The day was darkening into evening by the time the Company reached the tumbled foothills of Hollin below the peak of Caradhras. They had left the snow behind, but it had been a long trek, and they were very weary. They took shelter under a small stoney hill, in an attempt to get away from the cold, biting wind that flowed down from the mountains behind. Gandalf passed round the flask of miruvor, sparing them one mouthful each for warmth. They had to be cautious about lighting a fire, now that their presence seemed to be known to their enemies. After everyone had had a bite of cold supper, Gandalf called a council.
"We cannot go any further tonight," he said. "The storm and the attack on Caradhras have tired us, and we must rest here for awhile."
"And then where are we to go?" asked Frodo.
Gandalf looked at Frodo gravely.
"We still have our journey and our errand before us," he answered. "We have no choice but to go on...or return to Rivendell."
Boromir glanced round the circle of faces. Pippin had brightened at the mention of returning to Rivendell; Merry and Sam looked hopeful, but Frodo was troubled. The others made no sign.
We cannot return! thought Boromir. What will become of my people if they turn back now? Surely there is another way we can take!
"I wish I could be back in Rivendell," said Frodo after a moment's silence. "But I cannot return without shame, unless there is no other way."
"You are right, Frodo," said Gandalf. "To go back is to admit defeat and face worse defeat to come. We will not be able to set out again if we return. Sooner or later, Rivendell will be beseiged; there is little hope that it will stand against the power of Sauron and his evil servants. Sauron will get back what is his. The Nazgul are deadly enemies, but they are only shadows yet of the power and terror they would possess if the One Ring was on their master's hand again."
The ghost of a whisper sounded in Boromir's mind: Ahhhh! Yessss....it seemed to say. He suppressed a shudder of fear at the thought of Sauron regaining the Ring. To return to Rivendell was indeed hopeless; how much more hopeless was it to take the Ring to Mordor? Surely the Ring would be safer behind the high stone walls of Minas Tirith...
Frodo stirred, and Boromir's train of thought was broken.
"We must go on, then," said Frodo firmly. "We must go on if there is a way. But what way is left? There is now no mountain pass we might take because of the winter snows, and the paths further south are watched by our enemies."
"There is a way that we may attempt," said Gandalf slowly. "I thought from the beginning, when I first considered this journey, that we should try it. But it is not a pleasant way. I did not want to speak of it if another way could be found."
"If it's a worse road than the one we just took, it must be nasty!" commented Merry. "You'd better tell us about it, and let us know the worst at once!"
"The road of which I speak leads to the Mines of Moria."
Dread fell on the Company at the mention of the name, on all but Gimli. A fierce light shone in his eyes; he rose quickly and walked away from the group. He stood for a moment, gazing off into the distance where the mountains marched southwards into the gathering gloom. Then he turned suddenly, and faced the group, a look of eagerness on his face.
"If we cannot pass over the mountain, let us go under it!" Gimli cried. "Let us go through the Mines of Moria!"
"The road may lead to Moria," said Aragorn, shaking his head, "but how can we be certain it will lead through Moria?"
Boromir was silent for a moment as he contemplated a road that would take them through the dreaded Mines. He was shocked that Gandalf would consider such a road. The name of Moria was black in Gondor; rumor had it that it had been a place of evil for more than an age. What was it about Gandalf that he insisted on taking them by such risky paths? Granted, the world was everywhere unsafe these days, and Boromir had never been one to shy from danger, but Gandalf's leading seemed to be bordering on the reckless, especially when there were the little ones to consider. The attempt on the mountain pass had been worth a try, in spite of the inclement weather, but this -- it was insane! Why not the Gap of Rohan? He had passed Isengard safely enough.
Boromir stood abruptly and approached Gandalf.
"Moria is a name of ill omen," he said darkly. "Nor do I see the need to go there. If we cannot cross the mountains, let us journey southwards, to the Gap of Rohan, where men are friendly to my people. We can take the road I followed on my way north. Or we might pass by and cross the Isen into the lands by the sea, and come to Gondor from the south."
"No, Boromir," replied Gandalf. "Things have changed since you came north. Have you not heard what we have been saying about Saruman? The Ring must not come near Isengard, if that can by any means be prevented. The Gap of Rohan is closed to us while we go with the Bearer."
Boromir turned away with a frown.
"As for the longer road," Gandalf went on, "we cannot afford the time. We might spend a year in such a journey, and we would be no safer. The watchful eyes of both Saruman and of the Enemy are on those lands as well. When you came north, Boromir, you were in the Enemy's eyes only one stray wanderer from the South and a matter of small concern to him: his mind was busy with the pursuit of the Ring. But you return now as a member of the Ring's Company, and you are in peril as long as you remain with us. The danger will increase with every league that we go south under the naked sky."
Boromir sighed heavily and bowed his head. Peril...said the whisper in his mind.
Gandalf looked around at the Company; all eyes were fixed on him now.
"Since our open attempt on the mountain-pass, our plight has become more desperate, I fear. I see little hope that we will be allowed to continue, if we do not soon vanish from sight for awhile and cover our trail." Gandalf looked at Gimli and smiled. "Therefore, I advise that we go neither over the mountains, nor round them, but under them, as our good dwarf has suggested. That is the road that the Enemy will least expect us to take."
"We do not know what he expects," said Boromir impatiently. "Surely he watches all roads, likely and unlikely! In that case, to enter Moria would be to walk into a trap, hardly better than knocking at the gates of the Dark Tower itself!"
He looked to Aragorn for support, but Aragorn was silent.
"I would not lead you into Moria if there were no hope of coming out again, Boromir," said Gandalf. "The road leads through all the way to the other side. If there are orcs there, it may prove ill for us, that is true. The orcs are indeed gathering again from afar, but there is hope that Moria is still free. There is even a chance that Balin son of Fundin and the Dwarves are still there, as Gimli's father told us; they might aid us. However it may prove, one must tread the path that need chooses."
"I will tread the path with you, Gandalf!" said Gimli. "I will go and look on the halls of Durin, whatever may wait there!"
"Good, Gimli!" said Gandalf. "You encourage me. We will seek the path together." He turned to the Company. "I will tell you this for your encouragement. This will not be the first time that I have been to Moria. I passed through, and I came out again alive."
"I, too, once passed through," said Aragorn, "but though I came out again, the memory is very evil. I do not wish to enter Moria a second time."
"I don't wish to enter it even once!" said Pippin. Sam muttered his agreement.
"Of course not!" said Gandalf. "Who would? But the question is: who will follow me, if I lead you there?"
"I will!" said Gimli eagerly.
"I will," said Aragorn reluctantly.
"I will not go," said Boromir firmly, shaking his head. "Not unless the vote of the entire Company is against me. What do Legolas and the little folk say? Surely the Ring-bearer's voice must be heard!"
"I do not wish to go to Moria," said Legolas.
Boromir looked at the hobbits; they sat huddled together, confused and uncertain. At last Frodo spoke.
"I do not wish to go," he said. "But neither do I wish to refuse the advice of Gandalf. Please! Let there be no vote now; not until we have slept on it. Gandalf will get votes easier in the light of the morning than in this cold gloom!" Frodo pulled his cloak around him and shivered. "How the wind howls!"
The Company fell silent. Boromir sighed. Frodo is right, he thought. It would be better to look at this fearful road in the light of day. But will that be enough to change my mind? Am I being foolish and stubborn to resist this road? What of my vow to protect the Ring-bearer? If he follows Gandalf, then I must follow as well. He shook his head and smiled ruefully to himself. They will all need protection if they follow Gandalf into Moria!
Boromir sat silently, listening to the wind hissing and moaning among the rocks and trees. There was a howling and a wailing all round them in the empty spaces of the night. His heart stood still in sudden fear; his mind flashed back to the howling of the wolves that had stalked him in the empty lands of the South Downs. He drew in his breath sharply to call out, even as Aragorn leapt to his feet.
"How the wind howls!" cried Aragorn. "It is howling with wolf-voices! The Wargs have come west of the Mountains!"