A cold wind out of the north and west shook Aragorn awake from the deep, dreamlike memory of his passage through Moria. He stood now, leaning on the Stone of Durin, staring up at the Dimrill-gate, which he passed through only months before. The dale was quiet and peaceful, as the sun still stood high above the mountain peaks ahead, though She began to descend slowly behind them, casting long rays of light between them. The light danced across the Mirrormere and Aragorn gazed longingly across the still water. He breathed a heavy sigh as behind him he heard the soft, warm voice of an Elf.
“Aragorn?” She said. Her approach was imperceptible, even to him, as she made no sound upon the pebbles and soft grass. “Are you okay? I sense a shadow upon you, as I have for many days since we left.”
He turned and forced a smile, though looking upon Arwen Undomiel, daughter of Elrond, sent a warmth to his heart and his face brightened as if her mere presence pushed the shadow of memory away. “My lady,” he bowed his head gently. “I am simply recalling my time in Moria. Being so near the Gate once more, it carries an ill memory,” he looked back to the gate as she stepped beside him. “I will be glad when we begin our climb and pass out of this valley.”
She tenderly laid a hand on his arm, though, he could sense in her no affection beyond the care that one gives a grieving companion. “Moria has become a dark place, but you are among friends here. Come, sit with us, and if you wish, you may tell the tale, or forget it.”
“I wish not to speak of it, not so close to the Pit, which still chills my heart. The fire will be welcome, and I would much rather hear stories of Lothlorien from you and your kin,” said Aragorn.
She led him back toward their camp where two Elves who traveled with them from the northern fences of Lothlorien, had set a fire and prepared their camp as comfortably as one could expect. Their four horses, grazed without care nearby, their white coats seeming to shine on their own in the growing dim of twilight. The mount that Aragorn rode was now free of its tack and though it carried him graciously, he could now see that it seemed more alight and its spirit high as it stood freely with its kin. Their camp sat beneath the boughs of a great tree, and though the Elves of Lothlorien slept high in the boughs of their Mallorn trees, here, no such accommodations could be made, so they begrudgingly set their belongings on the ground.
Aragorn and Arwen sat opposite one another and Aragorn leaned back upon a saddle and a bundled blanket. They ate and drank and the two Elves that accompanied them sang songs as the night fell and the moon rose. They called out to him and their clear voices seemed to lay a shroud over Aragorn’s eyes and a cloud in his mind. The memory of Moria drifted away and he heard the wind softly in the trees, the crackling of the flames, and the soft voice of the waters falling over the Dimrill Stair and into the lake echoing in the valley. He smoked his pipe and watched the stars overhead. The Elves kept watch as he drifted off to sleep, his final sight being the Lady Arwen across from him, her bright face glowing with the fire between them. She sat upright, but she had fallen into a waking sleep, as Elves often do. He nodded and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
The morrow came and the sun shone brightly for them, casting aside all shadows in the dale, and pressing away clouds at the mountains’ peaks. Aragorn brushed his hand gently along the neck of the horse that carried him this far and spoke to her softly. From here on he and Arwen would go on foot, and their companions would leave them to return to Lothlorien. Arwen was dressed in brown pants and a white tunic, covered with a warm brown vest, and around her shoulders a brown cloak was clasped with a chain. Her dark hair was braided and pulled back and she carried a pack without burden. Aragorn looked upon her with surprise as he had never seen a lady so fair and of such great lineage in such a way. She seemed to notice his gaze and laughed.
“Did you expect to carry all up the mountain, Dunedan, myself included?” She remarked.
Aragorn’s face flushed with embarrassment, “No, my lady,” he responded. “I simply have not traveled with a lady of your esteem before.”
She smirked and shrugged her shoulders to adjust her pack, “Well, though my father did not enjoy it, I have traveled in wild places many times, for my brothers could seldom do so without me in years past.” Aragorn nodded and smiled, and he saw her in a different light, no less fair and beautiful, but strong and unwavering. Aragorn checked his own pack, filled with coats lined with fur, Elven bread, Lembas, and flasks of the Elven draught, which would sustain them over the cold and snowy pass. He hefted it onto his back and they spoke words of departure with the Elves that came with them. They rode off south as Aragorn and Arwen walked westward along the side of Mirrormere.
Above them stood Caradhras, the greatest of the mountains of Moria. Sheer and treacherous were its sides, and its shoulders and peak were covered in a silver snow. Beside it stood Celebdil and Fanuidhol and Aragorn looked upon them with wonder but also fear, knowing the mountain pass to be treacherous. They marched onward into the morning as the sun stood at their backs and as it crossed from the east into the bright sky overhead, it led them on their way. It was near noon when they climbed the Dimrill Stair, zig-zagging up the rocky steps. Arwen kept pace with Aragorn, and they climbed side-by-side, and her constitution was clear to him, now, for while his breathing labored with each step up into the heights, she moved with ease and the light in her face did not fade, but mingled now with a pink hue on her cheeks. He knew many elves who traveled as light as the wind upon grass and snow, and he admired her more than ever, and her beauty was now commingled with a great underlying strength and grace that he recognized then why she had been named Undomiel, evenstar.
The sun began to pass in front of them and down behind the mountains, casting a red and orange light across the face of Caradhras, which was rightly called Redhorn in the common tongue. Its great peak was now pink and its naked sides red, and the dwindling light on the eastern side made their passage any further dangerous. They halted, and though they did not travel with great urgency, they had come a good ways, and the valley stretched out below them, Mirrormere now little more than a glassy puddle it seemed to them from such a height.
They laid their burdens down upon the rocky ground beneath a natural outcropping above that shielded them from wind and sight. Aragorn, though, lit a fire with the fuel that he brought and they sat without worry. Aragorn took watch as Arwen slept, and he stood just outside the firelight, looking up and around at the path ahead. Above them the rock rose in a slant that could not be traveled, and the path wound its way left, then right, around the cliff face. He could not see beyond the turn ahead, and the outcropping behind him at least shielded their firelight from casting too far, for though they had no cause to worry thus far, the pass was dangerous at greater heights.
As the night deepened, the wind blew in from the east and swirled about, whistling against the rocks. On the voice of the wind, Aragorn heard also a howling that sent cold down his back. Unmistakably, a second howl answered, and he turned his ear and lifted his face to the air, catching the sounds and smells that the wind carried. Wargs he sensed, and the howls continued, though no sign or rumor of them could he glean from the rock as he laid down and pressed his ear to it. The mountain fell silent as morning came.
The next day they marched and climbed upward, leaving the Stair behind and traveling now through the rocky crags, though Aragorn led them on paths that were easiest. The air grew thin and cold in the morning, and the sun warmed them only near the noon hour. Patches of snow began to greet them in the places where shadows ever stayed. They stopped by night once more, high on the mountain’s south side. They sat there with a small fire, but Aragorn began to unpack the fur-lined coat given to him in Lothlorien, for the cold sank deeper into his bones with each passing moment. He drank a small sip of the Elf draught and handed the flask to Arwen and across the fire he caught for a moment a glimpse of weariness in her.
“Are you alright, my lady?” He asked hesitantly.
“I am not weary from the day’s march, if that is what you ask,” she responded sharply.
“That was not my intent,” said Aragorn. “But, now that we have climbed higher, I have noticed that you carry something greater than the physical burdens we each have brought with us.” She looked at him and he could feel her gaze piercing through him, though not cruelly. She looked into him and searched him, and he knew that she sought safety, and he sat still, with clear and affirming thoughts.
At last she spoke quietly, “Indeed, I grow weary as we approach the shoulders of the mountain, for it is here that my mother was taken by orcs.” She looked into the fire and the light from it danced in her eyes and Aragorn saw them become wet and sorrowful. “I have passed from Imladris to Lothlorien many times since then, and each time my heart is heavy, knowing she too once made such a journey, but one that ended cruelly.”
“I have heard your brothers speak of this before, though they carry a deep hatred in them now, and the word is a curse upon their lips,” said Aragorn.
“My brothers seek vengeance, and I, too, at times would enjoy such revenge. But no such deed could grant me the peace and I ultimately seek. And the dead could not grant me the wish to look upon my mother once more.”
“You shall see her again, when you make your passage west,” Aragorn said, searching for a means to comfort her with the thought of her own immortality, that which he could not enjoy, and that Man ever envied in the Elves.
She smiled, “A comfort to Men it may be to live forever. I shall see my mother again, but an age of this world or more may pass before such a time.” She knew his thoughts and spoke wisely, and Aragorn listened to her as he often did to Elrond when he spoke. “Countless lives of Men shall pass ere I see her again, and though Men seek comfort in the thought, therein lies a profound grief for me and my people.” Aragorn nodded and spoke no more of it, for her face was solemn and her mind drifted away from him and the present moment.
He reflected on her words for a time until suddenly, a howling echoed in the distance and he looked up and stood quickly. Yet another howl cam in answer, and this one much closer to them than the last. Aragorn stared into the darkness as his eyes adjusted from the fire, and he looked and listened closely. From a dense shadow, a pair of cold, bright eyes shone and stared back at him. He took a breath and drew the broken blade from its sheath and it glistened in the starlight. He stiffened his back as the eyes moved about and he knew the warg paced to and fro, judging the danger ahead.
“Stay behind me, lady Arwen,” Aragorn said to her.
“Do not think me helpless, Dunedan,” said Arwen, and she boldly stepped forward, a knife in her hand. Aragorn looked at her with awe and she stood beside him, her jaw clenched and her back stern as steel, for she reflected the power and strength that he had seen in her brothers many times before.
The warg at last lunged forward and Aragorn sought to block it with the weight of his body. It swiped heavily with its front paws and Aragorn took it upon his shoulder and swung his blade, cutting deep into its fur. The beast yelped and nearly fell upon him, but it snarled and turned and bounded into the night. A howling there came again, echoing as many voices joined the chorus, sensing the wounding of their prey, and one of their pack. Arwen quickly looked at his shoulder and felt the wound, but the thick fur coat that he wore held back the beast’s claws and it did little but cut into the coat and scratch the leather that he wore beneath it.
“You are unharmed,” she said. “There are still many hours of the night, perhaps we should both keep watch.”
“I believe we may be beset once more ere the night is over,” replied Aragorn. “I have wounded one, but many voices I heard on the wind, and their pack is likely to encircle prey that they believe to be wounded.”
From the darkness, they suddenly heard the cry and whimper of a warg silenced quickly, and the calls of another, a ringing as if teeth on steel, and then silence once more. They both stood close together, and at the ready, but no further danger emerged from the dark. A figure they saw walk towards them, and they did not drop their blades at first, until he came closer to the light. For coming toward them was an Elf, who sheathed a long knife and at last he came close to light his face and they saw that it was Elladan, Arwen’s brother, and twin of Elrohir.
“Elladan!” she cried, and moving toward him, they embraced warmly.
“Greetings, brother,” said Aragorn, and they embraced as well.
“Two I have slain in the dark,” he said. “One carried a wound. Who delivered it? Was it you, Aragorn, or was it my sister who bested your knife-work?” Elladan laughed.
“A lucky blow did I land, but the beast fled before her,” Aragorn said.
“Where is our brother?” Arwen asked with concern.
“Fear not, he is ahead, watching the pass on high Caradhras. When the message reached us that you were setting out from Lothlorien, we left Imladris at once, for the pass has become dangerous. Wolves and worse have we seen on our way. I fear that even our road to Imladris in the west shall be dangerous,” Elladan told them. “But, I will travel with you from here, and we shall meet our brother on the high pass.”
Aragorn and Arwen were both comforted seeing Elladan, and knowing that Elrohir stood watch upon the pass ahead. Elladan sat with them by the fire, he was dressed in grey and beneath a thick cloak he wore a simple tunic and trousers, seemingly untroubled by the cold. At his waist were two long knives, and from his pack a bow could be seen, and yellow-feathered arrows wrapped together. His hair was dark akin to Arwen, and his face was at once youthful and stern as a warrior of old. His eyes were grey, and in them a light shone like distant stars, and Aragorn knew him by the light in his eyes.
Elladan told them of news from the road ahead, for Aragorn was chiefly concerned with such reporting. He listened of their journey south from Imladris. Wolves and orcs they encountered upon the road, and many fled before them. To Arwen he told news of home, and their father, and a warmth came into her, and she brightened, dreaming of the sight and smells of the valley. For the night passed peacefully, and at the day’s rising, they set out from their camp and climbed up the shoulders of the mountains. The journey became treacherous, less for the wargs by day, and more for the loose stones and narrow pathways. They walked up and around the mountain on paths that fell many feet to their left, while the mountain rose high on their right. A bitter wind blew chill, swirling about them at all times. Aragorn walked with bent back and shielded his face.
As they climbed higher, there came a great snowstorm from clouds that gathered quickly in the afternoon. They stopped and Aragorn huddled against the mountainside on the right and clutching his chest, he bent his head to his knees, the fur cloak shielding him from the wind. Arwen sat beside him, close to him and they were soon surrounded by piling snow. Elladan walked lightly upon it, and shouting back to Aragorn over the wind, called that he would scout ahead for a place to get out of the wind. It was some time before the Elf returned, shielding his face with his slender hand, he tapped Aragorn’s shoulder and beckoned him to follow. Arwen followed as well, clutching Aragorn’s hand as he held it back for her. The three went in a line, guided by Elladan’s steady presence and at last came to a cave in the mountain.
They passed through the opening and entered the dark tunnel that went into the mountain for some ways before ending in a circular chamber. The cave smelled strongly of warg, and all about lay the remnants of their past meals, from beast to orc, and bones to fur, and orc weapons and armor lay about also. Elladan lit a fire and the chamber was quickly filled with warmth and light, though the light passed outside and they could only see the swirling snow as it blew in and glittered in the firelight.
“I fear we have found shelter from the snow and wind, but have put ourselves in between a wolf and his den,” Arwen said.
“Indeed, we have,” said Elladan. “But here we have warmth and stone at our backs, and they can only attack from one direction.”
“I shall keep watch,” Aragorn said.
“Very well,” Elladan responded, and he at once laid down and drifted off. Arwen sat beside him, watching Aragorn stand tall against the firelight, the cold darkness before him, and she fell into sleep.
Aragorn shook Elladan awake several hours later, and the Elf sat up and saw that Aragorn’s sword was drawn, and he held a burning brand in his other hand. “What is it?” Elladan asked, quickly gaining his senses and standing to his feet.
“They have come to reclaim their den, before the rising of the sun,” Aragorn said.
Arwen awoke, too, and stood with them. Elladan drew his long knives, and Arwen stood behind him, and she lifted a brand from the fire. Aragorn stood beside Elladan and in the pale light of the encroaching morning, there came snarling shadows into the cave. Two entered, and they heard outside a howl, knowing that more would follow. Aragorn and Elladan did not back down, and Arwen stood resolute.
Suddenly, outside the cave, they heard a yelp and a shout, and the wargs at the door turned in alarm. At that moment, Elladan charged forth and Aragorn followed. The wargs turned back and bared their sharp fangs, but they fell swiftly. Another warg backed into the cave door, snarling at an unseen foe, and Elladan leapt and plunged his long knife into the creature’s neck and it fell silent.
As the light of morning grew and Aragorn dropped the brand to the cave floor, he shielded his eyes from the light outside and a call and shout he heard among the wind. An Elf dropped from the cave door above, light on his feet. “Ho there! If it is not my brothers and sister,” said Elrohir.
They put away their weapons and Elladan rushed to greet his twin brother. Arwen, too, rushed forward and kissed his cheek. Much like his brother, Elrohir was clad in grey and to any Man appeared ill-dressed for a snow-covered mountain. His hair was dark and fell to his shoulders, and his grey eyes, like his brothers, shining with starlight. But Aragorn saw that the light was different than that of his brother, like the night sky in a far-off place. Few could tell the brothers apart, and Aragorn knew them intimately.
“I feared for you amid this snowstorm, brother,” Arwen said to Elrohir.
“Take heart, then! For I am here, and frozen I am not. The hunt has kept me warm. I drove this pack from the pass and followed them here to their lair. I pondered what to do with them if they retreated inside, for ambush you they certainly would if you came by this way. But what good fortune that you already held the den against them!”
“We sought shelter from the storm, which has thankfully passed,” Elladan said, looking out the cave door into a bright morning. Below them, the rocky path plunged down a sharp cliff into clouds that shrouded the world below. They all stood outside the cave, looking south as a grey blanket lay on everything, with only the peaks of the mountains visible above. In the great distance stood Methedras, where the great range ended.
“The storm has passed, but snowdrifts now lie between us. It will be slow going for Aragorn, as he may have to plow his way forward with his strong limbs,” Elrohir said.
“I do not wish to carry him,” Elladan laughed.
Aragorn shouldered his pack once more and said, “As if your strength could hold me, brother. I shall walk upon my own two legs, snow or not.”
The four of them set out into the morning, and Elrohir led them, with Aragorn behind him, and Arwen third, and Elladan as rear guard. The sun shone brightly, but the air remained cold and thin. It bit at Aragorn’s face and turned his cheeks red. He pushed through the snow that stood in great windswept dunes in places along the trail. The Elves walked effortlessly upon its pillowy surface, leaving nary a footprint. As they walked, the pathway curved to and fro, and their travel was slowed at times by great snow dunes, which in places were so steep that even the Elves had to follow behind Aragorn as he cleared a path forward. Hour after hour they walked, and Aragorn drank of the Elf draught to clear his mind and straighten his back. One more night they spent on the shoulders of the mountain, before another dawn and the path’s downward slope greeted them.
As they descended, Aragorn breathed easier, and he shed his heavy coat. He and Arwen walked side-by-side as the path widened and sloped down into the west more leisurely. Elladan strode up to them and walked beside Aragorn. “We heard from the messenger of Lord Celeborn that you had come to Lothlorien after entering the Dimrill Gate, Aragorn,” he said. “You returned from the east? I would like to hear your tale of it.” Aragorn cast his eyes down at the path and did not answer. “And you wield only this shattered blade, which our father and your mother gave to you ere you left Imladris. What became of your long sword?”
Arwen could see Aragorn in a different light, and he appeared weary and his back bent, suddenly the road and many miles and toils appeared upon him and his face was dark and his eyes sank. “Do not ask him to tell such tales while we walk still in the wild. Moria is a dark and evil place, you of all should know what danger there is beneath the mountains,” she said to Elladan, her voice sharp and scolding. “If he wishes to tell it, the tale shall be heard in our home, where danger does not lie in every shadow.”
Elladan looked at his sister puzzlingly, but he knew the fire in her eyes and he gave up the line of questioning without debate. “Forgive me, brother. My sister is right. You shall choose the time to tell the tale, if such a time ever comes. I can live without hearing of it, because I already know its end, that you came out, and are here with us now. And that comforts me,” Elladan said, looking out over the wild of Eriador stretching out below them.