The Weight and the Shadow

‘I too once passed the Dimrill Gate,’ said Aragorn quietly; ‘but though I also came out again, the memory is very evil. I do not wish to enter Moria a second time.’

The Fellowship of the Ring, Ch. 4

When Aragorn was young, he stood on the edge of Mirrormere, looking across the glassy surface to the rising peaks beyond. The light of day faded and the valley was bathed in a pale blue light. He had made camp for two days on the edge of the lake, but his fire smoldered behind him, fading with the day. A weight burdened his mind, with knowledge of what he now knew, and what path lay before him. He looked longingly across the lake, which did not grow dark with the coming night, but the full moon that rose above cast a shimmering, bright light across the surface.

Not yet a season ago, Elrond had told Aragorn his true name, and the name of his father, and that his line extended beyond count of years, to Isildur and Elendil, of Numenor. Though Elrond and his mother, told him truths that now lay on him like a stone, in his heart, something stirred. A growing fire and will that straightened his back; but the fire mingled with doubt and dread.

He drew the ancient blade, Narsil, that Elrond had given him ; an heirloom of his house, but not the one that he thought he knew as a boy. The sword glistened in the moonlight and within it Aragorn saw his face reflected and a faint light there seemed to glisten in his eye. The blade was heavy, despite being broken a foot below the hilt. In it were carved ancient elven runes, and Aragorn thought back to the hands that wielded it before him. How could he wield such a blade, which in the hands of greater men, felled the Enemy? Yet, no blade saved Isildur from his doom; that shadow lay upon him, now. Would such a fate befall him, too, now that he carried the weight of his house; a house that, in the end, could not escape the lure of power?

Standing on the edge of the lake, Aragorn remembered the tale of Durin the Deathless, who gazed upon the water and saw in it the reflection of stars that cast a crown on his head. Aragorn knelt at the edge and looked into the water. His face, scraggly from months abroad, looked back at him, waving in the soft ripples. Though the moon was high and the stars about, he could see nothing upon his head but darkness. Of course, he thought, for though he learned that his line extended back to great kings, what yet had he done to earn such recognition from the stars?

Cristi Balanescu

Aragorn put aside the thought and returned the ancient blade to the scabbard on his belt, opposite the full sword he carried with him for several years already, and with which he could not yet part. Looking up the mountain, a path wound up the hill and to the stairs below the East-gate. He walked there and stood before it, recalling what he had read in Imladris about the great battle that felled orcs beyond count, and Dain Ironfoot achieved victory, slaying the great orc Azog. It is said that battle dwindled the orcs’ numbers in the Misty Mountains, and he hoped it to be true.

Through the East-gate Aragorn walked and entered a moonlit hall of stone. The ceiling rose high above and the hall was large enough to accommodate many men. Two rows of stone columns stood on either side, dividing the hall. Large windows carved into the mountain above brought in the moonlight, and shadows fell among the columns. Aragorn’s footsteps echoed, and the air moved with a slight breeze as if the mountain itself breathed amid sleep.

Beyond the First Hall was a wide passageway and stairs leading up. The moonlight from the First Hall could not reach beyond the stairs and Aragorn lit a torch that he carried. At the top of the stairs, hecame to a wide chasm, more than fifty feet, and a large, echoing chamber in the mountain. The depth of the chasm could not be measured, and the ceiling was high. A narrow stone bridge crossed the expanse. A great wind rushed up from the chasm below and the air grew thick.

His heart trembled as the torch could barely illuminate the stone on the opposite end of the bridge. There was no rail and he had to cross it at risk of falling into an inescapable darkness. Aragorn gathered himself and began walking across the bridge; pebbles fell at his steps and the wind from the expanse below shook him, moaning in the hollow spaces of the rock faces below. As he passed the halfway point, the fear of the precarious passage filled him, and he quickened his pace to an almost reckless speed, but it carried him to the other side in moments and he backed away from the edge, leaning against the stone wall, breathing heavily.

There he rested a moment, but the darkness of the First Deep reached into him, and filled his mind with dread. The great expanse and the stone around him seemed to creak and moan, and there were strange sounds quietly in the dark. He felt as if something watched him from afar, and the thought sent a cold up his back. With the torch in his left hand, he drew his sword and passed up the stairs and into the Second Hall.

The immense hall and stone columns within towered above him, and his torch cast only a small circle of light. He looked all around as he walked, for the feeling of eyes upon him only grew, and his apprehension to continue, along with it. Moving in the dark he recalled thoughts of Imladris in his mind, of the bright sun shining through the trees and soft grass beneath his feet. His mother was there, and those he considered his brothers, also, for he wished they were with him now. But the thoughts could not hold back the darkness, and he began to wonder if the echo of footsteps were his own, or those of something else.

Aragorn stopped near to a column and stood silently. He could hear the soft patter of bare feet on stone, and they moved quickly here and there, but Aragorn could see nothing beyond a few paces in front of him. He closed his eyes and focused his mind, listening intently. He slowly knelt down and placed the torch on the stone floor and as he stood again, he could feel a presence near to him.

Suddenly he turned to his right and at that moment a goblin lurched from the darkness; clattering into him, the goblin drew a curved knife and Aragorn stumbled, but kept up his blade to fend off a further lunging from the goblin that must have been following him in the hall. It circled him and gnashed its teeth, and as they circled with the torch now between them on the floor, a squeal came from behind him and Aragorn turned swiftly to catch another goblin in the chest with his blade. The happenstance blow felled the small goblin, but the first lashed at him with its knife and Aragorn jumped away.

His blade free Aragorn lunged at the goblin but missed his strike, and the goblin leapt upon him, clutching at his clothes and bag, bringing it’s knife above its head to strike downward. Aragorn turned and smashed the goblin into the column and it fell, dropping its knife to the floor, a shrill sound of metal on stone filled the hall. Aragorn finished his foe with a decisive swipe of his blade and stood alone once again; he heaved a sigh a picked up the torch again. He reached through the packs and pockets of the goblins but found nothing there, but a red flame crudely painted on the goblins’ shirt.

He looked around and listened for a moment but heard nothing and continued through the hall. Aragorn passed through the hall and up stairs, through branching paths that took him one direction, and then another. The intricate network finally seemed to climb to the upper levels, which he knew signified his continued passage westward. But the encounter with the goblins lingered in the back of his mind. If two were near the gate, then more must patrol the lower levels.

As he walked along what he guessed was still the second, or possibly the third level, he came to many crumbling stairs that climbed back and forth, set upon high towers of stone, while the rock around them crumbled into deep chasms. The same dread of the bridge filled him again, but he carefully climbed, testing his foothold with each step. But as he stepped upon a stone, it crumbled beneath his feet, and Aragorn slipped between, holding fast to the rock with both hands, his torch falling below. He watched it fall before pulling himself up as the rock croaked again and his wet hands became slick. He crawled upon his belly on the stairs and lay looking downward. His heart beat like a drum in his chest and he became enveloped in total darkness.

The depths were silent, save for Aragorn’s breathing. He could see nothing in front of him, and his fingers reached down to his belt and felt within a pouch for his flint, the only tool to break the darkness that he now possessed. He struck it frantically, and each spark burst forth like a fire in the night, but with nothing to ignite, he simply lay there, breaking the darkness for fleeting moments. His heart sank, and he dropped his head to the stone and panic gripped him.

The time that passed could not be measured, and Aragorn could not say how long he lay motionless on the stairs; but the silence was suddenly broken by the sound of footsteps and the barking and hissing of goblin voices echoing through a tunnel above him. He looked toward the sounds, though nothing could he see, until at last, a faint light grew above, and from a tunnel in the wall, which had not been carved by dwarven skill, there came a patrol of goblins.

Four marched, backs bent over, with three following a tall, stout goblin. Two of them carried torches and they walked along a walkway that then led to the stairs. Their swords were drawn, but they did not notice him as they watched their footsteps on the crumbling stairs as they went down, left and right. The torchlight in the chamber barely lit enough for Aragorn to look back the way he came, and he had scarcely passed a few flights of stairs. If he moved, they would see him and pursue. But he could not lie still for them to tread over him, for they would surely discover him first and he was in greater danger of falling from the stairs than taking a goblin blade.

Cristi Balanescu

So, with little light to guide his way, and shadows obscuring pitfalls and crumbled steps, he leapt to his feet. “Look!” One of the goblins shouted, pointing at Aragorn. The lead goblin roared and pounded another in the back, “Catch ‘im!”

The goblins hurried as they could; though the stairs were perilous they seemed to know the places where the stone held firmly. Aragorn possessed no such knowledge, and leaped down to the flight of stairs below, then skipped over steps as he barely maintained his balance and finally tumbled down the last flight to the floor of the hall below. The goblins deftly moved down behind him, and the large patrol leader followed them.

Aragorn shook his head and rolled to his feet, drawing his blade. Two goblins ran at him with great ferocity and he parried their blows and kicked one to the ground as the third rushed toward him. Aragorn stepped aside and cut the goblin down as it squealed and died. The other two came at him at once and he backed away from their blows, but overcame them, gravely wounding one, and the second fell to his blade.

The patrol leader now approached, a great curved sword at his hip. He wore crude armor fashioned from old mail, steel, and leather. Upon his chest was painted red flame. The patrol leader roared and charged at Aragorn, who stood firm, though the goblin’s strength caught him off-guard and they clashed swords, the goblin driving Aragorn backward. After knocking Aragorn’s blow aside, the goblin grabbed his shirt and tossed him to the floor. Aragorn fell in a heap, but stood again as the goblin leader came at him again. Aragorn swung his great sword but the goblin ducked and threw his body into Aragorn, knocking him off balance. With a sharp ping, his blade struck a stone column and a vibration passed down the sword to his hand, shaking him, and he dropped his weapon.

Before he could pick it up, the patrol leader swung, and Aragorn moved aside, delivering a fist to the goblin’s face. A fear and ferocity overtook him and he flung himself at the goblin, who dropped his sword and held Aragorn back, one hand at Aragorn’s throat and the other holding his arm. They struggled but with his free hand, Aragorn reached down to the broken, ancient blade at his belt and in a single motion, drew it swiftly and cut across the goblin’s throat. Its grip on him went slack, and the goblin fell to its knees, then flat on the floor.

Aragorn sat heavily, dropping the broken blade immediately. The shrill ringing of it hitting the stone echoed in his ears and throughout the hall for many seconds. Aragorn heaved deep breaths and his hands shook. He put his face in his hands and slowed his breathing. The urge to turn back pushed him, but as he looked around in the faint light of the goblin torches that lay nearby, he saw the ancient sword glinting. He picked it up and though it remained heavy in his hand and the knowledge weighed on him, he rekindled his desire to go forward. He returned it to the scabbard on his belt and stood.

He picked up his sword and inspected the blade. The stone battered it where he struck, but it remained intact. He walked over and retrieved one of the goblin torches. Heading back toward the stairs he climbed once more, carefully measuring his steps. Amid the dense and heavy shadow, he carried the light with him, up and to the west.