Tree and Stone

by Lothithil

Chapter 27, The Doors That Are Hidden


"No, I haven't forgotten about you, my dear Dwarf," Gandalf said softly, as the Hobbits split up to watch at each point of the circle, peering through cracks between the broken teeth of stone. "If you are not yet weary beyond movement, help me gather as much fuelwood as we can find, to have ready if needed. In this place and at this time, fire is truly our friend."

"Aye, Gandalf," Gimli said. "Not a few times have my people been faced with Wargs. Fire and steel will dissuade them. But we must be wary; they will not give up their hunt like normal wolves."

"I agree, and that is why we must be ready. Stack the wood next to the fire here, and then see if you can rest for a few hours." Gandalf then moved away, picking up the dry limbs that were laying beneath the trees.

"I'll rest when the dark stone of Moria is my bier and blanket," Gimli muttered. Since Gandalf didn't turn, Gimli assumed that the old wizard had not heard him.

~~~

Frodo stood near the gap in the stones, staring out into the night. The light from the waning moon silvered the hills and cast vague figures that tricked the eyes. The mountains were an invisible black mass that blotted out the stars until they were nigh directly overhead. A few clouds straggled toward the west, lighting up when they crossed the path of the moon and then fading to grey veils that made the stars look fuzzy and indistinct.

Frodo shivered; the wind was slowly returning, bringing a memory of the coldness of the Redhorn pass to the weary hobbit. After a time his eyes adjusted more to the lightlessness, and he could make out dimly the features of the land, as though the moon had become brighter somehow. He could clearly see that there were no wolves nearby, at least on his side of the hill.

Legolas sat nearby and for once his eyes were closed as he rested, his head back against the stone. His bow was still in his hand and planted in the earth like a weird flower was the arrow-shaft that Boromir had fetched back to him.

Frodo glanced at the Elf and felt a measure of his anxiety move away from him. At the barest word from him, Frodo knew that Legolas would be alert and at his side. It pleased him that he could watch for a while so that the brave warriors could rest; Boromir and Aragorn had laboured hard to bring them down the mountain and must surely be exhausted. He had never seen Legolas (or any Elf) so weary that they could sleep against a sharp rock.

Frodo returned his gaze to the hills, occasionally checking the blade of Sting for any glimmer of warning. When the Wargs had come before, it had shone with a whitish light. Bilbo had told him that it shone blue when orcs and gobblins were near, and he remembered the stories that his uncle had told of battling the spiders in Mirkwood.

At the thought of Mirkwood, Frodo turned and looked at Legolas again, remembering that that Forest was his home. He started when he realized that the Elf had opened his eyes and was watching him.

Legolas spoke softly, "I can tell by the way you stand that all is well for the now. It is difficult to rest so, but I feel the need of it sorely."

Frodo gave a short bow to the Elf. "All is quiet, for the moment. I see nothing among the hills nearby, nor along the ridge from where we came down from the mountain. Perhaps the wolves will not return tonight."

Legolas lifted an eyebrow, reminding Frodo of Lord Elrond for a second. "Can you see that far? Even in the moonlight I could barely make out that distance. The eyes of halflings are sharp indeed!"

Frodo smiled a little, wanting to feel flattered but in fact he was uneasy. He thought it strange that he could see even as well as an Elf. He said nothing of it, turning his face toward the darkness to hide his disquiet.

The hours passed slowly. Gandalf roused the warriors halfway toward morning, letting the halfings gather back around the fire, where they fell asleep almost at once. Gimli nodded nearby, keeping on eye on the fire so that it did not burn too low. The wizard lay down as well, his eyes glittering darkly in half-lidded sleep, his hand upon his staff.

The sky had only just begin to hint at the possibility of morning when the attack came. Howls broke out all around the company, jerking Gandalf and the hobbits from sleep. Aragorn, Boromir, and Legolas had all withdrawn into the circle, for in their hearts they believed that the Wargs had not abandoned the hunt, and they were ready.

The wolves spilled over the circle of stones like grey water. The companions were entirely surrounded, and they formed a tight knot around the halflings, the fire blazing up in the centre. Some of these brute wolves were large enough to carry off one of the hobbits, should they get close enough to close their teeth upon them. Legolas drew and released, accounting a wolf for every shot fired. He ducked under one leaping beast and threw it into the heart of the fire, scattering embers. The creature screamed and ran away into the night, its fur flaming and leaving a trail of burning grasses.

Boromir struck the head off of one wolf, then brought his sword back around to impale another. A third leapt in and closed its teeth on his arm, but was foiled by the tough leather bracers that the Gondorian warrior wore. The stubborn beast did not let go, and Boromir swung it around and hurled it against a large stone. There came a horrid cracking noise that was the beast's back breaking. The wolf slumped to the ground.

Anduril caught the firelight like a brand, passing smoothly through one wolf that was trying to attack the hobbits. Pippin and Frodo were standing back to back, their swords out and held upright before their faces. Sam and Merry was throwing wood on the fire, but suddenly Bill let out a wild neigh as two wolves came bristling and growling toward him. Sam tried to run to help him, but Merry caught his arm and held him back.

It was well, because Bill did not need Sam's help at that moment. Backing up against a large stone, the pony flattened its ears and lowered its head. One of the wolves snapped at Bill while the other circled around to the side. Bill lashed out with a hoof and crushed the skull of the first wolf, then plunged into a buck and slammed both rear hooves into the second, sending it flying over the circle of stones and out into the darkness.

Gandalf walked out to meet the wolves, and he seemed to grow and become awesome and frightening. Words came from his lips that were strange, and the ears of Legolas burned with the incantation. Naur an edraith ammen! Naur dan i ngaurhoth! He picked up a burning brand from the fire and his hand was not scorched, but he tossed the torch into the air and it burst into brilliant light, igniting the treetops that crowned the hill. The air seemed to catch fire, and the wolves fled in panic, their hides smoking and buring as they ran. The wolf-chief snarled and howled, trying to rally the pack again to attack. Legolas aimed his last arrow and released it. It kindled in midair and plunged into the wolf's heart.

Smoke from the fire then blinded the companions, and the bitter fumes make their eyes blink and water. When the fires had died out and the smoke cleared, they found that morning had occured, and the wolves were gone. All that was to be found on the singed hillside were the arrows of Legolas, lying in the grass undamaged; save for one that was burned entirely away except for the point.

Gandalf spoke earnestly, "We must reach the doors before sunset, or I fear we shall not reach them at all."

Boromir picked up the arrowhead and handed it to Legolas. "I do not know which to hope," the Man said grimly, "that Gandalf will find what he seeks, or that coming to the cliff we shall find the gates lost for ever. All choices seem ill, and to be caught between wolves and the wall the likeliest chance. Lead on!" In a low voice that was meant only for Legolas to hear, he added, "Perhaps then will my counsel be regarded with less contempt!"

Legolas took the arrow-tip and closed his fingers around it. He said nothing, but turned his head as Aragorn approached them.

The Ranger placed a hand on Boromir's shoulder. "Do not think that your counsel is not regarded, Boromir. For you we have nothing but respect, but the wolves have contempt for us all. Trust in the guidance of Gandalf. He would not lead us there if he had no hope of our coming through."

Boromir nodded once, sharply. He shouldered his pack and joined the Wizard and the hobbits who were already pacing down the hill. Aragorn clapped Legolas on the arm, offering him a dark smile. "Very good shooting, my friend!"

Legolas regarded the arrow-tip Boromir had returned to him, displaying it to the Ranger on his palm. "What manner of beasts disappear with the sunlight, leaving behind the arrows that should have slain them? My years in Middle-earth can be measured long, yet never have I heard of such a thing. The Wargs such as I have fought in Mirkwood remain dead when they are killed and do not fade like mist in the morning!"

Aragorn motioned for Legolas to walk beside him. They fell in at the end of the column, following after the grey wizard. "Have you heard tales in your forest home of the one they called Gaurhoth?"

Legolas looked askance at Aragorn, a frown darkening his fair face. "I have heard no such tale, though I shudder at the sound of the name you speak. What does it mean?"

"That is the name by which Sauron was known, back in the First Age of the Sun. He was known as the Lord of Werewoves, and he himself took shape of a wolf when he slew Lord Finrod of Nargothrond as he sought to aid Beren in his quest."

"You do not comfort me with this tale, Aragorn," said Legolas, "though I am sure that was not your intent. Why do you tell me this now?"

Aragorn shook his head a little, causing his dark hair to fall into his eyes. He pushed it back, and Legolas saw that his hands were stained with the dark blood of the wolves. It covered his sword which he carried naked at his side; he would not sheath it when it was fouled with evil blood.

"I am not sure why I speak of it now, except that the tale is forward in my mind. Perhaps you might take some comfort in knowing that, even though Felegund fell in Tol-in-Gaurhoth, Beren eventually prevailed and, with the aid of Lúthien succeeded in capturing one of the jewels from Morgoth's crown. Sauron was but a lieutenant to the Enemy then, and he was at that time bested by the mighty hound Huan."

Legolas pondered Aragorns words as they walked. Indeed, it was good to know that even a mighty being like Sauron could be bested by a dog, even though it was an unusual and special dog indeed.

They moved as quickly as they could, ignoring weariness in their desire to find sanctuary from the dangerous night. Gandalf nearly despaired finding the path until Gimli pointed out the old riverbed, now nearly dry and choked with growth of weed and briar. This depressing sight nevertheless quickened their journey, for beside the rivercourse that had been the Sirannon could be seen the crumbling remains of an ancient highway, leading toward their goal. They took their midday meal on their legs, pausing only briefly, then went on their way again. The sun was past zenith and the day was getting on.

Finally they found the stairs, climbing quickly up the cliff beside the broken remains of the aquaduct that had once served water to the Sirannon. Gimli climbed swiftly up the steps, his heart beating with thunderous delight to be walking where his ancestors once tread. Gandalf and Frodo followed, and so they three witnessed how the river had been dammed and the noxious lake created to bar the path.

Now their route was dictated to the longer way, around the winding road and up to the walls of Moria, to walk the thin strip of earth between the towering stone and the noisome, oily black water. Though they hurried on, the day faded and the stars came glimmering forth, reflecting flatly in the unfriendly water. The moon was caught up on a net of clouds, but gave some illumnation to the company as they searched for signs of the secret door.

Gimli's enthusiasm was undaunted. He walked ahead with Gandalf, pausing every few feet to caress the stone with his hands, knowing he could be touching the Door itself and never know. The Dwarven smiths of old were masters, able to conceal their works with a skill that seemed magical. He felt in his bones that they were getting close, and not even the doubt that weighed down the spirits of the others in the fellowship could burden his delight.

Legolas walked behind the Dwarf, for Aragorn had directed him to remain within the heart of the company, should his bow become useful either forward or behind. The Ranger followed all the companions save Sam, who trailed behind with Bill in tow. As they reached the turn that took them all along the high wall around the edge of the pool, something disturbed the still water, sending ripples out from the center of the lake to lap softly along the narrow shore. Legolas pulled an arrow from his quiver and notched it, peering out at the lake for a sign of movement. The last rays of the sunset faded behind the clouds, foiling his sight.

Gimli turned to look at the Elf, then returned to his investigation of the stone face. "Surely we will find the western door soon, my Elven friend. Dwarf doors are invisible when closed, but I have faith that Gandalf can find them."

Legolas said nothing, but followed the Dwarf with his eyes still on the water. The sound of merriment in Gimli's voice did not lighten his heart. They had come to a place in the water where twisted shapes of drowned trees reached up to claw the star-filled sky. They had been a fine grove at one time, and their pales shapes drifting in the water were to Legolas like bleaching bones scattered in the wasted liquid. How had this happened? Why had the Dwarves dammed the river, causing this unnatural pond? Only a few years had these trees been rotting in the water. Had this Balin of which Gimli so often spoke ordered their deaths? In his heart, Legolas felt again cold resentment toward the Dwarves. They had such disregard for such things as trees, to be hewn down and burned to fuel their forges, or even foundered and cut off from the sun and life. Legolas kept his face turned from the wall of Moria.

They arrived at last at a place where Gandalf called a halt. He stood before a stretch of stone braced between two ancient holly trees, his face showing his satisfaction; he had found the place where the gate should be. "Well, here we are at last," he said. "Here are Elven-way from Hollin ended. 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 different race, even between Dwarves and Elves."

"It as not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned," said Gimli defensively.

"I have not heard that it as the fault of the Elves," answered Legolas cooly.

"I have heard both," said Gandalf; "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!"

Gimli and Legolas looked at each other. Their gaze touched and slid away, Legolas to the mighty trees that pillared the cliff-face, Gimli to the stone itself. As much trust as they both placed in Gandalf, it seemed to them that at this time he asked a very great deal. But the night was indeed upon them, and any moment down the sound of wolf-voices might ring out through the darkness. Both swallowed their greivance and examined the riddle of the gate; Gandalf was right: the fellowship could not afford them time for an argument now.