"Paused in shadow," her voice spoke of progress, in low timbers as it held the attentions of siblings of great bearing. Several more leaves of golden hues fluttered in through the open window and spiraled down around her dark brow. They settled one by one with lazy distress upon the mirror's water. "Darkness and indecision." She closed her eyes, pressing back tears of frustration. "I cannot see any further."
The elder Elven brother touched his sister's shoulder, infusing her with strength imbued of the Valar. "Arwen, can the Prince not hear you?"
"Nay," she swallowed and turned her luminous sapphire gaze upon Elladan, whose own gray eyes reflected her very heart's worth. "Nor can I hear him. I sense only fear and distress. Mithrandir does not know the way through, and thus they have stymied their ascent upon a three fold doorway."
Elrohir sighed from his position on his sister's bed. The three had retreated to Arwen's rooms after attending a light and silent supper with their father, Elrond. It seemed to his daughter that the great Lord's own thoughts centered around personal dismay though she suspected in her heart he worried for his adopted son.
As did they all.
"This is unbearable," the youngest of the twins' voice was wrecked with worry. He twisted and lay flat upon his back, his arms splayed out at his sides. "We should have gone with them."
"Pointless chatter," Elladan said in a much silence whisper. "Trouble not your heart. Instead think of Estel, and of the Hobbits. Pray to the Valar that Mithrandir remembers the path. To tarry in such a place" he shivered and looked back to the mirror. "Arwen, can you not speak to him as you told us?"
She shook her head. "Only when he is listening. There is a dread, a terrible melancholy upon his heart, and I do not know its just cause." Indeed, she had sensed the perilous cloak as it moved over her friend's soul. There is something amiss, something the Prince keeps to himself. If he will not listen, I can not warn him.
"Unbearable," Elrohir muttered once again from his position.
"Perhaps you should keep yourself busy, dear brother," Elladan said in a quiet voice. "Father's library is extensive and I am sure there such creatures beneath Moria that even you and I have never seen in all our days upon Arda."
Arwen looked to the eldest twin. "What horrors do you suspect, Elladan?"
He turned a serious gaze upon his sister. "Legends as old as the Silmarils. Tales told by Glorfindel and our father by the light of an evening fire, when the wine ran full and memories long locked away came forward in heroic retellings."
Elrohir sat abrupt, upright with eyes wide. "Ai, I remember those tales, and thought of them as such. The remakings of more mundane happenings with silver tresses, dressed up to seem more adventurous."
"Nay, brother," Elladan shook his head with gravity. "Though Dwathderrow is—was—a mine to the Dwarven peoples, it was before then merely a covering to the lands where the followers of Melkor slept, within the lands of Morgoth."
A delicate hand came to Arwen's lips as her eyes widened and brimmed with tears. "No Elladan, you can't mean the slaves of the Dark Lord dwell there."
"Really you think the Dwarven Kingdom of Moria was destroyed by Goblin and Orc might alone? Nay, dear sister. There was foul work abroad, and I fear in my soul that Mithrandir knew the fate of Balin and his kin before ever entering that dark place." Elladan bowed his head gracefully. "I believe it is why he did not wish to go into the mines, and I believe it is why," he looked to Arwen below his furrowed brow, "Sauroman has herded them into the bowels of the earth, to let a beast of shadow and flame destroy that which he cannot."
Tears of anguish filled Arwen's eyes as she cast her gaze back to the mirror. Look to me, my prince. Please hear me in the dark and take from me my strength. She sniffed as Elrohir stood beside her, his hand resting briefly upon her shoulder before the younger twin departed from her room. Beware the shadows.
The tombed silence of Moria was broken occasionally by the slight, harried comments of Hobbits ill fed. A cadence had come of it, nearing like a song of impatience and despair. For Pippin would complain in one voice of hunger and starvation, as Merry would deliver a resounding shush in another voice. Once in a while the rhythm was broken by the grunt of a dwarf, who sat nearby upon the rock smoking a pipe as he watched the Elf, watching the shadows
Estel sat upon the edge of the three-door precipice, a pipe clutched in his own hand, the buzz of the weed giving little solace to his growing fears of trepidation. He did not like it when the Istari paused, nor did he feel confidence flourish with the wizard's mutterings to himself. Gandalf smoked his own pipe as he sat perched upon a jutting rock, facing the three doors.
It sounds as if he's scolding himself for his aging memory. Estel suffered himself a small smile. Perhaps he is.
He watched mutely and puffed upon his own Elven weed as Frodo approached the wizened Istari and the two spoke in low voices. Estel heard the echo of the name of Golem, and even he could not shut out an inward shiver of distaste.
The slippery creature was near. Estel paused with this thought. Yes, he was near enough that Legolas should have said something or made mention of the creature's Oliphant step. Yet come to speak of it—where is my dearest of friends?
Estel turned around, twisted from his left to his right. Legolas had stood only a rock's throw moments earlier, his soft Elven glow a beacon within the Dwarven mines.
With a glance at each of the company—of Borimir entranced in his telling of a Gondor tale to Merry and Pippin—and then to—Ai…where is Gimli? Estel tapped the pipe on a local stone, easy the heated weed did not ignite his dry and brittle clothing, and then moved cautiously a few steps away from the flat ledge where the Company of Nine paused in their journey.
A rock bounced nearby as Gimli stepped hastily around a mound of sharp and high rock. His axe was balanced over his shoulder, and his step was even and sure—for this is the realm of the Dwarfs.
"Aragorn," the Dwarf said in a soft if not gruff voice. "There you are. You must speak sense into the insensible."
Estel pursed his lips and stopped a smile. The statement seemed meant for humor, yet the Dwarf's expression did not. "Why you say this, Master Gimli?"
"Because that pointy-eared friend of a Ranger sits away from us behind that rock. He will not look at me, and he will not open his eyes."
The ranger took a jolt from such a proclamation. "His eyes are closed?" This did not bode well—for the Elvish race did not close their eyes save when they were gravely ill.
"Aragorn," the dwarf's expression moved quickly from aggravation to worry. "Ai…this is bad?"
"Did he speak?"
"Oh, speak he did. His words were simple." The aggravated expression returned. "He said, 'leave'."
Taking some comfort in Legolas' speech and a little humor from the dwarf's ire, Estel bade Gimli to return to the Company near the three doors and he would look after the elf.
And indeed, just around the high rocky wall sat Legolas. His bow lay at his side, an arrow cast off in a less than armed position of rest upon the stony floor. The Elf's light seemed dimmed, somehow, and yet it illuminated the darkness enough for Estel to see him.
"Old friend," he said gently as he knelt down beside Legolas.
The Elf's eyes were indeed closed. The vision frightened Estel and he reached a dirtied and nervous hand out to touch the knee of his oldest friend. "Mellón?"
Legolas eyes came open fast and he fixed his bright, uncanny eyes on Estel. The ranger noticed the pupils were large and black, darkening the elf's blue color. "What—Estel." He frowned, grooves of displeasure marring perfect unblemished skin between his dark brows. "Has Mithrandir chosen a path?"
Estel moved away and looked around the wall's edge. Everyone remained where they had been, with the Istari still speaking quietly with Frodo. Gimli had joined the tales woven by Boromir and the Hobbits appeared to be quite entranced.
"No, dear friend," Estel felt his own brow furrow. "Why were your eyes closed? Are you ill? Is it this place?" He wanted to reach out again, to touch his friend. Years ago they had traveled inside of this very mountain and then the elf had suffered a great melancholy, locked away from the sun and the trees. Had that same illness returned?
"They were closed?" Legolas' voice became soft. Distant. He looked away, showing his friend only a profile. "I will work harder not to sleep, Estel. It was only a moment of folly."
"Folly does not mark the Elvish eye to close, Legolas." Estel hoped to put a bit of warning in his voice. He would not be pushed aside again and again when something troubled his closet friend. His brother. "You are tired. Weakened once again?"
Legolas' head came up and he turned a fierce gaze upon Estel. "I am not weak. I am only—troubled."
"You sense something. Danger? Or perhaps you sense the battle that robbed this place of life and laughter?" He looked around at the hidden ceiling and at the ground around them, littered with bones and rocks. It was not a fit place for a First Born to dwell. "Speak to me, Legolas. I am your friend—a brother you have rescued many times more than deserved." He gave a half smile. "There are more than the mountain's woes in your eyes."
And for a brief instance Estel believed his friend would speak. He would share his burden and take him into his confidence again. Legolas' dark pupils burned through him, and the crease between his brows mended.
For an instant.
The elf straightened, and the hard set to his jaw returned. "I am only slightly injured by the feel of this place. It will not hinder my duty to protect this Company."
There was something else. An unspoken piece to the puzzle that Estel waited for him to say. But when it did not come, remaining a widening gap between them, the ranger nodded and moved back. "Aye, Legolas. I will deal with what you say—only remember—the protection of this company does not rely upon your shoulders alone. Carrying such a burden inside will only dim that Elven light."
And with that Estel stood. He was angry—with Legolas for turning away from him—and with himself because he couldn't touch his old friend. Not the way he had before. Long ago before the Rangers. Before the escape of Golem. When two friends, an elf and a man, walked side by side in the forests of Mirkwood.
"Ah…this way," Gandalf said at last.