Moria is a tomb littered with the skeletal bodies of Dwarves and Orcs. I wish we could do something for Gimli's people - it seems wrong to leave them lying among the carrion - but it isn't possible. We can't spare the time or risk attracting attention.
Possibly the small watchfire at my back is a mistake. Light of any kind is all too noticeable here. But we can't travel in the dark and one look at the Little Ones' faces when Mithrandir suggested camping without light was enough for me to announce loudly that my courage did not extend to sleeping in pitch blackness surrounded by unknown numbers of Orcs and those other, fouler things he had mentioned. Aragorn was quick to agree with me and Mithrandir looked from him to me then at the Halflings and conceded the point.
Legolas said nothing. In fact he has been markedly silent ever since we entered the Mines and his habitual alertness has taken on an almost feverish edge. If he were a Man I would say he was nervous and perhaps he is, certainly he has cause enough. Gimli has also been silent, grimly so, since his one outbreak of grief in the entrance hall. I have seen enough slaughtered garrisons and sacked towns to know all too well what he is feeling.
At least the Little Ones have fallen asleep at last. Merry and Pippin are huddled together near Gimli. Frodo and Sam lie between Mithrandir and Aragorn. What possessed Elrond to put this burden on a Halfling? And worse to let those two young ones come along on such a grim quest. It is like taking children into battle.
Merry and Pippin won't be going into Mordor, not if I have anything to say about it, nor any of us if I can help it. I must, perforce, accept the judgment of the Wise that the Ring cannot be used against its Master. That being so I agree it were best destroyed - were it possible but it is not. To take the Ring into Mordor itself in a vain attempt to reach Mount Doom is sheer madness. Whatever happens it must never come within reach of Sauron, surely that is clear enough?
Somehow I must bring the Company to Minas Tirith and to Father. He can argue some sense into Mithrandir if anyone can. The Ring will be safe in the vaults of the White Tower. Frodo will be glad to be free of it. But the One Ring isn't all our Company will bring to Minas Tirith.
I turn to look at the other man in our company, Aragorn, Isildur's Heir. He lies at the edge of the firelight clad in the well-worn brown and green of a Ranger, but wa ring of mithril and gold glints on his finger catching the light. It is the ring that Barahir had from Finrod Felagund. Strange to think the Man wearing it has the blood of Barahir and his son Beren flowing in his veins and some kinship to Felagund as well I think.
My lineage is old, going back to the very beginnings of Gondor, but his - his goes back to Numenor itself and to the heroes of the Elder days when Men and Elves together faced a greater enemy than Sauron. He is like a name from the old tales come to life. But that is nonsense. He is but a Man, one who reminds me in some ways of Father and even more of Faramir my brother. They would like each other I think. But how Father will deal with him... You owe him your allegiance Legolas said. And something in my blood feels the tug of ancient oaths sworn by my fathers to his. I am no longer so sure Gondor needs no King. We need something, perhaps we need him. But does he need us? Or want us? Can we - can I - blame him if Gondor means nothing to him?
Something moves in the darkness low to the ground, scuttling like a spider. Then a pale gleam like eyes reflects briefly the fire behind me. The whisper of steel on steel as I draw my sword rouses Aragorn. He springs to his feet, his own blade in his hand, and joins me, his eyes scanning the darkness pressing upon our circle of firelight.
"What is it?" The words are pitched low, for my ear alone.
"I know not," I answer as softly, "a small Orc? Its eyes shine green."
By this time Legolas too is on his feet, coming silently to Aragorn's side as Gimli, grunting slightly, comes to mine. He peers almost eagerly into the darkness gripping his axe. It would be a relief to him to kill something. I know that feeling too.
"Gollum." says Mithrandir's voice quietly from behind us. As one we turn to stare at him.
"The creature Bilbo took the Ring from?" Gimli asks, surprised.
"Is it dangerous?" I want to know.
"Not if one is armed, and on one's guard," Aragorn answers.
"But he may bring the Orcs down upon us." says Legolas.
Mithrandir shakes his head. "No. He hates and fears them as we do. It is the Ring that draws him but he cannot come at it as long as we keep good watch."
Pippin chooses this moment to wake. He yawns, then sees us standing there, weapons in hand, and stares in alarm. "Is something wrong?"
"I thought I saw movement in the dark," I answer quickly. "But there is nothing there." Not now anyway.
"It's almost time for my watch," says Gimli giving me a glinting upward glance. "Get some rest young Man, it will steady your nerves."
I give him back a look that promises retribution but there is no heat in it. Better Pippin think I'm seeing things that aren't there then something that is. And a touch of humor from Gimli is a good sign. "I thank you for your courtesy, Master Dwarf." I say and settle myself between the Little Ones.
By now all four are awake and I hear Frodo and Sam being soothed by low voiced explanations from Mithrandir and Aragorn. Merry asks fretfully what's going on.
"I thought I saw something move in the dark but there is nothing there now." I answer.
"You're nervous too?" Pippin asks wistfully.
"Certainly I am." Sometimes it is best to hide one's fears but other times it is well to share them. It comforts a young recruit to know he is not the only one who is afraid. "I am not accustomed to living underground as you Hobbits are."
"Hobbit holes are nothing like this horrible place." Merry tells me firmly, then remembers and says apologetically to the Dwarf; "Sorry, Gimli."
"No offense taken, young Hobbit." he answers unruffled, lighting his pipe.
Pippin huddles to my side and I put an arm around him and the other around Merry. Poor Little Ones, nothing is going to happen to them if I have the power to prevent it. That I swear.