Many hours after their escape from Caradhras the Cruel, the fellowship sat huddled together, discussing their road now that the way over the mountain was no longer open to them.
"We must go on, or go back. Those are our choices," Gandalf told them, staring at his hands, clasped tightly around his staff.
"We cannot go back. We will never again have the chance to set out. It is now, or never. Despite the treacherous paths we may have to trudge, we cannot go back," Caran said, her voice firm. To go back would be to admit defeat. Sauron would find the Ring eventually, and then what little hope they clung to would vanish.
"Caran is right," Frodo spoke, his voice quiet amongst the evening , but they all heard the words that spilled from his lips. "In any case, I would feel shamed if we turned back now. This task was entrusted to me, I will do my best to see it through to the end. We have to go on if possible."
"There is one way we may attempt," Gandalf paused to look at each of them before continuing.
"We may take the road through the mines of Moria. At least this road shall hide our trail from the keen sight of the enemy."
Caran and Aragorn were the only members of the fellowship who did not react to his words, for they had known of the possibility before it was voiced. Save for Gimli, fear stretched deep in the eyes of the remaining members. The troubles and horrors of Moria were widely known. It was not a path which any one dare tread lightly. But, it was their only chance. There were many arguments over this course before Gimli cleared his throat and spoke.
"I will accompany you, Gandalf. I would see the halls of Durin at least once in my life."
"I have heard dangerous rumors of Moria. A great darkness surrounds it, but I, too, will follow you, Gandalf, if this is the path you choose to take," Caran spoke, her eyes fierce and determined. She had never set foot in the mines, and for good reason, but that was soon to change.
Aragorn and the hobbits agreed to follow as well, albeit reluctantly. Caran suspected that had Frodo not consented to go for obligation of destroying the Ring, the other hobbits would not have so willingly agreed to tag along.
Caran looked curiously at Boromir and Legolas, her long red hair blowing in the breeze that had gradually developed as they sat. Boromir did not want to go, not unless the vote of the fellowship reigned unanimous against him.
Legolas, who had finally discovered the source of Caran's fear was almost equally as hesitant as she was, and a lot less willing to follow. As a full blooded wood elf, he much preferred the open space and outdoors. The idea of willingly going into a mine was an abhorrent thought indeed.
"I do not wish to go to Moria," he said at long last. Caran could not bring herself to blame him, though she had hoped he would say otherwise. She did not wish to part with the blonde elf so soon. As hasty as it may have been, she had grown rather fond of him in the short time she had known him.
"Please, we are weary. Could we not rest before we made any decision?" Frodo asked, his tone pleading. "It's gloomy this night, and the howl of the wind clouds my thoughts."
Much to Gandalf's reluctance they agreed to wait. Caran found a sturdy rock and leant against it, thinking. Something was out of place. The wind sent chills down her spine as she closed her eyes and concentrated on her surroundings. She could hear even the faintest breaths that her companions took, even against the howling wind. Howling wind. Howls… in the wind.
Her eyes shot open as she jumped to her feet immediately, drawing the rapt attention of the entire company.
"Howling winds!" She cried. "The wind does not howl! Wargs! They are not often found on this side of the mountain but their cry is unmistakable! We are being hunted."
It was not long after her discovery that they had made the decision to take the road through the Mines of Moria, which lay some 20 miles from them. It would not do to have hunting wolves on their trail as they would on any other way they could take. The wargs would not follow their company into the mines, of that Caran was sure.
"Let us start no later than first light tomorrow," Boromir said, only slightly less reluctant to take the dreaded road that lay before them. Neither was an idea to be looked upon brightly.
When it had been decided that the company would wait out the first light of dawn, they fell silent, listening to the howls. To Caran and her sensitive ears, it was very apparent that, though still a ways off, the cries were getting closer. From his stiff shoulders, she gathered that Legolas, with hearing equal to hers, had made the same discovery.
"Gandalf," she spoke suddenly, breaking the silence. "They're getting closer. We should station ourselves atop that hill so we have a better vantage point," she told him as she pointed to a hill, adorned by a circle of rocks and some trees scattered here and there.
"Yes… I couldn't agree more," he told her and motioned for them to go up the hill. They hastily picked up what little they had and walked the short distance to the higher ground. It wasn't much but it did provide a little protection and the vantage point Caran had wanted.
"Boromir, can you make a fire? Those beasts have already caught our scent. A fire will be to our advantage now," Gandalf asked of him. With a curt nod, the man of Gondor got to work and it was not long before that they had a roaring fire going. For their part, Legolas, Gimli, Aragorn and Caran had done their best to collect fuel for the fire before stationing themselves around it to keep watch.
Caran stood next to Bill the pony, gently petting his mane, while whispering soothing words to him as the pony trembled. It pained her to see such an innocent creature experience such a great distress. So long as he remained with the company, he was in danger. As the howling grew nearer, she started to see glowing eyes in the dark, peering at them. The trembles of the pony had worsened at this new development. But he stood still, stiff as a board, not daring to move.
The fellowship had placed themselves inside the circle of rocks and Caran could just see the huge form of a wolf make its way towards them, standing between the rocks and howling. "Gandalf is here. Fly, if you value your foul skin. I will shrivel you from tail to snout, if you come within this ring." Gandalf stood tall and proud, his voice carrying as he held his staff towards the wolf who advanced on them.
Caran almost pulled out her bow as the wolf lunged forward but Legolas, the superior bowman, beat her to the chase, piercing the monstrous wolf in the throat in seconds. The wolves around them fled, and they heard not a single howl in their wake.
She heard the hobbits breath sighs of relief, but Caran was not comforted. She knew this would not be the end. The wolves would return before the night was out, and she had been right. As the night advanced her skin began to tingle, a warning. But she could hear nothing, see nothing.
"Something is not right," she told Gandalf as she stood, clutching Aiglos firmly in her hand. Her attempts to sooth the pony had been abandoned in lieu of the threat at hand.
The company looked into the night, wearily. Although they could see nothing. It was not a good idea to cast aside the concerns of an elf and so they waited anxiously.
They did not wait long. A great number of howls, a cacophonous sound to her ears, pierced the thick silence as a group of wargs which had gathered in secret began their attack. They were fierce, wild; not a drop of fear present in their blood thirsty eyes. "Fuel the fire!" Gandalf yelled to the hobbits, "Draw your blades and stand back to back!" Caran knew this was for their safety and defense only. They did not really know how to fight, and so their hope would be sticking together and blocking attacks while the rest of the company fended off the wolves.
She did not have long to think on that matter as a large wolf came at her, snarling, spit flying from its mouth. She made quick work of it. Big as it was, it was clumsy compared to her graceful steps. She stepped to the left as it charged her, and swung to the right just as it bounded by her, thrusting her spear directly into its back, piercing its heart. The beast let out a blood curdling howl before it fell to the ground, dead. She pulled on Aiglos, and with a sickening crunch the spear came lose, the tip covered with blood.
A few feet from her she spotted a wolf rushing towards the hobbits and acted as quickly as she was able. Caran grasped Aiglos firmly in her left hand, stepping forward with her right foot, thrusting forward with all her might, sending the spear hurtling at the warg. Aiglos hit its mark; directly in the chest of the creature. The beast was silent as it fell. She grabbed a throwing knife from her belt, stabbing another warg that now lay between her and her spear. From the corner of her eye, she vaguely noticed Legolas starring at her as Gimli hewed off the head of the wolf who had attempted to attack Legolas while he was distracted. She saw a short conversation happening between them, just as she yanked her beloved spear from the carcass with another sickening crunch.
In a matter of minutes she had brought down a few more wargs, but the battle did not last long, as Gandalf stepped up after what seemed an eternity and worked his magic.
He rose before the foul creatures in the light of the fire and lifted a burning branch as he walked towards the wolves. The burning branch turned from a bright orange to a blinding white, and he spoke, his voice booming so loudly Caran had to cover her ears.
"Naur an edraith ammen! Naur dau I ngaurhoth," as the incantation left his lips, the top of the tree directly above him burst into wild flames, spreading to each tree top. The last wolf to be killed, a wolf chieftain, gigantic is structure, was pierced in the heart by Legolas' arrow. The other wolves fled from the spectacle, and when the fire had dwindled, there was no sign that they would return that night. They had beat the wolves this time.
"Wolves won't get old Gandalf. That was an eye-opener," Sam said when the danger had passed.
No one slept for the rest of that night, too anxious for dawn to arrive, and when it finally came, they were struck with the realization that the wolves had not been just a pack of hunting wolves. They could find no dead body, nor no sign of a wolf being present at all. They found nothing but burnt trees and the arrows Legolas had shot off.
They had the quickest breakfast Caran had ever experienced before taking off again. They had to reach the doors to the Mines before sunset or else risk never reaching them.
That Aragorn could not guide them through this land, for he had never been, and Gandalf had traveled through but once, had Caran worried. It was time to test the memory of the wizard, it seemed.
She could not help but laugh as Gimli walked side by side with Gandalf, In his eagerness leading the company to see the halls of Durin.
"What's so funny?" Legolas asked curiously, her soft chuckles having carried over the breeze. He found it a much preferable sound to that of the howling wolves.
"Gimli," she stated simply. She received a raised eyebrow in response and smiled.
"The rest of us greatly fear entering the mines, but not Gimli. He is so eager to set his eyes on the halls of Durin. It is heartening. It makes my fears of the mines slightly less to be able to be a part of his excitement." She glanced at Gimli, smiling before turning her gaze to Legolas who was regarding her with an approving grin.
"Tis true. It is heartening. I, myself, do not wish to visit them because I much prefer the outdoors, but what of you, Caran? Your fears stretch much deeper than that." Legolas asked, hoping that in her good mood, he would get to the bottom of it.
"We have all heard of the hardships of Moria," she replied, evasively.
"Yes, but the misgivings that are widely known should not be enough to deter someone of your skills. Nay. There is more. Tell me of what you have heard," he prodded. He wanted to know what they were walking into, after all.
"I know not of what you speak," she told him before quickening her pace and rushing up to join Gandalf and Gimli. She prodded Gimli to tell her of his lands and he did so without complaint, delving into deep details and making her forget her concerns for a time.