Beneath the Shadow of Death

An overwhelming silence fell upon the great hall once more. Aragorn stood alone in the dying torchlight. He lifted it from the floor and stoked the flame, its soft flickering the only sound. He looked back to the chamber in which the moonlight glowed, and saw that a brighter light now came from within. The light of a new day had made its way over the mountains, and now came into the chamber through the shaft in the ceiling. He knew his path westward, and crossed the great hall to find a doorway there, but partially collapsed and ruined. He passed through the doorway and traversed broad, steep steps that climbed upward and came to a ledge where branching paths split in numerous directions. Feeling a cool breeze ahead, he followed it, his hand sliding along the wet stone of the wall.

Igor Kieryluk

At last he came into the mines of Moria, beneath the western slope of the mountains. Though his travel had been perilous, he raised his torch and saw before him the danger that now lie ahead. The pathway opened to a large cavern, roughly hewn and covered with decaying wood ladders, scaffolds, and elevators. He stood on a narrow ledge that fell into a great darkness, and beyond he could not see the opposite wall. The ledge passed downwards to his right, though he dare not use any ladder or stair for fear of collapse. Steps and scaffolds clung to the rock wall and stone stairways appeared as brittle as ice on a spring lake.

His back to the wall, he shuffled along the narrow ledge. At times, he felt a force upon his back, as if the stone itself wished him to tumble down into the dark depths before him. His heart raced and his hands were unsteady. As he came to the first step where the ledge dropped to his right, he knelt and saw that the wooden ladder there could not be trusted. He carefully slipped over the edge and dropped to the lower ledge, the soft sound of his boots hitting the stone. He paused and then continued on when no sound followed him. Along the ledge he walked until finally, a roughly hewn stairway led up to a clearer landing where more paths diverged. His mind he could not make up, and thus sat quietly, pondering which way to go.

The path to his left seemed to climb upward, and turn toward the west, as he felt his passage along the rock ledge had led him north. But a center stairway climbed steeply up, and beyond the doorway he could not see which way it may lead. He did not wish to descend deeper into the mountain, and thus looked away from the path to his right. He rose to his feet and looking into the center path, saw the stairs climb so steeply that he thought he may have to travel that way on his hands and knees. He turned left and followed the gentler stairs up and to the left, into a narrow passageway.

As he walked, Aragorn felt hemmed in on all sides, as the pathway seemed to narrow the further he traveled. His shoulder brushed against the wall, and he looked behind in the dim torchlight, but beyond a few feet, he saw only darkness. He continued on, the stone not only tightening around him, but the air also; it grew warm and thick, and his breathing became labored. He quickened his pace as a panic rose in him, and thoughts of finding himself trapped within the narrow pathway overcame him.

Magali Villeneuve

He shuffled his feet and his hand groped along the stone ahead, searching for a place where the path would widen and free him from the stone’s grip. So focused was he on the walls and the ceiling over his head, which whether real or imagined, seemed to be lower than it was before, that he failed to see the weak and crumbling stone before his feet. A crash and sudden cracking caught him off guard as the ground beneath him crumbled. He felt the sure footing of stone give way and he fell.

Tumbling down amid stones, he rolled and clattered down through an unseen cavern. Stone struck him and his head and limbs seared with the pain of the chaotic fall. At last he hit something firm and the rocks, too, fell onto him and onto the floor of a cavern which he could not see. The crashing and sharp echoes slowly came to silence and only the desperate heaving of his chest could he hear.

Aragorn’s hands groped about in the dark. He felt up and around the stone, finding he could sit up in the lightless cavern. His body ached and he felt his face, a warm, wet trickle of blood passing down from his head to his cheek. He wiped it away with his sleeve. His hands shook. His breathing quickened. For a moment he sat motionless in the dark, clutching his knees, as a great shadow of fear gripped him.

Though there was darkness all about him, he closed his eyes, and sang softly,

A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-diriel,
le nallon si di’nguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!

He opened his eyes and a warmth rose in him again, and his spirit soared. Determined once more, he groped about, on hands and knees, and followed the cavern away from the pile of rock that had come with him down the shaft. Long he crawled, and the cavern was tight around him, until at last he nearly tumbled out of an opening in a large wall of stone. Hanging half out of the cavern, he could touch stone below him, and the echoing sound of dripping water and a breeze signaled that he had entered a larger chamber. He crawled out of the cavern, falling to the stone floor. There came a great crash and the echo of metal on stone as his feet kicked a bucket of abandoned tools that he could not see in the dark. He lay flat on the stone, looking around fruitlessly, for he could see nothing, but the sound echoed loudly and for such a time that he knew he was in a large mining cavern.

The echoes slowly died, and as if in answer, there came a rumbling from deep below: doom. It froze Aragorn’s heart, and he lay flat, still. Doom, doom. He felt a vibration in the mountain and at once an unmistakable light seemed to rise in the cavern, bathing all in an orange and pink glow. The strange light showing him the way, he stood and found a doorway leading to steps that climbed up, but where he could not tell. The fall had disoriented him, and where he was on the right path before, he now wandered aimlessly. Doom. Stone shook beneath his feet, and the light that grew from some far off point in the cavern became brighter. He quickly bounded up the stairs, forgetting the pain across his body from the fall.

Cristi Balanescu

At the top of the stairs he was in a long corridor that ran to his left and right. Doom. His head was spinning, and he could see another doorway on the opposite side of the corridor that led to even more stairs heading up. Doom, boom. To the left, the faint glow of light began to creep down the corridor. Though the red and orange glow shone like a lamp carried behind a corner, he felt at the center of the light a great shadow. Boom. He turned to the right and followed the corridor, but to where he did not know; dread followed him.

Doom, doom. The corridor shook, and the fog in his head made keeping his balance difficult. He wiped away sweat and blood from his head and continued on, turning left down another wide corridor. Doom. He found himself running along the smooth stone floor toward a great chamber ahead, lit by the red glow that seemed to now fill the whole mountain. Boom, doom. But suddenly he stopped, as if a strong hand pressed against his chest. The light was brighter, but then it slowly began to fade. A strange, dark shape crept across the floor ahead. Doom. A shadow fingered along the floor and walls; the light ahead died. Doom, boom. The hall filled with impenetrable darkness, and Aragorn felt a fear lay upon him like nothing he had experienced before. Boom, doom. He turned and fled.

Frantically running, Aragorn felt the ground beneath him shake. Doom. A great cracking sound came from behind him, and the corridor shook violently and he fell against the wall on his right. He turned, looking behind into the darkness. Boom. A great rumbling filled the corridor and the ground split before him, down the center of the corridor; a dreadful gap widening ahead of him. Doom, boom. He regained his feet and ran again; stones began to fall from overhead and the corridor shook ever more. Doom, boom.

At last, he ran as fast as he could, and leaped; his chest collided with the stone ledge and he clung to it desperately. He slowly pulled himself up. Doom. The corridor rumbled. The mountain shook. Doom, doom. And suddenly, the stone gave way. He fell, down, down into darkness, to the roots of the mountain. Doom, boom, he heard overhead. Looking up, the great shadow surrounded by its red glow, seemed to look down upon him. Doom, boom. All went dark. Doom.