It seemed to the Company that they had been tramping on and on, endlessly, down to the mountain's roots. It had been three days, as closely as they could figure it, since they had entered the Mines in the evening. They had slept twice along the road; once in a small enclosed area that might have been a guardroom, and then again in a vast, dark hall, huddled close together in a corner to escape the steady inflow of chill air that came through some hidden opening. They had become very weary of the road, of the darkness, and of the silence, yet they found little comfort in halting to rest. They now struggled on with as few rests as possible, hoping all the sooner to come to the end of the journey.
They had been going for some eight hours now with only a few brief halts on what they hoped was to be the final leg of their journey. It was a difficult road, winding and treacherous. One climb, up a flight of debris-cluttered stairs as steep as a ladder, was so difficult that the hobbits despaired that they would ever reach the top. The little ones were forced to climb, hand and foot, and they were cut mercilessly by the crumbling rock. Boromir did what he could to support them, and catch them when they slipped.
At the top of this stair, they came to a crossroads of sorts. Before them on a wide landing three passages opened , each leading in the same general direction, eastwards; the left-hand passage plunged down, while the right-hand passage climbed up. The middle way seemed to run on, smooth and level, but very narrow.
"I have no memory of this place!" muttered Gandalf, standing uncertainly before the three arched doorways. He held up his staff in the hope of finding some mark or inscription that might aid his choice; but there was nothing to be seen.
"I am too weary to decide," he said at last. "As we all are! Let us halt here for a time, while I consider."
They made themselves as comfortable as they could, and those who had them got out their pipes. Boromir and Aragorn sat together on a top step, their backs to the rest of the Company. Boromir gazed silently out into the darkness and thought of home.
I wish I could get word to them, he thought. I wonder if they are well?
In a flash, he remembered meeting King Theoden of Rohan in the early days of his journey, and with the memory came the fear he had felt for his own father at the sight of the sick old man.
Please, may my father not come to that pass! he breathed.
His thoughts turned to his brother, Faramir. Another memory came to him, of Gandalf sitting on a low wall in a garden of Minas Tirith, even as he sat now, hunched over his pipe, blowing out wreaths of smoke into the air. Boromir had come upon him and his brother as they spoke together in the garden during one of Gandalf's infrequent visits to the City. The wizard had been telling Faramir some fact of ancient history, and Faramir was listening with great attention, his face alight with interest. Boromir smiled fondly at the memory of his brother's keenness. Gandalf and Faramir had urged him to join them, but Boromir had declined; he had been busy on some errand or other, and did not wish to tarry. Now he regretted the missed opportunity to spend time with Faramir in a setting other than battle; he wished he had stayed to listen.
"You seem far away," commented Aragorn. "Where are your thoughts taking you?"
"Where else?" sighed Boromir. "My home...my father...my brother."
"I remember, you mentioned a brother when you spoke of your dream at the Council. Is he the younger?"
"Yes, I am the elder by five years." Boromir paused, then went on. "Always I have been his protector, his Captain, and he has been my staunch companion and wise advisor. It will be up to him to lead the men, now that I am away. I have no doubts of his abilities or his leadership, but I wish I knew how he fared."
"It is good to know that Gondor has two such warriors like Boromir to defend it."
Boromir smiled, pleased and surprised at Aragorn's compliment, but he shook his head slightly.
"Faramir is a brave and valiant warrior for Gondor, yes; but not like me," he responded. "He is less interested in arms and battle, and more a reader of lore, and a student of history, and a friend of wizards. He and Gandalf are well acquainted."
"Ah!" said Aragorn.
"In these hard times, he has had to put away his books and go to war. I regret that, but he has been a valiant lieutenant, and a capable leader of the men under him. He now leads the Rangers in Ithilien who harry the enemy from secret places along the River." Boromir was silent for a moment. "I hope he is all right."
"You miss him."
"Yes, I miss him. I wish he could be here with me now. I feel the need of his wisdom. I wonder what he would make of all this? The Quest...the Halflings...Isildur's Bane..."
Boromir's voice trailed off, and he was again lost in thought.
Aragorn glanced back at Frodo.
"Hmm!" was all he said, as he went back to his pipe.
Behind him, Boromir heard Merry and Pippin talking together; though they were speaking softly, their voices were magnified in the silence and he could hear clearly what they were saying. Pippin was afraid they were lost, and Merry was trying to reassure him. And, as usual, they were hungry.
I should sit with them to comfort them, thought Boromir, but he made no move to get up. He felt oppressed by the hollow emptiness of Moria which made his loneliness for his people seem more bitter.
Isildur's Bane, he repeated to himself. Such a little thing...
His thoughts were interrupted by an exclamation from Gandalf, and he turned quickly to look back at him.
"It's that way!" Gandalf announced, cocking his head at the left-hand passage.
"He's remembered!" said Merry, as he clambered to his feet. The others quickly stood and gathered their things.
"No," said Gandalf, "but the air does not smell so foul down here." He laid his hand on Merry's shoulder before turning to lead the way down the stairs. "When in doubt, Meriadoc, always follow your nose!"
The passage was narrow at first, and the stairs were steep, but before long it opened out into a wider, more level way, with no more openings or galleries on either side. At last they passed through an arched doorway into a black empty space that could only dimly be seen in the light of the flickering torch and Gandalf's staff. Gandalf looked pleased; he seemed to know where he was again.
"Let me risk a little more light," he said, raising his staff high.
The glow of his staff waxed stronger and brighter, until they could see clearly all around them. It was more than just a hall they had entered; they saw before them a vast and lengthy thoroughfare, lined with pillar after pillar of carved rock that reached to a ceiling so high they could not make it out.
"Behold!" said Gandalf. "The great realm of the Dwarf city of Dwarrowdelf!"
The Company gazed speechless in wonder at the sight.
"Well, there's an eye-opener, and no mistake!" exclaimed Sam, and though the others spoke no other word, they were in agreement.
Boromir looked around him, impressed by the workmanship of the pillars and the arches, and felt comforted in his loneliness for his city. There is good stone here, he thought, solid and strong like my City.
"There must have been a mighty crowd of Dwarves here at one time," went on Sam, "and every one of them busier than badgers for hundreds of years to make all this, and most in hard rock too! What did they do it all for?"
"This was the great city of the Dwarves, the halls of Durin in the Elder Days," said Gimli. "Though now it is dark and silent, then the city was filled with light and splendor, and the sound of harps and singing, and the ringing of hammers and chisels."
"Yes," said Gandalf. "Indeed it was a great city in those days, and wealth beyond imagining was here -- the wealth of mithril."
"Mithril?" asked Sam. "What's that?"
"Mithril is the Elvish name for the silver that could only be found here in Moria. All folk desired it; its worth was ten times that of gold; it could be beaten like copper, and polished like glass, and the Dwarves could make of it a metal, light and yet harder than tempered steel. Its beauty was like to that of common silver, but it did not tarnish or grow dim. Bilbo had a corslet of mithril-rings given to him by the Dwarves; I wonder what has become of it?"
"What!" exclaimed Gimli. "A corslet of Moria-silver? That was a kingly gift!"
"Indeed!" said Gandalf. "A precious gift! I never told him, but its worth was greater than the value of the whole Shire and everything in it. And it was the desire for that precious metal that brought disaster in the end; for the Dwarves delved too deep and awoke the nameless fear, Durin's Bane. Durin was slain and the Dwarves fled, and no Dwarf has dared to pass the doors of Khazad-dum since, until Balin resolved to go. They came and began a great work here, but it has been many years since the Dwarves have had any messages from them."
"I fear the worst," growled Gimli, "after the slaughter we discovered at the West-gate. Let us go on!"
Gandalf led them forward, and they followed slowly, still gazing in wonder and awe at the sights all around them. Suddenly, Gimli gave a wordless cry and ran towards a doorway through which a cold blue light was shining.
"Gimli!" cautioned Gandalf sharply, but he was ignored. The Company followed slowly into the room.
The chamber was lit by a beam of light shining down through a high wide shaft; by that light they could see many bones lying, and among them broken swords and axe-heads, and cloven shields and helms. The room was littered with books and papers from the broken and plundered chests that lined the walls and the alcoves of the chamber. The light from the shaft fell directly on a table in the middle of the room: a single oblong block, several feet high, upon which was laid a great slab of white stone. Gimli knelt before the stone and wailed his anguish as he read the runes that were graven upon the slab. Gandalf leaned over and read the runes aloud.
"Here lies Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria." He straightened and his face was lined with sorrow. "He is dead then. It is as I feared."
The ring of helmet on stone was loud in the silence as Gimli dropped his head to the tomb and began to weep.