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During a journey in the dark...: 4. January 13, 3019 (Evening)
Author’s Notes: As an upfront warning, this chapter has quite a bit of dialogue taken directly from the books. For reference, we’re on pages 361-368 of Ballantine’s 50th Anniversary paperback edition of The Fellowship of the Ring. Additionally, there is a small bit of action taken from an early Tolkien manuscript that never made it into the final version of FotR. The reference for this comes from The Treason of Isengard (vol. 7 in the History of Middle-earth series), page 180 of the Houghton Mifflin 2000 edition. A brief discussion of what this action was and the reasons for its inclusions can be found at the bottom. But in the meantime, bonus points go out to those of you who can spot the event without reading the author’s notes at the end and without looking in HOME for the answer.
January 13, 3019 (Evening)
Aragorn wondered how elves could claim to be creatures of such light and grace while at the same time retaining the ability to make the darkness deeper with naught more than a simple pronouncement. For that was what Legolas had done. By confirming that the Wargs were closing upon their position and that there was now no way back, the elf had turned a dismal situation into a horrid one. Not that the situation wouldn’t have become horrid on its own if given enough time. The stagnant lake beside them was making Aragorn’s spine curl, the tension within the Fellowship was so thick it could be cut with a blade, and they were about to enter Moria, a place whose very name conjured images so black that Aragorn still shook to think of it. But even given these things, it had somehow been the elf that had pushed the outlook from dismal to horrid, and that was a worrisome omen. Nor does not help that we have had worrisome omens aplenty, the Ranger sighed. This is but another to add to the pile. At what point, I wonder, does a hill of omens become a mountain?
"You are uneasy," Legolas murmured.
"Do I appear so to you?"
The elf raised a brow and his eyes moved down to Aragorn's left hand, which was wrapped tightly about his sword hilt. "Dismiss me if you wish, but that does not make my words untrue."
"We are all uneasy," Aragorn said, forcing himself to release the weapon.
"That is certainly true, but your fears seem more focused than mine. And while you did speak of your forebodings, I saw naught more in your dream than a caution to be wary. That hardly explains either your anxiety or your earlier actions of denial. What have you neglected to tell us, Ranger?"
Aragorn grimaced as Legolas's words called to mind last moments of his dream from the previous night. The memory of what he'd seen had faded upon waking, but he could still recall clearly the fear that had overwhelmed his mind.
"More than you’d like, but less than you’d want," Aragorn said quietly.
Legolas's sharp glance fell upon him like a spear. "That answer was more appropriate for an elf than for a man."
"An ordinary man, perhaps. But a Ranger is not an ordinary man."
"True enough. An ordinary man could not endure the trials that you have faced. Nor could an ordinary man endure the foresight that is both your gift and your curse." Keen elven eyes studied Aragorn for a long moment, and then Legolas turned to look out over the lake. "If you feel it serves the Fellowship best to keep your silence, so be it. Time flits swiftly by, and I will not press you. But should you ever decide otherwise, know that I am willing to listen."
"If my foresight reveals more, I will tell you of it," Aragorn promised, relieved that Legolas was not going to force the topic. The Ranger found himself uncomfortable discussing anything that had to do with either the immediate future or with Moria in general. His own visit to the vast dwarven mines was now foremost in his thoughts, and a shiver rolled down his back ere he could stop it. Attempting to push the dark memories to the side, he shook his head and nodded toward the rest of the Fellowship. "Come. We must not let the others draw too far ahead."
He felt more than heard Legolas fall into step behind him. The elf’s presence was a comforting whisper on the edge of his perception, especially when compared with the growing sense of dread that signaled the approach of Wargs. But even Legolas could not stem the darkness that threatened to consume Aragorn. He tried to ignore the nightmarish memories that kept bobbing to the surface of his mind, but no matter how often he fought these memories back, they continued to return.
Darkness was what he remembered most from his previous journey to the mines. Darkness was sometimes all he remembered. But that was enough, and usually far too much. The darkness he’d felt within Moria had been more than the simple absence of light. There had been a source for the shadows, much as the sun might be a source for daylight. Aragorn had been unable to find this source, nor had he spent much time looking for it. It was buried in the depths, and Aragorn had been more than willing to let it remain there. But it had marked him, all the same. Just as one might feel the sunlight brush against both skin and soul, so too had the darkness of the ancient stronghold wrapped itself around Aragorn. For weeks after leaving the mines, he had been forced to sleep during the day, haunted by the memory of living night and unable to close his eyes when darkness covered the land.
What few other memories he retained from the mines were almost completely overshadowed by the darkness that had watched him unceasingly. Few things could frighten the average Ranger—if indeed any Ranger could be considered average—and even fewer things could frighten Aragorn. But Moria… Aragorn fought back a shiver. He would much rather face the jaws of the hungry Wargs than the passages of Moria. The slight chance that this road might see the Ring safely beyond the mountains kept him going, for the Quest still took priority over Aragorn’s fears. But only just.
His eyes strayed to Gandalf as the wizard led the Fellowship to a section of the cliff face containing smooth, vertical walls, devoid of any cracks or scars. They were close to the Doors. There was no sign of an entryway, but Aragorn knew that they were near. His senses were prickling, and the light of the waning moon seemed to pale and dim. Fool, Aragorn moaned, his thoughts directed toward the wizard. You sense the danger even as I do. You must! And yet you pay it no heed. My friend, this is madness. Surely you see it! Know you not how much we depend upon your guidance? Know you not how much power you grant us with your very presence? Know you not your own worth?!
As if hearing the anguished demands, Gandalf paused and turned back, his eyes locking with Ranger’s. The moment did not last long and Gandalf soon turned away again, but the brief glance had been just long enough for Aragorn to glimpse something akin to weary acceptance in the wizard’s eyes.
Not knowing what to make of this, Aragorn gave himself a mental shake and tried to turn his attention elsewhere. It was no good resisting the inevitable. Gandalf would find the hidden doors, Aragorn had no doubts about that, and then they would enter the dwarven mines. The Fellowship was committed to Moria. All other ways were closed to them. Aragorn knew this. He knew that he could not keep denying it. He knew he had to accept this fate. He did not have to like or understand it, but he did have to accept it. To do anything else now would be foolish. And so with a shake of his head that did not shake away his grave misgivings, Aragorn silently followed the wizard until Gandalf came to a stop at the foot of two enormous holly trees.
They had passed a few rotting remains of holly trees before now, and the ground underfoot was littered with cracked branches and limbs. A meter or so out in the foul lake, several stumps could be seen, silent and still as the water gently lapped against the decaying wood. Only the two trees beside the cliff face itself remained, and Aragorn could not help but feel a swell of kinship for them as well as grief for the passing of their companions. Towering overhead with their roots spreading wide until they disappeared beneath the filthy waters, the surviving trees stood straight and tall in open defiance of the darkness that had taken the others. Aragorn’s mind turned instantly to his fellow Rangers, remembering lives that had been lost and the desperation of those left behind.
"Well, here we are at last!" Gandalf said, interrupting Aragorn’s thoughts. Judging from the twitch of Legolas’s head and Boromir’s slight start, Aragorn was not the only one whose mind had turned elsewhere. "Here the elven-way from Hollin ended," the wizard continued. "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."
That last statement had been made with a rather pointed look toward Legolas and Gimli, and Aragorn felt himself tensing. Legolas was clearly reluctant to enter the mines, and Gimli’s obvious enthusiasm had done nothing for the elf’s mood. In a similar vein, the dwarf seemed to be upset that none of the others shared his desire to learn what had happened to his lost kin, and Legolas was not helping matters by continually hanging behind the group as though wanting to stay as far away from their destination as possible.
"It was not the fault of the dwarves that the friendship waned," Gimli murmured, folding his arms across his chest and sending a challenging glare in Legolas’s direction. Aragorn winced.
"I have not heard that it was the fault of the elves," Legolas answered, lifting his chin slightly as he spoke. Aragorn winced again and prepared to step between the two.
"I have heard both," Gandalf said sharply, and his voice took on a commanding tone that reminded Aragorn very much of Glorfindel. "And I will not give judgement 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."
It was a final plea for an end to the feuding, and Aragorn fancied he heard a slight hint of desperation hidden deep within the wizard’s voice. He fears the mines more than he shows, the Ranger realized. Would that he might fear them enough to forsake them.
Perhaps also hearing Gandalf’s hint of desperation and recognizing it for what it was, Gimli and Legolas both took a step back and looked away. It was not exactly agreement, but it signaled a potential truce, and Aragorn fought off a sigh of relief. Looking similarly relieved, Gandalf nodded and then turned his attention to the rest of the Fellowship.
"While I am searching, will you each make ready to enter the Mines?" the wizard instructed. "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."
Stunned silence met this announcement, and Aragorn found himself turning wary eyes upon Sam. The thought of leaving their pony on the doorsteps of Moria was something that should have occurred to Aragorn before now, but his mind had been occupied with other concerns. Still, it was a logical decision. They couldn’t take the poor animal into the mines where water and food would be rationed and where they would meet with obstacles that the pony could not overcome. Aragorn doubted that Sam would see it that way, though.
"But you can’t leave poor old Bill behind in this forsaken place, Mr. Gandalf!" the gardener roared, confirming Aragorn’s fears. The hobbit’s expression was a mask of anger, and his fists were clenched tightly about Bill’s lead rope. "I won’t have it, and that’s flat. After he has come so far and all!"
"I am sorry, Sam," Gandalf said, his voice gentle yet firm. "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," Sam replied hotly, eyes shining with both defiance and tears. "It’d be nothing short of murder to turn him loose with all these wolves about."
The rest of the Fellowship watched this exchange in silence, and Aragorn studied each member in turn. Legolas and Boromir appeared to accept the necessity of leaving Bill behind, but neither looked happy about the prospect. Gimli was difficult to read, yet almost it seemed as though he’d expected this, and Frodo appeared likewise. Perhaps Gandalf had said something to both of them earlier. Or perhaps they had reached the conclusion on their own, as Aragorn should have. Merry and Pippin, on the other hand, had clearly been caught off guard and were looking at Gandalf with mutinous expressions, making certain that all knew they favored Sam in this argument.
"It will be short of murder, I hope," Gandalf said quietly, addressing not only Sam but also Merry and Pippin. His eyes spoke of confidence, and after a moment, Merry sighed and looked away. A short while later, Pippin followed his example, leaving only Sam, whose anger seemed to be trading places with fear. Gandalf now focused his attention completely on the gardener and stepped toward Bill, placing a large hand upon the pony’s head. "Go with words of guard and guiding on you," Gandalf intoned, his words so soft that Aragorn had to strain to hear him. Bill’s ears pricked up, and he became completely motionless as the wizard spoke. "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 wherever you wish to go."
Gandalf lifted his hand and stepped back. Bill’s tail swished as he tossed his head once, almost as though in acknowledgement, and Aragorn wondered how much of this the pony understood.
"There, Sam," Gandalf said, sounding somewhat weary. "He will have quite as much chance of escaping wolves and getting home as we have."
And what chance is that? Aragorn thought bitterly before he could stop himself. He was usually able to find a glimmer of hope in every situation, but the threat of Moria looming in his mind made the shadows difficult to ignore.
Sam seemed to be having similar thoughts, for he did not appear remotely comforted by Gandalf’s words. He stood as though frozen, his eyes swimming, until Bill whickered softly and butted Sam with his head, nuzzling his neck and blowing gently upon his hair. It was the last straw for Sam, who finally loosed his tears with a choking sob and groped blindly at the buckles that would release Bill’s halter.
"Divide the goods as evenly as you can," someone murmured at Aragorn’s side, and he turned to find Gandalf at his elbow. "But do not overburden the hobbits, and do not take more than is necessary. Much should remain here, for we can obtain more supplies after leaving the mines."
Aragorn nodded and the wizard left, moving back toward the wall. By now, Sam had managed to get Bill’s halter off and was working at the packs on his back, still shaking under the force of tears. Frodo, Pippin, and Merry had moved to help, but the rest seemed reluctant to intrude. At length, Legolas took off his own pack and handed it to Aragorn.
"I can carry far more than I have been given," the elf said quietly. "I trust you to add whatever you think necessary. I am going to retrace our footsteps along the lake and move away from these cliffs. Hopefully I will be able to better hear the Wargs where sounds do not echo so."
Sounds of the fell wolves had yet to reach Aragorn’s ears, but he knew better than to doubt Legolas. "How close are they?" he asked, keeping his voice low.
"That is what I mean to learn," Legolas answered, his gray eyes dark with concern.
"I will accompany you," a new voice said, and Aragorn suddenly found himself holding Boromir’s pack as well. "None should wander alone."
"I welcome your presence," Legolas said, dipping his head at Boromir. "Come, then, and let us depart. We must be swift."
"Do not stray far," Aragorn warned. Most of the pony’s packs were now on the ground, and Gimli had joined the hobbits in going through their contents. "We will not take long, and we should enter the mines shortly."
"Valar willing, we shall return ere Gandalf opens the Doors," Legolas promised before slipping away into the night. Boromir followed him and the two were soon no more than shadows silently moving up the shore of the lake.
As if by signal, a chill wind began to blow.
With a critical eye, Pippin hefted his repacked bag. It was heavier now than it had been, but not unduly so. Under the guidance of Aragorn and Gimli, quite a number of things had been deemed unnecessary and discarded to one side, which meant that redistributing Bill’s baggage had been easier than Pippin had expected it to be. And it had all been done so quickly! He wasn’t sure if he would have trusted his own judgement when sorting through things at such speed, but Aragorn and Gimli had gone through the packs faster than Fatty Bolger could go through breakfast. Initially, Pippin had been skeptical of their decisions, but both man and dwarf had appeared supremely confident and could explain every choice they'd made when questioned. So the hobbit decided to mark this down as simply another inexplicable ability of his traveling companions and filed it away for future contemplation.
Aragorn and Gimli were now toying with a few spare packs that contained extra gear such as flint and kindling for torches. They said that these bags could be rotated within the Fellowship throughout the journey so that the burden was equally shared. Things seemed to be well in hand, and despite the rumors he’d heard of Moria and the tension among his companions, Pippin felt somewhat better about their road. Of course, this business of repacking did mean that he was leaving behind two warm woolen cloaks that he’d become quite fond of, but he could endure the loss.
It also meant leaving Bill behind, but Pippin was trying not to think about that.
Sudden movement beside the lake made him jump, and he reached wildly for the dagger hanging from his belt. It was a reflex he was unconsciously acquiring from Boromir and Aragorn, both of whom seemed to go for their sword hilts when surprised or uneasy. Pippin was not as skilled as they and missed the dagger’s haft on the first try, but he got it on the second and started to draw it before realizing that the movement came from the returning figures of Legolas and Boromir. Relief swept through Pippin, who was becoming increasingly nervous when various members of the Fellowship wandered away from the group. Having now seen for himself the sheer ferocity of the Wargs, he could not help but imagine what the fell wolves might do if they caught one of the Fellowship alone and unawares. Pippin knew that he walked with warriors who had faced many dangers, but he also knew that simple mistakes preyed upon the weak and the strong alike.
"Could you tell how far?"
Aragorn had gone over to speak with Boromir and Legolas, and judging from his hushed tone, he did not intend for others to hear his words. The polite thing would be to move toward Gandalf, who was staring at the rock wall between the holly trees. But Pippin was not in the mood to watch stone and his infamous Took curiosity was pleading with him to stay and listen to the conversation.
"I could not," Legolas said in response to Aragorn’s question. "They are close enough to warrant caution, certainly, but I know no more than that. I can only hear them; I cannot properly feel them."
"What do you mean?"
"There is something dark here, Aragorn," Boromir murmured. "Even the hobbits know it. I had begun to sense the malice that accompanies these Wargs, but now I cannot pick it out from the shadows that surround us here."
"It is the lake and the mountains both," Legolas elaborated. "They conspire against me, and the wind and echoes do not help. Had I the time, I would learn the voice of the mountain so I might separate it from the voices of the wolves, but I fear we shall either be within Moria or they shall be upon us ere then."
"Even so, you should probably make the attempt," Aragorn sighed. "Such knowledge might be useful within the mines."
This apparently signaled the end of the conversation, though Pippin was extremely confused as to what the last bit had meant. Judging from Boromir’s expression, he was not alone in his ignorance, but Boromir seemed reluctant to press the matter. And as Pippin couldn’t very well hop into the conversation now and deny that he’d been eavesdropping, he was forced to follow Boromir’s example. Wondering if he would ever truly understand his companions, Pippin sighed and turned to look for Merry.
Finding his cousin next to Bill and Sam, he walked toward them, dragging his pack with him but not yet putting it over his shoulders. Why burden himself with it now when there would be plenty of opportunities to haul it about in the future?
"All set, then?" Merry asked as Pippin reached them.
"As much as I will be," Pippin answered. "You?"
"I’m thinking of going through the things that Strider and Gimli said we could leave behind. I know they’re experienced, but I can’t help wondering if they missed something."
Pippin eyed the large pile sitting off to the side speculatively. "That might take a while."
"Well, it’s not as though we’re setting off right now," Merry shrugged.
"I suppose you’re right," Pippin agreed, looking around. Aragorn and Boromir now stood together with Frodo, all three contemplating the dark lake that didn’t even reflect the stars. Sam was eerily silent, his hand stroking Bill’s neck absently and his eyes blank. Gimli was walking around tapping the sides of the cliff than towered next to them, mumbling quietly to himself as he walked while Legolas seemed to have molded himself to the rock face with his head turned to the side so that one ear was pressed against the stone. Pippin blinked at this and studied the elf for a moment before deciding that it was probably an incomprehensible extension of the earlier conversation. The behavior now explained, Pippin turned his eyes to the last member of the Fellowship.
Gandalf had not moved since he’d told them to redistribute Bill’s supplies. With his eyes fixed upon the stone wall before him, the wizard might have been carved of stone himself. Even the rising wind seemed to leave him alone, barely moving his cloak and beard. What he was doing, Pippin could not begin to guess, but he was now fairly sure of one thing: Merry was right. It did not look as though they would be setting out soon.
"Wasn’t he telling us to be quick when we were traveling here?" Merry murmured, keeping his voice down. "I guess the time for hurrying is over."
"Not according to Legolas and Boromir," Pippin whispered back. "They just returned from a scouting trip or something, and neither one of them look very happy. They were talking to Strider about the Wargs and how they’re still on our trail."
"Which probably means I don’t have time to go through that pile of things we’re leaving behind," Merry sighed with a shake of his head. "Well, if I can’t do that, we should get underway. Come on, Pip. Let’s see if we can start things moving."
The two hobbits moved toward Gandalf, packs in hand, and as they did so, Pippin noted that most of the others were doing the same. Even Sam seemed to have broken out of his daze and was following them. Before long, they had formed a partial circle around the wizard, who remained motionless. Pippin wondered if Gandalf would acknowledge them or if one of the Fellowship would have to get his attention.
After a moment, Merry seemed to decide that the latter option was necessary and cleared his throat, causing Pippin to jump. "Well, here we are and all ready," he announced boldly. "But where are the Doors? I can’t see any sign of them."
"Dwarf-doors are not made to be seen when shut," Gimli said, ceasing his inspection of the rock and moving to join the others. "They are invisible, and their own masters cannot find them or open them, if their secret is forgotten."
That’s inconvenient, Pippin thought with a slight sinking feeling. If these doors can’t be found, then how are we to enter them?
Almost as though listening to Pippin’s thoughts, Gandalf chose that moment to break from whatever trance had held him, and he looked back at the Fellowship, his eyes gleaming. "But this Door was not made to be a secret known only to dwarves. Unless things are altogether changed, eyes that know what to look for may discover the signs."
Pippin’s brow furrowed and he began looking about, wondering what signs Gandalf might be referring to. He couldn’t see anything remarkable or out of the ordinary, but then again, he didn’t know what to look for. The wizard, on the other hand, did. Gandalf had stepped forward and was now running his hands over the stone between the Holly trees, murmuring quietly beneath his breath in a voice so low that it was impossible to make out the words.
"Look," Gandalf commanded at length, taking a step back so as to give the others a clear view. "Can you see anything now?"
No, Pippin thought, sorely tempted to say this aloud. But everyone else was focused upon the rock, and Pippin wondered if this was a test of sorts. Deciding to err on the side of caution, he kept his mouth shut and continued to watch. And after a long moment, his wait was rewarded.
In the places where Gandalf’s hand had passed, thin lines of silver began to glow. They were faint at first, but they grew brighter quickly and before long it was possible to see the pattern they made. There was an arching inscription of sorts at the top of the silver, but the letters were foreign to Pippin and he could not read what it said. Below this arch, the lines became broken and dim, yet Pippin could eventually make out a crown, a hammer, an anvil, and seven small stars. Below these were the silver outlines of two trees bearing crescent moons, their borders touching the real holly trees on either side of the design. And set between these two trees was a large star with many rays of light about it.
"There are the emblems of Durin!" Gimli exclaimed, his eyes fixed on the section with the hammer and the crown.
"And there is the Tree of the High Elves," Legolas added, stepping forward a bit.
"And the Star of the House of Fëanor," Gandalf concluded with a slow nod. "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 my mind."
Frodo moved closer to the silver lines, cocking his head to one side and narrowing his eyes. "What does the writing say?" he asked. "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," the wizard answered. "But they do not say anything of importance to us. 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?" Merry asked. Pippin’s insatiable curiosity was actually more interested in who Narvi and Celebrimbor were, but he did not speak because Merry’s question seemed more pertinent. Pippin could be restrained if the situation called for it.
"That is plain enough," Gimli said with a shrug. "If you are a friend, speak the password, and the doors will open, and you can enter."
"Yes, these doors are probably governed by words," Gandalf agreed. Probably? Pippin wondered with sudden alarm, but Gandalf continued before he could be questioned. "Some dwarf-gates will open only at special times, or for particular persons; and some have locks and keys that are still needed when all necessary times and words are known. These doors have no key. In the days of Durin they were not secret. They usually stood open and doorwards sat here. But if they were shut, any who knew the opening word could speak it and pass in. At least so it is recorded, is it not, Gimli?"
"It is. But what the word was is not remembered," Gimli said with a somewhat nervous look at the wizard. "Narvi and his craft and all his kindred have vanished from the earth."
"But do not you know the words, Gandalf?" Boromir demanded, apparently sharing Pippin’s growing suspicions.
Pippin felt his stomach drop. Only moments ago, he’d listened to Aragorn, Boromir, and Legolas talk about how the Wargs still pursued them but that it was difficult to say how close they were because there were even darker things about. Before then, it had been agreed that Bill should be left here with the Wargs, and they’d subsequently divided up the remaining supplies. Even before that, they’d steeled themselves for the darkness that lay before them in Moria following the announcement that they were forced to take this road. Why was Gandalf only now telling them that he did not know how to enter the mines?
"Then what was the use of bringing us to this accursed spot?" Boromir raged, and though Pippin agreed with him, he flinched to hear the anger in the man’s voice. "You told us that you have once passed through the Mines. How could that be, if you did not know how to enter?"
"The answer to your first question, Boromir, is that I do not know the word—yet. But we shall soon see. And, you may ask what is the use of my deeds when they are proved useless," Gandalf said coolly, his eyes flashing. "As for your other question: do you doubt my tale? Or have you no wits left? I did not enter this way. I came from the East." Gandalf’s gaze remained fixed upon Boromir, daring the other to challenge him or to disagree. When the man finally looked away, the wizard seemed to relent a bit. "If you wish to know, I will tell you that these doors open outwards," he said, gesturing to the glistening silver streams that lined the cliff face. "From the inside you may thrust them open with your hands. From the outside nothing will move them save the spell of command. They cannot be forced inwards."
Gandalf seemed to feel that this was a sufficient explanation, but Pippin was far from satisfied. He knew he shouldn’t antagonize the wizard, but Gandalf had just said that the doors could not be forced inwards and that only the spell of command could open them from the outside. Gandalf had also just said that he didn’t know that spell. Pippin might have been young and he might have been inexperienced, but he could put two and two together. This did not sound like a promising situation, and thus the hobbit was forced to release his fading grip on restraint and ask, "What are you going to do then?"
Irritation was quick to return to Gandalf’s eyes, and Pippin backed up a space. "Knock on the doors with your head, Peregrin Took," the wizard snapped with a baleful glare. "But if that does not shatter them, and I am allowed a little peace from foolish questions, I will seek for the opening words." Gandalf turned back to the stone wall, running a speculative eye over the silver. "I once knew every spell in all the tongues of elves or men or orcs that was ever used for such a purpose," he said after a brief pause. "I can still remember ten score of them without searching in my mind. But only a few trials, I think, will be needed; and I shall not have to call on Gimli for words of the secret dwarf-tongue that they teach to none. The opening words were elvish, like the writing on the arch: that seems certain."
At least something is certain, Pippin sighed, still not entirely confident. He knew that he should have more faith in Gandalf’s ability, but the thought of being caught by Wargs with a towering cliff on one side and a foul lake on the other was sending shivers up and down the hobbit’s spine.
Gandalf stepped up to the wall and pressed his staff against the glowing star that hung between the trees and below the anvil. The wind, which had been growing steadily as the evening progressed, seemed to die away. Pippin felt the other hobbits draw close around him, and together they watched expectantly as the wizard closed his eyes in concentration. With a tight grip upon his staff, Gandalf raised his head and cried aloud, his voice firm and commanding.
"Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen! Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth lammen!"
The words echoed off the walls and out across the lake, causing faint ripples to appear in the murky water. The stars above danced. The faint light of the waning moon seemed to gain strength. The silver lines upon the smooth stone faded from sight.
And nothing happened.
Gandalf took a step back from the wall and held his staff aloft. "Lasto, annon edhellen, a edro ammen!"
That didn’t seem to work either.
Gandalf spoke again, using words similar to what he’d used before but changing their order slightly. When this failed, he began repeating his original words while changing the pitch, tone, and volume of his voice as he spoke. But the stone remained blank, the wind picked up again, and the Fellowship began to grow restless.
"Well, he did say as it would take a few tries," Sam murmured.
"He said it would only take a few tries," Merry corrected.
"He’ll open the doors for us," Frodo said. "We wouldn’t be here if he couldn’t."
The four hobbits looked over at the wizard, who was now working on single words rather than phrases. His tone was still rising and falling as he attempted vocal variations, but to those who listened closely, Gandalf's voice were now overshadowed by a hint of growing ire.
"Maybe Boromir was right," Pippin whispered, hating to discount Gandalf’s wisdom but painfully aware of the fact that Legolas and Aragorn were both looking over their shoulders at the darkness on the other side of the lake. "Maybe we should have gone south to that gap or pass they were talking about."
"But isn’t that where the other wizard lives?" Sam asked. "Saruman, I think his name was. Gandalf didn’t want us taking You-Know-What so close to him."
"And you have to consider the wolves," Frodo added. "They travel faster than we do. If we can’t elude them here, we’re sure to repeat the battle we had last night, except we might not be so lucky the second time around."
"But that’s just the point," Pippin persisted. "Legolas and Boromir went off earlier, and when they came back they didn’t sound too certain of themselves when talking about the Wargs. They’re not sure how close they are, but they probably aren’t too far off. If we can’t get in now, maybe we’d best get away before we’re cornered against this rock. I don’t look forward to battling the Wargs with the mountains behind us and that wretched lake beside us."
"It is rather…unsavory," Frodo said slowly, eyeing the dark water. "Perhaps more so than the darkness of the mountains. Or even the Wargs." His eyes narrowed and he stared at the lake for a long moment. Then he shuddered a bit and turned back to his fellow hobbits. "But if we leave now, where would we go?"
"Somewhere else. Anywhere but here."
"It’s no good, Pippin," Merry said, shaking his head. "We’re too close to the mountains now. We’ve nowhere to go but back to where we came from, and I don’t think we can do that fast enough."
"Edro! Edro!" Gandalf suddenly cried loudly, returning their attention to the doors that were still hidden. The shout was followed by a hard thud as his staff was slammed against the silent rock, and the hobbits watched in dismay as the wizard raised his staff to strike the rock a second time, shouting, "Open! Open!"
"That really isn’t encouraging," Merry whispered with a frown.
"Maybe you’re right and it’s too late to run," Pippin conceded. "But if we left, I’d at least feel that we were trying to do something."
"Gandalf is trying to do something," Frodo pointed out.
"He is, but we’re not."
"Á panta! Â pantâ!" the wizard continued, moving swiftly through a variety of languages.
Pippin risked a glance at the other members of the Fellowship. Gimli was holding his axe, his hands tightening around the haft. Boromir was moving about restlessly near the lake, and Pippin could see that he’d loosened his sword in its scabbard. Legolas had moved back up the shore and was now just a shadow against the moonlight. Only Aragorn seemed calm, yet even so, there was a flicker of concern in his eyes that had not been there before.
"Gandalf won’t fail us," Frodo insisted. "We’ve come this far. We won’t stop here. I’m staying with him, whatever may come next."
"So are the rest of us," Pippin observed. "That’s more or less the problem, isn’t it?"
Pippin shook his head and turned back just in time to see Gandalf throw his staff to the ground and sit down. "You’ve got my support, Frodo," Pippin said quietly. "You always have and you always will. But right now, I wish that all of us were somewhere else. I don’t think this is working the way it was supposed to. And now it looks like Gandalf isn’t doing anything at all."
"We will get in," Frodo said, rubbing his arms and moving off toward the lake. "We just have to wait a little longer."
"Only if waiting is something we’ve got time to do," Merry said glumly. "I stand by what I said before: It’s too late to go back. But I also agree with Pippin: I’d rather be anywhere else but here."
Gandalf usually enjoyed a good puzzle.
During times of relative peace, the wizard had occasionally sought out Saruman, Radagast, Elrond, Círdan, Galadriel, Celeborn, Glorfindel, Thranduil, and a host of others accounted Wise in order to pit his knowledge and cunning against their own. These tests of intellectual skill would take the form of debates, riddles, word plays, and a variety of other challenges, all of which Gandalf relished. Even in times of war and uncertainty, Gandalf still enjoyed testing his wits against others. He was reluctant to admit it, even to himself, but there was a definite thrill involved when uncovering some secret of the Enemy’s or of recognizing the machinations behind Dol Guldur’s latest attack. In many ways, the war against Mordor was not unlike the games that he played with his allies, except that in this case, his opponent was Sauron and the prize was Middle-earth rather than a flask of wine or a chance to peruse private scroll collections. And once in a great while, these higher risks made the game more enjoyable.
Not that Gandalf was callous about the lives lost in pursuit of the prize. Far from it. He was all too aware that failure to succeed at the game resulted in sorrow and grief for others. He was responsible for the men, elves, dwarves, and hobbits that he involved in this great gamble against the Dark Lord, and he took this responsibility seriously. But even so, he could not deny that deciphering Sauron’s plans gave him a small, secret thrill. It was a dangerous path he walked, and he knew that he was sometimes very close to the edge over which Saruman had fallen.
And upon occasion, he even enjoyed that.
But upon other occasions, when his responsibility bore down on him and time began to slip away, Gandalf’s love of the puzzle gave way to anger and frustration. Sitting here before the impenetrable and seemingly impassable walls of Moria, the wizard decided that this was one such occasion.
Ennyn Durin Aran Moria: pedo mellon a minno. Im Narvi hain echant: Celebrimbor o Eregion teithant i thiw hin.
His impatience mounting, Gandalf ran the words above the gate through his mind over and over, looking for any clue that might give him the key to opening the Door. The usual spells and words had not worked, and Gandalf was loathe to try to more complex opening spells as they took too much time and required power he did not wish to spend. So he returned to the beginning and started over, just as he would with any puzzle or riddle. He felt that there was something important about the words inscribed on the walls. But what that something was, he could not yet say.
Ennyn Durin Aran Moria.
The first part was fairly typical of both dwarves and elves. It was essentially a declaration of location and ownership. These were Durin’s Doors, and Durin was Lord of Moria. Dwarves and elves often put such declarations above the entrances of their halls and strongholds.
Pedo mellon a minno.
This part was not as typical. Pedo mellon a minno. Speak, friend, and enter. Now that Gandalf considered it, the instructions seemed…superfluous. Anyone who came here knowing how to awaken ithildin would undoubtedly also know that a password was required to open the doors. So why include this information? Dwarves and elves were both industrious workers with a great eye for detail and a love of beauty, but they were also prudent and wouldn’t have wasted valuable ithildin on unnecessary words. They would have left it at Ennyn Durin Aran Moria. They would not have included the second section unless it was important.
Im Narvi hain echant: Celebrimbor o Eregion teithant i thiw hin.
As with the first part, the third part was again common. It was not unusual for craftsmen to sign their names upon their works, and Narvi and Celebrimbor in particular liked to let others know what they had created. So for the time being, Gandalf decided to discount the first and last bits of the inscription and concentrate on the middle, something that Merry had done immediately after hearing the inscription’s translation. The wizard shook his head. Hobbits never failed to surprise him. Perhaps Merry had been on the right path from the beginning. He made a note to pay even closer attention to the hobbit’s observations in the future.
Now having something upon which to focus his growing frustration, Gandalf prepared to tackle the mystery of the words: pedo mellon a minno. But before he could do so, a sudden rush of wind wailed past him, and carrying clearly upon the gale’s roar was the unmistakable howl of Wargs.
They were running out of time.
As though from far away, Gandalf heard Bill whinny in fright and paw at the ground. He heard a scramble of feet and knew that Sam had seized the pony. "Do not let him run away!" someone ordered. "It seems that we shall need him still, if the wolves do not find us. How I hate this foul pool!"
Gandalf turned his head slightly, driven by some feeling of foreboding, but he was not in time to prevent the stone that sailed from Boromir’s hand into the lake. Ripples began to spread outward from the point at which the stone had entered the water, and Gandalf was suddenly very much aware of a watching presence.
"Why did you do that, Boromir?" the wizard heard Frodo whisper. "I hate this place, too. And I am afraid. I don’t know of what: not of wolves, or the dark behind the doors, but of something else. I am afraid of the pool. Don’t disturb it!"
So Frodo felt it, too. That was probably to be expected. But Gandalf doubted that he felt it as clearly as the wizard did. Something was coming. Something much closer and much more dangerous than the prowling Wargs.
There were times when Gandalf wished he was not so knowledgeable. There were times when he wished he had a part of the innocence that Boromir still possessed. It is just a mountain, Boromir had protested while high on Caradhras. A thing. And now that another thing—in this case, the lake—was making Boromir uneasy, he had felt justified in lashing out at it. Gandalf wished he could have that naivete. He wished he could lash out at this door. At the mines. At the mountains. At the puzzle he no longer enjoyed. But Gandalf had lived too long for that. He knew that mere things were sometimes more powerful than mortals could possibly fathom. He knew the lake held danger. He could sense peril rippling just below the surface. He knew the mines held doom. He could feel it lurking on the edge of his mind. And Gandalf wished with all his heart that he could raise his staff against these things and force them back.
But every show of power on the wizard’s part drew the Enemy’s eye closer to the Fellowship. And apart from that, taking action against empowered wards such as the lake and the mines came with its own repercussions. The hobbits and men would term such things as magical—a broad word that did not even begin to describe what was actually happening—and magical things did not appreciate interference or command from other magical things. No, Gandalf could not force his way into Moria and he could not negate the danger in the lake. If he were to succeed, he would have to succeed on terms other than his own. He would have to solve the riddle of the doors. And he would have to do it now.
Another rush of wind swept by the Fellowship, and again the yelping wail of Wargs was heard. "I wish we could get away," Merry murmured from somewhere behind the wizard.
"Why doesn’t Gandalf do something quick?" Pippin demanded.
Firmly blocking out the rising voices of the Fellowship as well as the calls of the Wargs and the growing presence of malice in the lake, Gandalf sank deep within himself and twisted his mind around the second part of the inscription. Pedo mellon a minno. Speak, friend, and enter. What did it mean? Why had it been written? Pedo was a command meaning speak or say. Minno came from the word minna, which meant enter. Speak and enter. But speak what? A word? Say something and enter? That made sense, but there was no indication of what should be said. It wasn’t as though the password was written on the door, though given the steady traffic between Moria and Eregion, he might have expected Narvi and Celebrimbor to do something like that. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that the inscription read mellon, Gandalf would have suspected that it was telling him to say friend and…
The wizard’s eyes narrowed as a new possibility occurred to him. What if the translation was not speak, friend, and enter but rather say "friend" and enter? If that was the case, though, then mellon should have been changed to vellon because it took the action of the command pedo. At least, that’s what should have happened under normal circumstances. But what if Celebrimbor purposefully did not change the word? Gandalf wondered. What if he'd written mellon as it was meant to be said, not as it was meant to be seen?
And Gandalf began to laugh.
Through the wind, the howls of the Wargs grew loud. Over the lake, ripples of a disturbance beneath the still water lapped against the shore. Beneath the towering mountains, the Fellowship drew together in surprise and alarm. Yet Gandalf could not quite contain himself. It was so ridiculous. To be fooled by such a little thing! It seemed that Merry had indeed been right. The answer was in the inscription itself. And none of them had seen it until it was almost too late.
"I have it!" he told the others, who were now staring at him as though he’d gone mad. Far away along the shoreline, even the shadowy form of Legolas had paused to look back. "Of course, of course!" Gandalf chuckled with a slightly rueful shake of his head. "Absurdly simple, like most riddles when you see the answer." Still chuckling he stepped forward and lifted his staff, now certain of himself. "Mellon!"
The ithildin upon the sheer rock flickered, and the star of Fëanor shone out brightly, as though in tribute to the artistic workmanship of Fëanor’s grandson. Then it faded, and a large crack appeared in the cliff face where before there had been naught but smooth stone. With neither a groan nor a rumble, the Doors of Moria parted silently down the middle and began to swing outwards. Their journey was slow and the howl of Wargs could still be heard, but these things seemed to be forgotten as Gandalf felt his companions gather around him and peer into the gloom of the mines. A set of steep stairs could be made out just beyond the doors, but all else lay veiled in thick shadows.
At length, the doors came to a stop flat against the cliff face, their sides brushing the leaves of the great holly trees. "I was wrong after all, and Gimli, too," Gandalf said. "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. I had only to speak the elvish word for friend and the doors opened. Quite simple. Too simple for a learned lore-master in these suspicious days. Those were happier times." A shadow passed across Gandalf’s face as he called to mind the horrid events that had ended such "happier times." Shaking the grim thoughts away quickly, he turned back to the waiting Fellowship. "Now let us go."
He strode forward into the darkness, intent that they should start at once. A feeling of peril was beginning to overwhelm him. His earlier concentration had masked it and the relief he’d felt when the Doors opened had also prevented him from seeing it, but now he was once again concentrating upon his surroundings, and he immediately recognized that danger was nearly upon them. Something with a mind of malice was lurking within the lake, so near the shore that it—
The sudden knowledge that all was not well jolted through his mind like a ragged thunderbolt in a dry summer, and Gandalf swung around to give a warning.
Only to discover that he was too late.
Frodo's abrupt cry shocked them all as something like a writhing snake wrapped itself around the hobbit's ankle and jerked him backwards. Bill reared in fright and whirled away, his hooves clattering loudly against the rocks as he galloped into the night. Far away, Legolas was now running swiftly for the doors, weaving through the rotting tree stumps. Sam moved as though to go after the pony, but he whirled around at Frodo’s second cry, and with a sharp oath he hastened toward his master, cursing and drawing his knife. Boromir, Gimli, and Aragorn all moved as though to help, but then they froze as their eyes were drawn to the lake itself. Following their gaze, Gandalf inhaled sharply at what he saw.
The lake seemed to be alive. It boiled and churned while a host of the snake-like tentacles wormed their way toward the shore, stirring the water into a frothy mass of foul-smelling waves. The tentacles collided with land and curled around one another, darting this way and that in a sinuous and almost hypnotic dance.
A strangled shout upon the threshold jerked Gandalf from his shock, and he looked down to see that Sam had reached Frodo and that several blows of his knife had managed to free the Ring-bearer. "Into the gateway!" Gandalf shouted, seizing the opportunity to rouse the others from their motionless stupor. "Up the stairs! Quick!"
Even more of the tentacles now crowded the shore and slithered toward the retreating Fellowship. Some of them reaching the stone cliffs, groping about as though searching for something, and with horror, Gandalf realized that Legolas was now cut off from the rest of them. The look upon Legolas's face said that he realized it as well, but the sprinting archer did not pause. Rather, he lengthened his stride as he neared the seething tentacles, his eyes intent upon his goal and his face taut with determination. At the last moment, he drew himself together and leaped as only a Wood-elf can leap, clearing the writhing mass by scant inches before stumbling forward with the others as they frantically scrambled into the mines.
The tentacles followed, swarming over the spare packs that had been forgotten and the piles of baggage that had been discarded. Glistening a pale-green in the light of the waning moon, one tentacle ventured onto the stone threshold itself, dripping water as it quested for something to seize. Partway up the stairs and realizing that the hobbits could not climb fast enough to escape this pursuit, Gandalf searched his mind frantically for a word or a spell that might close the mines against this creature, whatever it was. Or perhaps even a word or a spell that would drive it back for a moment.
But before he could attempt anything, the tentacles wrapped themselves around the stone doors and pulled them shut with a terrible, grinding roar, sealing the Fellowship inside the Mines.
Their world plunged into complete and utter darkness.
Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen! Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth lammen!—Gate of the elves, open now for us! Doorway of the dwarves, listen to the word of my tongue! (Sindarin)
Lasto, annon edhellen, a edro ammen!—Listen, gate of the elves, and open for us!
Edro! Edro!—Open! Open! (Sindarin)
Á panta!—Open! (Quenya)
Â pantâ!—Open! (Primitive Quendian)
Ennyn Durin Aran Moria: pedo mellon a minno—The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria: speak/say friend and enter. (Sindarin)
Im Narvi hain echant: Celebrimbor o Eregion teithant i thiw hin—I, Narvi, made them: Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs. (Sindarin)
Author’s Notes: As most of you have probably deduced, the bit about Legolas being away when the doors were open and then his leap over the tentacles into the mines cannot be found in the final version of FotR. But it was found in an earlier draft of FotR. In fact, when Legolas landed after his leap, Gimli caught him and dragged him into the mines. I left that part out because I’ve got something a few things in mind for the development of their friendship and an act like that would hinder rather than help it. Anyway, that’s where it comes from.
As for why I included it…well, I’ve been under some pressure to start including movie elements in this fic and I’ve been resisting. I’m trying desperately to stay as true as I can to the books. Whether or not I’m actually succeeding is certainly up for debate, but in any case, I’ve been opposed to including movie elements that are obviously not part of the books. But it cannot be denied that the movie version of the Watcher was slightly more exciting than the book version. So as a nod to those of you wanting movie elements, I dug into HOME and found something that could make the scene with the Watcher a bit more intense. It doesn’t do that much for the scene, but I tried. My apologies if I’ve come up short. And kudos go out to Lamiel, who is the only one I know of that saw the setup at the end of Chapter 3 for what it was.
Additionally, I thought I’d include an explanation about lenition, which is the linguistic phenomenon Gandalf muses about when he wonders if mellon is really supposed to be vellon. Lenition, or softening, is a consonant mutation that occurs in Celtic languages, such as Gaelic and Welsh. The concept is not that difficult. There is a scale that goes from strong to weak sounds. The strongest sound is the voiceless stop (such as a p or a t). Down the scale from that is a voiced stop (such as b or d). Weakest is a voiced fricative (such as v or s). Lenition occurs in Sindarin consonants when a noun is the direct object or follows certain prepositions, when an adjective follows the noun it’s describing, when a verb follows the negating adverb avo, or in the second word of compound nouns.
For example, el and mellon combine to form elvellon (elf-friend). See how the m was softened to a v? The same thing applies to mellon in the text on the Doors of Moria. As the object of the word pedo, the m in mellon should have softened to v and become vellon. But it didn’t, and Gandalf consequently assumed that mellon was not the object of pedo but rather the subject of the command. As for why mellon didn’t change, that’s a matter of debate. Some think that it didn’t change for the explanation Gandalf comes up with: The word needed to open Moria was not vellon but mellon, so that’s how Celebrimbor wrote it. The other possibility is that there wasn’t lenition in the Sindarin of Celebrimbor’s time. This seems unlikely because the word thiw in the last part of the inscription is really the word tîw (plural for sign or letter) but it underwent a nasal mutation because it followed the article i. Whatever the reason, though, the slip in grammatical rules was the reason for Gandalf’s initial confusion. For further information, let me direct you to Summary of the Sindarin Grammar by Ryszard Derdzinski. It can be found at Fellowship of the Word-smiths. The address is www.elvish.org/gwaith/sindarin_phonetics.htm.
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