiently, though she knew Devin was only looking out for her. Unlike others, she only asked such questions because Devin knew bipolar disorder was a chronic illness (like asthma) that required consistent and routine medication, and treated it as such. Kitty had been taking her pills every day since they left Rivendell, and had been careful not to let the others see because she didn't want them to know yet. She was afraid they would treat her differently once they did, that they would look at her with prejudice or pity because of her mental illness. Devin was the only one who had ever understood Kitty and how she wanted and needed to be treated.

"I wonder if this is not some contrivance of the Enemy." Said Boromir of the snow. "They say in my land that he can govern the storms in the Mountains of Shadow that stand upon borders of Mordor. He has strange powers and many allies."

"His arm has grown long indeed," said Gimli, "if he can draw snow down from the North to trouble us here three hundred leagues away."

"His arm has grown long." Said Gandalf.

While they were halted, the wind died down, and the snow slackened until it almost ceased. They tramped on again. But they had not gone more than a furlong when the storm returned with fresh fury. The wind whistled and the snow became a blinding blizzard. Soon even Boromir found it hard to keep going. The hobbits and Devin, bent nearly double, toiled along behind the taller folk, but it was plain that they could not go much further if the snow continued. Frodo's feet felt like lead. Pippin was dragging behind. Even Gimli, as stout as any dwarf could be, was grumbling as he trudged.The Company halted suddenly, as if they had come to an agreement without any words being spoken. They heard eerie noises in the darkness round them. It may have been only a trick of the wind in the cracks and gullies of the rocky wall, but the sounds were those of shrill cries, and wild howls of laughter. Stones began to fall from the mountain-side, whistling over their heads, or crashing on the path beside them. Every now and again they heard a dull rumble, as a great boulder rolled down from hidden heights above.

"We cannot go further tonight." Said Boromir. "Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us."

"I do call it the wind." Said Aragorn. "But that does not make what you say untrue. There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those who 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," said Gimli, "long years ago, when rumor of Sauron had not been heard in these lands."

"It matters little who the enemy is, if we cannot beat off his attack." Said Gandalf.

"But what can we do?" cried Pippin miserably. He was leaning on Merry and Frodo, and he was shivering.

"Either stop where we are, or go back." Said Gandalf. "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."

"And it is no good going back while the storm holds." Said Aragorn. "We have passed no place on the way up that offered more shelter than this cliff-wall we are under now."

"Shelter!" muttered Sam. "If this is shelter, then one wall and no roof make a house."

The Company now gathered together as close to the cliff as they could. It faced southwards, and near the bottom it leaned out a little, so that they hoped it would give them some protection from the northerly wind and from the falling stones. But eddying blasts swirled round them from every side, and the snow flowed down in even denser clouds. They huddled together with their backs to the wall. Bill the pony stood patiently but dejectedly in front of the hobbits and screened them a little; but before long the drifting snow was above his hocks, and it went on mounting. If they had no larger companions, the hobbits and Devin would soon have been entirely buried.A great sleepiness came over her and Frodo, and they felt themselves sinking fast into warm and hazy dreams. But Devin soon felt herself shaken, and she came painfully back to awareness with the sting of a sharp slap across her face. Legolas, who had lifted her off the ground out of a nest of snow, was staring at Kitty with sharp, wide eyes. He had not expected her to strike Devin like that, but kitty had begun to panic upon finding her friend unconscious in the cold.

"Don't fall asleep, damn it! You might never wake up again!" Kitty scolded her sleepy friend anxiously as she raised her hand to deliver another blow.

"I'm awake! I'm awake!" Devin said earnestly, holding her hands up to shield herself, while Boromir and Aragorn rescued Frodo and the rest of the hobbits.

"This will be the death of the halflings, Gandalf." Said Boromir. "It is useless to sit here until the snow goes over our heads. We must do something to save ourselves."

"Give them this." Said Gandalf, searching his pack and drawing out a leathern flask. "Just a little mouthful each—for all of us. It is very precious. It is miruvor, the cordial of Imladris. Elrond gave it to me at our parting. Pass it round!"

"What's a cordial?" Kitty asked.

"A medicinal drink." Devin answered through chattering teeth. As soon as she had swallowed a little of the warm and fragrant liquor she felt a new strength of heart, and her body stopped its violent shivering as the heavy drowsiness left her limbs. The others also received and found fresh hope and vigor.

"Wow, that's smooth!" Kitty praised the medicinal alcohol with wonder, deeply impressed with the elves' brewmanship. But the snow did not relent. It whirled around them thicker than ever, and the wind blew louder.

"What do you say to a fire?" asked Boromir suddenly. "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."

"True that." Agreed Kitty.

"You may make a fire, if you can." Answered Gandalf. "If there are any watchers that can endure this storm, then they can see us, fire or no."

But though they had brought wood and kindlings by the advice of Boromir, it passed the skill of Elf or even Dwarf to strike a flame that would hold amid the swirling wind or catch in the wet fuel. At last, when Gandalf was about to reluctantly take a hand at it himself, the girls intervened and worked together to rearrange the wood and kindlings into a lean-to construction that would be more useful against the high winds, and placed something small, shiny and tan amongst the kindling that appeared to be something like a piece of wrapped toffee. They then shielded the flame of their lighter while they reached in and set the wrapper alight. As it burned, the thinner pieces of kindling began to dry from the heat, and they at last had a growing flame in their fire.

"I had no idea toffee was flammable!" Pippin said, amazed by the miracle they had worked.

"That wasn't toffee, it was a fire kiss. You make them by wrapping a piece of candle or wax inside waxed paper. It's a trick Devin picked up as a Girl Scout." Kitty explained while her friend continued to nurse the small flame. The great thing about fire kisses was that wax never got too damp or wet to burn, so they worked every time.Whether the feat had been accomplished by magic, miracle, or ingenuity, the Company cared not. Their hearts rejoiced to see the light of the fire. Soon the wood was burning merrily; and though all round it the snow hissed, and pools of slush crept under their feet, they warmed their hands gladly at the blaze. There they stood, stooping in a circle round the little dancing and blowing flames. A red light was on their tired and anxious faces; behind them the night was like a black wall.But the wood was burning fast, and the snow still fell.

The fire burned low, and the last faggot was thrown on.

"The night is getting old." Said Aragorn. "The dawn is not far off."

"If any dawn can pierce these clouds." Said Gimli. Boromir stepped out of the circle and stared up into the blackness.

"The snow is growing less," he said, "and the wind is quieter."

"Thank God for small mercies…" Devin mumbled wearily into her scarf.

Frodo gazed wearily at the flakes still falling out of the dark to be revealed white for a moment in the light of their dying fire; but for a long time he could see no sign of their slackening. Then suddenly, as sleep was beginning to creep over him again, he was aware that the wind had indeed fallen, and the flakes were becoming larger and fewer. Very slowly a dim light began to grow. At last the snow stopped altogether.As the light grew stronger it showed a silent shrouded world. Below their refuge were white humps and domes and shapeless deeps beneath which the path that they had trodden was altogether lost; but the heights above were hidden in great clouds still heavy with the threat of snow.

Gimli looked up and shook his head. "Caradhras has not forgiven us." He said. "He has more snow yet to fling at us if we go on, the sooner we go back and down the better."

To this all agreed, but their retreat was now difficult. It might well prove impossible. Only a few paces from the ashes of their fire the snow lay many feet deep, higher than the heads of the hobbits and Devin; in places it had been scooped up and piled by the wind into great drifts against the cliff.

"If Gandalf would go before us with a bright flame, he might melt a path for you." Said Legolas. The storm had troubled him little, and he alone of the Company remained still light of heart.

"If Elves could fly over mountains, they might fetch the Sun to save us." Answered Gandalf. "But I must have something to work on. I cannot burn snow."

"Why not?" Kitty asked, furrowing her brow.

"Because this isn't Harry Potter." retorted Devin before the wizard could snap. The rules concerning magic and wizards were different here.

"Well," said Boromir, "when heads are at a loss bodies must serve, as we say in my country. The strongest if us must seek a way. See! Though all is now 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 prove easier beyond. It is no more than a furlong off, I guess."

"Then let us force a path thither, you and I!" said Aragorn.

Aragorn was the tallest of the Company, but Boromir, little less in height, was broader and heavier in build. He led the way, and Aragorn followed him. Slowly they moved off, and were soon toiling heavily. In places the snow was breast-high, and often Boromir seemed to be swimming or burrowing with his great arms rather than walking.Legolas watched them for a while with a smile upon his lips, and then he turned to the others.

"The strongest must seek a way, say you? But I say: let a ploughman plough, but choose an otter for swimming, and for running light over grass and leaf, or over snow—an Elf." With that he sprang forth nimbly, and then Frodo and Kitty noticed as if for the first time, though they had long known it, that the Elf wore only very thin and light boots, as he always did, and his feet made little imprint in the snow. "Farewell!" he said to Gandalf. "I go to find the Sun!" Then swift as a runner over firm sand he shot away, and quickly overtaking the toiling men, with a wave of his hand he passed them, and sped into the distance, and vanished round the rocky turn.

The others waited huddled together, watching until Boromir and Aragorn dwindled into black specks in the whiteness. At length they too passed from sight. The time dragged on. The clouds lowered, and now a few flakes of snow came curling down again. An hour, maybe, went by, though it seemed far longer, and then at last they saw Legolas coming back. At the same time, Boromir and Aragorn reappeared round the bend far behind him and came laboring up the slope.

"Well," cried Legolas as he ran up, "I have not brought the Sun. She is walking in the blue fields of the South, and a little wreath of snow on this Redhorn hillock troubles her not at all. But I have brought back a gleam of good hope for those who are doomed to go on feet. There is the greatest wind-drift of all just beyond the turn, and there our Strong Men were almost buried. They despaired, until I returned and told them that the drift was little wider than a wall. And further down it is no more than a white coverlet to cool a hobbit's toes."

"Ah, it is as I said." Growled Gimli. "It was no ordinary storm. It is the ill will of Caradhras. He does not love Elves and Dwarves, and that drift was laid to cut off our escape."

"But happily your Caradhras has forgotten that you have Men with you." Said Boromir, who came up at that moment. "And doughty Men too, if I may say it; though lesser men with spades may have served you better. Still we have thrust a lane through the drift; and for that all here may be grateful who cannot run as light as Elves."

"That's the best news I've heard all day!" said Kitty. "I guess you're pretty useful after all." Both men raised an eyebrow at the strange girl's comment.

"She means 'thank you'." Devin translated gratefully with a small smile, shaking her head as she looked wryly at her friend.

"But how are we to get down there, even if you have cut through the drift?" said Pippin, voicing the thought of all the hobbits.

"Have hope!" said Boromir. "I am weary, but I still have some strength left, and Aragorn too. We will bear the little folk. The others no doubt will make shift to tread the path behind us. Come, Master Peregrin! I shall begin with you." He lifted up the hobbit. "Cling to my back! I shall need my arms." He said as he strode forward. Aragorn with Merry, and Legolas with Devin came behind. Kitty was a bit jealous Devin had such a perfect excuse to be carried by the Elven hottie, but she also felt being able to see how bright-red her friend's cheeks were glowing as she tried to hide her face away in the Elf's hair made up for having to walk on her own feet.Pippin marveled at Boromir's strength, seeing the passage that he had already forced with no other tool than his great limbs. Even now, burdened as he was, he was widening the track for those who followed, thrusting the snow aside as he went.They came at length to the great drift. It was flung across the mountain-path like a sheer and sudden wall, and its crest, sharp as if shaped with knives, reared up more than twice the height of Boromir; but through the middle a passage had been beaten, rising and falling like a bridge. On the far side Merry, Pippin, and Devin were set down, and there they waited with Legolas for the rest of the company to arrive.After a while Boromir returned carrying Sam. Behind in the narrow but now well-trodden track came Gandalf and Kitty, leading Bill with Gimli perched among the baggage. Last came Aragorn carrying Frodo. They passed through the lane; but hardly had Frodo touched the ground when with a deep rumble there rolled down a fall of stones and slithering snow. The spray of it half blinded the Company as they crouched against the cliff, and when the air cleared again they saw the path was blocked behind them.

"Enough, enough!" cried Gimli. "We are departing as quickly as we may!" And indeed with that last stroke the malice of the mountain seemed to be expended, as if Caradhras was satisfied that the invaders had been beaten off and would not dare to return. The threat of snow lifted; the clouds began to break and the light grew broader.As Legolas had reported, they found that the snow became steadily more shallow as they went down, so that even the hobbits could trudge along. Soon they all stood once more on the flat shelf at the head of the steep slope where they had felt the first flakes of snow the night before.The morning was now far advanced. From the high place they looked back westwards over the lower lands. Far away in the tumble of country that lay at the foot of the mountain was the dell from which they had started to climb the pass.Frodo's legs ached. He was chilled to the bone and hungry; and his head was dizzy as he thought of the long and painful march down hill. Black specks swam before his eyes. He rubbed them, but the black specks remained. In the distance below him, but still high above the lower foothills, dark dots were circling in the air.

"The birds again!" said Aragorn, pointing down.

"That cannot be helped now." Said Gandalf. "Whether they are good or evil, or have nothing to do with us at all, we must go down at once. Not even on the knees of Caradhras will we wait for another night-fall!"

A cold wind flowed down behind them, as they turned their backs on the Redhorn Gate, and stumbled wearily down the slope. Caradhras had defeated them.

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