One Geek To Rule Them All

Chapter 20

Previously:

Thus, at last, they came beyond hope under the sky and felt the wind on their faces. They did not halt until they were out of bowshot from the walls. Dimrill Dale lay about them. The shadow of the Misty Mountains lay upon it, but eastwards there was a golden light on the land. It was but one hour after noon. The sun was shining; the clouds were white and high.They looked back. Dark yawned the archway of the Gates under the mountain-shadow. Faint and far beneath the earth rolled the slow beat of drums: doom. A thin black smoke trailed out. Nothing else was to be seen; the dale all around was empty. Doom. Devin found herself falling to her knees with hot tears streaming down her face. Grief at last wholly overcame them all, and they wept long: some standing and silent, some cast upon the ground. Doom, doom. The drum-beats faded.

Chapter 20: Kheled-zâram and Nimrodel

"Alas! I fear we cannot stay here longer." Said Aragorn. He looked towards the mountains and held up his sword. "Farewell, Gandalf!" He cried. "Did I not say to you: if you pass through the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke the true! What hope have we without you?" He turned to the Company. "We must do without hope." He said. "At least we may yet be avenged—"

"If you wish to avenge the wizard then look no further. Those two knew what would happen from the start and did nothing to stop it!" said Boromir grimly, pointing an accusing finger at the two girls, glaring at Devin.

"Shut up!" Kitty snapped fiercely, holding the still sobbing Devin protectively. "You don't know a damn thing about us! Can you even imagine what it must feel like to know someone you care about is going to die, but also know there's nothing you can do to stop it? You have no idea how hard this was for Devin! It was like watching her dad die from cancer all over again! When she was 14, her mother died in a car accident. Her father survived the crash, but while operating, they found cancer in his spine. The doctors told him there was nothing they could do because the tumor was inoperable, and he only had a few years left to live. For three years, Devin had to watch her dad die a slow and painful death, and then he died our senior year of high school, leaving her all alone. Do you have any fucking idea what that's like? And now she's in the same situation again! If you think she wanted to let Gandalf die, then you're a fucking idiot!" she roared angrily.

The Company stood in complete silence and stared at the two girls in shock. They had no idea. For a moment everyone was at a complete loss as to how to react to this heart-breaking revelation. But then Legolas silently approached the girls, knelt down beside Devin, and embraced her alongside Kitty, holding her head to his chest in an attempt to comfort her. The hobbits slowly got up and followed, turning it into a group hug. Gimli bowed his head and gave Devin an awkward but comforting pat on hers. Dwarves didn't really do hugs.

"… She did try to warn him." Said Aragorn, glancing at Boromir. "I did not hear what was said, but she pulled him aside and spoke to him in great earnest during one of our watches, when we had been discussing the Mines. I think she wanted to put his fate back in to his own hands. It was Gandalf who chose this course, despite both our warnings." Upon hearing this Boromir bowed his head and looked away, suddenly feeling ashamed of himself. "Come!" Aragorn addressed the whole Company. "Let us gird our loins and weep no more! We have a long road, and much to do. By nightfall this land will be swarming with orcs."

Devin quickly forced herself to suck it up and dried her eyes as they all rose and looked about them. Northward the dale ran up into a glen of shadows between two great arms in the Mountains of Moria. At the head of the glen a torrent flowed like a white lace over an endless ladder of short falls, and a mist of foam hung in the air about the mountains' feet.

"Yonder is the Dimrill Stair." Said Aragorn, pointing to the falls. "Down the deep-cloven way that climbs beside the torrent we should have come, if fortune had been kinder."

"Or Caradhras less cruel." Said Gimli. "There he stands smiling in the sun!" He shook his fist at the furthest of the snow-capped peaks and turned away.

To the east the outflung arm of the mountains marched to a sudden end, and far lands could be described beyond them, wide and vague. To the south the Misty Mountains receded endlessly as far as sight could reach. Less than a mile away, and a little below them, for they stood high up on the west side of the dale, there lay a lake, broad for its depth. It was long and oval, shaped like a great spear-head thrust deep into the northern glen; but its southern end was beyond the shadows under the sunlit sky. Yet its waters were dark: a deep blue like clear evening sky seen from a lamp-lit room. Its face was still and unruffled. About it lay a smooth sward (an area of ground covered with soft grass) shelving down on all sides to its bare unbroken rim.

"There lies the Mirrormere, deep Kheled-zâram!" said Gimli sadly. "I remember he said: 'May you have joy of the sight! But we cannot linger there.' Now long shall I journey ere I have joy again. It is I that must hasten away, and he that must remain." Kitty felt the grip of Devin's hand tighten slightly on her own as they walked.

The Company now went down the road from the Gates. It was rough and broken, fading to a winding track between heather and spiny yellow flowers that thrust amid the cracking stones. But still it could be seen that once long ago a great paved way had wound upwards from the lowlands of the Dwarf Kingdom. In places there were ruined works of stone beside the path, and mounds of green topped with slender birches, or fir-trees sighing in the wind. An eastward bend led them hard by the sward of Mirrormere, and there not far from the roadside stood a single column broken at the top.

"That is Durin's stone!" cried Gimli. "I cannot pass without turning aside for a moment to look at the wonder of the dale!"

"Be swift then!" said Aragorn, looking back towards the Gates. "The Sun sinks early. The Orcs will not, maybe, come out till after dusk, but we must be far away before nightfall. The Moon is almost spent, and it will be dark tonight."

"Come with me, Frodo, Devin!" cried the dwarf, springing from the road. "I would not have you go without seeing Kheled-zâram." He ran down the long green slope. Frodo and Devin followed slowly, drawn by the still blue water in spite of hurt and weariness; in truth gazing upon the Mirrormere had been a childhood dream of hers. Sam and Kitty came up behind.Beside the standing stone Gimli halted and looked up. It was cracked and weather-worn, and the faint runes upon its side could not be read. "This pillar marks the spot where Durin first looked in the Mirrormere." Said the dwarf. "Let us look ourselves once, ere we go!" They stooped over the dark water. At first they could see nothing. Then slowly they saw the forms of the encircling mountains mirrored in a profound blue, and the peaks were like plumes of white flame above them; beyond there was a space of sky. There like jewels sunk in the deep shone glinting stars, though the sunlight was in the sky above. Of their own stooping forms no shadow could be seen. Devin stared in wonder. It was even more beautiful than she had imagined, beyond words.

"O Kheled-zâram fair and wonderful!" said Gimli. "There lies the crown of Durin till he wakes. Farewell!" He bowed and turned away, and hastened back up the green-sward to the road again.

"Man, that was awesome-sauce!" Kitty said appreciatively as they followed. "They sure don't make lakes like that back home!" Devin nodded quietly in agreement. Her eyes were deep and pensive like the mere, but they seemed a little lighter and less heavy than before.

"What did you see?" said Pippin to Sam, but Sam was too deep in thought to answer.

The road now turned south and went quickly downwards, running out from between the arms of the dale. Some way below the mere they came to a deep well of water, clear as crystal, from which a freshet fell over a stone lip and ran glistening and gurgling down a steep rocky channel.

"Here is the spring from which the Silverlode rises." Said Gimli. "Do not drink of it! It is icy cold."

"Soon it becomes a swift river, and it gathers water from many other mountain-streams." Said Aragorn. "Our road leads beside it for many miles. For I shall take you by the road Gandalf chose, and first I hope to come to the woods where the Silverlode flows into the Great River—out yonder." They looked as he pointed, and before them they could see the stream leaping down to the trough of the valley, and then running on and away into the lower lands, until it was lost in a golden haze.

"There lie the woods of Lothlórien!" said Legolas. "That is the fairest of all the dwellings of my people. There are no trees like the trees of that land. For in the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold. Not till the spring comes and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and the roof is golden, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees is smooth and grey. So still our songs in Mirkwood say. My heart would be glad if I were beneath the eaves of that woods, and it were springtime!"

"My heart will be glad, even in winter." Aragorn said.

"For reals." Agreed Kitty. They didn't have their winter gear, and it was still pretty freaking cold by Louisiana standards.

"But it lies many miles away." Said Aragorn. "Let us hasten!"

For some time Frodo and Sam managed to keep up with the others; but Aragorn was leading them at a great pace, and after a while they lagged behind. They had eaten nothing since the early morning. Sam's cut was burning like fire, and his head felt light. In spite of the shining sun the wind seemed chill after the warm darkness of Moria. He shivered. Frodo felt every step more painful and he gasped for breath. Devin noticed this, and she and Kitty fell back to keep pace with them.

"Are you all right?" she asked worriedly, feeling guilty for letting her grief blind her to their pain, even though she should have known this would happen since it was in the book. Before the hobbits could answer Legolas turned, and seeing them now far behind, spoke to Aragorn. The others halted, and Aragorn ran back, calling to Boromir to come with him.

"I am sorry, Frodo!" he cried, full of concern. "So much has happened this day and we have such need of haste, that I have forgotten that you were hurt; and Sam too. You should have spoken. We have done nothing to ease you, as we ought, though all the orcs of Moria were after us. Come now! A little further on there is a place where we can rest for a little. There I will do what I can for you. Come, Boromir! We will carry them."

Soon afterwards they came upon another stream that ran down from the west, and joined its bubbling water with the hurrying Silverlode. Together they plunged over a fall of green-hued stone, and foamed down into a dell. About it stood fir-trees, short and bent, and its sides were steep and clothed in harts-tongue and shrubs of whortle-berry. At the bottom there was a level space through which the stream flowed noisily over shining pebbles. Here they rested. It was now nearly three hours after noon, and they had come only a few miles from the Gates. Already the sun was westering.While Gimli, the two younger hobbits, and the girls kindled a fire of brush- and fir-wood, and drew water, Aragorn tended Sama and Frodo. Sam's wound was not deep, but it looked ugly, and Aragorn's face was grave as he examined it. After a moment he looked up with relief.

"Good luck, Sam!" he said. "Many have received worse than this in payment for felling their first orc. The cut is not poisoned, as the wounds of orc-blades too often are. It should heal well when I have tended it. Bathe it when Gimli has heated water." He opened his pouch and drew out some withered leaves. "They are dry, and some of their virtue is gone," he said, "but here I have still some of the leaves of athelas that Devin gathered near Weathertop. Crush one in the water, and wash the wound clean, and I will bind it. Now it is your turn, Frodo!"

"I am all right," said Frodo, reluctant to have his garments touched. "All I needed was some food and a little rest."

"No!" said Aragorn. "We must have a look and see what the hammer and anvil have done to you. I still marvel that you are alive at all." Gently he stripped off Frodo's old jacket and worn tunic, and gave a gasp of wonder. Then he laughed. The silver corslet shimmered before his eyes like the light upon a rippling sea. Carefully he took it off and held it up, and the gems on it glittered like stars, and the sound of the shaken rings was like the tinkle of rain in a pool.

"Look, my friends!" he called. "Here's a pretty hobbit-skin to wrap an elf-princeling in! If it were known that hobbits had such hides, all the hunters of Middle-earth would be riding to the Shire."

"Ooh!" Kitty said mesmerized by its beautiful shine.

"And all the arrows of all the hunters would be in vain." Said Gimli, also gazing at the mail in wonder. "It is a mithril-coat. Mithril! I have never heard tell of one so fair. Is this the coat that Gandalf spoke of? Then he undervalued it. But it was well given!"

"I have often wondered what you and Bilbo were doing, so close in his little room." Said Merry. "Bless the old hobbit! I love him more than ever. I hope we get a chance of telling him about it!"

"Can I—" Kitty started to ask if she could try it on for a moment.

"No." Devin answered bluntly, knowing exactly what her friend was thinking. She did not feel like she had the energy left to wrestle the corslet away from Kitty should she decide she wanted to try to keep it, which she undoubtedly would. Kitty was like a magpie when it came to collecting shiny things.

"Stingy." Kitty pouted.

There was a dark and blackened bruise on Frodo's right side and breast. Under the mail there was a shirt of soft leather, but at one point the rings had been driven through it into the flesh. Frodo's left side also was scored and bruised where he had been hurled against the wall. While the others set the food ready, Aragorn bathed the hurts with water in which athelas was steeped. The pungent fragrance filled the dell, and all those who stooped over the steaming water felt refreshed and strengthened. Soon Frodo felt the pain leave him, and his breath grew easy: though he was stiff and sore to the touch for many days.

"Ah, that's the stuff." Said Kitty, still huffing the fragrant steam, while Aragorn bound some soft pads of cloth at Frodo's side. Devin allowed herself a small, wry smile and shook her head. At least someone was enjoying themself.

"This mail is marvelously light." Said Aragorn. "Put it on again, if you can bear it. My heart is glad to know that you have such a coat. Do not lay it aside, even in sleep, unless fortune brings you where you are safe for a while; and that will seldom chance while your quest lasts."

When they had eaten, the Company got ready to go on. They put out the fire and hid all traces of it. Then climbing out of the dell they took to the road again. They had not gone far before the sun sank behind the westward heights and great shadows crept down the mountain-sides. Dusk veiled their feet, and mist rose in the hollows. Away in the east the evening light lay pale upon the dim lands of distant plain and wood. Sam and Frodo now feeling eased and greatly refreshed were able to go at a fair pace, and with only one brief halt before Aragorn led the Company on for nearly three more hours.It was dark. Deep night had fallen. There were many clear stars, but the fast-waning moon would not be seen till late. Gimli and Frodo were near at the rear, walking softly and not speaking, listening for any sound upon the road behind. At length Gimli broke the silence.

"Not a sound but the wind." He said. "There are no goblins near, or my ears are made of wood. It is to be hoped that the Orcs will be content with driving us from Moria. And maybe that was their purpose, and they had nothing else to do with us—with the Ring. Though Orcs will often pursue foes for many leagues into the plain, if they have a fallen captain to avenge." Frodo did not answer. He looked at Sting, and the blade was dull. Yet he had heard something, or thought he had. As soon as the shadows had fallen about them and the road behind was dim, he had heard again the quick patter of feet. Even now he heard it. He turned swiftly. There were two tiny gleams of light behind, or for a moment he thought he saw them, but at once they slipped aside and vanished.

"What is it?" said the dwarf.

"I don't know." answered Frodo. "I thought I heard feet, and I thought I saw a light—like eyes. I have thought so often, since we first entered Moria." Gimli halted and stooped to the ground.

"I hear nothing but the night-speech of plant and stone." He said. "Come! Let us hurry! The others are out of sight."

The night-wind blew chill up the valley to meet them. Before them a wide grey shadow loomed, and they heard an endless rustle of leaves like poplars in the breeze.

"Lothlórien!" cried Legolas. "Lothlórien! We have come to the eaves of the Golden Wood. Alas that it is winter!" Under the night the trees stood tall before them, arched over the road and stream that ran suddenly beneath their spreading boughs. In the dim light of the stars their stems were grey, and their quivering leaves a hint of fallow gold.

"Lothlórien!" said Aragorn. "Glad am I to hear again the wind in the trees! We are little more than five leagues from the Gates, but we can go no further. Here let us hope that the virtue of the Elves will keep us tonight from the peril that comes behind."

"If Elves indeed still dwell here in the darkening world." Said Gimli.

"It is long since any of my own folk journeyed hither back to the land whence we wandered in ages long ago," said Legolas, "but we hear that Lórien is not yet deserted, for there is a secret power that holds evil from the land. Nevertheless its folk are seldom seen, and maybe they now dwell deeper in the woods and far from the northern border."

'That's because they're protected by the power of Galadriel's ring.' Thought Devin.

"Indeed deep in the wood they dwell." Said Aragorn, and sighed as if some memory stirred in him. "We must fend for ourselves tonight. We will go forward a short way, until the trees are all about us, and then we will turn aside from the path and seek a place to rest in." He stepped forward; but Boromir stood irresolute and did not follow.

"Is there no other way?" he said.

"What other fairer way would you desire?" said Aragorn.

"A plain road, though it led through a hedge of swords." Said Boromir. "By strange paths has this Company been led, and so far to evil fortune. Against my will we passed under the shadow of Moria, to our loss. And now we must enter the Golden Wood, you say. But of that perilous land we have heard in Gondor, and it is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed."

"Oh, come on. Don't be such a wuss." Said Kitty.

"Say not unscathed, but if you say unchanged, then maybe you will speak the truth." Said Aragorn.

"The Elves of Lothlórien have grown very cautious in these dark and dangerous times, but the Lady who rules them is very wise and beautiful. They will not harm us without cause." Said Devin.

"Yes," agreed Aragorn; "lore wanes in Gondor, Boromir, if in the city of those who once were wise they speak evil of Lothlórien. Believe what you will, there is no other way for us—unless you would go back to the Moria-gate, or scale the pathless mountains, or swim the Great River all alone."

"Then lead on!" said Boromir. "But it is perilous."

"Perilous indeed," said Aragorn, "fair and perilous; but only evil need fear it, or those who bring some evil with them. Follow me!"

They had gone little more than a mile into the forest when they came upon another stream, flowing down swiftly from the tree-clad slopes that climbed back westward towards the mountains. They heard it splashing over a fall away among the shadows on their right. Its dark hurrying waters ran across the path before them, and joined the Silverlode in a swirl of dim pools among the roots of trees.

"Here is Nimrodel!" said Legolas. "Of this stream the Silvan Elves made many songs long ago, and still we sing them in the North, remembering the rainbow on its falls, and the golden flowers that floated in its foam. All is dark now and the Bridge if Nimrodel is broken down. I will bathe my feet, for it is said that the water is healing to the weary." He went forward and climbed down the deep-cloven bank and stepped into the stream. "Follow me!" he called. "The water is not deep. Let us wade across! On the further bank we can rest, and the sound of the falling water may bring us sleep and forgetfulness of grief." One by one they climbed down and followed Legolas. For a moment Devin stood near the brink holding her footwear in hand and let the water flow over her tired feet. It was cold but its touch was clean, and as she went on and it mounted to her knees, she felt that the stain of travel and all weariness was washed from her limbs, and the burden on her heart began to feel a little lighter.

When all the Company had crossed, they sat and rested and ate a little food; and Legolas told them tales of Lothlórien that the Elves of Mirkwood still kept in their hearts, of sunlight and starlight upon the meadows by the Great River before the world was grey.At length a silence fell, and they heard the music of the waterfall running sweetly in the shadows. Almost Devin and Frodo fancied that they could hear a voice singing, mingled with the sound of the water.

"Do you hear the voice of Nimrodel?" asked Legolas. "I will sing you a song of the maiden Nimrodel, who bore the same name as the stream beside which she lived long ago. It is a fair song in our woodland tongue; but this is how it runs in the Westron Speech, as some in Rivendell now sing it." In a soft voice hardly to be heard amid the rustle of the leaves above them he began:

An Elven-maid there was of old,A shining star by day:Her mantle white was hemmed with gold,Her shoes of silver-grey.

A star was bound upon her brows,A light was on her hairAs sun upon the golden boughsIn Lórien the fair.

Her hair was long, her limbs were white,And fair she was and free;And in the wind she went as lightAs leaf of linden-tree.

Beside the falls of Nimrodel,By water clear and cool,Her voice as falling silver fellInto the shining pool.

Where now she wanders none can tell,In sunlight or in shade;For lost of yore was NimrodelAnd in the mountains strayed.

The elven-ship in haven greyBeneath the mountain-leeAwaited her for many a dayBeside the roaring sea.

A wind by night in Northern landsArose, and loud it cried,And drove the ship from elven-strandsAcross the streaming tide.

When dawn came dim the land was lost,The mountains sinking greyBeyond the heaving waves that tossedTheir plumes of blinding spray.

Amroth beheld the fading shoreNow low beyond the swell,And cursed the faithless ship that boreHim far from Nimrodel.

Of old he was an Elven-king,A lord of tree and glen,When golden were the boughs in springIn fair Lothlórien.

From helm to sea they saw him leap,As arrow from the string,And dive into water deep,As mew upon the wing.

The wind was in his flowing hair,The foam about him shone;Afar they saw him strong and fairGo riding like a swan.

But from the West has come no word,And on the Hither ShoreNo tidings Elven-folk have heardOf Amroth evermore.

The voice of Legolas faltered, and the sing ceased. "I cannot sing any more." He said. "That is but a part, for I have forgotten much. It is long and sad, for it tells how sorrow came upon Lothlórien, Lórien of the Blossom, when the Dwarves awakened evil in the mountains.

"But the Dwarves did not make the evil." Said Gimli.

"I said not so; yet evil came." Answered Legolas sadly. "Then many of the Elves of Nimrodel's kindred left their dwellings and departed, and she was lost far in the South, in the passes of the White Mountains; and she came not to the ship where Amroth her lover waited for her. But in the spring when the wind is in the new leaves the echo of her voice may still be heard by the falls that bear her name. And when the wind is in the South the voice if Amroth comes up from the sea; for Nimrodel flows into Silverlode, that the Elves call Celebrant, and Celebrant into Anduin the Great, and Anduin flows into the Bay of Belfalas whence the Elves of Lórien set sail. But neither Nimrodel nor Amroth ever came back."It is told that she had a house built in the branches of tree that grew near the falls; for that was the custom of the Elves of Lórien, to dwell in the trees, and maybe it is so still. Therefore they were called the Galadrim, the Tree-people. Deep in their forest the trees are very great. The people of the woods did not delve in the ground like Dwarves, nor build strong places of stone before the Shadow came."

"And even in these latter days dwelling in the trees might be thought safer than sitting on the ground." Said Gimli. He looked across the stream to the road that lead back to Dimrill Dale, and then up into the roof of dark boughs above.

"Your words bring good counsel, Gimli." Said Aragorn. "We cannot build a house, but tonight we will do as the Galadrim and seek refuge in the tree-tops, if we can. We have sat here beside the road already longer than was wise."

"All right, time to nap Katniss-style." Said Kitty.

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