Change One Thing, See What Happens

Lie Down in the Darkness, Rise up from the Ash

3. Falling

For then into the Song came the great Silence, and even the least were not untouched by it….

"Ai! ai! A Balrog! A Balrog is come!"

Pippin tore his eyes from the towering horror that stood before them and glanced up at the Elf. Legolas's eyes were wide, and his teeth were bared in a grimace of hatred and anguish so strong that the hobbit felt nausea roil through his already cramped stomach.

Then Gimli moved to stand beside the elven prince, heedless for once of the animosity he bore for his companion. The Dwarf's horror was no less great than Legolas's, and he slipped heavily to his knees as a harsh whisper emerged from his lips:

"Durin's Bane!" Then, as if overborne by the sight, he cast his hood over his face.

Pippin looked from Dwarf to Elf and then back again, unable yet to comprehend their words but equally unable to bear to turn back to the bridge. Nearby, Frodo stood gaping, sheet-white with some terrible emotion, and his left hand clutched his chest just at the level where the Ring should lie concealed on its chain about his neck.

What is happening? What do I do? Pippin felt utterly at a loss, seeking reassurance that someone among them knew how to deal with this fell thing.

"A Balrog," breathed Gandalf, shaking his head in wonder. "Now I understand. What an evil fortune, for I am already weary!"

The wizard stared a moment longer, then his old face hardened and his eyes gleamed. Of a sudden, he was striding back onto the bridge, moving with a vigor that belied his words, and Pippin gasped, unable to imagine what the wizard intended. He had wanted surety in action, but it was a fool's errand to go back onto that narrow span of stone, surely…!

"Gandalf!" Aragorn's voice sounded harsh and strained – And afraid , Pippin thought miserably – but then the Ranger was sprinting after Gandalf, sword drawn. Boromir, too, gave a cry, though it sounded more like a curse. Pippin had been too stunned to move when Aragorn did, but now he perceived the other Man's intentions and something stirred in his heart. With a shout of his own, and without thinking clearly what he did, he lunged forward and caught the edge of Boromir's cloak.

If he had thought to try and restrain him, though, that hope was quickly dashed, for the Man of Gondor seemed not to notice the hobbit's weight at all: he dragged Pippin forward almost to the brink before the hobbit thought to let go and drop back from the precipice.

"W-what…? Wait! Come back!" Pippin cried, or rather croaked, and then swallowed any further words in terror. His eyes were drawn irresistibly upward, to the looming figure in the midst of all that blackness; something like awe blossomed in his breast, and it pulsed sickly there. It came into Pippin's head, briefly and confusedly, that this was a power of the world, and that before its black master they would bow in the end! And then all within him was stilled as Gandalf's challenge rang clear and desperate in the hot air.

"You cannot pass," he said. The Orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass!"

Pippin quailed and flinched, unable to watch the blow descend. But then came the clash and ring of steel on steel, clear even through the blood pounding in his ears, and the young hobbit managed to open one eye to peer fearfully at the frozen tableau.

Gandalf and the Balrog still faced each other, but the Balrog's sword was no where in evidence, while Glamdring glowed white. Some ten paces behind the wizard stood Aragorn, and a pace or two behind him Boromir, and the tall silhouettes of the two Men were poised to spring forward should their help be needed. Yet Pippin guessed that they, too, were held in place by the power of the demon, unable to break free until something changed–

The Balrog let out a roar, and it leapt high, its whip streaking outward in a dark blur. At that same moment, Gandalf cried aloud and rammed his staff down upon the white stone. The staff shattered and fell away, and Pippin was momentarily blinded by an intense light. It was slow to fade from the hobbits' eyes, but when it did, he saw that the bridge was cracked beneath the Balrog. Yet the battle was not over, and Pippin stared, struck dumb by amazed grief as time moved forward once more….

The instant that Gandalf smote the bridge, Aragorn felt the spell broken, and he gasped, flinging up an arm to protect his eyes from the stabbing light.

"Valar save us!" Boromir's prayer was nearly lost in the explosive sound of stone that split itself asunder. Nevertheless, Aragorn heard it, and a part of his mind spared a moment to add his own petition, but he feared it was too late – that it had been too late for Gandalf from the moment the Balrog had appeared, just as they had crossed the bridge.

It was too late the moment we entered this pit, his inner voice snapped bitterly, cursing his own impotence. Never had he loathed foresight more than in this moment, for he knew that he was powerless to prevent what was about to occur. But that did not stop him from trying to stave off fate nonetheless, and, sheathing his sword, Aragorn lunged desperately forward….

The Balrog's whip burned through the air and the thongs curled about the wizard's legs. Gandalf cried out, falling to his knees as he was pulled bodily towards the abyss. Instinctively, his hands shot out, seeking purchase on the too-smooth stone, knowing it was a futile effort.

The Ring! O my brother, you will not have the Ring at least, Gandalf thought, and braced himself for the headlong plummet into darkne–

A jolt ran through his body as something caught him, and the wizard looked up in shock to see Aragorn staring back at him. The Ranger had his arm, and he slowed Gandalf's sliding descent enough for Gandalf to latch onto the stony protrusion of what was left of the bridge. The strength granted a Maia in utmost need is greater than any Man's, and it was Gandalf rather than Aragorn who held them briefly on that precipice, as the Balrog fell still below him on its long whip. But he could not hold on forever, and Gandalf knew it. So did Aragorn, but he did not release him, and there was a challenge in his eyes that the wizard knew well: Let Sauron himself come forth, the Ranger would not be forced to leave a friend in need.

"Fly, you fool! Live!" It was all Gandalf could manage in the seconds remaining him, and then he shoved Aragorn back, breaking free… and was borne into the chasm.

Pippin felt a keen rise up in him as Gandalf disappeared, but it never left his throat for it died aborning, crushed by the bedlam darkness that seemed to crash down upon them all. Upon the bridge, Aragorn seemed unable to move, but Boromir yanked him to his feet and after a moment's hesitation, they both turned and fled as the bridge crumbled in their wake. Still stunned himself, Pippin did not at first realize that he was in their way until Boromir tripped over him and fell hard. Aragorn, forewarned, managed to throw himself to one side, and he rolled and came smoothly to his feet again.

A bruised and much chagrined Pippin crawled toward them, and as he looked up at Aragorn, the Ranger looked down and met his eyes. The light of Strider's eyes seemed extinguished by grief, but then Aragorn bestirred himself, reaching out to shepherd Pippin firmly back towards the remainder of the Company, while Boromir picked himself up from the ground.

"Come! I will lead you now!" Aragorn said, and his voice was taut as a drawn bow, but nevertheless it was the voice of authority, a voice which knew it had to be obeyed in this moment.

"We must obey his last command," he continued, giving Pippin a shove and forcing Sam and Frodo forward with his body while Merry staggered alongside. The hobbits, dazed, moved in one huddled mass, trusting Strider blindly as they had in the beginning. Legolas and Gimli, suddenly aware of each other again, paused uncertainly, and Aragorn called out over his shoulder with a trace of impatience, "Follow me!"

At last, they did, and Boromir, grim and silent, brought up the rear. Once they had begun to move, it seemed their legs took on a life of their own, and soon all were running through the last hewn hallway, plunging ahead heedlessly, seeking only to leave Moria behind at last. The gates loomed bright before them, seeming to mock their grief for having been so very near at hand. Pippin wept as he ran, and he swiped at his eyes, unwilling to fall now and delay them.

Something hot splattered on his face, and he blinked them open again quickly, staring in horror as his hands came away bloody from his cheeks. Then he saw the headless Orc captain, and saw Andúril flash red in the sunlight as they spilled out of the eastern gates, and he understood. It was a measure of his discomposure that he did not think to wipe the blood away. All the way to the eaves of the Golden Wood he bore it, as if it were the proscription of Fate itself.

Upon the land of Lórien there lay no stain of evil, unless one brought it thither oneself. But the Music was changed, and they lay now in the heart of the Silent Void. Galadriel, who sat upon the throne of Lothlórien, was troubled in her heart, and so the land itself knew doubt, for she could not defend it against that which the Void woke in her…

Tears burned hot against his lashes, but they did not fall. Yet that was not due to any strength of will on Pippin's part, but to the blindfold that drank them in. With a start, he woke fully, disoriented for a moment before memory returned.

We are in Lórien, passing blindfolded through the land, he thought, and wondered if he ought to be relieved. But though he walked now in safety, led by the elvish guards, he felt nothing, unless it were a dull ache for the fact of his continued existence. Gandalf is dead! He died for us… died to save us… to save me! Why?  

It made no sense to one Peregrin Took, and he pressed at the bandage, grateful that no one but their guides could see him. And perhaps the others, too, relished this time of private grief. Pippin sighed and lay still, thinking.

Though he knew better, the journey to Lórien had seemed to stretch on into eternity. Aragorn had led them on from the gates at such a pace that even Boromir had been winded when they had come to a halt. The hobbits had collapsed in their tracks, exhausted and grieving, and the Company had surrendered at last to helpless tears. Pippin had wept in the circle of Merry's arms, while Frodo and Sam had sat together. He had been too absorbed by his own sense of loss to note the manner in which the others mourned.

Finally, Aragorn had roused them all, reminding them of the danger of vengeful Orcs, but the look that he had cast back at the mountains had been as close to murderous as Pippin had ever seen. He had not actually thought Strider could carry such rage within him, and he shuddered at the memory, wondering what it meant.

When at last they had reached Nimrodel, Pippin had been staggering and half asleep on his feet. Though Legolas and Aragorn had seemed relieved to have come at last under the eaves of the golden woods, even there they had not been wholly without fear. For Legolas had cocked his head and listened to the stream, which carried a music in its rushing falls, and he had frowned. For the song of Nimrodel was disturbed: it lured the ear, and yet it did not quite achieve melody, wavering between song and sickness.

"I like it not," Legolas had said. "There is something amiss even here!" Boromir, who had not liked this path from the beginning, had darted a dark look at Aragorn's back upon hearing that, as if he counted this pronouncement as evidence of the malice of Lothlórien.

And what would make him do such a thing? Pippin wondered briefly. He had not taken Boromir for a grudge-holder, and he was glad that Aragorn had missed that resentful gaze. Having glimpsed briefly Strider's own anger, he decided that he would not want to be present if the two Men ever found reason truly to quarrel.

Of course, Boromir was back to being stuck between the openly resentful Gimli and Legolas, which had to be a trying place to be, though the Man made no effort to escape the tedious duty. Pippin sighed again. He knew too little of the history of the Elves and Dwarves to understand what drove such relentless hostility, however muted, but he knew better than to ask. Even Gandalf had not wanted to broach that subject.

In the mean time, he knew not where he went, trusting the guides to lead them well, and he wondered at the changes that he felt within himself. Once, he would have been content to lean upon the guidance of Frodo and Gandalf and the others without question, but now… now he flung himself after Men twice his size in efforts to save them! Now he found himself watching his companions closely for the first time, and though his gaze remained light, he had begun to notice things. Frodo seemed so tired and grave at times, and Gandalf was gone. Strider's thoughts were veiled as always, but it was clear that he was worried, and Boromir had suddenly (or so it seemed to him) grown moody.

For a hobbit new to the wide world, it was all overwhelming, and for the moment he wanted nothing more than for this journey to end.

Unbowed and fair were leaf and glen

Within the realm of Lórien

But falt'ring Song no Child can mend

Alas, alas, for Lórien!

Galadriel stood silently upon the edge of the talan , and gazed out over her realm as it lay under the twilight.

Lothlórien the Beautiful, fairest land of the Elves in exile. How I grieve for all that shall pass away! Even here, the stars do not shine so brightly as once they did. Alas, that the Shadow of the East lies no longer only in Mordor, she thought, remembering the hard words in the council. She had sensed the pain that the Company bore from the moment that they entered her realm, and she had also missed Gandalf's presence among them.

But she had not seen – or perhaps had not wished to see – how the one inspired the other until Aragorn had told their tale of woe. There was no comfort to be had in words, and she had had to release them without it, saying only that they should have refuge here until they were prepared to go on. For if the stain of her own troubled heart lay upon the land, still it was a restful place, and she imbued it with the desire to forget, to set aside the darkness that crowded upon its borders.

At least Gimli now knows some peace, she thought, smiling at the memory of the Dwarf's sincere gratitude for her words to him. At least I have still the power to ease some hearts… though not all,  she thought.

Galadriel sighed. She had looked into the hearts of the eight companions, and knew well the fears and temptations that pushed ever more sharply against the demands of conscience and duty. Boromir, she sensed, suffered more than any other, and she felt an immense pity for him. Yet she could not help him, for he did not trust her. What would become of him, she knew not, but she wished him well.

As for Aragorn, who had now to assume the mantle that Gandalf had let fall, it was not her words that he needed to hear, and she knew that her granddaughter was not in her chambers. She did not doubt where she might find Arwen at this moment, and she smiled slightly.

Last but not least in her thoughts was the Ring-bearer, Frodo son of Drogo, for Galadriel felt the tug of warring desires within her. On the one hand, she wanted nothing more than the success of his mission for the salvation of all, knowing well the burden that he bore. And on the other hand, there was, of course, temptation.

The longer he remains with us, the more will the malice of Sauron's tool make itself felt in my heart. I know what I must do, but ah! How carefully does Námo take our measure in the end!

And yet she could not resist the desire to touch once more upon Frodo's mind, and she felt his agonized fear, his doubt. Some debate, she guessed, took place among the Company, for she felt the touch of other thoughts, tense, confused, uncertain… then all faded from her mind as she let go Frodo's thought.

At last, she sighed, and turned her head and smiled sadly at Celeborn, who had come noiselessly up behind her. Her husband spoke no word of greeting, only wrapped his arms about her and pressed his cheek against hers. She laid her hands atop his, and Nenya glittered upon her finger, winking bewitchingly at her, like a lost star.

Let us not fall into the darkness! She sent her thought out to whatever power might hear it, and knew not yet that it was too late indeed to escape it.

Aragorn sat with his back to a great tree, legs crossed, hands resting lightly upon his knees, and he savored the knowledge that there was no one about him for miles. He should have remained with the others, he knew, but he simply could not bear to face them and their pain as well as his own. The fear that had haunted him ever since that long ago conversation with Gandalf in Rivendell had at last been borne out upon the bridge of Khazad-dûm, and his own self-control was near to breaking.

For, unlike the rest of the Company, Aragorn had enjoyed a long and intimate friendship with Gandalf, and the wizard was more than a guide to him, however dear. His thoughts returned incessantly to Moria, to the bridge and to the terrible sense of helplessness as Gandalf had writhed violently out of his grasp. That he could not have saved the wizard in any case – that Gandalf, indeed, had not wanted him to try – was no comfort at all to one who had loved him as a second father.

But there was more, even: for in that moment before Gandalf had escaped him, as he had ordered him to run, the wizard had looked straight into his eyes, and Aragorn son of Arathorn had felt a spark leap between them. And suddenly, he had known. He had known, with dreadful certainty and clarity, what it was that Gandalf had concealed from them, and in that very moment he had misdoubted his own strength.

How can I carry this? How can anyone bear such a burden? His mind shied away even now from the contemplation of that presentiment. Before the others, Aragorn could not pretend that all was well; he could not even summon the strength to keep his pain safely inside, where it could harm no one. In the swift journey south from Dimrill Dale, he had tried to push the pace not simply because of the danger of pursuit, but because he knew of only one way to stop his mind from thinking: physical exhaustion. But he was bound to others who could not match his speed, and so he had been forced to wait for them, feeling guilty for having tested the limits of their endurance for no reason but a selfish one.

And so, after washing, he had gone not back to the clearing beneath Caras Galadon.

Instead, he had slipped away and wandered in the glades of Lórien, having for once no particular destination in mind. And yet, once he had reached this isolated hillock, with its screen of gold-leafed mellyrn trees and grass laden with sleeping elenyr, he felt as though he had always intended to come there. It was now late indeed, and he had been sitting there for long hours, but he felt no desire to return yet. Though he supposed his companions were long since asleep, he had no heart for company of any kind.

"If that be so, my love, then I fear you will be disappointed," came a soft voice, near at hand, and Aragorn glanced sharply left.

There he beheld the slender, grey-clad form of Arwen as she paused and stood a moment against the trees. A small silver lamp she held, and its soft light cast wavering shadows upon her, giving the illusion that she shimmered as her namesake did. Then came she unbidden to his side and sat gracefully, draping her skirts about her as she set the lantern down.

She reached out and gently touched his face with her fingertips, and her eyes gleamed in the night. "Have you no word for one who has long missed you?"

"Arwen…." Words failed him momentarily, and he closed his eyes, feeling the heat of her body as she leaned close and kissed him lightly on the mouth. Will I ever touch her again, once I leave this place? No new question, that – it was ever with him, whenever they met, yet there was more in it this time.  How many times have I drunk her kisses like wine and hoped for a day beyond the Shadows? Now though…. "How did you find me?"

With a soft laugh, and a light touch as she smoothed a lock of hair from his eyes, she replied, "As I always do." Aragorn caught her hand in his, and she gazed solemnly at him in the close darkness. "I know you mourn, Estel," said she, and her tone was gentle and sad, "and I can taste your grief as my own, and your fear also. But why suffer alone?"

Aragorn sighed and shook his head, lowering his eyes as he sought an excuse. "I am not fit company tonight, beloved… for anyone." He started to look away, but Arwen laid her hand to the side of his face and restrained him, forcing him to look at her as she leaned close, and he saw that she was troubled.

"Aragorn, will you then hide even from me, who would be your wife? Shall the darkness drive you ever from me, even when we are together? Beloved, look to your own heart and have a care, for break it in your solitude and I cannot help you!" Arwen replied earnestly, and her eyes pierced him to the core, laying bare the wounds he bore. Aragorn felt his breath catch hard, even as Arwen urged, "Let me see you: speak!"

It would wound her, if he did not. That was certain; moreover, he wanted to yield, to let her see what he hid from the world and perhaps know some relief. But to say it... there he hesitated, feeling himself poised on the brink, and he feared to lean too far lest he fall.

Too late for fear – we are already falling, all of us, unwanted foresight retorted, and he shut his eyes. Even Gandalf's death could have been borne, but for that knowledge.

"Estel," Arwen murmured.

"That name is forfeit!" The repudiation slipped out ere he could stop it, and he opened his eyes to find her watching him, grave and grieved and wide with dark wonderment now.  Too late, mocked the voice of knowledge.  A long time too late! And since it was:

"How if you should fall with me, Arwen?" he managed at last. "I would not deliver you to darkness, but if what I have seen is true..."

"Say on," she urged when he trailed off. "Aragorn – what have you seen?"

He shook his head, futile denial, even as he answered: "Gandalf said once that we might greatly rue the death of Sméagol in the end, and I see now what he saw then. There is no end to this Darkness, beloved, only a beginning that stretches out infinitely...."

"Even in Lórien, a stain has fallen – darkness has begun to seep through, and Grandmother is filled with misgiving," Arwen spoke at length and slowly into the charged silence that followed, and he listened as dread leached into her voice, as she confessed: "I had thought, though, that it might pass..."

In horror, then, she cast down her proud eyes, and Aragorn swore bitterly if silently, feeling the rebirth of that fury he had known after their escape from Moria: the despairing fury of one to whom the bitter truth is both unacceptable and yet undeniable. To bear the knowledge of the coming Darkness alone was impossibly hard, but to see Arwen crushed under that same weight of terror was a desecration, and he caught her in his arms, seeking some faint glimmer of hope to comfort her, but he could find none.

Instead, he began to kiss her, desperately at first, then with increasing passion as she responded in kind. Arwen clung to him, unresisting as he laid her down amidst the flowers, and she gave only a little moan when he undid the buttons down the front of her dress.

Not like this, some corner of his mind protested, horrified, even as impatient hands hiked her skirts up about her hips. Not like this! 

But he could not stop himself. He half-hoped Arwen would stop him, but she seemed to have decided to fall with him. It was weakness – his, theirs – and yet more than that. There was a blindness to their loving that nevertheless bespoke an absolute trust, both of them surrendering to impulse, snatching this one chance to taste, however imperfectly and illicitly, what they had always thought to share one day. Always before, there had been a reason to wait, to hope still for a better day, for such blissful eternity as mortality permitted.

Now, though, bowed beneath Darkness unremitting, the old reasons and constraints no longer sufficed to hold in check the fire that kindled between them, and which grew stronger with each touch. Aragorn felt his very blood burn at Arwen's caresses, and at last surrendered even guilt, abandoning himself to the logic of the abyss, which knew but one law: take, hold, have.

Such was the intensity of the moment that there was no drawing it out, and Aragorn groaned softly, the noise forced from him by the exquisite mixture of pleasure and shame. They lay there entwined, sprawled one atop the other in the grass, and simply to breathe was an effort. All about, the forest was silent, save only for the rustle of wind in the trees, and the pounding of their hearts.

Below him, Arwen's face, lit by the lamp, was flushed and her dark hair, studded now with pale yellow blossoms, spread like an aureole, burnished in places to radiance by the silvery light. Ghostly she seemed, ethereal, and her beauty was now laden with the sadness that comes to all things mortal.

"Arwen," he murmured, fighting for breath and for a coherent thought, but wordless shame was all that seemed to come. When finally, he thought he might have found his voice, it was in his head to apologize profusely for having brought her to this pass, but Arwen reached up and pulled him close, forestalling him with a kiss.

"Be still, my love, and do not draw away from me now!" she whispered. "I made my choice long ago, and when we promised, then was I your wife in spirit even if not in name. And that makes you mine… and I would have you, come what may." She paused, running a fingertip lightly down his chest as she gazed deeply into his eyes. "So speak no words of regret to me, and when you leave again, as you must, then set the memory of tonight against the pain, and let me help carry you through this darkness."

"And if there is no end to it, as you and I foresee?" he asked.

Arwen smiled sadly as she gazed up at him with a knowing look, yet her voice was serene. And such was his love for her that Aragorn felt the spark of that love burn bright against the veils of hopelessness, compelling his belief in spite of himself.

"If there is no end to the night, then so be it," said she, stroking his cheek. "For Aragorn, even in the blackest night, we cannot sorrow forever, even if we should try to do so. There must be – there will  bemoments of joy, else we do not live!"

After that, they lay silently together in the darkness. Shyly at first, and then with a great tenderness born of their need, they loved each other and were comforted, 'til at last the tears that came were a release; a measure of healing rather than of hurt.

The sun had just begun to show itself on the eastern horizon when Aragorn at last stood in the tent, and gazed down at the sleeping forms of the Company.

Well, he thought, with a forlorn sort of dignity, I am back.

And in the midst of the Silence, there rose a faint Note, clear and sweet, and then the Music began to change again. But the Void remained, for the time was not ripe, and the Note faded once more… 


"Ai! ai! A Balrog! A Balrog is come!"

"A Balrog [...] Now I understand. What an evil fortune, for I am already weary!"

"Durin's Bane!"

"You cannot pass," he said. The Orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass!"

"Come! I will lead you now! [...] We must obey his last command. Follow me!" 

- all of these drawn directly from: "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm," FOTR. "Fly, you fool!" is from the same chapter, with just one slight change.

Well, I am back - see "The Grey Havens," ROTK.

Elenyr: According to the site Ardalambion, elenyr should be the Sindarin plural of elanor.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Dwimordene

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 09/01/10

Original Post: 06/06/02

Back to challenge: Change One Thing, See What Happens

Go to story: Lie Down in the Darkness, Rise up from the Ash

Keyword Search

Search for key terms in Challenge, Nuzgûl & Oliphaunt titles and descriptions.

Results are ordered alphabetically by title.