Back next

Son of Gondor

by Lineawen

Chapter 39

Boromir's heart sank as he stared across the gulf that lay between Frodo and Aragorn and the rest of the Company. How ever are they going to get across that? he wondered. It is hopeless! He saw the same question, the same doubt mirrored in Aragorn's eyes.

A loud roar echoed through the cavern, and the narrow stairway upon which they stood trembled and shook. Loose stones from the roof tumbled from on high; one large section fell full upon the stairway only a few feet from where Aragorn and Frodo stood, splitting the stairway in two like an axe cleaving wood. Aragorn and Frodo now stood on an island of rock, completely cut off, unable to go either forwards or back. Then, with a creak and a groan, the portion upon which they stood began to lean sideways.

"Steady!" called out Aragorn to Frodo, grabbing at his cloak. "Hold on!"

Boromir drew in his breath sharply in an exclamation of fear. Are we going to lose them? he thought desperately. This cannot be! We have come so far, we cannot lose them now! Not Frodo...

The stairway section teetered and swayed, forward, then back again, as the foundation below slowly crumbled and shifted. Even though he could not see his face, Boromir knew that Sam's eyes were locked on Frodo; but there was nothing any of them could do to help. It was a horrible, frustrating feeling to be forced to watch helplessly as their friends plunged to their deaths.

"Hang on!" shouted Aragorn again, as he and Frodo clung to one another.

They shifted their feet and leaned back in an attempt to keep their balance on the swaying surface; their movements caused the pinnacle of rock to sway forward again. Sudden hope sprang up in Boromir's heart and he pushed Sam gently aside to move forward to the edge of the gap that lay between. Aragorn realized his chance at the same moment.

"Lean forward!" he called out, and shifted his grip on Frodo. Mystified, Frodo obeyed without question. Boromir braced himself as best he could on the steps, and Legolas beside him did the same; Frodo's eyes widened as he realized their intention and their hope.

"Steady!" cautioned Aragorn, as the stairway tipped slowly forward towards the outstretched arms of those who waited on the other side.

At the last moment they leaped together, as the two sections of sundered stairway crashed together with a tremendous crack; the impact shook the rock beneath them, and they barely managed to keep their balance. Legolas caught and steadied Aragorn; a quick glance of relief passed between them and then Aragorn was away down the stairs. Frodo flew into Boromir's arms; Boromir realized that the hobbit must have been holding his breath, for the force of the leap caused him to let it out suddenly in a loud rush. He hugged Frodo tightly for a moment as he steadied himself, then swung around and placed the hobbit firmly on his feet. He gestured to the other hobbits to follow as the rest of the Company turned and raced down the stairs.

Boromir paused briefly and turned back; still no sign of that which followed, though a fiery glow waxed and flickered in the passage above. Whatever it was, it would have to come by a different way now. He turned and followed the Company; what remained of the stairway fell sideways and crashed into the depths below with a resounding clap and rumble like thunder that echoed behind them as they fled.

************************

They ran on, down flights of stairs and over rocky paths, until they came to a level way. They paused briefly to catch their breath.

"There is a light before us," said Gimli, peering ahead, "but it is not daylight. It is red. Could the lower levels be on fire?"

"We can only go on," replied Gandalf.

They went on, quickly but cautiously. The light ahead was unmistakeably that of fire; it flickered and glowed on the walls away down the passage before them. Some way ahead there stood a low archway, through which the growing light came. The air became very hot. When they reached the arch, Gandalf signed for them to wait. As he stood just beyond the opening they saw his face lit by a red glow. After a moment he stepped back and turned to them.

"I know now where we are: we have reached the first Deep, the level immediately below the Gates. They are near, through the Hall, to the left, across the Bridge, up a stair and out! Come and look!"

They peered out. Before them stretched a wide passageway; ahead to the right was a broad flight of stairs coming down from the upper halls. At the foot of the stairs a great fissure had opened, out of which flames leaped and black smoke billowed.

"If we had come by the main road down from the upper halls, we should have been trapped here," said Gandalf. "Let us hope that the fire now lies between us and pursuit. Come! There is no time to lose!"

They sprang forward and ran the length of the hall. As they ran they heard the beat and echo of many hurrying feet. A shrill yell went up; they had been seen! There was a ring and clash of steel, and a few arrows whistled over their heads.

Boromir laughed as he ran. "They did not expect this!" he cried. "The fire has cut them off. We are on the wrong side!"

They came out into the open and turned sharply left to avoid the fire and the arrows of the orcs on the other side. Before them they saw a black chasm; at the end of the hall the floor vanished and fell to an unknown depth. The stairs up and out could only be reached by a slender bridge of stone, without kerb or rail, that spanned the chasm with one curving spring. They would only be able to pass the bridge in single file.

Beyond the fire as they passed Boromir saw swarming black figures: hundreds of orcs with bows and spears and scimitars that shone red as blood in the light of the fire. Suddenly the ranks of the the orcs opened and they crowded away; something was coming up behind them. It was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to come before it. The Company faltered and slowed, then stopped to look back; they could not take their eyes from the creature that approached.

It came to the edge of the fire and the light faded as if a cloud had bent over it. Then with a rush it leaped across the fissure. The flames roared up to greet it, and wreathed about it; and a black smoke whirled in the air. Its streaming mane kindled, and blazed behind it. In its right hand was a blade like a stabbing tongue of fire; in its left it held a whip of many thongs. The dark figure raced towards them as the orcs brought great slabs of stone to lay over the fire as gangways.

Boromir raised his horn and blew. Loud the challenge rang, like the shout of many throats under the cavernous roof. For a moment the orcs quailed and the firey shadow halted. Then the echoes died as suddenly as a flame blown out by a dark wind, and the enemy advanced again.

"Over the bridge! Fly!" cried Gandalf. "I must hold the narrow way! Fly!"

Boromir dashed ahead to lead the way, and the others followed. He paused at the edge of the bridge to let Aragorn go first; Boromir followed closely, looking back often to make certain the hobbits were close behind. The others followed in single file: Frodo, Pippin, Merry, Sam, Gimli, Legolas, and Gandalf last. Aragorn stopped on the opposite side, and Boromir ran ahead and up the stairs, calling for the hobbits to follow. They all turned back at the first landing, and halted as one, unable to leave their leader to face the enemy alone.

The Balrog had reached the bridge, but the way was barred; Gandalf stood in the middle of the bridge span, staff raised high in his left hand, and in his right his sword, Glamdring, gleaming cold and white. The enemy stepped forward, then halted, the shadow about it reaching out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked. But Gandalf stood firm.

"You cannot pass!" he said coldly.

"Gandalf!" Frodo called, and the terrified echoes of his cry echoed in the silence.

The Balrog gazed upon Gandalf with eyes that glowed like coals of fire; the surrounding flames flared up and spread out like a wave. Gandalf did not flinch.

"I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor!" cried Gandalf. "You cannot pass! The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun!"

The Balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly drew itself up to a great height. Its wings spread from wall to wall, but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom.

From out of the shadow a red sword leaped flaming; Glamdring glittered white in answer. There was a ringing clash and a stab of white fire. The Balrog fell back and its sword flew up in molten fragments. The wizard swayed on the bridge, stepped back a pace, and then again stood still.

"Go back to the Shadow!" cried Gandalf, raising his staff and sword high above his head. "You shall not pass!"

Crying aloud, he smote the bridge before him. A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up. The Balrog stepped back a pace, and then brandishing its whip, silently, deliberately, set its foot on the bridge and stepped forward. The bridge cracked and broke at its feet, and stone and Balrog crashed into the gulf. With a terrible cry, the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. The rest of the bridge remained, poised, quivering like a tongue of rock thrust out into emptiness. Gandalf's shoulders sagged, and he glanced into the depths with a sigh, but even as he turned away from the edge, the firey thongs lashed up out of the void and curled about the wizard's knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, and was dragged to the edge, where he clung desperately.

Though he had little hope of reaching him in time, Boromir started forward, his only thought to reach Gandalf before he fell into the abyss; but he was stopped in mid-stride as Frodo ran past him, screaming the wizard's name.

"No! No!" cried Boromir as he swung around. He caught hold of Frodo as he ran by and held him fast. Frodo struggled, then grasped Boromir's arm; the pressure of Frodo's fingers could be felt even through his chainmail. Boromir bit his lip to keep his emotions under control. He gripped Frodo tightly in response, as much to reassure him as to keep him from running out onto the bridge. Frodo must not be allowed to go out there. The entire structure was in danger of collapse, and if the wizard went over he might pull Frodo with him. There had been an instant only for Boromir to choose between saving Gandalf or saving Frodo; but in truth, there had been no choice, not where the safety of Frodo and the Ring were concerned. What will Faramir say to me when he hears of this? thought Boromir, blinking away the tears.

Gandalf grasped at the edge of the stone, and tried to pull himself up, but to no avail. He held on a moment longer, long enough to catch their gaze and hold it, before he slid into the abyss.

"Fly, you fools!" he gasped, and was gone.

"Noooooo!" screamed Frodo in anguish, struggling to get away, but Boromir held him tight. Aragorn stood stunned and immobile, staring in horror after the vanished wizard. Boromir shouted a command to the others; the hobbits turned and ran up the stairs in terror, followed by Gimli and Legolas. Boromir picked up the still struggling Frodo, and fled up the steps, calling to Aragorn as he went.

As he reached the top of the stairs, Boromir heard Aragorn behind him. The doorway was before them, the light of day bright on the walls. The gates were shattered and cast down, but there was no guard to hinder them; they sprang down the age-worn steps, and felt at last the wind on their faces. The sun was shining, the clouds were white and high, but their hearts were dark with sorrow and their eyes were dimmed with tears. They had come beyond hope out under the sky, but the Company was diminished, for Gandalf remained behind, lost forever.