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Son of Gondor

by Lineawen

Chapter 31

Boromir stood on the edge of a hill, looking out across the tumbled land to the mountains that loomed up dark against the sky.

"There it lies," said Gandalf, standing beside him and pointing southeastwards towards the mountains. Boromir shifted his glance, and saw off in the distance a line of bare cliffs that stood out sharply in the clear light.

"That is the west-wall of Moria," continued Gandalf, speaking so that all could hear. "Not so far away in a straight line; but the path will likely be winding."

The Company was taking a brief rest at midmorning, in spite of the urgency they felt to press on. Boromir continued to gaze at the mountains ahead; to him they had an ominous look. The attack of the Wargs had forced him to agree to try the road through Moria, but he was still reluctant and worried. He knew that both Aragorn and Legolas shared some of his concerns about the danger they might meet there. The three of them would have to keep a sharp eye out for trouble, leaving Gandalf and Gimli free to concentrate on finding the hidden doors and the path through the mines. The wizard was confident he would find the way through, but it had been a long time since he had taken the road through Moria; even then, he had come from the other side.

Gandalf turned away and motioned to the others.

"Let us go; haste is needed," he said. "We must reach the doors before sunset, or I fear we will not reach them at all."

"I do not know which to hope," sighed Boromir, casting an eye back towards the hilltop where they had fought the Wargs: "that Gandalf will find the door he seeks, or that coming to the cliff we shall find the gates lost forever. All choices seem ill, and to be caught between wolves and the wall the likeliest choice." He shouldered his shield and smiled wryly at Gandalf. "Lead on!"

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There had once been an old road to Moria from the west. It had lain along the course of a stream that ran out from the feet of the cliffs near where the doors had stood. Gandalf was taken aback when he did not strike the stream as expected.

"Has the land changed so much since I last traveled here?" he wondered aloud, but no one had an answer for him.

Midday approached, and still the Company wandered and scrambled among the red stones and scraggly underbrush. They could find no sign of the stream: no gleam of water, nor any sound of it. Their hearts sank. The land was barren and bleak, and no living thing stirred there. What will the night bring, thought Boromir, if we are caught in this empty place with no shelter?

It was Gimli who found the first sign of the path they sought. He called to them from a knoll and they hurried up to see below them a deep and narrow channel. The stones in its bed were dry, except in the middle, where a faint trickle of water flowed among them. On the near side there was path that wound its way among the ruined walls and paving-stones of an ancient highroad.

"Ah! Here it is at last!" said Gandalf with relief. "This is where the Gate-stream ran. But what has happened to the water, I cannot guess; it used to be swift and noisy. Come! We must hurry on, we are late."

They were all tired and sore, but more than willing to press on to get away from that empty land. They trudged along the rough and winding track for many miles. After a brief halt and a hasty meal they went on again. The day moved on as the sun turned to the west.

At length they saw before them a low cliff, some five fathoms high, from which jutted a stone aqueduct, broken and jagged. Over it a trickling water dripped. The road wound its way in several loops up to the level ground at the top. They climbed the road, but when they reached the top they stopped, dismayed. The reason for the drying up of the Gate-stream was revealed. Behind them the sinking sun filled the sky with glimmering gold; before them stretched a dark still lake that reflected neither the sky nor the sunset on its sullen surface. The stream had been dammed and had filled the whole valley. Beyond the dark lake reared vast cliffs, with no sign of a gate or a door.

"The walls of Moria!" exclaimed Gimli in an awestruck voice.

"Yes," said Gandalf. He pointed across the water. "There stood the Gate, once upon a time; the Elven door at the end of the road from Hollin by which we have come. If we wish to reach the door we will have to go round the northern edge of the lake; I guess that none here will wish to swim this gloomy water at the end of the day. It has an unwholesome look."

"Indeed," agreed Boromir. "Let us go quickly. I fear the wolves will be on our trail again before long."

The Company carefully navigated the rim of open ground that lay between the cliff and the edge of the water. No one wanted to set foot in the black water, but it was sometimes unavoidable. In places the lake came up over the path; footing was treacherous and the stones were slimy and greasy with weeds. Boromir stepped firmly on the slippery path, and did not flinch at the water, but he looked at it doubtfully. Though there was nothing to disturb the surface of the lake, he fancied he saw strange ripples on the water, black-edged with shadow in the waning light.

Darkness fell, and with it came the voices of wolves in the distance. They hastened on. Cold stars glinted in the sky, when at last they came to the place where the West-door must be. Two tall trees of holly stood there, one on either side of a flat smooth expanse of cliff-wall.

"Well, here we are at last!" said Gandalf. "Here the 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 was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned," growled Gimli.

"I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves," retorted Legolas.

"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."

Gandalf approached the wall, and passing his hands over the smooth space, muttered a few strange words under his breath.

"The signs on the doors are wrought of ithildin," he said, as explanation. "It mirrors only starlight and moonlight."

Even as he spoke the moon come out from behind a passing cloud, and shone brightly upon the grey face of the rock. Pale gossamer threads glowed in the stone and steadily grew broader and clearer, until their design could easily be seen: an arch of interlacing letters in an Elvish character, below which was the sign of an anvil and hammer surmounted by a crown with seven stars. Beneath these designs were two trees, each bearing crescent moons. More clearly than all else there shone forth in the middle of the door a single star with many rays.

"What does the writing say?" asked Frodo. "I thought I knew the elf-letters, but I cannot read these."

"The words are in the elven-tongue of the Elder days," said Gandalf. "It reads, The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter."

"What do you suppose that means?" asked Merry.

"Oh, it's quite simple!" responded Gandalf. "If you are a friend, you speak the password, and the doors will open. These doors have no key. In the days of Durin they were not secret, and stood open. 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," said Gimli. "But what the word was is not remembered."

"But do not you know the word, Gandalf?" asked Boromir in surprise.

"No!"