The darkness was oppressive. The dry dust made it feel as if you could
not take a full breath. Moreover, above all, there was the knowledge that
we now crawled beneath the surly mountain that had defeated our efforts
to cross its shoulders.
The dim glow atop the old man's staff revealed a world beneath that had
been well lived in, but not for many years.
After innumerable hours of creeping beneath the mountain, wary lest any
noise of our passage alert the goblin hordes that had slain the dwarf's
kin, a halt was quietly called.
A chasm yawned above us, the staff's dim magical glow lost in its distance;
and we stood upon a dusty path at its bottom.
Gimli put his hand upon the wizard's arm and quietly growled in his dwarven
tongue. Gandalf nodded and the dwarf stepped ahead, the old man following.
Other paths, just as dust covered, met ours, but we stayed close to the
only light in this frighteningly open darkness. Looking up, I could almost
make myself believe we were walking through a chill, still, overcast night.
From the corner of my eye, something ahead and above reflected the staff's
dim glow. It was no longer a starless night, but an unsupported void under
the mountain above. I shivered and clenched my jaw.
Ahead there was the ring of steel against stone. It seemed to echo in
the vastness, but more so in my own ears than in the emptiness that swallowed
it. There was tense mutterings of alarm among the Halflings and a quiet
whisper as the ringbearer slid his short sword partway from its sheath.
The Ranger clasped my shoulder and nodded when he met my eye, then slid
forward. I looked behind, straining for any sign that the noise had awakened
some as yet unmet horror.
The Ranger, Gimli and the old man talked animatedly in hushed tones. There
was the sound of cloth quietly torn. The old man or the dwarf may have
In the dim glow, I could now make out a staircase hewn from the wall of
the chasm. Our path ended where it began. Perhaps the iron-shod dwarf
had stubbed his toe on the bottom stair.
A quiet snort that may have been amusement or derision came from the elf,
then he gazed silent up into the darkness, obviously seeing what we mortals
The ranger nodded to Gimli who hefted his axe in one hand. The Halflings
and I reached for our weapons, but Legolas motioned that there was no
concern. The dwarf brought the haft of the axe down smartly upon the step
before him. I froze, but there was nothing but a muffled thud. He nodded
at the Ranger, then began climbing the stair, bringing his axe down upon
each step. The old man went next, then the elf, gazing up the steep, narrow
stairs as he confidently climbed. The Halflings were next. Their broad
feet did not fit upon the dwarf-made stair, so they used their hands,
ascending as if it were a stone ladder.
The Ranger had stood aside to take up the rear guard with me. I looked
up the stairs, lit only by the staff's dim glow. The steps were shallow,
but square and solid in the center. To either side they were crumbling
and rounded off, where the dwarf struck with his axe haft. I could make
out ledges hewn into the chasm wall, to the right and left of the stair,
disappearing into the darkness.
I looked quizzically at the Ranger, but he motioned me upward while we
could still make out our path.
Quickly, I found the Halflings were correct. One hand, or better two,
upon the steep shallow steps ahead made the climb easier.
Fifty, one hundred, two hundred steps, I found myself counting them to
the muffled beat of Gimli's axe. Ahead, the Halflings gasped. I looked
up at them, gritting my teeth as my head swam for a second, then saw what
they had seen. The ledges to either side were now inhabited.
Seated figures gazed out into the void. Some gazed down at us upon their
stair. Some were headless; some had skeletal remains lying at their feet.
Tombs. This was Moria's graveyard, and the goblins had taken from its
I felt a tap upon my heel as the Ranger urged me forward.
He whispered "I could cushion his axe haft so he would not alert
the goblins as he announced his passage to his ancestors, but we are not
silent in our progress. Urge the Halflings on. We must not linger upon
I swallowed dryly and nodded. You must take every step in the White Tower.
You must touch every crenellation as you walk along the Shipwall.
I too did not want any ill fate to meet me upon these stairs. I silently
prayed to the stars above the mountain that Gimli had not missed a single
-- By Jim
fell on a Friday this year, and there was on on-line challenge at Henneth
Annun to write a story that dealt with a superstition, either adapted
from Earth or invented for Middle Earth in under 1,000 words.
Many aspects of Peter Jackson's LotR movieverse have become firmly lodged
in my own visions of JRR's world. Some for good, some temporarily, some
I/ve managed to prevent.
Balrog is a nice special effect but is not per the author's text - if
they had actual wings they would not have fallen into chasms on several
occasions, and they would not have had to climb up the dragons to get
A short sequence
in tFotR fascinated me and with some background has become part of my
vision of dwarven culture. What was merely a 3-second mood-setter in the
theatrical release was expanded to a whole 5 seconds in the extended version,
but it wasn't until Alan Lee talked about his art design for the films
and showed pages from his
sketchbooks when we saw him in Manhattan that we felt the cultural rightness
of this bit of dwarven history he had created. But I digress....
our feature presentation. Cue the creepy music.