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Son of Gondor

by Lineawen

Chapter 33

Following Gandalf, the Company climbed the flight of stairs before them, walking carefully to avoid treading on the skeletal remains that lay everywhere about the chamber. Aragorn removed a torch from a sconce on the wall as they passed, and Gimli lit it with his flint and tinder. The flickering light of the torch and the steady glow of Gandalf's staff pushed back the darkness and lightened their hearts.

They passed on into another chamber and up a broad stairway -- two hundred steps Boromir counted before they reached the top. At the top they found an arched passage with a level floor leading off into the darkness.

"Let us sit and rest and have something to eat, since we can't find a dining room!" proposed Frodo. He smiled at the surprised looks the others gave him. "I feel much recovered now, and I am very hungry!"

The proposal was welcomed by all. They sat huddled together on the upper steps, and though the gloom and darkness were all around, they each felt greatly cheered by the simple meal and the company of their companions. After they had eaten, Gandalf gave them each a sip of the miruvor of Rivendell.

"It will not last much longer, I am afraid," he said; "but we all need it after that horror at the gate. And unless we have great luck, we shall need all that is left before we see the other side. We must go carefully with our water as well. Though there are wells and streams in the Mines, they should not be touched. We may have no chance to fill our skins and bottles until we pass out of the Mines and down into Dimrill Dale."

Gandalf got to his feet. The stone in his staff glowed with white light and cast strange shadows on the walls and the still forms in the dust, and on the faces of the Company.

"Come, we have rested; let us be on our way."

They stood, and taking up their packs again, followed him into the passage.

"Quietly now," Gandalf cautioned. "It is a four-day journey to the other side. We do not know if the enemy is present here; if so, let us hope our presence may go unnoticed."

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The Mines of Moria were vast and intricate beyond imagination. The Company followed the twisting passage, first ascending, then descending for a long while before it became level once more. As they left the West-door behind them, the stench of death receded, and the air seemed fresher, though it grew hot and stifling. They caught glimpses as they passed of stairs and arches, of passages and tunnels that sloped up or plunged steeply down, or opened blankly dark on either side. At times they felt currents of cooler air issuing from the openings in the walls.

They had been walking for some hours when they came upon the first real check in their progress: a dark fissure, more than six feet across, cut across the path; from its depths came the faint noise of water churning far below. One by one the members of the Company leaped over the dreadful gap, but Pippin balked, frightened by the wideness of the gulf and the long drop into emptiness.

Boromir looked on him with pity, as Pippin struggled to gather enough courage to make the jump.

"Take your time, Pippin, if time is what you need to find your courage," Boromir said, laying a gentle hand on Pippin's shoulder. He could feel the hobbit trembling underneath his hand. "If you wish, we can cross together."

Pippin looked up at him gratefully, but then he shook his head.

"No," he said firmly, with only a faint tremor in his voice. "I don't want it said later that I was the only hobbit who couldn't make the jump!"

Pippin took a deep breath, but still he hesitated. Borormir clapped him on the shoulder.

"Spoken like a true soldier of Gondor!" he said proudly. "Allow me to go first, then, and I will be there to give you a hand on the other side if you need it."

Without waiting for an answer, Boromir grasped the strap of his shield in one hand and his horn on its baldric in the other to keep them from impeding his jump, and sprang confidently across. He turned and beckoned to Pippin.

"See?" he said with a smile. "Not so difficult, even for one so weighed down with armor and shield as I am; you, being lithe and light, should find it even easier."

Pippin drew in a quick breath, and before he could change his mind, leaped across. He teetered for a moment on the edge, but a sharp tug on his sleeve by Boromir pulled him forward, and he was safe on the other side.

"Well done, Pippin!" said Boromir, as the other hobbits gathered around him in relief. Aragorn jumped lightly over the chasm after first tossing the burning torch across to Boromir.

"Come!" said Gandalf. "Now that we are all across we must press on a bit further before we can rest. Watch your step. The going will now become more treacherous."

Gandalf led the way, with Gimli at his side. Behind them walked Legolas and the hobbits; Boromir and Aragorn brought up the rear. Boromir now kept a close eye on the hobbits in front of him, ready to spring to the rescue should any of them stumble. Though there were no more chasms like the one they had just crossed, there were many holes and pitfalls opening up beside the path, deep enough to give even a man pause, let alone a small hobbit.

Concentrating on the safety of the hobbits served another purpose: it helped keep Boromir's mind off the growing sense of oppression he felt at the dark blackness of the Mine. He felt as if the whole weight of the mountain was pressing down on him from above, and the thought of traveling four days through the black pit filled him with dismay.

The silence was broken only by the occasional bouncing ping of a falling stone or the drip of water, and by the footfalls of the Company. Boromir could identify each one: the heavy tread of Gandalf and the tapping of his staff on stone; the dull stump of Gimli's boots; Legolas' light step and the soft, scarce-heard patter of hobbit feet; the long, slow stride of Aragorn, and Boromir's own firm tread. Yet, rather than finding comfort in the silence as an indication that they were alone in Moria, Boromir was instead oppressed by it. The silence seemed to press on his ears, and he began to imagine that he heard the wordless whispering begin again. He had heard it before on the mountain, in the snow, but it had been forgotten in the struggle to escape the storm and the wolves and the monster at the gate. Now it returned, stronger and more ominous in the darkness, and yet still remote.

Boromir's glance strayed often to Frodo. He, too, seemed to be struggling against the oppressive silence. His shoulders drooped as if he was being weighed down by a heavy burden.

The Ring, thought Boromir. Does it affect him so? It is hard to see such a heavy responsibility laid on such small shoulders. He should not have to carry this alone. If he might be willing to share the burden...I could help him perhaps...

Yessss... said the whisper in the silence, as Boromir strode on into the forbidding darkness.