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XIV. (Forgotten Chambers)


                Gandalf's light led them for the next, long hours as they marched through the darkness. It felt, like they were going in this fashion for days already. Time seemed to slow down below the mountains or even stand still at times. It was especially unnerving when it occurred, that they took the wrong turn or, when they had to came around the blocked path. The darkness itself was oppressing. Even the elven eyes couldn't make out much of their surroundings with the faint assistance of wizard's staff. All around them, behind the line, where bizarre shadows allowed them to make out some shapes of the rocks, a pit of blackness opened. It pressed onto the small shell of light they were enveloped into and seemed to seep into their minds, downing their spirits.

The only noticeable differences during the travel were the changes in their surroundings. Sometimes there were long corridors, crossing and winding. It was when they have to be really careful, which road to choose. In other moments, there was nowhere to turn, as they were traversing the narrow shelves, guarded with unyielding stone on one side and opening to the wide chasms on the other. One wrong step could lead to certain death far, far below them.

Whenever they went, traps waited for them - cracks in the walls, noticed in the last possible moment. Holes in the ground, they had to jump through, because there was no way to go around them and going back to search for another path was out of question. It always consumed a lot of nerves, because even if it was easy for the elves to just jump across the gap, the others had much harder time crossing it. On one of those occasions, Lithien simply wound her arms around the obviously scared Pippin and jumped with him, ignoring his squeak off surprise. Legolas, Aragorn and even Boromir followed her example and since then, they at least didn't have to worry about their smallest companions making a jump not long enough. Only Gimil stubbornly refused any assistance, growling angrily at them and, when he truly lost his patience once, even sputtering some curses in khúzdul at them.

Aside of the darkness, silence was their other, constant companion. They rarely disturbed it and the only sounds around was the echo of their own steps and sometimes, a faint trickle of the water as if they were passing the stream they could not see. They marched like this, restless, stopping only briefly, wanting to end the journey as quickly as possible. But at some point, they couldn't fight their weariness any longer and had to find a place to lay for rest.



                The last staircase led them out to another crossroads and they had no energy left to go any further that day. There was a smaller room nearby, with door still in place and they stood slightly ajar, revealing the thick darkness inside. Not wanting to stay out in the open, they entered warily. Their only source of light illuminated the round room surprisingly well, revealing crushed benches, table and remnants of other furniture, now impossible to recognize.

They arranged themselves around the well craved in the middle of the floor and, after a silent meal, they laid to rest. Gandlaf's staff flickered once and the light disappeared, bathing the room in darkness. Lithien searched her bag for the spare tunic and, when her fingers found the familiar fabric, she stood up to leave the room.


Fingers, closing suddenly around her calf, startled her enough to scream, but she forced herself to keep her mouth shut. She leered down, prying the lying silhouette out of the darkness as best as she could.

-What do you think you are doing?! - she growled, recognizing the laying man.

-I could ask you the same question - Boromir answered in equally friendly tone. Elleth could understand concern and wariness, but this was starting to be too much. She knew she wasn't overly friendly toward the man, but she didn't do anything to insult him directly either. Besides he wasn't a person easy to like.

-There is not a single place in these forsaken caves I would like to be in right now - she replied glaring at him, even if she was aware, that he would never notice in these conditions. - You don't have to concern yourself, I will not wander far. I only want to change my clothes.

-I don't see how that require you leaving, when it is too dark see our own hands...

The man had a point, but she simply couldn't give him the satisfaction and oblige.

-Well, maybe I am not comfortable with undressing myself in presence of so many men - now that was an obvious lie and she was glad that no one had called her out on it.

Boromir was silent for a while and then, she heard him move.

-You are not going out alone - he said, before she even had a chance to open her mouth.

-I am not going anywhere with you either - she hissed back immediately. The gondorian only released a frustrated sigh in response. She regretted, that she wasn't able to see his face.

Someone else moved in the darkness.

-Why won't you two just shut up? - Gimli's voice echoed in the room. He was keeping the first watch. - Come lass, I shall go with you, so you won't have to worry about your virtue. You have too much legs for my taste - elleth nearly barked out a laugh at that. - And honestly lad, you're as blind as a newborn kitten in this caves, so how were you planning to watch over her? - the dwarf pushed himself away from the wall and made his way toward the exit. Lithien followed him silently.

They kept close to the guard room, just far enough for the door to cover them from view. If there could be any sort of view in the sea of ink they were moving in. Gimli sat himself on the fallen rock as Lithien started to take her clothes off. Every sound the garments made in her hands seemed unnaturally loud. She pulled her tunic down and loosened the cloth binding her breast when the dwarf spoke:

-You knew we would have to go through the mines, didn't you? - she felt his eyes lingering on her back and she tensed for a moment, wondering, if he could see in the darkness better that she had anticipated. - This is why you came back?

-No. I came back because I have realized that leaving was a truly cowardly move. You were right about that. Also, your chances of coming through Caradhras were very slim. Since Gandalf refused to go through the Gap, it was the only option. - she threw the fresh shirt over her head.

-It was in fact Frodo who made that decision...

-Really? That's rather surprising... - she pondered over her next words for a while and decided that they would do no harm. - I feel, like I should apologize to you...

That caused the dwarf to move behind her back.

-What for?

-For speaking before thinking - she started to close the gauntlets around her forearms. - I did not mean anything of what I have said. I rather like your folk to be honest. Maybe you have called me a coward, but rightly so. I was too angry to see that before.

For a while, her only answer was a grunt. She gathered the rest of her belongings.

-Maybe you are not as dim-witted as most of your kin in the end - Gimli said quietly, but his voice didn't sound mocking. - Are you done lass?

-As much as I can be - she replied, before following him into the chamber. They could hear only the soft rasps of their companions breaths.

-We can change watches if you like - she whispered to the dwarf. - This is not a place where I can get much rest anyway.

Surprisingly, there was no resistance on the dwarf's part.

-Just wake Aragorn up in two hours lass - he said silently, before they both moved to their spots on the floor. She could hear Gimli getting comfortable below his blankets as she sat cross-legged on her own. His movements stilled after a while. The world around was dark and silent, and, not for the first time, she cursed herself for changing her mind. She knew she wouldn't do anything differently even if she could, but Moria was the last place she had ever wanted to find herself in, except of, maybe the Dark Tower itself. She had a feeling as if the walls were bearing down on her, trying to crush her. In the attempt to direct her mind elsewhere, she spread her corset across her lap and started to clean it. She knew she probably wouldn't do a decent job, but it was always something to occupy one's thoughts.





                When she looked into the darkness for long enough, she was almost sure, that she could make out the contours of walls and floor around her. The door on the opposite wall glared back at her, darker then blackness around them. Maybe it was just her mind though, trying to fill itself with illusions instead of being painfully blank.


Merry moaned quietly in his sleep and rolled on his other side, but the small motion almost send Lithien bolting upright. Her hearing was trying to make up to her for the lack of visual perception by blowing the slightest whisper out of proportion. It made her restless and nervous beyond reason. She hated the feeling. She returned to her previous position and forced her body to relax, flexing her fingers around the hilt of her sword, which was, once again, lying across her lap.

A soft rustle of steps caught her attention. A moment later, a hand rested gently against her shoulder.

-You were supposed to wake up Aragorn two hours ago - Legolas whispered. Elleth glanced up to where the voice came from and moved to the side, offering him her blanket. After a moment he sat down, their shoulders almost touching.

-What for? - she murmured back. - This place is... unnerving. I will not find any rest in here. Might as well let them sleep if they can... I apologize, if I woke you up - she turned to look at him, even if she could only make out his silhouette in the darkness.

-You did not - a smile coloured his voice. - I think, I share your... sentiments about this place - he fell silent for a moment. - You had been here before, hadn't you? You said so yourself...

Elleth sighed. He couldn't possibly chose a better moment to ask about one of her most foolish ideas.

-I don't think, it is the right time to talk about it... - she glanced quickly toward the door, half expecting something to crawl out of them.

-Better than any, if I may say - his voice was thoughtful. - I would like to know, what we might encounter, before we leave the mines.

-We only entered the upper halls and didn't dare to venture any deeper - she replied, her finger gliding across the cold steel on her lap. - Orcs made their hideout in there. They managed to ambush us during the patrol and took few of us captive. I wasn't even a guard back then, merely a recruit. Together with those who managed to escape the skirmish, we decided that, if we want to get our companions back, we had to do something and soon. Going back to get some aid wasn't an option.

-Your brother must have been proud when he found out - the prince interjected and Lithien found herself grinning at the memory.

-You have no idea. He almost introduced me to his belt in the most unchivalrous way possible - a silent chuckle told her everything she had to know. - Anyway, our plan didn't involve much fighting, since we were largely outnumbered. We sneaked in, killed only those we absolutely had to and then, made our way out. I didn't have much time for observing, I was focused on remaining undetected. If orcs would noticed us, we had no chance of escaping - she shivered slightly, remembering the dread she felt after entering the caves and stilled momentairly, hoping that he hadn't noticed. - I am still quite sure it was only luck that saved us that day...

-But you had saved your friends - Legolas remarked. - Do you think they are still there?

-I cannot say for sure, it was a long time ago. But, it is not impossible...


The prince was silent for a moment and when he spoke it was more to himself than to her. She could only agree with him. This time, there was no way that they would go unnoticed. They sat quietly side by side, as time slowly slid on. Somewhere on their right, Gimli started snoring.

-Did you regret it? Coming back? - elleth barely heard the question over the noise, but she turned around surprised. It was a line of talk she hadn't expected to have with him.

And she found herself struggling for an answer. She didn't like her current predicament in the slightest. But, it was her decision to come back and she was ready to brave every consequence of it. All she could do right now, was hoping that this will end soon.

-Yes and no, I believe - she said at last. - I still think, that I have made the right choice, even if most of you would disagree with it. Galaren especially, when he will read the letter I have send to him. On the other hand, what I have said to you once is still true. This is the last place I would willingly set my foot into while having a choice in the matter. However, since I can only move forward now, what is the point of thinking about unfulfilled possibilities?... By the Valars, every living creature in the mines can hear that rumble - she grimaced and wanted to stand up, but Legolas moved faster.

-Please let me - the delight in his voice was palpable and it took Lithien a moment to understand, that it could only mean troubles.

She only so much as opened her mouth, before he stepped out of her reach. For a moment she couldn't hear a thing as he silently crept through the room, but then Gimli suddenly snorted and choked, before turning inside his bedroll. Surprisingly the dwarf fell silent after that.

-What have you done? - elleth hissed when he sat down next to her once again.

-Nothing you should be concerned about - in her mind she saw the smug expression going with that statement. She really wanted to say something about that, but decided against it, knowing that changing someone's mind always took time. Hopefully, both of them would see their errors before the journey ends.

                It was another couple of hours before Gandalf woke up and, after hastily eaten meal, pushed them back on the road. Contrary to what the elleth hoped for, the first staircase chosen by the wizard led downward, further into the depths of the mountain. It opened into the vast expense of another mining site and the winding, narrow path clinging to the stone wall, forcing them to walk one after the other. This time Lithien found herself trapped between Legolas and Gimli. The dwarf was in particularly sour mood, after waking up with mouth filled with his own beard. Luckily, the prince refrained from confessing his crimes, so their silence wasn't additionally weighted with animosity. It was hard enough to stand as it was.

But, the hardship of their travel lost some of its importance after they rounded the corner and, for the first time in days, Lithien saw different glow than that coming out from Gandalf's staff. The rocks around them were cut with the veins of bright, shiny metal that seemed to give off their own glow. She could hear Gimli sighing in awe. Honestly the view was worth of such reaction.

It ended all too soon. Next caves were just as dark as all the previous ones, the magical light once again the only thing that protected them from falling into the pit opening on their right. The trek wasn't as long as elleth expected it to be though, because it was maybe an hour, before they left the mines and ascended another staircase when Gandalf stopped uncertainly.

-I don't remember this place... - the wizard muttered to himself, clearly annoyed. After a moment, when it occurred to them that they will not move anytime soon, the members of the fellowship went about to use the unexpected break as best as they could.





                The first two things they taught you after becoming a recruit was, to never drop your sword and, to always anticipate the worst possible outcome of the situation and adapt to it. Lithien accepted that and lived to that rules, but she had never expected she would one day end up lost in Moria. As hours ticked slowly, while they sat upon the ancient steps and Gandalf was thinking, she tried to banish fear from her thoughts. But it was still there, crawling in the dark corner of her mind ready to consume her if she wasn't careful enough. If she wasn't so focused on what waited for them before they will be able to cross the Durin's Gate, she would probably have marvelled over the fact how unnerved this darkness made her. Much more than any battlefield ever did.

Legolas was sitting next to her on the fallen rock, just staring in the opposite direction, even if there was nothing to see there, except of bottomless hole they have managed to crawl out from not so long ago. She knew, that he shared some of her worries, that much was clear after the last night, but she didn't feel like sharing her other doubts with him. Even Galaren always had to pull confessions out of her, before he could offer her any consolation.

Regretting, that there wasn't anything she could do to keep her mind off such thoughts, she looked up to watch other members of the company. Most of them seemed to be resting again, except for Gandalf, who was silently conversing with Frodo a several steps above. She was however, noticed by Aragorn, who put out his pipe and went to join the two elves.

-I expect, it was the last time when you pulled off something like this - the ranger reproached, crossing his arms over his chest.

Legolas turned around swiftly, facing his friend.

-And who are you, brash mortal, to tell us what to do? - the prince looked at the man pointedly, before turning his gaze toward the elleth. The corners of his mouth twitched slightly and she was sure Aragorn's repeated the motion. Lithien shook her head slightly and when she joined them, she didn't even try to hide her grin.

-Indeed, I would like to know what we did to incur your wrath? And how do you possibly plan to stop us from doing it again? - she asked, rising a challenging eyebrow at the man.

-Really there is nothing he can do to make us do his bidding - Legolas added, his tone full of confidence.

Aragorn looked, like he suddenly regretted starting this banter in the first place.

-You know, we are just teasing you Aragorn, do you not? - the prince asked, noticing his friend's expression.

-I appreciate the attempt to lighter the mood - ranger's voice wasn't exactly joyful, but bore no traces of anger. - I think, I should anticipate something like this, when the two of you are concerned. Just make sure you will wake me next time you will be asked for that - he glared at the elleth half-heartedly.

-You know I won't - Lithien stated simply and the ranger pretended he hadn't heard that.

-And you - he turned toward the prince. - Just don't do that ever again.

-I have done nothing - Legolas sounded offended. Elleth chuckled lightly to herself.

-We both know you did - Aragorn sighed, reminding her about Elrond in this instance. The elf lord had the same pained expression on his face whenever he was at loss with his children's antics. - Lithien would probably chose Boromir, if she wanted to torment anyone...

A chuckle turned into a giggle, but she immediately silenced it, clasping her hand over her mouth.

-It was just a harmless jest - Legolas chose this moment to defend himself.

-Better be sure everybody will see it as such next time - Aragorn tried to remain sombre, but elves knew he was losing the battle. - Can you tell me at least, why it had to be his beard?

Elleth had to press her lips tightly together to stop herself from laughing. The prince grinned broadly and was ready to answer, when Merry suddenly shot to his feet and scurried up the stairs to stand beside Gandalf.

-He remembered himself! - the hobbit announced loudly, and this time, it was Pippin's turn to ran after his friend and cuff him at the back of his head.

-No, I did not - the wizard replied sternly, looking into the corridor he just chose as if he wanted to see through the darkness inside. - But the stench is less awful here. If you don't know where to go, always follow your nose, master Brandybuck.

                One by one, they gathered their belongings and followed the wizard into the dark corridor. This one, for change, was steadily climbing up. When, after a moment long as eternity, the floor evened out again, the walls around them disappeared, as the hall opened into the large chamber, drowning in the shadows. Their steps were now nearly soundless as the vast space around them swallowed every sound. The dim light brought forth shapes then, the endless rows of columns on either side of them. The wizard had stopped after a moment and waited for them to gather around him, before rising his staff a little higher.

-I think we could risk a little more light - he muttered just before a sudden burst of light blinded them all for a moment, slowly uncovering the great hall for them. The view, that they would all carry in their memory forever.

The pillars filled the vast space, each and every one of them shaped like a large tree, with roots digging deep into the stone floor and boughs supporting the vault high above their head. If their sheer number was impressive, the level of detail that went into each column was simply breathtaking. The rough bark covering even the tiniest branch and the leaves that seemed to be wrought from different type of metal on every tree - and every one of them were the perfect copy of those growing on the slopes of the mountain.

They stood in silence, mesmerized by the beauty no one, save from Gimli and most likely Gandalf was expecting. Lithien used the moment to tilt toward the dwar,f who was standing nearby, and whisper a few, hoarse sounding words straight into his ear. He started a little, but when he looked up at her he was smiling, albeit little mockingly.

-You have said it completely wrong, but I appreciate the compliment lass - he chuckled, when her features contorted briefly. - It's nothing surprising though... But you would appreciate it even more, if you could see these rooms bathed in the light of forged lamps that used to hang from every tree... What?! - he whipped away suddenly, as something else caught his attention. Before elleth could reach out and stop him, he bolted into the darkness. Without thinking, she twirled on her heels and followed him ignoring the others calling after them to stay.

The dwarf ran toward the adjacent chamber, which surprisingly, was filled with a harsh, bright daylight, spilling through the shaft cut into the mountain side. The rays illuminated a white block of marble situated in the centre of the room. Bodies were littering the floor, a macabre reminder of the fate, that befallen the previous explorers. Gimli stopped abruptly in front of, as Lithien correctly assumed, a tombstone and fell to his knees just before a wail of grief tore itself from his throat, tugging painfully on her levels of self-control.

They were honestly expecting that, after everything they had seen so far. Hearing their companions footsteps, she approached the dwarf warily, blinking a few times to clear the sudden blur in her vision. She knew, who was laid to the final rest under this stone. Not having any words that she could offer right now, Lithien carefully placed her hands upon Gimli's shaking shoulders, slightly surprised when his fingers closed around one of her palms and squeezed tightly.

-Here lies Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria - Gandalf's voice echoed in the room, only confirming elleth's guess. - He's dead then. I feared it was so - Gimli's arms shook a little stronger momentarily, but no one spoke.


For a long, long while they just stood, gathered around Balin's tomb. No one paid much attention to Pippin, who apparently grew bored of the solemn atmosphere and went to find something more engaging to do.


Gandalf was next to move, picking up a large volume, one of the corpses was still clutching in its bony fingers. Part of the cover was blackened, the thick leather was marred with deep cuts. Pages also looked like they have been touched by fire as well. The wizard opened the book carefully, the brittle paper crumbling under his touch. For a moment he leafed through the pages, muttering something to himself as he read. Frodo stood beside him, trying to get a look at the contents of the book. The others were looking at the wizard expectantly, waiting for him to speak. Merry scurried after Pippin, ready to scold him for whatever he was doing.

-This seem to be a recollection of the events that happened after Balin came to Moria - Gandalf said at last. - Most of it is unreadable, but their beginnings, even if not easy, were promising. Later, they encountered orcs in lower corridors and their companions started to disappear... It only becomes worse, until the end, written at least by three different people - he set a couple of pages aside. - I fear they've met a cruel end - he cleared his throat and began to read. - "We cannot get out. They have taken the Bridge and second hall... We cannot get out. They are co...!” - the rest of the word was drowned by a deafeningly loud sound of something falling.


As they whipped around to see what happened, their eyes landed first on Merry, who apparently wanted to stop Pippin, but wasn't fast enough. He stared at his feet, looking guilty, as he blushed to the roots of his hair. Pippin however, was just surprised, his hands still resting on the rim of the well. He was sure, he didn't even touch that bucket and tried to catch it when it tipped, but he had only managed to send it flying down the shaft. Upon noticing Gandalf's enraged expression, his eyes widened in fright.


All of them stood, tensed and silent, listening as the clatter echoed among the rocks for a long time. When it was finally quiet again, Lithien released a controlled breath through her nose. Everybody visibly relaxed, except for Gandalf, who rushed toward the young hobbit, yanking him forward by his collar.

-Fool of a Took! - he rarely got this angry and Pippin curled into himself, hoping to avoid his wrath - Do us all a favour, by throwing yourself in next time and sparing us your stupidity!

Boromir rushed to placate the angry wizard, while Pippin whined a stuttering apology. It wasn't important though, as Lithien's ears picked something, they were about to hear in a minute.

Legolas was next, his eyes rushing to meet hers, equally wide ones.


The depths of the mountain had answered.


Journey of Oaths - Chapter 14
Bullet; RedDisclaimerThe following contents are written for sheer enjoyment of the author. No profit is/was or ever will be taken from this story: all the places and characters are intellectual property of J.R.R Tolkien and his successors. I just wished to jump into my beloved Middle Earth for a while. Yes, I’m a fan girl, but I see nothing wrong in it. You can sue me now – I don’t care
With respect
Your Author
Bullet; Red

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I really tried to give the Mines justice. Please enjoy!
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XIII. (Right choices)

 

                The narrow passage craved between the two mountains seemed endless, constantly winding and dark. The walls surrounding her were breathing out cold, that reached easily under every layer of clothing. Lithien could see her own breath floating in the air in the small puffs of white. Occasionally, the bigger could of mist accompanied Pílin's tired snort. High above them, the steely grey, slowly darkening sky forecasted the approaching storm. Snow probably, if the intrusive chill was anything to go by. Almost unconsciously, elleth patted her mare's neck, whispering a few words of comfort, intended more to stir up the silence, than anything else. It was funny how, less than a day ago, she had found the constant buzz annoying and now, she was almost missing that brash evidence of life.

After one more turn, she finally saw a spot of a lighter grey, announcing her exit. Pílin's steps became noticeably quicker and within minutes they stood at the edge of the valley. The sky looked even more ominous now, as she looked upon its vast expense, the clouds hanging low and the peaks jutted upward, like teeth ready to bite. Lithien watched the grey tumult for a moment, before deciding that she didn't wish to be caught by the snow while on the road and starting to climb down.


She stopped in the same place as before when, she was travelling in the opposite direction. After dismounting and pulling her sacks off Pilin's back, she left the mare to fend for herself, looking for food in the clamp of bushes a little further down the valley. She then arranged herself a blanket in the shallow niche near the pond. She refrained from lighting a fire - she was alone and this could only attract some unwanted attention. Besides, it was only a short stop so they both could get some rest, before facing all the dangers that Misty Mountains had in store for the unlikely winter travellers. She sat down, lying her sword across her folded legs and rested her back against the cool rock. From her perch, she could see Pílin, who apparently have found something to eat. Without closing her eyes, she evened her breath out and let her mind wander far, far away from where she was. Almost in another lifetime...

 


...She was young again, nothing but a child. It was her favourite memory to dive into, whenever her mind needed rest. She was running through the blooming garden trying to catch a huge blue butterfly she observed earlier as it flew gracefully from flower to flower. A large book she was reading from, a richly illustrated tale about Valinor in its day of glory, lay forgotten on the ground - the chase interested her far more now. She was an elfling and she was much more steady on her feet than a human child of her age would be. A few times she almost closed her fingers around the glistening blue wings, but each time the butterfly managed to slid out of her reach. In one last attempt she threw herself forward, but her feet tangled in the hem of her dress and she only plopped ungracefully on the patch of mallos. It was when she heard familiar laughter and immediately rushed toward the sound ignoring the dirt smeared on her hands and skirt.

Galaren stood leaning against the tree with a smile on his lips and mirth twinkling in his amber eyes. He also turned toward her, meeting her half-way, in three, graceful strides, lifting her into the air effortlessly. She wiggled her face into the crook of his neck and enjoyed his embrace. He smelled like the woods, cured leather and smoke. Like familiarity. And he was finally back.

"If you really want to be the hunter someday, you should start to wait for your prey to come to you, instead of chasing it." he remarked as he held her against him, her legs wound around his waist. "Even so persistently."

She pouted as he set her on the ground.

"So maybe you can teach me if you are so smart?" she looked up and stuck her tongue out when he ruffled her hair. "Only if you catch me" he replied, before escaping her reach and starting down the meadow. She screamed angrily and ran after him. She knew, that she won't be able to catch him if he won't let her, but it wasn't important. Soon, they were threading between the trees earning smiles from elves that passed them. Galaren always stayed close, so she wouldn't get bored of the chase; until he suddenly disappeared behind a tree. She kept running though, knowing that he just hid himself so he could catch her and deliver the first part of his "lesson". But this time she passed his hiding place and nothing happened. She stopped and looked around uncertainly.

This wasn't the forest from her memory anymore - the trees seemed taller, older and more ominous. The silence was deafening. She knew, that she need to get out of this place so she started to run again. The branches reached out to catch her, scraping against the armour she was wearing. Feeling the cold, muddling dread seeping into her bones with every passing second, she willed herself for one more effort. And the forest suddenly ended, exchanged for the vast plain bathed in the red light of rising Sun, filtering through the dust floating in the air. The scent of death assaulted her, nearly causing her to gag. She looked down at herself, at the unfamiliar plating she was wrapped into, at the ruddy smears covering the, once shiny, metal. She didn't know how much of the blood was hers, but, judging by the coppery tang she could taste in her mouth, some had to. She started through the battlefield, every step heavy and marked with effort that wasn't there before. The blood seeped from the crack in her breastplate, thick and nearly black in the muted light, painting curved patterns down her side. Was that, what dying felt like? She stared at the fallen, lying on the ground like abandoned dolls. Elves, dwarves, men and orcs mingled in their final resting place like they wouldn't have anywhere else. She looked in their faces, sometimes completely unknown, sometimes painfully familiar. Their dead, blind eyes seemed to follow her every move. With each step forward she realized, she was still searching for something and started to pray fervently, even if she knew it was a futile call. And then she saw them. First, there was a horribly mauled body she recognized only because of his long, almost white hair. Few paces away lied the other, still gripping the hilt of a spear that came through him. Two pairs of eyes, blue and amber, stared at her accusingly...

 


She stirred and blinked a few times trying to banish the unsettling image from her mind. What was that anyway? Only a dream? An unpleasant spark of foresight? Punishment from her conscience, that still seemed to doubt her choices? She looked around, her eyes quickly adjusting to the surrounding darkness. Only then she'd noticed that the sky had cleared, displaying myriad of stars that seemed to be brighter than ever. She wondered, not for the first time, if her choice was really the only right one. The stars only blinked at her, cold and distant. Unlike what the old tales told her, they didn't have any advice for her. It wasn't all that surprising. After all, they had a long story of turning their back away from those who either wanted to help them or sought their help...

She stood abruptly, causing something that shared the cave with her to scurry away in fear. A small rodent probably, judging by a barely detectable sound of small paws scraping the ground. Maybe she was making the wrong choice, but if she was, she probably wasn't going to live long enough to see the fallout of this decision. Pílin, used to her master's occasional, odd behaviour, only turned her ears toward the sound as elleth started rummaging through her sacks.

 



 


                Lithien stared at the smooth surface of the lake as black as ink under the clouded sky. It looked almost like it's counterpart laying at the other side of the mountains. But this place felt differently - like this short moment before you were attacked, when you still couldn't see your enemy, but you already know, that you won't be able to escape the blow. The feeling caused the small hair on the nape of her neck to raise, but elleth ignored the sensation and started to carefully pick her way along the bank of the lake. She had made a choice and she couldn't go back now, even if she would have wanted to.

The path was treacherous, the stones unstable and covered in slime, ready to send an unsuspecting traveller into the water if he wasn't careful enough. She just pressed her lips tightly together and pushed forward, staying as close to the stone wall as possible. Soon she came upon something, that was a trading road once, marked with the hedge of yew-trees. The trees were ancient, but still alive; evergreen and dotted with the red berries. They came from times when there was still a firm connection between the Elves from Hollin and the Dwarves of Moria.



She heard voices then, carried over the water straight to her ears. She didn't expect them to suddenly became quiet, but this was an open invitation to anything lurking around and waiting to strike. If she had only wanted, she could have shot them one by one, directed only by the sound of their raised voices. They probably won't be overly happy for her return, but she really couldn't blame them.

She could already see the other side of the lake, closed by the smooth wall of stone, when she more felt than saw the coming arrow. Instinctively she threw herself backward and the projectile rebounded from the rock, harmless, instead of piercing her neck. She crouched, waiting for more shots, but there were none. She picked up the arrow and ran the rest of the way. Just to be sure. She passed the last tree and slowed down, putting her hands up in the placating gesture, so everybody could see her. All members of the fellowship stared at her in various states of disbelief.

-Not that I expected a warm welcome - she approached and handed Legolas his weapon. - But an arrow to the head was a little too much, don't you think?

-What are you doing here? - the prince whispered, but she only smiled humourlessly in response.

-Now lass you'd better explain yourself - Gimli didn't bother to get up from the stone he was sitting on. - Because you're making me sure, that all elves are dim-witted fools who cannot keep their minds set on anything... How do you like what a dwarf think about you now?

Lithien stayed silent. She deserved that one.

-Well then? - the dwarf didn't seem to be done. He hopped off the stone, approached and glared at the elleth, absolutely unmoved by the fact that he had to keep his head angled upward. - What was that you have said about an annoying presence? I bet everyone would like to know why did you come back then, lass? Did you miss our unworthy company?

-Mind your tongue dwarf! - Legolas snapped, but Lithien stopped him from approaching. He glared at her, partly angry and partly surprised.

-That's enough Gimli - Aragorn tried to calm the angry dwarf down. He smiled at her briefly. At least someone was genuinely happy to see her.

-No, he is right - Boromir interjected. - I would much like to know why did she come back?

The hobbits stared at the scene curiously, forgetting briefly about throwing stones into the water.

Lithien worked the curse off her tongue, by clenching her jaw and releasing the pressure slowly. She had to remember that she was the only one to blame for their reaction.

-I am not overly fond of explaining my actions - there was no way, she was going to tell anyone about the dream she have had. Not now, nor ever. - I have simply changed my mind. Is that a satisfying answer?

She really hoped that she wouldn't have to crack some stubborn skulls to get her point across.

-No, it is not! Don't you expect us to...!

-Enough of that nonsense! - Gandalf stood up, his thick eyebrows even more protruded as he glared at them. - I thought, that I have told you to give me a moment of peace... If she wanted to came back, Boromir, that is her right. If you would like to leave us, for whatever reason, that is your right. Now, Lithien come over here; I would like to speak with you.



Elleth did as she was asked. It was a great way to avoid saying some unnecessary things, she would probably grow to regret later.

-Mithrándir - she greeted formally, before smiling at Frodo, who sat nearby. - What would you like me to tell you? You already know the reason behind my decision, right?

-If I do, it would mean that I really know you better than I thought - the wizard smiled. - Or that what I have told you was much more effective then it seemed to be.

-Trust me, it was not - elleth frowned slightly. - Thus, honestly, I thought for a moment that you might have done something to make me change my mind...

-Truly? And what would that be? Weren't you saying, that no one can make you change your mind? That you can only be forced to do so? Why this time should be any different?

Lithien was almost ready to tell the wizard about the strange occurrence. If anything, he might have had a reasonable explanation for her. On the other hand, it was only an illusion. And death, if that was what she saw as her end, was only as scary as the mind made it. She didn't care about it much, anymore.

-It was not - she replied with a shrug. - I am simply too stubborn for my own good. Or too soft in some cases at that matter - she gave the wizard a half-smile. - Why are you still here anyway? I was sure, I will have to search for you inside...

-Sounds like something you would do... But as you can see, the door refuse to open.

Lithien gazed at the gate, shimmering in the moonlight. At the curving, elvish letters forming the words.

-"Speak friend and enter" - she read out loud. - And that is supposed to mean what, exactly?

-That's, what I am wondering about... Spells seem to be ineffective... - the wizard rumbled into his beard something she didn't understood. - I am too old for all those riddles and secrets...

Frodo suddenly stood up, realization gleaming in his eyes.

-Riddle - he repeated, staring at the door. - It's a riddle! "Speak friend and enter". You've said that elves and dwarves lived here once in peace... What's an elvish word for a "friend"?

-Méllon - Gandalf replied slowly, still marvelling at the simplicity of the solution. The gate groaned and the earth seem to shook as it cracked in half and opened, granting them passage. A gush of warm, sweet-scented air swept over their faces as if the mountain decided to yawn. The blackness behind the door was thick enough to cut.

Gandalf crossed the threshold first and the rest slowly followed him inside. Elleth lingered, waiting to join Legolas and Aragorn who stayed at the rear. She sniffed the air experimentally. This was not what the cave should smell like. She looked at the two men with an unspoken question. Cautiously, they entered the passage, apparently sharing the same uneasiness.

-You should be home already - the dark haired man whispered, as they stood, their eyes adjusting to darkness.

-Are you trying to tell me, what to do? - elleth managed a smile, resting her fingers against the hilt of her sword instinctively. Something wasn't right. - It served you right, the last time you tried that, didn't it?

-I worry about you...

-Please do not even start that...

-When was the last time you saw her fighting, Aragorn? - Legolas smiled, teasing his friend. - I assure you, there is nothing to worry about - Lithien answered with a smile on her own.

 


First thing they saw, was a faint light coming from the crystal perched on top of Gandalf's staff. It did little to disperse the darkness around, throwing the feeble circle of light, illuminating only a piece of cracked floor around the wizard's feet.

-You will soon learn about the famous hospitality of the dwarves master elf - Gimli stated proudly, looking at Legolas. - Beer straight from the barrel, roaring fires... This is the ancient dwelling of my people and you call it a mine! A mine! - the dwarf bellowed, apparently not being able to comprehend the ignorance of those people, whoever they were.

Lithien finally recognized the smell. Decay. The essence of death, confined for many years and now let out to frighten them. The light went brighter and the image coming out from the shadows only confirmed her suspicions.

-This place is but a tomb! - Boromir exclaimed, staring at the twisted bodies littering the floor. The light reflected from the dusted armour they were wearing. Empty sockets stared at them. Some of the corpses were missing limbs. Most of them were stacked with arrows.

She could hear Pippin whimpering. It was quickly drowned by the scream of raw despair that Gimli released. Elleth felt her insides twisting. Keeping weapons ready they slowly started to back off.

-It was goblins doing - she heard the prince who stepped away to examine one of the bodies. He pulled one of the arrows and turned to show them. The serrated arrowhead was impossible to mistake.

-We should have never come here - Boromir growled. - It's not too late yet. We can still go for the Gap. Just let's get out! - he turned toward the gate, hoarding hobbits in front of him. Too scared to care, halflings only hurled closer together and tried to control their shivering. Behind them, the murky water hit the banks of the lake with surprising strength.



Too late they have realized, that there was still no wind.



Frodo squeaked and fell, dragged toward the water, by a slimy tentacle wrapped around his calf.

-Frodo! - Merry and Pippin screamed, grabbing their friend's coat and trying to pull him back.

More tendrils shot out from the depths of the lake, scattering the hobbits apart. Sam yelled furiously trying one last time to free his friend, but the tentacle suddenly arched up, sending the other, screaming hobbit flying through the air.

Lithien reached for her sword and ran after Aragorn, dodging and jumping over the attacking tentacles. Boromir passed her, joining the ranger in the water, hacking mercilessly at the monstrosities. Fuelled by the impulse, elleth ducked again and threw herself toward the hobbits, who still stood by the river and were left defenceless. She jumped, just in time to push Merry aside, but one of monster's limbs caught her in the lower back. With enough force to push the breath out of her lungs with a groan.

-Don't just stand there! - she yelled, spinning on her heels and cutting off another tentacle. - Hide!

-But...!

-Quiet! - she growled, ducking another hit. - Just go! - grabbing Sam by the collar, she spun him around and pushed him forward none too gently. Not having nearly enough patience to argue with them, she locked the screaming Pippin under her free arm. Helping herself with another yell, she finally forced the hobbits to move. They dived into the darkness just as Gandalf ordered them to flee.

Making sure that the hobbits were safe, she ran back toward the entrance to check on Aragorn and the others. Just in time to see the ranger catching Frodo. A bow sang next to her ear as Legolas fired another arrow. The two men started to run. The monster disappeared for a moment, only to rush back toward them with doubled rage. This time it's ugly body came out of the water almost whole as it tried to reach them. Lithien hesitated, wanting to make sure that her friend would be safe.



An arm closed around her wrist, spinning her around and pulling her toward the vestibule, before she could do as much as open her mouth.

The monster wrapped itself around the rock, pulling furiously. The stone groaned, shook and started to crumble. Lithien's eyes didn't have time to adjust to darkness, when she was turned around once more and squeezed tightly in the strong cage of arms.



The mountain protested once more, before the entrance collapsed on itself. Rocks tumbled down, showering them with debris and filling the air with deafening noise. Everything around seemed to be shaking.



And then, there was silence, filled with their gasping breaths.



Arms around her loosened, but only slightly. Before she could arch away from that unexpected embrace, she felt hair tickling her ear.

-Are you all-right? - a whisper was only loud enough for her to hear.

-What on earth was that?! - Merry stuttered somewhere on the left.

-The Watcher - Gandalf sounded surprisingly calm, placing the crystal back at the top of his staff.

-Who cares about the name! - Gimli grunted, apparently gathering himself from the floor. - That monster tried to kill us!

-And now we are trapped here - that was Boromir, sounding like he was ready to strangle something.

The sudden burst of light nearly blinded them. Lithien blinked furiously and belatedly noticed, that the arms were gone, even if Legolas still stood close to her.

-We have only one choice now - Gandalf replied. - We must face the darkness of Moria. But be careful now. Who knows what awaits us there - with that the wizard turned toward the steps visible at the opposite end of the chamber.

Lithien moved past Boromir, just in time to hear his muffled answer. This time she was ready to agree with the man. She strode toward the hobbits, eyes locked on the smallest one.

-There is no need to look at me like that - she locked her eyes with Pippin's large ones. - I am not going to bite you. I wanted to apologize - she smiled. - I did not mean to sound so harsh. Neither I wanted to be so rough with you, little one.

-I'm not little! - the hobbit pursed his lips. - You are just impossibly tall...

-Shut it, Pip! - Merry hissed, cuffing his friend in the shoulder.

Sam shook his head and decided to be the mature one.

-It's all-right miss - he replied for all of them. - You wanted to help us. We should have just listened to you. We weren't off much use out there anyway...

-That's not true - she shook her head slightly. - What you did for example, was very brave. You should be proud of yourself.

-She is right Sam - Frodo added with a smile. - You tried to save me - dark haired hobbit squeezed his friend's shoulder.

The plump hobbit lowered his eyes and mumbled something to himself. Even in the dim light she could see him blushing.

-We should get going - she decided to say. - Or we will lose the light - he motioned toward Gandalf, standing on top of the stairs, waiting for them to join him.



She let hobbits go ahead and then climbed the steps. They opened to the wide corridor which, after a moment, split in three. Two passages seemed to lead down and one up. After a moment of hesitation, Gandalf led them down the stairs further to the left.


Journey of Oaths - Chapter 13
Bullet; RedDisclaimerThe following contents are written for sheer enjoyment of the author. No profit is/was or ever will be taken from this story: all the places and characters are intellectual property of J.R.R Tolkien and his successors. I just wished to jump into my beloved Middle Earth for a while. Yes, I’m a fan girl, but I see nothing wrong in it. You can sue me now – I don’t care
With respect
Your Author
Bullet; Red

Previous: mimiko-flamemaker.deviantart.c…
Next:Journey of Oaths - Chapter 14

I know, the beginning of this chapter may sound a little strange/cliche but it will make sense later I promise!
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It has been decided that, aside from trying to save up some money, I'll spend this summer on pushing "Journey of Oaths" forward. I had promised myself that I will finish this project and that what I'm intended to do. I've spend the last few days on improving the grammar in all the chapters I already wrote and posting them to my Fanfiction.Net account:

Journey of Oaths

Description: Fate forges intricate paths for us - more often than not, they’re not what we wish them to be. We can try to evade them, we can try to escape them, but in the end we will always be forced to follow them. This is a tale about how a seemingly insignificant decision can lead us to embrace our true destiny. A tale about loyalty, friendship and keeping promises amidst darkness spreading over Middle-Earth.

I also changed some things in the first chapter - I realized that Lithien wasn't exactly acting like she should be, so that is hopefully fixed now. If you want to, please go and check it out. I would love to hear your opinions ^^
  • Mood: Optimism
  • Listening to: Until It Hurts - Fransisca Hall
  • Reading: Journey of Oaths ;P
  • Drinking: Tea
It has been decided that, aside from trying to save up some money, I'll spend this summer on pushing "Journey of Oaths" forward. I had promised myself that I will finish this project and that what I'm intended to do. I've spend the last few days on improving the grammar in all the chapters I already wrote and posting them to my Fanfiction.Net account:

Journey of Oaths

Description: Fate forges intricate paths for us - more often than not, they’re not what we wish them to be. We can try to evade them, we can try to escape them, but in the end we will always be forced to follow them. This is a tale about how a seemingly insignificant decision can lead us to embrace our true destiny. A tale about loyalty, friendship and keeping promises amidst darkness spreading over Middle-Earth.

I also changed some things in the first chapter - I realized that Lithien wasn't exactly acting like she should be, so that is hopefully fixed now. If you want to, please go and check it out. I would love to hear your opinions ^^
  • Mood: Optimism
  • Listening to: Until It Hurts - Fransisca Hall
  • Reading: Journey of Oaths ;P
  • Drinking: Tea

deviantID

Mimiko-Flamemaker
Justine
Artist | Hobbyist | Varied
Poland
A word about me maybe? Not much I think. I'm ordinary student, with an ordinary life, a huge family and two part-time jobs, which I don't really enjoy... Well one at least. However I do like my studies - biotechnology.
It was my passion for reading what woke up my passion for art. I've started as a writer at the age of 12 and I'll probably always be more of the writer than any other type of artist. I've started to draw, by sheer accident and the result of self-learning process you can see in my gallery ^^'...
That's all I think - maybe except the fact, that I believe, I don't fit the place I was given... I should probably be born someplace else...
Oh, one more thing - I don't bite :D We can always talk. I'm actually quite nice most of the time...

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