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.
Chapter 16: Assault on the Hill
It was evening, and the grey light was waning fast, when they halted for the night. They were very weary. The mountains were veiled in deepening dusk, and the wind was cold. Gandalf spared them one more mouthful each of the miruvor of Rivendell. When they had eaten some food he called a council.
"We cannot, of course, go on again tonight." He said. "The attack of the Redhorn Gate has tired us out, and we must rest here for a while."
"And then where are we to go?" asked Frodo.
"We still have our journey and our errand before us." Answered Gandalf. "We have no choice but to go on, or to return to Rivendell." Pippin's face brightened visibly at the mere mention of return to Rivendell; Merry and Sam looked up hopefully. But Aragorn and Boromir made no sign. The girls and Frodo looked troubled.
"I wish I was back there." He said. "But how can I return without shame—unless there is no other way, and we are already defeated?"
"You are right, Frodo," said Gandalf: "to go back is to admit defeat, and face worse defeat to come. If we go back now, then the Ring must remain there: we shall not be able to set out again. Then sooner or later Rivendell will be besieged, and after a brief and bitter time it will be destroyed. The Ringwraiths are deadly enemies, but they are only shadows yet of the power and terror they would possess if the Ring was on their master's hand again."
"Then we must go on, if there is a way." Said Frodo with a sigh. Sam sank back into gloom.
"There is a way that we may attempt." Said Gandalf. "I thought from the beginning, when I first considered this journey that we should try it. But it is not a pleasant way, and I have not spoken of it to the Company before. Aragorn and Devin were against it, until the pass over the mountains had at least been tried." Upon hearing this, Devin found the eyes of several members of the Company on herself. However, Kitty was not one of them. It came as no surprise to her that Devin had caved and tried to forewarn Gandalf despite all her talk of not interfering; she was too nice.
"If it is a worse road than the Redhorn Gate, then it must be evil indeed." Said Merry. "But you had better tell us about it, and let us know the worst at once."
"The road that I speak of leads to the Mines of Moria." Said Gandalf. Only Gimli lifted up his head; a smoldering fire was in his eyes. On all the others a dread fell at the mention of that name. Even to the Hobbits it was as a legend of vague fear.
"The road may lead to Moria, but how can we hope that it will lead through Moria?" said Aragorn darkly.
"It is a name of ill omen." Said Boromir. "Nor do I see need to go there. If we cannot cross the mountains, let us journey southwards, until we come to the Gap of Rohan, where men are friendly to my people, taking the road that I followed on my way hither. Or we might pass by and cross the Isen into Langstrand and Lebennin, and so come to Gondor from regions nigh to the sea."
"Things have changed since you came north, Boromir." Answered Gandalf. "Did you not hear what I told you of Saruman? With him I may have business of my own ere all is over. But the Ring must not come near Isengard, if that can by any means be prevented. The Gap of Rohan is closed to us while we go with the Bearer."As for the longer road: we cannot afford the time. We might spend a year in such a journey, and we should pass through many lands that are empty and haborless. Yet they would not be safe. The watchful eyes both of Saruman and of the Enemy, are on them. When you came north, Boromir, you were in the Enemy's eyes only one stray wanderer from the South and matter of small concern to him: his mind was busy with the pursuit of the Ring. But you return now as a member of the Ring's Company, and you are in peril as long as you remain with us. The danger will increase with every league that we go south under the naked sky."Since our open attempt on the mountain-pass our plight has become more desperate, I fear. I see now little hope, if we do not soon vanish from sight for a while, and cover our trail. Therefore I advise that we should go neither over the mountains, nor round them, but under them. That is a road at any rate that the Enemy will least expect us to take."
"We do not know what he expects." Said Boromir. "He may watch all roads, likely and unlikely. In that case to enter Moria would be to walk into a trap, hardly better than knocking at the gates of the Dark Tower itself. The name of Moria is black."
"You speak of what you do not know, when you liken Moria to the stronghold of Sauron." Answered Gandalf. "I alone of you have ever been in the dungeons of the Dark Lord, and only in his lesser dwelling in Dol Guldur. Those who pass the gates of Barad-dûr do not return. But I would not lead you into Moria if there were no hope of us coming out again. If there are Orcs there, it may prove ill for us, that is true. But most of the Orcs of the Misty Mountains were scattered or destroyed in the Battle of Five Armies. The Eagles report that Orcs are gathering again from afar; but there is a hope that Moria is still free. However it may prove, one must tread the path that need chooses!"
"I will tread the path with you, Gandalf!" said Gimli. "I will go and look on the halls of Durin, whatever may wait there—if you can find the doors that are shut."
"Good, Gimli!" said Gandalf. "You encourage me. We will seek the hidden doors together. And we will come through. In the ruins of the Dwarves, a dwarf's head will be less easy to bewilder than Elves or Men or Hobbits. Yet it will not be the first time that I have been to Moria. I sought there long for Thráin son of Thrór after he was lost. I passed through, and I came out again alive!"
"I too once passed the Dimrill Gate," said Aragorn quietly; "but though I also came out again, the memory is very evil. I do not wish to enter Moria a second time."
"And I do not wish to enter it even once." Said Pippin.
"Nor me." Muttered Sam.
"Of course not!" said Gandalf. "Who would? But the question is: who will follow me, if I lead you there?"
"I will." Said Gimli eagerly.
"I will." Said Aragorn heavily. "You followed my lead almost to disaster in the snow, and have said no word of blame. I will follow your lead now—if this last warning does not move you. It is not of the Ring, nor of us others that I am thinking now, but of you, Gandalf. And I say to you: if you pass through the doors of Moria, beware!" His words seemed an eerie and uncanny echo of the warning Devin had given the wizard only a couple days before, though she had in fact been quoting Aragorn. Gandalf looked to her and Kitty now.
"I will also follow your lead, whatever path you choose." Devin said somberly with a grave expression and utmost respect for the wizard.
"Yeah, me too." Kitty agreed seriously.
"I will not go," said Boromir; "not unless the vote of the whole company is against me. What do Legolas and the little folk say? The Ring-bearer's voice surely should be heard?"
"I do not wish to go to Moria." Said Legolas, though his tone implied he may, given no other choice. The hobbits said nothing. Sam looked at Frodo. At last Frodo spoke.
"I do not wish to go," he said; "but neither do I wish to refuse the advice of Gandalf. I beg that there should be no vote, until we have slept on it. Gandalf will get votes easier in the morning than in this cold gloom. How the wind howls!"At these words all fell into silent thought. They heard the wind hissing among the rocks and trees, and there was a howling and wailing round them in the empty spaces of the night.
Suddenly Devin and Aragorn both leapt to their feet.
"Time to go!" She said urgently as he cried: "How the wind howls!"
"It is howling with wolf-voices." Exclaimed Aragorn. "The Wargs have come west of the mountains!"
"Need we wait till morning then?" Said Gandalf. "It is as I said. The hunt is up! Even if we live to see the dawn, who now will wish to journey south by night with the wild wolves on his trail?"
"How far is Moria?" asked Boromir.
"There was a door south-west of Caradhras, some fifteen miles as the crow flies, and maybe twenty as the wolf runs." Answered Gandalf grimly.
"We have no hope of outrunning them in the dark, but of we climb to the top of this hill, and make a stand there, we will survive the night." Said Devin with comforting certainty.
"Then let us start as soon as it is light tomorrow, if we can." Said Boromir. "The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears."
"True!" said Aragorn, loosening his sword in its sheath. "But where the warg howls, there also the orc prowls."
"I wish I had taken Elrond's advice." Muttered Pippin to Sam. "I am no good after all. There is not enough of the breed of Bandobras the Bullroarer in me: these howls freeze my blood. I don't ever remember feeling so wretched."
"That's nothing to be ashamed of." Said Devin, who had overheard. "Being courageous doesn't mean that you aren't afraid. It means that you have the inner strength to embrace being afraid and still move forward. Don't let fear stop you. Courage is like a muscle; we strengthen it with use."
"Yeah, feel the fear and do it anyway!" said Kitty.
"My heart's right down in my toes, Mr. Pippin." Said Sam. "But we aren't eten yet, and there are some stout folk here with us. Whatever may be in store for old Gandalf, I'll wager it isn't a wolf's belly."
For their defense in the night the Company followed Devin's advice, and climbed to the top of the small hill under which they had been sheltering. It was crowned with a knot of old and twisted trees, about which lay a broken circle of boulder-stones. In the midst of this they lit a fire, for there was no hope that darkness and silence would keep their trail from discovery by the hunting packs.Round the fire they sat, and those not on guard dozed uneasily. Poor Bill the pony trembled and sweated where he stood. The howling of the wolves was now all round them, sometimes nearer and sometimes further off. In the dead of night many shining eyes were seen peering over the brow off the hill. Some advanced almost to the ring of stones. At a gap in the circle a great dark wolf-shape could be seen halted, gazing at them. A shuddering howl broke from him, as if he were a captain summoning his pack to the assault. Gandalf strode forward, holding his staff aloft.
"Listen, Hound of Sauron!" he cried. "Gandalf is here. Fly, if you value your fowl skin! I will shrivel you from tail to snout, if you come within this ring."
The wolf snarled and sprang towards them with a great leap. At that moment there was a sharp twang. Legolas had loosed his bow. There was a hideous yell, and the leaping shape thudded to the ground; the elvish arrow had pierced its throat. The watching eyes were suddenly extinguished. Gandalf and Aragorn strode forward, but the hill was deserted; the hunting packs had fled. All about them the darkness grew silent, and no cry came on the sighing wind.
"Stay on your guard." Devin advised. "They will be back before the night is over."
The night was old, and westward the waning moon was setting, gleaming fitfully through the breaking clouds. Suddenly Frodo started from sleep. Without warning a storm of howls broke out fierce and wild all about the camp. A great host of Wargs had gathered silently and was now attacking them from every side at once.
"Fling fuel on the fire!" cried Gandalf to the hobbits. "Draw your blades, and stand back to back!"
In the leaping light, as the fresh wood blazed up, Frodo saw many grew shapes spring over the ring of stones. More and more followed. Through the throat of one huge leader Aragorn passed his sword with a thrust; with a great sweep Boromir hewed the head off another. Devin skillfully dodged fanged jaws and slit their owners' throats with her daggers; Kitty slashed away with her elvish blade. Beside them Gimli stood with his stout legs apart, wielding his dwarf-axe. The bow of Legolas was singing.In the firelight Gandalf seemed to suddenly grow: he rose up, a great menacing shape like the monument of some ancient king of stone set upon a hill. Stooping like a cloud, he lifted a burning branch and strode to meet the wolves. They gave back before him. High in the air he tossed the blazing brand. It flared with a sudden white radiance like lightning; and his voice rolled like thunder.
"Naur an edraith ammen! Naur dan i ngaurhoth!" he cried.
There was a roar and a crackle, and the tree above him burst into a leaf and bloom of blinding flame. The fire leapt from tree-top to tree-top. The whole hill was crowned with dazzling light. The swords and knives of the defenders shone and flickered. The last arrow of Legolas kindled in the air as it flew, and plunged burning into the heart of a great wolf-chieftain. All the others fled.
Slowly the fire died till nothing was left but falling ash and sparks; a bitter smoke curled above the burned tree-stumps, and blew darkly from the hill, as the first light of dawn came dimly in the sky. Their enemies were routed and did not return.
"What did I tell you, Mr. Pippin?" said Sam, sheathing his sword. "Wolves won't get him. That was an eye-opener, and no mistake! Nearly singed the hair off my head!"
"You fought surprisingly well." Boromir told the girls.
"What part of 'we kick butt' don't you understand?" Kitty retorted saucily as they also sheathed their blades. "Not only are you looking at a broomstick-fighting champion, but Devin's father has taken us on tons of hunting trips. Plus, you have to be fierce to be a cheerleader." Every time Devin let herself be thrown as a flyer, she was risking a possible broken neck; and as a member of the base doing the catching, she had learned how to take a kick to face without flinching so as not to drop the flyer entrusting her with their safety.
"Broomstick-fighting?" asked Merry.
"Yes. It's like sword-fighting, only with brooms." Kitty explained, grinning at the memory how badly she used to own her brother at it.
"Oh." He said, blinking.
"I had no idea the two of you were so skilled." Said Aragorn to Devin. "I could have used your help hunting for food during our journey from Bree to Rivendell."
"Sorry about that." Devin apologized wryly with a small smile. "While it's true that my father taught me how to hunt and stalk prey, my skills are no match for yours, and I dislike killing when it can be avoided." Besides, they had been taught how to hunt using guns, not by bow and arrow, which was much more difficult to master.
When the full light of the morning came no signs of the wolves were to be found, and they looked in vain for the bodies of the dead. No trace of the fight remained but the charred trees and the arrows of Legolas lying on the hill-top. All were undamaged save one of which only the point was left.
"It is as I feared." Said Gandalf. "These were no ordinary wolves hunting for food in the wilderness. Let us eat quickly and go!"
That day the weather changed again, almost as if it was to the command of some power that had no longer any use for snow, since they had retreated from the pass, a power that wished now to have a clear light in which things that moved in the wild could be seen from far away. The wind had been turning through north to north-west during the night, and now it failed. The clouds vanished southwards and the sky was opened, high and blue. As they stood upon the hill side, ready to depart, a pale sunlight gleamed over the mountain-tops.
"We must reach the doors before sunset," said Gandalf, "or I fear we shall not reach them at all. It is not far, but our path may be winding, for here Aragorn cannot guide us; he has seldom walked in this country, and only once have I been under the west wall of Moria, and that was long ago."There it lies." He said, pointing away south-eastwards to where the mountains' sides fell sheer into the shadows at their feet. In the distance could be dimly seen a line of bare cliffs, and in their midst, taller than the rest, one great grey wall. "When we left the pass I led you southwards, and not back to our starting point, as some of you may have noticed. It is well that I did so, for now we have several miles less to cross, and haste is needed. Let us go!"
"I do not know which to hope," said Boromir grimly: "that Gandalf will find what he seeks, or that coming to the cliff we shall find the gates lost forever. All choices seem ill, and to be caught between wolves and the wall the likeliest chance. Lead on!"
Gimli now walked ahead by the wizard's side, so eager was he to come to Moria. Together they led the Company back towards the mountains. The only road of old to Moria from the west had lain along the course of a stream, the Sirannon, that ran out from the feet of the cliffs near where the doors had stood. But either Gandalf was a astray, or else the land had changed in recent years; for he did not strike the stream where he looked to find it, only a few miles southwards from their start.
"The stream has been dammed near the cliffs." Devin informed them. "We would do better to search for the remains of a dry bed."
The morning was passing towards noon, and still the Company wandered and scrambled in a barren country of red stones. As predicted, nowhere could they see any gleam of water or hear any sound of it. All was bleak and dry. Their hearts sank. They saw no living thing, and not a bird was in the sky; but what the night would bring, if it caught them in that lost land, none of them cared to think.Suddenly Gimli, who had pressed on ahead, called back to them. He was standing on a knoll and pointing to the right. Hurrying up they saw below them a deep and narrow channel. It was empty and silent, and hardly a trickle of water flowed among the brown and red-stained stones of its bed; but on the near side there was a path, much broken and decayed, that wound its way among the ruined walls and paving-stones of an ancient highroad.
"Ah! Here it is at last!" said Gandalf. "This is where the stream ran: Sirannon, the Gate-stream, they used to call it. But I wonder how the water came to be dammed; it used to be swift and noisy. Come! We must hurry on. We are late."
The Company were footsore and tired; but they trudged doggedly along the rough and winding track for many miles. The sun turned from the noon and began to go west. After a brief halt and a hasty meal they went on again. Before them the mountains frowned, but their path lay in a deep trough of land and they could see only the higher shoulders and the far eastward peaks.At length they came to a sharp bend. There the road, which had been veering southwards between the brink of the channel and a steep fall of the land to the left, turned and went due east again. Rounding the corner they saw before them a low cliff, some five fathoms high, with a broken and jagged top. Over it a trickling water dripped, through a wide cleft that seemed to have been carved out by a fall that had once been strong and full.
"Indeed things have changed!" said Gandalf. "But there is no mistaking the place. There is all that remains of the Stair Falls. If I remember right, there was a flight of steps cut in the rock at their side, but the main road wound away left and climbed with several loops up to the level ground at the top. There used to be a shallow valley beyond the falls right up to the Walls of Moria, and the Sirannon flowed through it with the road beside it. Let us go and see what things are like now!"
They found the stone steps without difficulty, and Gimli sprang swiftly up them, followed by Gandalf and Frodo.
"Frodo, come and help an old man." The wizard said, putting an arm around the hobbit as he pretended to lean on him for support. "How is your shoulder?" He asked in a low voice.
"Better than it was." Answered Frodo.
"And the Ring? You feel its power growing, don't you?" said Gandalf. "I've felt it too. You must be careful now. Evil will be drawn to you from outside the Fellowship. And, I fear, from within."
"Who then do I trust?" asked Frodo.
"You must trust yourself." Answered Gandalf. "Trust your own strengths."
"What do you mean?" asked Frodo warily. He was beginning to get a dreadful sinking feeling that the old wizard was preparing to part with him.
"There are many powers in this world, for good or for evil." Said Gandalf. "Some are greater than I am. And against some I have not yet been tested."
When they reached the top they saw that they could go no further that way, and the reason for the drying up of the Gate-stream was revealed. Behind them the sinking Sun filled the cool western sky with glimmering gold. Before them stretched a dark still lake. Neither sky nor sunset was reflected on its sullen surface. As Devin had said the Sirannon had been dammed and had filled all the valley. Beyond the ominous water were reared vast cliffs, their stern faces pallid in the fading light: final and impassable. No sign of gate or entrance, not a fissure or crack could Frodo see in the Frowning stone.
"There are the Walls of Moria." Said Gandalf, pointing across the water. "And there the Gate stood once upon a time, the Elven Door at the end of the road from Hollin by which we have come. But this way is blocked. None of the Company, I guess, will wish to swim this gloomy water at the end of the day. It has an unwholesome look."
"We must find a way round the northern edge." Said Gimli. "The first thing for the Company to do is to climb up by the main path and see where that will lead us. Even if there were no lake, we could not get our baggage-pony up this stair."
"But in any case we cannot take the poor beast into the mines." Said Gandalf. "The road under the mountains is a dark road, and there are places narrow and steep which he cannot tread, even if we can."
"Poor old Bill!" said Frodo. "I had not thought of that. And poor Sam! I wonder what he will say?"
"I am sorry." Said Gandalf. "Poor Bill has been a useful companion, and it goes to my heart to turn him adrift now. I would have traveled lighter and brought no animal, least of all this one Sam is so fond of, if I had my way. I feared all along that we should be obliged to take this road."
The day was drawing to its end, and cold stars were glinting in the sky high above the sunset, when the Company, with all the speed they could, climbed up the slopes and reached the side of the lake. In breadth it looked to be no more than two or three furlongs at the widest point. How far it stretched away southward they could not see in the failing light; but its northern end was no more than half a mile from where they stood, and between the stony ridges that enclosed the valley and the water's edge there was a rim of open ground. They hurried forward, for they had still a mile or two to go before they could reach the point on the far shore that Gandalf was making for; and then he still had to find the doors.