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.
Chapter 17: A Journey in the Dark
When they came to the northernmost corner of the lake they found a narrow creek that barred their way. It was green and stagnant, thrust out like a slimy arm towards the enclosing hills. Gimli strode forward undeterred, and found that the water was shallow, no more than ankle-deep at the edge. Behind him they walked in file, treading their way with care, for under the weedy pools were sliding and greasy stones, and footing was treacherous. Frodo shuddered with disgust at the touch of the dark unclean water on his feet. Devin would have slipped and fallen in had Legolas not caught her in time. He held her steady the rest of the way, despite her embarrassed and blushing claims that it was no longer necessary.As Sam, the last of the Company, led Bill up on to the dry ground on the side, there came a soft sound: a swish, followed by a plop, as if a fish had disturbed the still surface of the water. Turning quickly they saw the ripples, black-edged with shadow in the waning light: great rings were widening outwards from a point far out on the lake. There was a bubbling noise, and then silence. The girls exchanged a wary glance. The dusk deepened, and the last gleams of the sunset were veiled in cloud.Gandalf now pressed on at a great pace, and the others followed as quickly as they could. They reached the strip of dry land between the lake and the cliffs: it was narrow, often hardly a dozen yards across, and encumbered with fallen rock and stones; but they found a way, hugging the cliff, and keeping as far from the dark water as they might. A mile southwards along the shore they came upon holly trees. Stumps and dead boughs were rotting in the shallows, the remains it seemed of old thickets, or of a hedge that had once lined the road across the drowned valley. But close under the cliff there stood, still strong and living, two tall trees, larger than any trees of holly that Frodo had ever seen or imagined. Their great roots spread from the wall to the water. Under the looming cliffs they had looked like mere bushes, when seen far off from the top of the Stair; but now they towered overhead, stiff, dark, and silent, throwing deep night-shadows about their feet, standing like sentinel pillars at the end of the road.
"Well, here we are at last!" said Gandalf. "Here the Elven-way from Hollin ended. Holly was the token of the people of that land, and they planted it here to mark the end of their domain; for the West-door was made chiefly for their use in their traffic with the Lords of Moria. Those were happier days, when there was still close friendship at times between folk of difference race, even between Dwarves and Elves."
"It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned." Said Gimli.
"I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves." Said Legolas.
"I have heard both," said Gandalf, while Kitty rolled her eyes at them; "and I will not give judgment now. But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both. The doors are shut and hidden, and the sooner we find them the better. Night is at hand!" Turning to the others he said: "While I am searching, will each of you make ready to enter the Mines? For here I fear we must say farewell to our good beast of burden. You must lay aside much of the stuff that we brought against bitter weather: you will not need it inside, nor, I hope, when we come through and journey on down into the South. Instead each of us must take a share of what the pony carried, especially the food and the water-skins."
"But you can't leave poor old Bill behind in this forsaken place, Mr. Gandalf!" cried Sam, angry and distressed. "I won't have it, and that's flat. After he has come so far and all!"
"I am sorry, Sam." Said the wizard. "But when the Door opens I do not think you will be able to drag your Bill inside, into the long dark of Moria. You will have to choose between Bill and your master."
"He'd follow Mr. Frodo into a dragon's den, if I led him." Protested Sam. "It'd be nothing short of murder to turn him loose with all these wolves about."
"It will be short of murder, I hope." Said Gandalf.
"Then your hope is well placed." Said Kitty confidently. "… Tell 'em, Devin." She remembered things ending very well for old Bill, though she couldn't recall any details at the moment.
"You've forgotten a part of the story again, haven't you?" Devin said wryly with a shake of her head. "Believe it or not, Sam, parting with Bill here is the best you can do for him. We are the ones being hunted. Once he is no longer with us, the enemy will overlook him, and he will be able to safely make his way all the way back to Bree unscathed. Unlike the rest of us, he will be spared the hardships and dangers that will yet befall us before our journey ends…" here she paused for a moment with a shadow of fear and sadness in her eyes, but she quickly shook herself and recovered the small smile that had fallen from her lips. "But perhaps you would feel better if you knew he went forth under the protection of a special blessing, if Gandalf would be so kind?"
"I would, and gladly." Said Gandalf. He laid his hand on the pony's head, and spoke in a low voice. "Go with words of guard and guiding on you." He said. "You are a wise beast, and have learned much in Rivendell. Make your ways to places where you can find grass, and so come in time to Elrond's house, or Bree, or wherever you wish to go."
"There, Sam!" Kitty said brightly once the wizard had finished. "He will have just as a good a chance of escaping the wolves and getting home as we have, maybe even better."
Sam stood sullenly by the pony and returned no answer. Despite all their reassurances, he couldn't help but worry, and was still reluctant to part with his faithful friend. Bill, seeming to understand well what was going on, nuzzled up to him, putting his nose to Sam's ear. Sam burst into tears, and fumbled with the straps, unlading all the pony's packs and throwing them on the ground. The others sorted out the goods, making a pile of all that could be left behind, and dividing up the rest.When this was done they turned to watch Gandalf. He appeared to have done nothing. He was standing between the two trees gazing at the blank wall of the cliff, as if he would bore a hole into it with his eyes. Gimli was wandering about, tapping the stone here and there with his axe. Legolas was pressed against the rock, as if listening.
"Well, here we are and all ready," said Merry; "but where are the Doors? I can't see any sign of them."
"Dwarf doors are not made to be seen when shut." Said Gimli.
"Yes, they are invisible; and their own masters cannot find them, or open them, if their secrets are forgotten." Said Gandalf.
"Why does that not surprise me?" said Legolas dryly. Kitty raised an eyebrow and smiled wryly as she shared a look with Devin. Someone was feeling spicy tonight.
"But this Door was not made to be a secret known only to the Dwarves." Devin reminded them. "Eyes that know what to look for may discover the signs, with a little help from the moonlight."
Gandalf seemed to understand her meaning, for the wizard suddenly came to life and turned round. He walked forward to the wall. Right between the shadow of the trees there was a smooth space, and over this he passed his hands to and fro, muttering words under his breath. Then he stepped back.
"Look!" he said. "Can you see anything now?"
The Moon now shone upon the grey face of the rock; but they could see nothing else for a while. Then slowly on the surface, where the wizard's hands had passed, faint lines appeared, like slender veins of silver running in the stone. At first they were no more than pale gossamer-threads, so fine that they only twinkled fitfully where the Moon caught them, but steadily they grew broader and clearer, until their design could be guessed.At the top, as high as Gandalf could reach, was an arch of interlacing letters in an Elvish character. Below, though the threads were in places blurred or broken, the outline could be seen of an anvil and a hammer surmounted by a crown with seven stars. Beneath these again were two trees, each bearing crescent moons. More clearly than all else there shone forth in the middle of the door a single star with many rays.
"There are the emblems of Durin!" cried Gimli.
"And there is the Tree of the High Elves!" said Legolas.
"And the Star of the House of Fëanor." Said Gandalf. "They are wrought of ithildin that mirrors only starlight and moonlight, and sleeps until it is touched by one who speaks words now long forgotten in Middle-earth. It is long since I heard them, and I thought deeply before I could recall them to mind." He now understood why Devin had waited until the moon had begun to rise before saying anything. They would not have been able to read the inscription on the arch of the Door any sooner.
"What does the writing say?" asked Frodo, who was trying to decipher it. "I thought I knew the elf-letters, but I cannot read these."
"The words are in the elven-tongue of the West of Middle-earth in the Elder Days." Answered Gandalf. "But they do not say anything of importance to us." At this the two girls exchange a knowing glance. "They say only: The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter. And underneath small and faint is written: I, Narvi, made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs."
"What does it mean by speak, friend, and enter?" asked Merry.
"That is plain enough." Said Gimli. "If you are a friend, speak the password, and the doors will open, and you can enter."
"Alright, guys, step aside! I got this." Kitty declared confidently, deciding to save them all some time by stepping up to the mat. She stood before the Door bold as brass as her next word rang proudly from her lips. "Melon." Silence fell as she and the rest of the Company stared at the Door expectantly, waiting for it to open. Pippin coughed. Devin bowed her head and face-palmed.
"It's mellon!" She corrected her linguistically challenged friend. The moment the correctly pronounced Elvish word left her lips, the star shone out briefly, and the lines of ithildin faded. Then silently a great doorway was outlined, though not a crack or joint had been visible before. Slowly it divided in the middle and swung outwards inch by inch, until both doors lay back against the wall. Through the opening a shadowy stair could be seen climbing steeply up; but beyond the lower steps the darkness was deeper than the night. The Company stared in wonder.
"Ah, I see. I was wrong after all," said Gandalf, "and Gimli too. Merry, of all people, was on the right track. The opening word was inscribed on the archway all the time! The translation should have been: Say 'Friend' and enter. We had only to speak the Elvish word for friend and the door would open. Quite simple. Too simple for a learned lore master in these suspicious days. Those were happier times. Now let us go!"
He strode forward and set his foot on the lowest step. But at that moment several things happened. Frodo felt Devin suddenly wrap her arms tightly around him, and she spun round, moving him out of harm's way, as he let out a cry of surprise. Kitty yelled in alarm as Devin felt the thing she had been prepared to protect Frodo from seize her instead, and she quickly released Frodo as she fell. Bill the Pony gave a wild neigh of fear, and turned tail and dashed away along the lakeside into the darkness. Sam leaped after him, and then hearing Frodo's cry he ran back again, weeping and cursing. The others swung round and saw the waters of the lake seething, as if a host of snakes were swimming up from the southern end.Out from the water a long sinuous tentacle had crawled; it was pale-green and luminous and wet. Its fingered end had hold of Devin's foot, and it was dragging her into the water. Kitty was locked in a tug-of-war with the watcher in the lake, holding onto Devin while she stabbed at the tentacle around her ankle with one of her daggers. Sam was pulling a stunned Frodo out of the way as another tentacle reached for him. Seeing Devin in danger, Legolas immediately drew his bow and loosed an arrow at the source of the mass of tentacles. The arms let go of Devin and retreated from Frodo, and Kitty and Sam dragged them away, crying out for help. Twenty other arms came rippling out. The dark water boiled, and there was a hideous stench.
"Into the gateway! Up the stairs! Quick!" shouted Gandalf leaping back. Rousing them from the horror that had routed all but Sam, Kitty, Devin, and Legolas to the ground where they stood, he drove them forward.
They were just in time. Kitty and Devin were only a few steps up, and Gandalf had just begun to climb, when the groping tentacles writhed across the narrow shore and fingered the cliff-wall and the doors. One came wriggling over the threshold, glistening in the starlight. Gandalf turned and paused. If he was considering what word would close the gate from within, there was no need. Many coiling arms seized the doors on either side, and with horrible strength, swung them round. With a shattering echo they slammed, and all light was lost. A noise of rending and crashing came dully through the ponderous stone. Sam, clinging to Frodo's arm, collapsed on a step in the black darkness.
"Poor old Bill!" he said in a choking voice. "Poor old Bill! Wolves and snakes! But the snakes proved too much for him. I had to choose, Mr. Frodo. I had to come with you."
"Don't worry, Sam." Devin said, panting. "That thing was too busy dealing with us to bother Bill. He got away, I'm sure of it."
They heard Gandalf go back down the steps and thrust his staff against the doors. There was a quiver in the stone and the stairs trembled, but the doors did not open.
"Well, well!" said the wizard. "The passage is blocked behind us now, and there is only one way out—on the other side of the mountains. I fear from the sounds that boulders have been piled up, and the trees uprooted and thrown across the gate. I am sorry; for the trees were beautiful, and had stood so long."
"I felt that something horrible was near from the moment that my foot first touched the water." Said Frodo. "What was the thing, or were there many of them?"
"I think it was some kind of icosapus." Said Devin.
"A what?" Merry, Pippin, and Kitty all asked dubiously.
"Well, it had twenty tentacles." Devin answered calmly.
"I love how you automatically knew the geometry term for twenty was icosa." Said Kitty. They could hear the grin in her voice.
"I do not know," said Gandalf in answer to Frodo's question as if he hadn't heard the odd exchange between the girls; "but the arms were all guided by one purpose. Something has crept, or has been driven out of dark waters under the mountains. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world." He did not speak his thought aloud that whatever it was that dwelt in the lake, it had only seized on Devin first among all the Company because she had protected Frodo. She had obviously been expecting such an occurrence and had been prepared to fight back all along.Boromir muttered under his breath, but the echoing stone magnified the sound to a hoarse whisper that all could hear:
"In the deep places of the world! And thither we are going against my wish. Who will lead us now in this deadly dark?"
"I will," said Gandalf, "and Gimli shall walk with me. Follow my staff!"
As the wizard passed on ahead up the great steps, he held his staff aloft, and from its tip there came a faint radiance. The wide stairway was sound and undamaged. Two hundred steps they counted, broad and shallow; and at the top they found an arched passage with a level floor leading on into the dark.
"Let us sit and have something to eat, here on the landing, since we can't find a dinning-room!" said Frodo. He had begun to shake off the terror of nearly being grabbed by the groping arm, and suddenly he felt extremely hungry.The proposal was welcomed by all; and they sat down on the upper steps, dim figures in the gloom.
"Man, I'm so hungry I could eat a horse!" said Kitty.
"Did you hear that, Sam? I guess it's a good thing poor old Bill bolted back then." Merry quipped.
"Yes, otherwise he may have ended up our good melon's dinner." Pippin added smartly.
"Quiet, you!" said Kitty, flicking some stray pebbles at them.
After they had eaten, Gandalf gave them each a third sip of the miruvor of Rivendell.
"It will not last much longer, I am afraid," he said; "but I think we need it after that horror at the gate. And unless we have great luck, we shall need all that is left before we see the other side! Go carefully with the water, too! There are many streams and wells in the Mines, but they should not be touched. We may not have a chance of filling our skins and bottles till we come down into the Dimrill Dale."
"How long is that going to take up?" Asked Frodo.
"I cannot say." Answered Gandalf. "It depends on many chances, but going straight, without mishap or losing our way, we shall take three or four marches, I expect. It cannot be less than forty miles from West-door to East-gate in a direct line, and the road may wind much."
After only a brief rest they started on their way again. All were eager to get the journey over as quickly as possible, and were willing, tired as they were, to go on marching still for several hours. Gandalf walked in front as before. In his left hand he held up his glimmering staff, the light of which just showed the ground before his feet; in his right he held his sword Glamdring. Behind him came Gimli, his eyes glinting in the dim light as he turned his head from side to side. Behind the dwarf walked Frodo, and he had drawn his short sword, Sting. No gleam came from the blades of Sting or of Glamdring; and that was some comfort, for being the work of Elvish smiths of the Elder Days these swords shone with a cold light, if any Orcs were near at hand. Behind Frodo went Sam, and after him Legolas, and Devin, and Kitty, and the young hobbits, and Boromir. In the dark at the rear, grim and silent walked Aragorn.The passage twisted round a few turns, and then began to descend. It went steadily down for a long while before it became level once again. The air grew hot and stifling, but it was not foul, and at times they felt currents of cooler air upon their faces, issuing from half-guessed openings in the walls. There were many of these. In the pale ray of the wizard's staff, Frodo caught glimpses of stairs and arches, and of other passages and tunnels, sloping up, or running steeply down, or opening blankly dark on either side. It was bewildering beyond hope of remembering. More than once Kitty had remarked upon how the architects would have done better to throw in a few 'you are here' signs along the way.Gimli aided Gandalf very little, except by his stout courage. At least he was not, as were most of the others, troubled by the mere darkness in itself. Often the wizard consulted him at points where the choice of way was doubtful; but it was always Gandalf who had the final word. The Mines of Moria were vast and intricate beyond the imagination of Gimli, Glóin's son, dwarf of the mountain-race though he was. To Gandalf the far-off memories of a journey long before were now of little help, but even in the gloom and despite all the windings of the road he knew whither he wished to go, and he did not falter, as long as there was a path that led towards his goal.
"Do not be afraid!" said Aragorn. There was a pause longer than usual, and Gandalf and Gimli were whispering together; the others were crowded behind, waiting anxiously. "Do not be afraid! I have been with him on many a journey, if never on one so dark; and there are tales of Rivendell of greater deeds of his than any that I have seen. He will not go astray—if there is any path to find. He has led us in here against our fears, but he will lead us out again, at whatever cost to himself." The girls exchanged an uneasy glance. That was precisely what they were afraid of. The root of their anxiety was not the darkness or the idea of possibly being lost, but concern for the wizard's fate, which was drawing ever nearer. "He is surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel."
It was well for the Company that they had such a guide. They had no fuel nor any means of making torches; in the desperate scramble at the doors, despite the girls' efforts to make sure they held onto their baggage, many things had been left behind; and the lighter had run out of fluid and was no longer of any use. But without any light, they would soon have come to grief. There were not only many roads to choose from, there were also in many places holes and pitfalls, and dark wells beside the path in which their passing feet echoed. There were fissures and chasms in the walls and floor, and every now and then a crack would open right before their feet. The widest was more than seven feet across, and it was long before Pippin could summon enough courage to leap over the dreadful gap. The noise of churning water came up from far below, as if some great mill-wheel was turning in the depths.
"Rope!" muttered Sam. "I knew I'd want it, if I hadn't got it!"
As these dangers became more frequent their march became slower. Already they seemed to have been tramping on, on, endlessly to the mountain's roots. They were more than weary, and yet there seemed no comfort in the thought of halting anywhere. Frodo's spirits had risen for a while after their escape, and after food and a draught of the cordial; but now a deep uneasiness, growing to dread, crept over him again. Though he had been healed in Rivendell of the knife-stroke, that grim wound had not been without effect. His senses were sharper and more aware of things that could not be seen. One sign of change that he soon noticed was that he could see more in the dark than any of his companions, save perhaps Gandalf. And he was in any case the bearer of the Ring; it hung upon its chain against his breast, and at whiles it seemed a heavy weight. Frodo felt the certainty of evil ahead and evil following them but said nothing. He gripped tighter on the hilt of his sword and went on doggedly.This was in part Devin's reason for allowing him to be stabbed, for she had thought he would need such a heightened awareness later on in the heart of Mordor; but she deeply regretted and mourned the pain that the evil wound had, and would, continue to cause him.The Company behind him spoke seldom, and then only in hurried whispers. There was no sound but the sound of their own feet; the dull stump of Gimli's dwarf-boots; the heavy tread of Boromir; the light steps of Legolas and Devin; the casual swagger of Devin; the soft, scarce-heard patter of hobbit-feet; and in the rear the slow firm footfalls of Aragorn with his long stride. When they halted for a moment they heard nothing at all, unless it were occasionally a faint trickle and drip of unseen water. Yet Frodo began to hear, or to imagine that he heard, something else: like the faint fall of soft bare feet. It was never loud enough, or near enough, for him to feel certain that he heard it; but once it had started it never stopped, while the Company was moving. But it was not an echo, for when they halted it pattered on for a little while all by itself, and the grew still.
It was after nightfall when they had entered the Mines. They had been going for several hours with only brief halts, when Gandalf came to his first serious check. Before him stood a wide dark arch opening into three passages: all led in the same general direction, eastwards; but the left-hand passage plunged down, while the right-hand climbed up, and the middle way seemed to run on, smooth and level but very narrow.
"I have no memory of this place…" said Gandalf, standing uncertainly under the arch, wearing a very similar expression to the one Kitty often had on her face when she blanked on a test. He held up his staff in the hope of finding some marks or inscription that might help his choice; but nothing of the kind was to be seen. "I am too weary to decide." he said, shaking his head. "And I expect that you all are as weary as I am, or wearier. We had better halt here for what is left of the night. You know what I mean! In here it is ever dark; but outside the late Moon is riding westward and midnight has passed."
To the left of the great arch they found a stone door: it was half closed, but swung back easily to a gentle thrust. Beyond there seemed to lie a wide chamber cut in the rock.
"Steady! Steady!" cried Gandalf as Merry and Pippin pushed forward, glad to find a place where they could rest with at least more feeling of shelter than in the open passage. "Steady! You do not know what is inside yet. I will go first." He went in cautiously, and the others filed behind. "There!" he said, pointing with his staff to the middle of the floor. Before his feet they saw a large round hole like the mouth of a well. Broken and rusty chains lay at the edge and trailed down into the black pit. Fragments of stone lay near.
"One of you might have fallen in and still be wondering when you were going to strike bottom." Said Aragorn to Merry. "Let the guide go first while you have one."
"Geez, talk about a death trap!" Kitty muttered with a frown. If the fall didn't get them, then the tetanus would.
"This seems to have been a guardroom, made for the watching of the three passages." Said Gimli. "That hole was plainly a well for the guards' use, covered with a stone lid. But the lid is broken, and we must all take care in the dark."
Pippin felt curiously attracted by the well. While the others were unrolling blankets and making beds against the walls of the chamber, as far as possible from the hole in the floor, he crept to the edge and peered over. A chill air seemed to strike his face, rising from invisible depths. Moved by a sudden impulse he groped for a loose stone, and let it drop. He felt his heart beat many times before there was any sound. Then far below, as if the stone had fallen into deep water in some cavernous place, there came a plunk, very distant, but magnified and repeated in the hollow shaft. Devin closed her eyes in dismay as she recognized the scene, and realized that she had missed the chance to stop him before it was too late.
"What's that?" cried Gandalf. He was relieved when Pippin confessed what he had done; but he was angry, and Pippin could see his eye glinting. "Fool of a Took!" he growled. "This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you'll be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!"
Nothing more was heard for several more minutes; but then there came out of the depths faint knocks: tom-tap, tap-tom. They stopped, and when the echoes had died away, they were repeated: tap-tom, tom-tap, tap-tap, tom. They sounded disquietingly like signals of some sort; but after a while the knocking died away and was not heard again.
"That was the sound of a hammer, or I have never heard one." Said Gimli.
"Yes," said Gandalf, "and I do not like it. It may have nothing to do with Peregrin's foolish stone; but probably something has been disturbed that would have been better left quiet. Pray, do nothing of the kind again! Let us hope we shall get some rest without further trouble. You, Pippin, can go on the first watch, as a reward." He growled as he rolled himself in a blanket. Devin briefly considered telling them what she thought the knocking sounds were, but decided against it. Like Gandalf said, they didn't know whether the knocking was connected with Pippin's stone or not, and even if it was, and they had alerted the enemy to their presence, they still had at least a day before they would have to deal with the consequences. Right now what they all needed most was rest, and she doubted the others would be able to rest so easily if she shared her worries with them now.