Chapter 10: Snow To The Face & A Sting To The Pride
Walking on top of snow felt like walking on top of polystyrene packing peas, which might have been ok if the wind wasn't howling around us at about a hundred miles a minute.
Two hours after the uncomfortably tense moment with Boromir and the Ring, we'd reached the higher part of the pass. Just our luck; right after we'd begun to pick our way along a very narrow plateau, a blizzard had decided it might be fun to come along for the ride. Ten minutes later, everyone was literally up to their chests in the snow. The poor shivering hobbits could barely see where they were going as Gandalf carved us a path from the front of the line.
Legolas and I — being the only two elves in the company — had the benefit of being light-footed enough to walk on top of the snow rather than through it. Legolas moved effortlessly ahead of us all, barely leaving a footprint where ever he stepped. I on the other hand, had to cling inelegantly to the side of the mountain as I struggled to stay vertical, let alone keep up. The wind was so strong I was sure if I let go I'd be blown off my feet and over the edge.
"There is a fell voice on the air." Legolas called back at us from where he'd suddenly stopped at the front of the line. How any of us heard him over the howl of the wind, I have no idea — but from Gandalf's sudden reaction of horror you'd have thought he'd shouted 'bomb!'
"It's Saruman!" He yelled, just as a deafening cracking sound rumbled down through the cliff and through the stone beneath our feet. Fragments of ice, snow and rock the size of both my fists started tumbling and crashing down all around us, the pieces getting bigger with every roll of thunder.
One piece smacked straight down onto my bruised arm, knocking me into the snow and sending waves of pain up my shoulder.
"Argh! Bastard!" I cursed, equal parts pained and terrified.
"He's trying to bring down the mountain!" Aragorn shouted, pulling the hobbits as far back from he edge as he could, "Gandalf, we must turn back!"
"No!" The wizard clamoured back, pulling himself out of the snow and right up to the edge of the plateau. For a moment, when that old man opened his mouth and began to shout, I honestly thought an earthquake had come to join the party along with the storm.
"Losto Caradhras, sedho, hodo, nuitho I ruith! *"
The wind only seemed to get more violent as the two wizard's voices thundered across the mountain tops, louder and more hellish that anything the storm itself could have conjured.
Then it happened again.
A familiar feeling swam in my head. The same kind I'd felt just before my first blackout/flashback in the Council hall. My vision swam, my stomach rolled, and my whole body went almost wonderfully numb. It wasn't a blackout this time. I could see shapes forming in the falling snow though my foggy vision, distant sounds appearing in the howling wind.
Two armies. One entirely of humans and elves all around me, and the other of nightmarish beasts and battle-crazed men charging headlong towards us over the field. A man in warrior's armour sat astride a horse at my side, his face turned to watch the first volley of arrows shred through the oncoming hoard. I knew that he was familiar, but I couldn't quite make out his face. I opened my mouth to say his name, but the sound was lost in the distant howl of the wind and screams of dying monsters. He turned slowly to look at me. I was sure that if I could just get him to meet my eyes I'd be able to recognise him…
Just a little more. I could almost see him!
I didn't even realised I'd moved perilously close to the edge of the plateau until someone short and very strong grabbed me by the scruff of my riding greens and jerked me back. The vision vanished in a flurry of snow. My head smacked hard against the cliffside just as an avalanche of shale, ice and snow hammered down onto the plateau, burying us all.
For seven horrible seconds, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't move. I tried to scream but icy snow filled my mouth and nose. If I'd been able to move my arms to claw my way out, I would have. Then a light suddenly hit my face as someone shovelled the snow off of me. I gasped and opened my eyes to see it was Gimli. He gripped my forearm and heaved me up out of the snow with a grunt of effort.
"You alright, lass?"
I wanted to scream at him no. I wasn't alright. I was freezing, terrified, and had been inches away from getting another clue to my past back, only to have it snatched away at the last second. But I simply didn't have enough air in my lungs to say all that. I hunched over and choked.
"Yeah," I rasped out between gulps of cold air, "I'm wonderful."
"We must get off the mountain, make for the Gap of Rohan, and take the West Road to my city!" I heard Boromir call at Gandalf over the gale, who was looking only a little better than I felt. Shielding us from Saruman's assault had obviously taken a good deal out of him.
"The Gap of Rohan takes us too close to Isengard!" Aragorn rebuked Boromir, and even I could hear the stubborn frustration in his voice. I lost it.
"Whatever you're going to decide, do it fast! Before we freeze to death!" I suddenly yelled at both of them, my lungs still burning from the lack of oxygen.
"How are you freezing to death? You are an elleth!" Legolas shouted back at me over the wind. The bastard did't even had a hair out of place. Furiously, I flung up both my bare numbed hands for him to see.
"An elleth who's fingers and pointy ears are turning blue, Prince Charming!" I hollered back lividly, my temper snapping. Even though the blizzard, I saw the anger flare behind his eyes directed at me. But before we could start screaming up another storm at each other, Gimli cut us off.
"If we cannot go over the mountain, then let us go under it!" He said loudly, through a beard turned almost white with the snow caught in it, "Let us go through the Mines of Moria!"
"We cannot stay here! This mountain will be the death of the hobbits!" Boromir agreed through the silence, still sheltering a near hypothermic Merry and Pippin from the wind as best he could.
I could see the frustrated indecision in Gandalf's exhausted face as he turned back to us. He obviously did not relish the idea of heading to Moria, though I had only the foggiest recollection as to why. Something bad was in Moria, I knew that. But at this point, anything was preferable to enduring another hour of the icy wrath of Caradhras.
"Let the Ring bearer decide." Gandalf said firmly after a moment, and I could clearly see the lines in his face deepen with worry as he turned his eyes on the hobbit, "Frodo?"
The dark haired hobbit looked around at us all, his face showing the weight of the decision being placed on him. He remained silent for what seemed like an eternity before finally answering.
"We will go through the Mines." He said clearly. Gandalf's expression looked like the lid being covered over a coffin.
"So be it."
Somehow, we all managed to stagger down off the mountain and find a usable cave to shelter from Craradhras's fury that night.
I helped Boromir get a fire going the second we'd found enough dried roots and twigs to burn. Then we managed to boil just enough water to make everyone a small mug of tea each. I took out the little flask of miruvor Lord Elrond had given me before leaving — the same stuff I'd been given for my head trauma when I'd first woken in Rivendell. It wasn't much, but I let a drop fall into each cup, hoping it would take the edge off the cold. All four of the hobbits looked ready to go into hibernation, huddled together against the chill like penguins.
"We should rest here for the night." Aragorn stated, divesting himself of his sword and smaller weapons. Gandalf nodded tiredly in agreement, and all but immediately went to go collapse down by the fire. "Eleanor and I will take the first watch."
I looked up from handing Gimli his mug of tea, "We will?"
"Yes." Aragorn said simply, but there was stone in his voice.
Normally that tone would have unnerved me, but in my current waterlogged and shivering condition, it just irritated me. I'd been looking forward to curling up in my damp cloak as close to the soldering fire as I could get — trying to imagine I was somewhere a little more warm and dry. Like maybe the volcanic surface of Venus.
The others all began setting themselves up for the long night as best they could, the hobbit's being given the spots closest to the crackling campfire. Pippin, Merry and Gimli were all already out cold, and the others didn't look far behind. Boromir was looking glassy eyed as he absently stoked the fire, and I saw Legolas had already started to slip into the strange waking trance that was his equivalent of sleep. His grey-blue eyes were unfocused, but I couldn't shake the feelings that he was watching me as I walked past him to follow Aragorn to the mouth of the cave.
The ranger had sat just shy of the lip of the cavern, just far back enough to shelter from the wind, but close enough to get the best look out. It was also far enough away from the others that they would be almost completely out of earshot.
He said nothing, but I could see that he did not look pleased.
I sat down hesitantly beside him on some rocks, the cold outside air already chilling me through my damp tunic and cloak. I pulled my knees up to my chest and tucked my arms in against them, trying to preserve what little warmth I had. The silence that stretched between us was only making it harder to focus on staying awake and alert. Only when the light snuffles of the hobbits, and Gimli's less quiet snores started coming from back inside the cave did I finally dare to voice what was going through my head. I already had an idea of what was coming next…
"Is this the part where I get a lecture?" I asked, my voice coming out a bit more sardonically that I'd intended. Clearly the 'manners' cortex of my brain had long since succumbed to frostbite, because I really didn't care at all about sounding rude anymore.
"It would be no less than you've earned. Especially after that stunt you pulled on the mountain." Aragorn said dryly.
"It wasn't a stunt. I—" I broke off at getting a better look at Aragorn's face. I swallowed and shivered a little harder at the expression he wore, "If this is because I dumped snow down your back, then I'm…"
"It's not." He interrupted me sharply, "I'm talking about your attitude, Eleanor. Your conduct at the Council meeting. Your reckless behaviour during the Crebain sighting. And your continued disregard for certain members of this company."
"You mean Legolas."
"And Gimli also."
I snorted through my nose and pushed my damp and tangled hair out of my face.
"Gimli doesn't care how I talk. Except that I apparently talk like a man. And Legolas is just pissed because I gave him a taste of his own attitude at the Council meeting."
Aragorn turned to me and fixed me with a very deliberate gaze from which I couldn't make myself look away.
" 'Possibly two pieces'," He said very clearly, and it took me a second to realise he was quoting me directly. " 'Prince Charming'?"
Damn. The man had a wicked sharp memory. I just continued to scowl at him through my shivering.
"He was being an ass. It was ironic."
"It was insulting," Aragorn retorted cooly, "And a deliberately disrespectful choice of words."
"Do I look like a bastion of respect to you?" I asked, getting annoyed.
"You look like a half drowned rat." He said flatly, "And your behaviour has not been much of an improvement. You've been alienating people who you share a common goal with for the past two weeks."
"And they didn't?" I asked waspishly.
"Whether or not they did shouldn't matter. You are only responsible for your own behaviour, not theirs."
Sweet Lord, it was like I was ten years old again and getting a talking to from my dad.
"Why am I the only bad guy in this situation?" I demanded. It probably wasn't a good idea to raise my voice, but I couldn't help it. I was so cold, and tired, and getting angrier by the second. All I wanted to do was sleep. "It's not as if the prissy elvish git did anything to—!"
"Enough, Eleanor!" Aragorn's voice was still quiet but snapped like a whip-crack. The authoritative tone with which he spoke shut me up instantly. He stared down at me, bearing a sudden and unsettling resemblance to my old mentor when I'd made a clumsy mistake.
"You are being childish." He emphasised the word, and it stung. "You are a Ward of Imladris. You are not only representing yourself, but Lord Elrond as well. I will not see you drag his name through the dirt."
He met all my fiery frustrated anger with cold steel in his eyes. Eyes that had seen a hell of a lot more of this insane world that I had.
And had been left scarred by it…
I shivered and looked away first, my pride still stinging. We just sat there in silence for ages, staring out at the blizzard howling across the mountain. I wished I could have found something to say in response. Anything. But nothing I could have said at that point would have changed the fact that deep down I knew Aragorn was right. I'd knowingly got myself into the Fellowship, into this whole situation, and yet I was still insisting on blaming others for my own issues.
It was only now I was finally realising the reason why:
I was scared.
I was really frigging scared of what we were facing. Of what might happen if I didn't manage survive long enough to scrape back my memories and remember who I was. I didn't have a reasonable coping mechanism in place for dealing with the kind of danger we were facing. I never had. So what had I done instead?
I'd taken out my fears on the people around me. I'd verbally pushed away people who might be able to help me, all because I was frightened and didn't know how to deal with it.
I felt like an idiot. But more than anything, I just felt exhausted.
Finally, Aragorn rose from where he too had been staring out into the storm in complete tired stillness. He didn't speak for a long moment, but when he did, the unexpected gentleness of it cut through the silence like a knife.
"Do not allow your pride to make enemies where there should be allies." He said quietly, and then turned to go and wake Gimli for the next watch.
I went to sleep feeling cold that night. Cold and exhausted, and unsure of whether I felt more homesick for London or Rivendell anymore.
* "Sleep Caradhras, be still, lie still, hold your wrath!" (Sindarin)