Dangerous Crossing by White Wolf|
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize, belongs to Tolkien. That pretty well covers it.
Summary: What should have been a routine crossing of the Misty Mountains turns into a harrowing and baffling ordeal for Legolas, Aragornnd the twins.
Four riders moved slowly through the eastern foothills of the Misty Mountains. As if by an unseen hand, they all came to a stop at the same instant and stared upward at the towering peaks that reached toward the gray, overcast sky.
“Well, it does not look from here as if the High Pass is blocked,” Elladan stated, after using his keen elven sight to scan the upper reaches of the granite forms where he knew the Pass to be. “There does not seem to be snow in that area,” he continued by way of an explanation for his previous remark.
“That’s good,” Aragorn said. “If the Pass is blocked, we couldn’t get to Rivendell before Spring.” He tried not to think how disappointed Lord Elrond would be not to have any of his sons there with him for the entire winter. Going around would take too long and likely get them trapped by snow storms far from either Rivendell or Mirkwood.
Looking up at the leaden sky, Legolas shook his head. “We must hurry. It looks as if it will be a race to see who will arrive at the Pass first, us or the snow.”
“Thank you, Prince Cheerful,” Elrohir mocked, as he narrowed his eyes at his friend.
Legolas shrugged. “I say it as I see it,” he defended. “A snow storm is coming, and it is best if we are on the other side of the Pass before it arrives.”
It hadn’t taken Elladan long to observe the same thing Legolas had and then agree with him. “He is right. We must hurry.”
The four companions started upward, letting their horses pick their own path along the rocky trail bur at the same time urging them to move as swiftly as was deemed safe. They had traveled this route many times before and knew the way without being prodded.
Halfway up, it began to snow, though so far, the small flakes were only drifting down lazily.
“I had hoped we would beat the snow this once,” Aragorn grumbled.
Both twins laughed, but it was Elladan who said, “You should know by now that we never seem to do anything in a timely fashion.”
“Especially if it means saving ourselves any trouble,” Elrohir added. He turned and glared behind him at Legolas.
The elven prince raised both eyebrows. “Is it my fault that my father wanted to throw us a farewell feast?”
“No, but did it have to take four days to plan and another three to round up the supplies we would need for this trip?”
“You forget, Elrohir,” Legolas began to explain, “that my father will not see me again until sometime next summer, while your father will have all four of us until then.”
Aragorn snorted. “I wonder who’ll have the best part of that deal,” he declared.
No one was willing to answer that very pointed question. It begged the admission of a time of peace versus one of chaos.
“Besides,” Aragorn began, “eight or nine months is nothing to an elf. He could do that amount of time on his head.” The man decided not to share his vision of a stately King Thranduil standing on his head.
“Honestly, Estel, you come up with some of the strangest comments,” Legolas said, unable to hold back a grin, since the same vision had come to him.
“It is a human thing,” Elrohir told the blond elf, although he knew Legolas was well aware of Aragorn’s sometimes odd sense of humor.
Aragorn pretended to be offended by his brother’s comment and the laughter of his other two companions. Inwardly, he was laughing as hard as they were. Outwardly, he just huffed and moved his horse slightly ahead of Legolas, who rode beside him in front of the now-trailing twins. The man’s reaction just elicited more mirth.
An hour later, Aragorn rounded a bend. Opening up in front of him was a tiny hidden meadow. Its size wasn’t more than fifty or sixty square yards. The little bit of grass among the rocks had turned completely brown. To the left was a little waterfall that dropped water into a tiny pool before spilling over the edge and cascading down the face of the mountain in a thin ribbon of sparkling silver.
This tiny piece of paradise among the rocks was always a welcome sight, especially when they had come over the Pass on foot or on horseback from the western side of the mountains and needed a bit of a rest.
Even though they didn’t really need to stop now, since they had not yet made the arduous trip across the mountains, they wanted to give the horses the chance to get their fill of fresh water and thus save what the riders carried in their water skins. There would be little chance for water in the higher elevations.
As the four riders ascended, the trail began to narrow. There were parts of it that went between outcroppings that required them to raise their legs up to keep them from being scraped on the rocks to either side.
Soon the rocks turned into solid walls on both sides, soaring far above their heads. It began to look as if some giant finger had gauged a deep rift in the slate-colored granite. The shadows deepened.
“I’ve been through here a hundred times,” Aragorn remarked, “but this is completely new to me. It’s like a topless tunnel, and I know I‘ve never seen it before.”
“Nor have I,” Legolas confirmed. His voice clearly reflected his confusion.
“Has Sauron been playing around here?” Elrohir asked, more in jest than anything, though if he had been told the Dark Lord was indeed responsible, he would not have been the least surprised.
Before anyone else could comment, they came across another particularly tight place that had several rocks strewn in the narrow passage. Luckily, the rocks weren’t too high and the horses were able to jump them, which was actually rather hard, since they were going uphill, but the riders dismounted to make the task easier for their mounts.
Aragorn, who had taken the lead when they had left the meadow, looked back to make sure the others had made it past the scattered rocks. They decided to lead their horses until they had cleared this increasingly uncomfortable section of the trail.
Aragorn was walking along the trail when he turned a corner. The wall to the left no longer existed. There was nothing there but empty air opening onto a spectacular view of the heart of the Misty Mountains.
Rugged, snow-covered peaks and steep valleys and crevices were laid out in all their splendor. It was a scene that never failed to impress the four friends whenever they saw it. It did so now, as Legolas and the twins joined the human ranger, only this time their admiration was tempered by a feeling of dread growing in the pits of each of their stomachs. Added to that was the fact that the snow was now falling much thicker.
“The view of the mountains from this spot is not familiar at all,” Legolas said. “That peak,” he pointed far to his left, “has always been visible from the side where that sheer wall is, not the side with the broken ledge that is clearly visible now.”
“You’re right, Legolas,” Aragorn agreed. “It’s as if we made a wrong turn and came out far from where we usually do. I have the distinct - and disturbing - feeling we’re not where we’re supposed to be.”
“How can that be?” Elladan asked. “We went the only way we could. No other trail enters or leaves the meadow but the one we followed. It led us straight here. Wherever here is,” he couldn’t help adding, almost under his breath.
The younger twin was shaking his head. “I do not like this. It is as if we are being led.”
“By whom? And why?” Elladan asked. “This trail was almost encased in solid stone. It could not have just suddenly appeared.” How in Arda could this have happened? Elladan sighed heavily. It made no sense.
“Perhaps, Elrohir’s idea about Sauron having been here is not that farfetched. Perhaps he wishes to stop anyone from crossing the Misty Mountains between the two elven realms. For what reason I can only guess.” Legolas didn’t want to get too deep along that line of thought. It was painful for him whenever he thought about the Shadow swallowing up Mirkwood inch by inch.
“Well, we can’t go back,” Aragorn said. “The trail is too narrow for the horses to turn around. We have to keep going and see where it leads.”
Legolas followed the trail with his eyes, noting that it quickly turned into a narrow ledge starting right where they all stood. The trail then disappeared around the rock wall about twenty yards farther, and there was no way to know how far beyond that the ledge went. “We are going to have to be very careful.”
From the angle of his vantage point at the rear, Elladan also saw the trail as it wound around the mountainside in front of them. “The horses are going to have a hard time on such a narrow strip of rock. It will be very slow going.”
Responding with confidence, Legolas said, “Yes, but they are sure-footed, and we will do all we can to minimize the danger. There is no other way. We will make it.” He just hoped that he spoke the truth.
Aragorn looked at his companions. “Give me a few feet before you follow. If I run into a problem, I don't want any of you getting into trouble with me."
“We would be in trouble in any case,” Legolas pointed out. He just shrugged when Aragorn stared past his horse at him.
Just before turning to lead the way, Aragorn rubbed the nose of his sorrel stallion, Madir, and spoke softly, offering the animal soothing words of comfort. This was not a situation the stallion was used to, but he understood he must stay close to the solid wall on his right. It would be easier with Aragorn right in front of him. As long as he could see and smell the man, Madir would follow him along the dangerous path.
The ranger slowly made his way forward. Being sure-footed himself and having no fear of heights, the going was not too difficult. He kept his attention on what he was doing and on continuing to encourage his horse.
When he had gone a few yards farther on, Aragorn rounded another corner. A sudden, roaring wind struck him, and he was very nearly blown off the mountain. Desperately grabbing at the granite wall, the man found a small protrusion in the stone and was just able to clutch it with his fingers.
The wind was so fierce it didn’t allow him to gain any ground on the precarious balance he was forced to maintain. His grip held him in place, as the driving wind pushed against him, trying to dislodge his hands and send him flying away to his death. His fingers were quickly turning white from the tension and the cold, as he held on for dear life.
Standing totally helpless behind Aragorn were Legolas, Elrohir and Elladan. They were horrified at what they were seeing, but there was absolutely nothing they could do to help their friend and brother. They each shouted out his name and then yelled out for him to hold on. It was one of those things that is often said in a moment of pure reaction, when time for thought would have revealed the instruction as being ridiculously obvious.
Legolas’s heart was twisting in his chest and trying to recover from a few missed beats when he saw what had almost happened to Aragorn.
“What do we do?” the youngest dark-haired twin asked in desperation, his own heart pounding rapidly.
Thinking fast, Legolas said, “I believe I can reach him.”
“How?” Elladan asked. “There is no room to maneuver past Estel’s horse, on either side - not even for an elf!”
“It will be a little tricky,” Legolas replied, making another obvious statement, “but I think I can work my way over Madir.”
“Over?” the twins both said together.
“It is the only way,” the archer declared. “As you pointed out, Elladan, I cannot work my way around the horse. I could go under him, but I am afraid that would spook him beyond even Estel’s ability to control him with words. I have no other choice. And Estel has no other chance.”
It was a scary plan, yet the only one open to them at the moment. Aragorn could be plucked off the mountain at any moment, because he could not hold on much longer against such a dauntingly strong wind. The mournful howl seemed to be increasing in intensity, as was the snow, which was being driven sideways into the ranger.
It was now or never.
Legolas told his own horse not to follow him, and then he advanced until he was right behind Madir. He spoke to the animal and then placed his hand gently on the horse’s hind quarters. Legolas needed to raise his voice to make the human hear him over the howling wind, but he didn’t want to frighten the animal. It wouldn’t take much to send Madir plunging over the edge.
At Legolas’s touch, the stallion’s skin twitched, and he stamped one foot, but he did not move from his spot on the rocky ledge.
Aragorn had flattened himself against the rock wall, lowering his head to keep the wind-driven snow out of his eyes. He pressed his arms against his body to keep the wind from getting between him and the stone wall he was facing, thus minimizing the force trying to dislodge him. It also offered a small amount of warmth from the biting cold of the wind.
Strong as Aragorn was, this situation was affecting the ranger in a very negative way. He dare not try to relax his hold even the tiniest bit to relieve the pressure on his fingers Yet even so, he was beginning to lose feeling in his hands, as he held onto the delicate balance between tenuous security and absolute oblivion.
Out of the corner of his eye, Aragorn saw movement. Afraid that his horse may be trying to get closer to him, he jerked his head up. It was then that he saw Legolas waving at him, obviously trying to get his attention.
Placing his left ear down on the back of his hands to muffle the sound of the wind as much as possible, Aragorn focused his hearing back toward the Mirkwood prince and strained to hear what Legolas would say.
“I am going to make my way over Madir.”
Aragorn’s eyes went wide. His immediate thought was that doing such a thing was much too dangerous. He was about to state that very fact, when he realized that there was nothing else to be done. Besides, arguing with Legolas often got him about as far as arguing with a tree stump would have.
Legolas gently placed his left palm next to his right one on top of Madir’s hind quarters, all the while talking to him in soft, soothing tones. The horse trusted this elf, so he stood stock still as Legolas lifted himself up and settled securely behind his hands. When he was sure Madir was not going to move, the elf placed his hands forward and then moved toward them again. This action was repeated until Legolas reached the base of the animal’s neck.
Reaching forward, Legolas scratched the stallion’s ears and then gave him instructions to lower his head. When Madir complied, the elf slid down until his feet touched the ledge.
Not sparing the time to turn and pat Madir, he simply gave the horse his thanks and quickly covered the few feet that separated him from Aragorn.
Legolas grabbed the ranger’s right arm in a firm grip while reaching behind him and taking a firm hold on Aragorn’s left shoulder.
Once Aragorn was secure in his grasp, Legolas let go of the rock he had been gripping so tightly for what had seemed like an eternity. The wind buffeted him, but Legolas’s hold on him was too strong and neither elf nor ranger did more than sway slightly.
“It doesn’t want to let go,” Aragorn said, as he felt the tug of the icy blast that was determined to separate him from the elf, who was just as determined that that wasn’t going to happen.
“Neither do I,” came the elf’s simple reply.
“Thank you, Legolas,” Aragorn said. His voice easily conveyed his deep appreciation for what the elf had just done.
The two gradually inched their way along the ledge by side-stepping until they reached Madir. They both gave the horse a grateful rub on his velvety nose.
Aragorn looked back and gave both of his brothers a smile of reassurance. He saw the great relief on their faces. “Now what?” the man asked.
“What did you see around the other side?” Elrohir asked.
“More of the same,” Aragorn replied sadly. He wished he could give better news, but Legolas’s next words told him that it wouldn’t have mattered what was farther on.
“We cannot go forward, because even if the wind stopped as suddenly as it started, the horses cannot round that sharp a corner.”
“We cannot go up nor do any of us wish to go down, at least not from here.” Elladan was being his ever-practical self.
Legolas nodded. “That means there is only one way open to us. We must go back the way we came.”
Aragorn stared at his blond friend. “We’ve already established that the horses can’t turn around on this narrow ledge.”
“No, we cannot. So we will have to back up.”
Three pairs of eyes stared at the archer, as if he had suddenly grown another head. What he was suggesting was beyond ridiculous, yet they had to admit, it was the only thing they could possibly do short of staying where they were until they all became nameless skeletons, and their bones eventually blew across the mountain valley far below.
“The horses will be frightened, but we must instill in them the belief that they can do it,” Legolas urged.
The idea of backing four horses back along the narrow ledge was mind-blowing, but the alternative was to give up, sit down and die where they were.
To say the next four hours were an ordeal for the eight beings was a vast understatement. The going was excruciatingly slow, and the tension was palpable. The horses had to be urged, cajoled and finally bribed, as the animals were fed pieces of the apples that their riders all carried for special treats.
Horses do not watch their feet when they move, and not being able to see where they are being asked to go was doubly hard. Therefore, sometimes the steps they took were only a couple of inches, and sometimes they seemed to step in place, not advancing at all. But touching their mounts and talking constantly, each rider kept his horse’s attention on the task at hand.
Finally all eight of them had made their way back - literally - to the tunnel. There was a piece of ledge that extended a few feet to the other side of the entrance.
One at a time, the horses were backed past the tunnel opening and then turned into it. It was a tight squeeze for the large animals, but they each made it and were finally headed forward in reverse order with Elladan leading and Aragorn bringing up the rear.
The only good thing that could be said about the tunnel was that it was sheltered enough to keep the worst of the snow at bay and thus keep it from becoming too icy, a blessing under the circumstances. Still, care had to be taken even here, because one slip could lead to disaster.
By the time the exhausted companions and their equally exhausted horses had reached the little meadow, they were met with a snow-covered wonderland and twilight skies. All they wanted to do was start a warm fire, spread out their bedrolls and curl up to sleep.
First, they all hugged each other, not having had the chance until now. They could have been trapped in the trail tunnel or fallen to their deaths at any second along the ledge, so they thanked the Valar that they had all survived with little more than a chill and frayed nerves.
Next, they set about making sure their horses were taken care of. The animals hadn’t known what was going on up on the mountain; they had just trusted their owners. Still, they were nervous and not eager to let the elves or the ranger out of their immediate vicinity. It took a while longer to settled them down.
Once everyone had taken care of the regular tasks of setting up a camp and had settled down with dried meat and bread for their evening meal, they couldn’t help but discuss the day‘s bizarre events. No one could do more that speculate on what had confronted them. It was without doubt the strangest adventure they had ever encountered, and they knew how incredibly lucky they were to be alive instead of trapped in an impossible situation on the mountain in the dark.
The next morning they packed up and returned to Mirkwood, deciding it best to spend the winter in Legolas’s woodland home, much to King Thranduil’s delight.
Legolas thought it prudent not to mention the ordeal to his father. It was partly to spare him the concern and partly because Legolas wanted to be able to leave Mirkwood again before he sailed West.
The four companions decided they would tackle the High Pass the next Spring and see if the same strange conditions still existed or if they had been some kind of aberration. One thing they were sure of: It had not been an hallucination or a dream.
In late Spring, Legolas, Aragorn, Elladan and Elrohir returned to the Misty Mountains and found that the trail they had always known was right where it should be. They had proceeded to make it over the High Pass to Rivendell with no trouble.
The four companions never found out the reason the tunnel had come into existence in the first place or the reason it had vanished. Neither did they learn if the mysterious wind that had suddenly blown up had been just a freaky act of Nature or one devised by the unseen hand of Sauron himself. Either way, Middle-earth would never know just how close it had come to losing the future hope of men or how near a thing it had been that the Dark Lord had almost won it all.