Chapter 5 – The Balrog
We ran out of the hole in the wall. I brought up the rear, keeping a close eye on the shadows. We reached an open space in the hall we were in earlier. Ahead of us, a multitude of Orcs and goblins ran toward us. I spun round to see the same thing. More creatures poured from the ceiling, climbing down the pillars and yet more emerged from the floor. Drawing our swords, we pointed them outwards, creating a defensive circle. I stayed close to Frodo; I had almost lost him twice now; I would not allow a third time. The creatures snarled and crept closer. There were hundreds of them; we were completely surrounded. I heard Pippin give out a frightened whimper. I drew closer to him, shielding him from the creatures. I would protect the Hobbits at all costs: even if I died doing so. Just then, a fiery light appeared at the end of the hall. The creatures fell silent. Suddenly, the air was filled with their terrified shrieking, and, just as quickly as they appeared, they melted back in to the shadows. Unnerved by the flickering light at the end of the hall, I kept my swords drawn. Gandalf stared down the hall, intent on the light.
"What is this new devilry?"
Boromir spoke up, looking at Gandalf.
"A Balrog. A demon of the ancient world."
Gandalf answered him, still staring down the hall. The demon was hidden from view, but it growled, and the sound echoed around the hall, and in my head. I cast a frightened look at Legolas. He, too, showed fear. We knew what this was; we could not fight it.
"This foe is beyond any of you.."
Gandalf's voice was strained and he turned to us, horror in his eyes.
We started sprinting down the hallway, Gandalf leading. I ushered the Hobbits ahead of me, not wanting them to get left behind. I cast a look back, and stopped. A huge shadow loomed on the wall. Fiery light was cast on to the pillars, outlining the shadow. I stared, captivated.
"There is a darkness in you, she-Elf. I can taste it. You are tainted by the one who calls himself Sauron."
The voice twisted inside of my head. I clapped my hands to my ears, trying to block it out, but it continued to snake in to my head, like smoke.
"You cannot rid yourself of the stain. I can feel your power. It is caged like a beast, and, like all caged beasts, wants to be unleashed. Why hide from your past? Embrace the darkness within you."
I squeezed my eyes shut, not wanting to look at the shadow any longer. I could hear cruel laughter in my head; a cold voice whispering evil in to my ear. I shook my head, trying to rid myself of the coldness that had washed over me. I felt my knees going weak. My shoulder burned, and fresh blood soaked my make-shift bandage. Suddenly, an image of Legolas appeared in my head. He was cradling a baby in his arms. He looked up and smiled. I held him in my head and snapped my eyes open. The voice was gone. Without waiting to confront the beast, I turned and sped after the others.
I raced through a small doorway, hoping that I would find the group. I came to the top of a flight of steps. They twisted down and away from me, and as I looked down, I could make out the others. I continued down the steps, picking my way carefully through the winding path. A roar blasted through the air. The Balrog was getting closer. I made myself go faster, desperately trying to keep my balance. Another roar sounded behind me; it made the ground tremble, and huge rocks fell from above me, crashing down and splintering in to tiny pieces. Finally, I reached the others. I joined the back of the group, grateful that no-one had been hurt. Suddenly, we reached a gap in the stairs. The only way across was to jump.
Gandalf and Legolas jumped first. A whizzing sound made me look up. An arrow struck the stone steps, where Gandalf had been standing moments before. Legolas whipped off his bow and arrow and let one fly. It soared through the air, and hit the Orc in the middle of its head. It tipped forwards, and tumbled in to the chasm below. I turned back to the group. Boromir gathered Merry and Pippin, and leapt across the gap. A flurry of arrows hit the steps. Legolas was returning their shots, with more success, but for every one he killed, another would appear. Aragorn threw Sam across the gap, and turned to throw Gimli. The Dwarf held up a hand.
"Nobody tosses a Dwarf!"
Gimli growled the words, his offense obvious. Taking a couple of steps back, Gimli charged forward and leapt across. His foot slipped and he started falling backwards. Legolas's hand shot out and grabbed Gimli's beard.
"Not the beard!"
Legolas hauled him up, just as a section of the steps crumbled away in to the depths below us. Aragorn, Frodo and I were left. Our section creaked ominously. I stared hopelessly at the widened gap in front of us. We would never be able to jump it. The Balrog bellowed, and rocks came crashing down. A boulder smashed through the steps behind us, creating another gap. The stairs began to wobble, swaying forwards and backwards. I grabbed Frodo's arm, at the same time as Aragorn.
"Hold on! Lean forward!"
Aragorn yelled instructions, sounding sure. Together, we shifted our weight forward. The stairs swayed backwards, and for one heart-stopping moment, it looked as if we would fall in to the darkness below us. The stairs creaked and tipped forward. The others reached out their arms, ready to catch us. Just as we were about to smash in to the stairs, we leapt forward. Stretching out the hand that wasn't holding Frodo, I clasped Legolas' arm and let him pull me over. As one, we all turned and ran down the stairs. Gandalf lead the way, and we came to a bridge. I could feel the heat from the Balrog's flame behind us, and I urged the others on.
"Over the bridge!"
Gandalf shouted back to us, already hurrying over. We ran across, not daring to look behind. We crossed to the other side, but I noticed Gandalf was not with us. Coming to an abrupt halt, I spun around. Gandalf was standing in the middle of the bridge, facing a wall of fire. Out of the flames, the same great black shadow formed. It had eyes of white fire, and ash-clack horns curled menacingly from it's bull-like head. It opened its mouth, heat rippling from it.
"You cannot pass!"
Gandalf shouted at the demon. Wings of ash swirled around the demon. It spread its arms, and it erupted in to crackling, thunderous flame.
"I am the Servant of the Secret fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor."
Gandalf raised his staff. Blazing light encircled Gandalf in a globe of endless brightness.
"The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udûn!"
The demon heaved it's arm up, a blade of fire forming in its hand. It brought it down upon Gandalf, who parried it with his own sword. The Balrog's sword shattered, and embers ran off Gandalf's shield.
Frodo gasped, terror evident in his stance. He turned to me.
"Can you not help him?"
I stared down in to Frodo's pleading face. An enraged bellow from the Balrog made me look at Gandalf. His shield was still up, but I could see he was tiring. His head drooped downwards, and I knew his energy would not last much longer.
"Go back to the shadow!"
Gandalf yelled again and I could hear the tiredness leaking in to his words. The demon stepped forward on to the bridge. It brandished a flaming whip, and lashed it through the air. Mustering my courage, I stepped back on to the bridge. Raising my arms, I concentrated on Gandalf. His shield grew brighter, and sparks of energy flew off it. The demon reared back, issuing another bellow. Gandalf turned his head in surprise. Our eyes locked. He nodded once, and turned back. I wished that I could do more, but that was the extent of my magic. The charm I had whispered days before was still with me, although it had waned. I only hoped that the power I was exerting to replenish Gandalf's shield was also flowing in to him.
As if he could hear my thoughts, Gandalf rasied his sword and staff together, with renewed energy. I followed his actions, raising my arms higher.
Gandalf roared, his voice echoing around the chamber. He drove his staff in to bridge. A bright flash of blue light exploded outwards. The Balrog stepped forward. The bridge collapsed underneath the demon, right in front of Gandalf. I lowered my arms. I trembled all over, feeling utterly exhausted. Gandalf leaned on his staff. He turned to face us, he too looking exhausted. He took a step forward, when I saw the Balrog's whip flash upwards and wrap around Gandalf's ankle. The wizard was pulled backwards and over the edge. He clung on, straining to find a grip. I couldn't move; I was completely frozen. I stared at Gandalf. He stopped struggling to find purchase on the rock, and looked at Frodo.
"Fly, you fools!"
I unfroze and sprinted forward to the edge, just as Gandalf slipped down. I simply stared down, watching his body fall in to the blackness beneath.
I heard Frodo scream out behind me. I continued to gaze down, hoping that this was all some terrible nightmare. I turned back to the others. Boromir was carrying Frodo up a flight of stairs at the other end of the bridge. Frodo screamed and struggled. The other Hobbits were pushed up the stairs by Gimli. They all wore stunned expressions. I started swaying and my vision darkened. I could make out a blurry figure rushing towards me. I felt arms lift me up, and carry me towards the stairs and up and out in to the sunlight.
Pippin's head lay in my lap. I stroked his hair, while he wept. His tears soaked my leggings. Merry was slumped against me. Every so often, he would make a little noise of sorrow: a whimper, a wail. Sam was sitting on my other side, his head buried in his hands. Gimli was venting his rage on a boulder, while Boromir tried to console him. I bowed my head as another wave of tears threatened to overwhelm me. I choked back a sob; I would not grieve now. I was needed by others; I had no time for my own sorrow. Thoughts of Gandalf swirled in my head. I pushed them out: I did not deserve to grieve. I could have saved him.
"Seraphina. Get them up."
Aragorn spoke and he gestured towards the Hobbits nestled close to me.
"Give them a moment, for pity's sake!"
Boromir called out from behind him. He had finally managed to control Gimli, who leaned on his axe, his face blank.
"By nightfall, these hills will be swarming with Orcs. We must reach the woods of Lothlórien!"
Aragorn looked at me, pleading for me to support him. I swallowed hard against the burn in my throat and nodded.
"I agree with Aragorn."
My voice was little more than a whisper and I cleared my throat.
"Lothlórien is the safest place to be right now. My brother lives in those woods; he will allow us to rest there."
Aragorn inclined his head in thanks.
"Come, my dear ones. We must move."
I spoke gently to the sorrowful Hobbits around me. Sniffling, Pippin sat up. His eyes were rimmed with red, and his face was blotchy. Merry and Sam just looked at me with hollow, blank eyes. Swallowing back tears, I spoke to them again.
"I know that you feel as if you cannot move again; that moving on from this place would be abandoning Gandalf, but we must go. He would want us to be safe. You can grieve properly once inside the boundaries of the forest; you will be safe there."
The Hobbits nodded and got to their feet. I got up too, legs shaking. I glanced to my right and saw Frodo standing on his own. I walked over to him, and placed my hands on his shoulders. Wordlessly, he turned and hugged me around my waist. I clutched him to me, trying to ease his silent pain.
Of all the members of the Fellowship, Frodo and Gandalf were the closest. I could not imagine the sorrow that Frodo was feeling. With a shuddering breath, Frodo pulled away. A single tear trickled down his face, and dropped off his chin. He didn't look at me, but walked back to the others, head down. I watched him go. He was empty. He no longer walked with a bounce in his step; there was no eagerness for adventure in his face. Where once he would be asking endless questions, there was only silence. He rarely smiled, and hardly talked to anyone except Gandalf and Sam. The Ring was slowly poisoning him; Gandalf's death had all but torn him apart.
The others began to move off, and I followed at a distance. I did not wish to speak to anyone. The guilt I felt was overwhelming; I did not want to see the accusations in their eyes.
We jogged across a grassy field and entered the forest, halting under the eaves of the tall trees. Lichen and moss covered their trunks. I breathed in their earthy smell. Sunlight shone through the leaves, creating stripes of light.
"Stay close, young Hobbits! They say that a great sorceress lives in these woods, an Elf-witch, of terrible power. All who look upon her fall under her spell, and are never seen again."
Gimli whispered, his eyes darting from side to side. Aragorn gestured forwards, indicating that I take the lead. I strode forward, my steps not making a sound.
"Well, here is one Dwarf that she won't ensnare so easily. I have the eyes of a hawk and the eyes of a fox!"
Suddenly, a notched arrow appeared before Gimli's face. Other arrows appeared, pointing at us. Legolas began to notch his own bow, but I shook my head. He slowly lowered it, but did not put away the arrow. I faced away from the rest of the group. An arrow was pointed at my face. I looked pointedly at the Elf who held the bow. He looked at me in surprise, and hastily lowered it.
"The Dwarf breathes so loud, we could have shot him in the dark."
I turned at the sound of Haldir's voice. He was a tall, golden-haired Elf. His features were sharp, giving him a cold beauty. His body was lithe, like most Elves, but he moved with a quickness and preciseness that could unnerve most people. Although we had been born only minutes apart, we did not look alike. His eyes were grey, and mine an icy-blue; his hair golden, while mine was whiter, almost silver.
"I wonder: would you shoot your own sister too, Haldir?"
I spoke up, moving out from behind Aragorn, who had been blocking me. With a delighted cry, Haldir embraced me. I hugged him back, letting myself relax slightly. The sounds of bows being lowered had me breathing a little sigh of relief. Haldir pulled away, and held me at arm's length. I winced as his hand caught the wound on my shoulder. He looked down at it, and his eyes widened in alarm.
"Seraphina! Your shoulder!"
I ignored his concern, not wanting to look at my own shoulder. I had felt nothing earlier, when running through the mines, but now I was safe, it had begun to sting with pain.
"I am fine, brother. We need to rest here tonight. I know that we come in dark times, and I do not expect to be welcomed with open arms, but we desperately need some place safe to stay for the night."
Haldir studied my face, noting the exhaustion evident in my expression.
"Of course – as long as the Dwarf remembers what little manners he possesses."
Gimli growled softly, casting a glare at Haldir, who ignored it. Haldir was about to speak when his eyes landed on Frodo. At once, his gaze went hard and flat, and as if sensing their Marchwarden's unease, the archers pressed closer, once again raising their bows.
"Haldir, please. I know what Frodo carries – we all do. It is a burden he must bear."
Tense minutes passed as I stared at my brother. Finally, he gave a short nod and the archers relaxed once again. Offering his arm, I took it and Haldir lead us to safety.