Mara-- it's a tough transition to be sure, but I'm sure you'll do great. (And if you have time to spare, TORC is great for maintaining sanity-- one of the main things that got me through grad school!)
Ok, I have a post. Kind of feel like I should apologize to Tolkien for this one, but here goes...
As the source of the footsteps stepped out into the light, with several dwarves scattering before it, all the Riders could do was stare in disbelief. “Is that…” Elrosar started.
“But I thought…” Lark said.
Mara was the first to actually put words to it, her Elven side taking over as she cried out, “Ai, a Balrog!”
It certainly looked like what they’d heard a Balrog looked like—a tall, imposing figure with skin that resembled the crackling surface of cooling lava and wreathed in both shadow and fire. Rowyn noticed that this one also had a suspiciously bulging stomach, and she wondered how many of Ranthim’s dwarves it had eaten already. She tightened her grip on her bow—she had no intention of being the next course.
“Wait a moment,” Déor stated, interrupting her musings. “I thought Gandalf killed the Balrog that lived here?”
To everyone’s surprise, the Balrog burst into tears, huge billows of steam forming around its face. “Don’t talk about him!” it shouted. “I told him not to go attack the wizard, but did he listen? Of course not!” Rowyn noticed that Lark and Adrial were exchanging knowing grins as they glanced towards their own husbands. “And now he’s dead, and I’m all alone with this!” The balrog, which Rowyn was fairly certain was a female by this point, gestured impatiently towards her belly.
The Riders exchanged looks. “You don’t think…” Mara asked.
“She—if it is a she—is certainly acting like it, from what I’ve seen,” Lark replied.
Riot shook her head in pure disgust. “Just what the world needs,” she muttered under her breath.
“What?” Rob asked, clearly not understanding what was going on.
“She’s pregnant,” Rowyn said bluntly. Most of the male members of their party looked at each other in horror, clearly not wanting to contemplate the implications of that.
“I would think they’d hatch from eggs,” Elwing whispered to Rowyn.
“I thought that was dragons?” Rowyn whispered back, and Elwing shrugged.
By this time, the balrog was sitting down with her head resting on her knees and sobbing, while steam continued to pour off her head. Ranthim regarded this for a moment, then calmly stated, “But that was years ago.”
The balrog’s head jerked up, her eyes glowing a fiery red. “That’s because it takes several years for a balrog child to be born,” she replied tensely. “It’s not like you weakling Elves and even weaker mortals! There’s a lot of evil that needs to grow!” She narrowed her eyes at Ranthim. “You’re not implying that I cheated on him, are you?”
“…of course not,” Ranthim answered after a confused pause.
The balrog stood up and began ranting, “Mommy told me that he wasn’t any good for me. All he really cared about was scaring those silly dwarves and orcs. I should have listened to her. If he hadn’t decided that blasted wizard would be a more interesting challenge…” Then she noticed that several in the party were trying to suppress laughter. “What?” she demanded.
“Mommy?” Ranthim replied with a snort.
The balrog’s eyes flashed again, and she quickly stomped over towards the half-Elf, throwing something at him as she did. Ranthim ducked and it hit Riot in the head, then bounced off and fell harmlessly to the ground. Riot picked the small metallic object up, looked at it and shrugged, then tossed it back over her shoulder, where it fell at Adrial’s feet. She, in turn, picked it up, looked at it, then turned to Rowyn. “Didn’t you say something about a comb and a cave?” she asked, handing it to the other shieldmaiden.
Rowyn looked at the comb curiously. “Well, it looks like the one I saw…we’re not exactly in a cave, though.”
“Mines would work, right?” Haleth asked.
“We’re not exactly in that, ei…” Rowyn started to reply, but she was interrupted by Ranthim yelling war cries in a mix of Sindarin and Dwarvish, then running down the hill with the balrog in hot pursuit.
“She moves fast for a pregnant fire-demon,” Déor commented.
“Do you think we should help him?” Lark asked, obviously concerned.
“Obviously, it’s part of his plan to provide a distraction,” Elrosar stated. “Quick, everyone into the mines! Ranthim can catch up!”
“But what about the horses?” Rowyn asked.
Melody held a quick, halting conversation with the leader of the dwarves. “He says he will safeguard the horses for us until the king and his… minions? What? Anyway, until we come back from the mines victorious.” She shook her head and tried to hide her disgust.
“Good enough,” Elrosar said. “Let’s go!”
So they left their horses in the care of the dwarves and dashed into the mine, pausing inside while Luke and Agoth lit torches. Then Riot looked behind them and said, “We might want to move.”
“Why’s that?” Adrial asked. Riot wordlessly pointed behind them, and as they saw Ranthim barreling towards the mine entrance, with the balrog still chasing him, they turned and ran down the passageway until Rob found a small side passage. They all crowded into that and let the pursuit pass them by.
The loud footsteps receded, and a few minutes later, Ranthim walked back towards them, a smug look on his face. “Told you I’d take care of the dangers of the mine,” he said gallantly. “The hormonal she-balrog is off nursing her wounds and in pursuit of some orc-meat to cheer her up, and will no longer trouble us.”
“Uh, Ranthim…” Lark said.
“What is it, my darling buttercup?” he asked.
“Your hair’s on fire,” Lark replied. Sure enough, the ends of his long hair were smoldering, and beginning to burst into flame in some places.
While Lark and Adrial helped him smother the fire, the others just looked at Rowyn. “What?” she said. “This isn’t my fault, I just told you what I saw.”
Riot scowled. “I guess this means you’re not crazy after all. For now.”
“Well, thank you for the vote of confidence,” Rowyn said dryly.
Elrosar rolled his eyes and held up his hand to stop the two women before they could start bickering again. “All right. If the rest of it is true, that means the bandits will be here any time, if they’re not already, so let’s just keep moving. Rowyn, you can test the comb first to see if it works, all right?” Rowyn shrugged, shooting another dirty look at Riot, and the Riders continued on their way, deeper into the mines.