We do not pause for rest, but continue in our flight. Surely, with the collapse of the stairs, we left the beast behind. Yet, I feel no certainty of this. The thought no more than passes through my mind when the roar like thunder assures me, we are still being pursued.
I wonder briefly at what path it followed, but realize, in such a place as this, the passageways must be innumerable. I remember Gandalf mentioning a stone bridge as the main defense at the entrance we seek. What was it called again? Oh, yes, the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm. Both to come and go, one must cross the scant walkway, an easy defense for those from within, but difficult for one trying to escape.
I glance over my shoulder and gasp at the sight of what pursues us: shadow and flame. I cannot even properly conceive of it, in my mind’s eye, for it is unlike anything I have ever known. The tips of its massive black wings reach wall to wall, and they are not fully outstretched.
I know it may kill us as certainly as the Wargs, Watcher, Orcs, or Cave Troll could have, and yet, it too does not strike in me the bone-chilling terror I felt in the presence of the Black Riders. In all my life in the Shire, never could I have imagined the horrors of this world or believed the depth and breadth of the fear they instill in one’s heart.
The bridge reaches across the bottomless chasm before us. It is so narrow. Not too bad for a hobbit, and Legolas and Gimli should have no trouble, but Boromir and Aragorn and Gandalf...
Aragorn leads out with Boromir on his heels, not a falter or a hesitation from either one of them. I swiftly follow, obeying Boromir’s command to look neither left nor right, but to train my eyes on him. I do not know the order of those who come behind, only that I feel all of us together again as we head for the outside entry.
Aragorn stops to ensure all cross, as Boromir continues to lead the way out, halting at a turn to account for everyone. I stop to glance back. What a relief to be away. All the fellowship are accounted for, but one. I frantically search our back trail, and then stare in unconcealed horror at the lone figure on the tiny span of stone. Even at this distance and over the echoing rumbling of the Balrog, Gandalf’s command reaches my ears.
“You cannot pass!”
I hear myself call, panic rising in my throat, “Gandalf!”
The demon straightens to its full height in defiance. I hear only whispers from Gandalf, his words lost in the vastness until he raises his voice and his staff.
“...flame of Udûn!”
The light from the stone in his staff grows, engulfing him. The Balrog strikes with its sword of flame, and Gandalf blocks the blow with Glamdring. There is naught I may do but watch in apprehension the battle before me. Gandalf is a wizard. Surely, he will prevail.
One cloven foot steps onto the bridge. The whip of fire is raised over the creature’s head and falls with a resounding crack.
Again the Balrog roars in fury. Even from here, his breath is not unlike standing too close to a summer bonfire.
“You shall not pass!” The striking of Gandalf’s staff on the stone bridge echoes through the cavern.
The demon snorts, steps back, and then lunges forward. The bridge collapses beneath him, and he tumbles into the abyss.
Gandalf still stands, safe on his side of the span. He turns to join us and takes a step. The whip snakes up and wraps around his ankle. He drops both sword and staff as it yanks him over the edge.
I rush forward. I must help him. I find myself held fast, and unable to do anything but grasp at the arm holding me and scream.
My dear old friend hangs on, for a moment longer, to give one final command.
“Fly, you fools!” And he slips over the edge.
I realize now it is Boromir who holds me fast, as he lifts me into his arms. My mind shrieks we cannot leave Gandalf, though he has disappeared from sight, and in truth, some corner of my mind knows he is lost. But I cannot believe it.
Boromir carries me away.