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While the Ring Went South...: 17. January 10, 3019 (Day)
The Fellowship of the Ring—or rather, what was left of the Fellowship of the Ring—stopped for camp a safe distance from the edge of the gorge beneath the thick trees and brush that had made forward travel an obstacle each and every step of the way. The air was cold and winter’s chill grip was felt by all as they huddled beneath cloaks and blankets. There was also a hint of snow in the air, or so Gandalf thought, and he glanced meaningfully at Aragorn, hoping to resume their discussion on which path they might take to cross the mountains.
For his part, the Ranger was studiously ignoring the wizard, wrapped in his dark, tattered cloak and puffing away on his pipe with an air of contentment that was decidedly at odds with the mood of the rest of the company. Valar, but we are a grim lot today, Gandalf sighed, surveying the downcast faces. Frodo and Sam were working silently on the morning meal, their natural hobbit optimism quiet and subdued. Boromir was shining the edge of his shield, which would have been normal enough had it not been for the fact that he’d shined it the previous evening. There’d been no time for it to collect dust or grime. And as for Merry…
The wizard grimaced and turned to look at the hobbit. Merry was not faring well. The loss of Pippin was a grievous blow, and he was still not thinking clearly. He’d protested adamantly against stopping to make camp for the day, pleading that they continue the journey to the head of the gorge. Patient explanations on the part of both Gandalf and Aragorn had done very little to help him, and it was only after Sam and Frodo had stepped in that he finally relented. After the brief argument, he’d spoken no words to anyone—which was somewhat concerning—and had shown no interest in food—which was completely alarming.
I can recall only a few instances in which hobbits have refused food, Gandalf thought to himself, his mind scanning his vast memory for every tale and scrap of lore that he knew concerning hobbits. And considering how much time he’d spent studying them, this was quite a bit of information. Yet for all my knowledge, I know of no way to aid Merry. Hobbits will refuse food when sick or grieving. Merry is not sick—at least not yet, though he will become sick if he keeps this up—and he is not grieving for he continues to insist that Pippin is alive and miles ahead of us.
Gandalf rubbed his temples and leaned against the rock behind him. Had Merry been a Baggins or a Proudfoot or a Hornblower, he would have been much easier to distract and cheer. But things were never that simple. Merry was a Brandybuck, and as a Brandybuck, his mind worked in a manner slightly different from that of other hobbits. He kept his concentration and his focus for the most part, and there was a practical spin to his thoughts that was difficult to sidetrack. Of the four hobbits in the Fellowship, he was probably best suited for this journey, yet now he was the one who seemed to be suffering the most.
Although it is clear that we all suffer in our own way, the wizard conceded, glancing at Sam and Frodo. Their complete silence was an indication of how deeply troubled they were, but at least they had one another and were using one another as comfort. Merry, though he had the company of friends, was choosing not to take advantage of it. Yet another problem with the Brandybucks, Gandalf sighed. Self-sufficient and independent to a fault.
"We do learn something from this experience," a voice at Gandalf’s side remarked.
The wizard turned a questioning gaze on Aragorn. "And that would be?"
"That we are a Fellowship. Somehow during the course of this haphazard journey, we have learned to care for one another."
"I could have wished for a different situation to illustrate this principle," Gandalf replied.
"I suspect we would all say the same, but nevertheless, at least we may take comfort in this." Aragorn sighed and shook his head. "I suppose you shall be dispensing a morsel of your immortal wisdom to us soon."
"And what morsel would that be?" Gandalf asked.
"Worry not when worry cannot help," Aragorn answered with a slight shrug. "You have repeated it for me often enough, and the circumstances seem to warrant another repetition. This group is replete with anxiety, yet such feelings are certainly no help to us. In truth, I am rather surprised that you have not spoken earlier."
"The thought did occur to me," Gandalf admitted, smiling slightly at the fact that Aragorn knew him so well. "And yet there are times when withholding wisdom is also accounted wise. There is another morsel of immortal wisdom that I have undoubtedly shared with you. Lecture not when the lecture will not help. My words on this matter would have no affect on Merry, a limited affect on Frodo and Sam, and you and Boromir already understand the principle."
"Still, it is unlike you to let such an opening pass."
The wizard arched a bristling eyebrow at this. "And what mean you by that?"
"Only that you seem to enjoy inserting your wisdom and opinion at every available opportunity as well as opportunities that are not so available," Aragorn answered with a small smile.
Gandalf gifted Aragorn with one of his darker glares but decided that such a ludicrous notion did not merit a verbal response on his part. Instead, the wizard turned his attention back to the Fellowship. Frodo and Sam were rolling out blankets, Boromir was still shining his shield, and Merry was leaning against a tree muttering angrily.
"I did not think Merry was in the habit of speaking to himself out loud," Aragorn murmured.
"He is not," Gandalf said. "If aught has happened to Pippin, I fear what it may do to him."
"You have placed great faith in the stamina and resilience of hobbits," Aragorn said. "Think you that it shall fail Merry?"
"I hope not, but under the shadow of the Misty Mountains, hopes are sometimes but the dreams and wishes of fools. Merry is strong, but when he set out on this quest, he did so with the assumption that Pippin would make the journey beside him. I do not think that he ever considered what would happen should he lose Pippin. The hobbits are not warriors. They have not faced the prospect of death as you have, Aragorn. Their innocence is falling away now, but as it disappears, it takes a piece of them with it."
"I would that they could have remained safe and innocent within the Shire," Aragorn whispered. "For years have the Rangers guarded the hobbits, and it gave us pleasure to do so. But now it is the hobbits upon whom hang either salvation or doom. A strange twist of fate, that, and one that none could foresee."
"Indeed," Gandalf murmured. He was silent for a moment, watching the camp, and then he turned back to Aragorn. "Have you given any thought to our road beyond the end of the gorge?"
"We must follow the main highway," Aragorn said. "There are other roads through Hollin, but most are overgrown now. The pony would not be able to endure them. Our current path is a great trial for him."
"But soon we shall reach a place where another road diverges from the highway and makes for the darker way. Where then?"
Aragorn’s eyes darkened and he looked towards the mountains, silent as the stone that he contemplated. "Either way, our path seems cursed," he said at length. "I begin to wonder if we should not have simply taken Goblin Pass and come down by way of Mirkwood."
"We would have been forced to travel many more leagues, and time is not a luxury that we have."
"But shall we sacrifice safety for time?" Aragorn challenged.
"Perils await us on all roads south," Gandalf shrugged. "We must weigh our ability to endure said perils against the danger of allowing time to slip by, enabling the Enemy to further strengthen his forces. In any case, Goblin Pass now lies far behind us. There are only two roads to consider unless one counts Gap of Rohan, and I counsel strongly against taking Frodo so close to Saruman."
"As do I," Aragorn murmured. He was quiet for a moment and then sighed. "You know already my thoughts concerning the darker road, and they have not changed."
"The weather is not to be trusted," Gandalf warned.
"Nor is the darkness."
"It is possible that the darkness has been dispelled."
"Then why has Dáin heard no tidings from Balin and those who went to retake Moria?"
Gandalf sighed and shook his head. "There are many reasons for messages to be delayed. Unsafe roads and mishaps along the way have caused many letters to be lost."
"For over a year?" Aragorn asked with raised brows.
"It is possible."
"Then let me put forth the idea that it is also possible that the weather shall not prove to be as formidable an opponent as you think it will be."
"You are intent upon Caradhras?" the wizard questioned.
"Something dark lives still in Moria," Aragorn whispered, his voice taking on a strange note and his eyes growing distant. "There is evil deep within the hearts of the mountains, and that evil does not sleep. Alerted to our presence and the presence of that which Frodo bears, I fear what may happen. There is great danger in the mines, Gandalf." A tense silence fell, broken only by the soft swishing of a pony’s tail and the sound of cloth rubbing against the rim of Boromir’s shield. Eventually, Aragorn shook his head and seemed to return to himself, though Gandalf could only wonder where his mind had previously been. "I heed your advice, and I hearken to your counsel. But my heart warns against Moria. On this topic, I have nothing further to offer you."
Gandalf frowned and drummed his fingers against the comforting wood of his staff. Moria was certainly not his first choice of roads, but the ancient dwarven stronghold seemed to strangely unnerve Aragorn. Yet the wizard was at something of a loss to explain why. "Well, I suppose such a decision need not be made today," he finally said. "The weather is unpredictable, and mayhap we shall see a change for the best tomorrow."
"Mayhap. How shall we arrange the watches?" Aragorn asked.
"I think we will be best served by an early start this afternoon," Gandalf said, noting the marked change in subject. "Thus, I suggest only three watches. In place of the fourth, we shall take our meal and pack our camp. Then we shall once again set out on the road. The brush is thick enough here that our travels may go unnoticed."
Aragorn nodded and glanced around at the other members of the Fellowship. "Then I wish to take the last watch. Perhaps I can learn the movements of our enemies and guide us away from them while daylight lasts."
"I will take the first watch, then," Gandalf said. "As for the second, I counsel that Boromir take it. He…" The wizard stopped for a moment, wondering how to put this into words. "It appears that he needs something to do."
The Ranger laughed and glanced toward Boromir, who seemed to sense that he was the subject of conversation and favored both Aragorn and Gandalf with a dark glare. "I will tell him, then," Aragorn offered. "And then I suggest that we all turn in for the day. The hobbits, especially could use the rest."
"You will find no quarrel with me on that," Gandalf sighed. "I only hope that the hobbits choose to sleep."
"They shall," Aragorn said, a strange light twinkling in his eyes. "I have already seen to that." And before Gandalf could ask what he meant, the Ranger had moved off and was making his way toward Boromir.
"If you did what I think you did," the wizard muttered to himself, "then I have no wish to be present this evening when the hobbits wake."
* * * *
With a groan of relief, Gimli knelt and lowered his injured shoulder into the cooling balm of a natural spring. The frigid water numbed the dull ache that had plagued him since Legolas had popped the joint back into place, and the dwarf closed his eyes as his body relaxed now that the grip of pain was gone. He had been hard-pressed upon the trail to maintain the grueling pace he’d set. His arm had been—and still was—quite tender, and pushing thick underbrush out of the way had been a telling trial. More than once he’d wished to stop and rest for a bit, but the knowledge that Legolas was behind him pushed the dwarf ever onward.
Gimli glanced behind him into the brush where he had last seen Legolas tending to Pippin. He would have to take care that the elf did not see him in such a vulnerable position or he would never hear the end of it. The dwarf was reasonably confident that Legolas had no intention of leaving Pippin’s side, but one could never truly tell with elves. They could change their loyalties and their minds upon the flip of a coin, or so Gimli had been taught.
Sighing, the dwarf shook his head and slowly got to his knees, drying his shoulder as best he could with his cloak. The ache began to return as the numbness faded away, but it felt somewhat better. The swelling was also slightly abated, too, which was a great relief. The arm would be more serviceable come evening when they set out again.
Laboring to his feet, Gimli picked up the water skins he had come to fill and headed back to where they had chosen to camp for the day. Or rather, it was where Legolas had chosen to camp for the day, insisting that water was a target for unfriendly eyes and they would do well to stay at least a stone’s throw away from the stream. Gimli had reluctantly agreed with the logic but was silently fuming that these thoughts had not first occurred to him. He was no stranger to the open road and had endured his share of hardships on journeys, but he had been so relieved to stop and rest that his mind had not been clear.
I have relaxed my guard once, Gimli thought to himself. It shall not happen again, especially while I travel with an elf. Apart from the obvious embarrassment of being upstaged by Thranduil’s son, Gimli did not trust Legolas and half-expected the elf to turn on him ere they could rejoin the others. His mind knew it was a rather implausible prospect and he was coming to have a rather grudging respect for the elf’s abilities, but his heart and his prejudices had been formed long ago by elders and teachers who hated the elves with a deep and abiding passion. He could not throw such beliefs to the wind despite all Aragorn’s assurances to the contrary. And Legolas’s own behavior had certainly not helped.
Finding the elf and Pippin was certainly not a problem, even though Legolas had found a good place to hide during the day. The sounds of an elven song led Gimli directly to them, and he wondered if he should point out that Legolas’s singing might very well draw other, less welcome ears toward their position. But even as he considered the idea, he discarded it. Though the dwarf might be loath to admit it, Legolas was a capable warrior and knew well the perils associated with traveling in the wild. He would cease his song when it became dangerous. And more than that, Gimli was actually coming to like the singing…
The dwarf shook his head furiously and ducked under the fallen log that blocked the entrance to their secluded camp. Glóin would have choice words to say if he knew that his son had developed a fondness for elven song. Moreover, I do not like it, Gimli told himself firmly. I enjoy it merely because it is a distraction from the silence. An irksome little voice in the back of his head laughed uproariously at this, but Gimli studiously ignored it. The elf was still as annoying and troublesome as ever. That would never change no matter how much he might sing; Gimli was sure of it.
"How is he?" the dwarf asked as he dropped the water skins next to the elf.
"Still no change," Legolas answered, a slight note of frustration coloring his voice. "Master Dwarf, unless you can do more for him, we must break camp this afternoon and reach the top of this ravine. I fear any delay will hamper Aragorn in his efforts to heal Pippin."
"We have already discussed this, Master Elf," Gimli said, sitting himself down as far away from Legolas as possible without actually leaving the shelter of the camp. "It is not safe for us to travel during daylight—"
"But within this ravine, it may be feasible," the elf shot back. "At the moment, it is more dangerous for Pippin to remain here."
"But Pippin’s fate is not what must be considered," Gimli answered, hating himself for saying it but knowing it was the truth. "It is Frodo whose safety takes priority, and if we endanger him, all is for naught."
"We will not endanger the rest of the company if we take care," Legolas insisted, his eyes flashing. "The birds are our primary concern, and I can see them long before they see us."
"But you are carrying the hobbit and your attention is divided," Gimli argued, feeling anger build within himself. "One slip and the entire mission is ruined!"
"There will be no such slip," Legolas said coldly.
"You cannot guarantee that, elf."
"I believe you are merely afraid, dwarf."
Gimli rumbled ominously deep within his chest and rose to his feet, eyes darkening as he glared at Legolas. "Choose your words with care, son of Thranduil, or you will have more than an injured hobbit to care for."
"This hobbit would not have been injured were it not for your arrogance," Legolas shot back. "In this, you have inherited more from your father than just stupidity."
Anger flaring into a roaring fire, Gimli shot to his feet, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. "And you are so lacking in nobility that I cannot even be sure it was Thranduil who sired you, though you have clearly inherited his short-sightedness. Perhaps it was your father who was less than scrupulous. Was your mother truly the queen of Mirkwood, Master Elf?"
Pippin apparently forgotten, it was now Legolas’s turn to leap to his feet, gray eyes the color of storm clouds as one hand moved toward the knife on his hip while the other unconsciously shifted Pippin out of the way, situating him on the elf’s other hip. "For that you shall suffer dearly, dwarf," the incensed prince hissed. "Your miserable life is not payment enough for the words that you have uttered."
Gimli’s hands fastened themselves upon his axe as he shifted his feet into a combative stance, but even as he did so, a tiny warning bell went off in his head. With his heart yearning for blood and his hands itching for violence, Gimli almost ignored it, but for some reason, he stopped. And as he did so, other warnings began to go off. Dwarven senses acutely tuned to the murmurs of Arda had begun to clamor for attention, and with a shiver, Gimli lowered his axe and took a step backwards. Distanced now from the elf, who had traded his expression of anger to one of puzzlement, Gimli took a deep breath and closed his eyes, trying to determine what it was he felt.
There! That is what I sense! But why should I…oh great Mahal! Not again! Gimli’s eyes snapped back open, all grievances with Legolas forgotten as one terrifying command overtook his mind and subsequently his voice. "Run!"
Not pausing to see if Legolas obeyed, he grabbed the water skins and tore out of the camp like a thing possessed, racing up the bottom of the ravine as fast as his legs would carry him. And above him came the telltale sounds of a crumbling cliff-face. Rocks and boulders groaned as they ground against one another while dust splayed down into the ravine until the air was choked by it. Coughing heavily, Gimli slowed his mad dash as sight became impossible and wondered how close he was to the slide. He considered stopping as it was now nearly impossible to continue forward, but a hand suddenly seized his good arm and he was jerked onward.
"Do not stop, Master Dwarf," a muffled voice ordered. "Safety lies ahead of us."
Pride roared to life, but Gimli’s common sense shoved it aside. Legolas was right. This was no place to stop, and if he wanted to see another day, he would have to trust to the superior senses of the elf. But how can even he penetrate this dust? Gimli wondered as he heard a hacking cough and felt a shudder from the hand that gripped his arm.
Still, Gimli have very little choice in the matter and was dragged inexorably onward, stumbling over unseen obstacles and brushing against trees, boulders, and whatever debris Legolas was guiding him through. Rocks were rolling about his feet now, and several times he stumbled only to have the elf haul him upwards again. The roar of the slide indicated that the brunt of it was almost upon them, and Gimli started to speak but was interrupted when he was jerked sideways and pressed against a firm rock wall.
"Lie still," Legolas ordered, and Gimli felt the elf press Pippin against him. "We are—" The elf was interrupted by a series of violent coughs, and then all sound was drowned out by the noise of rocks filling the ravine.
The dwarf hugged Pippin close, pushing him against the rock that sheltered them and placing his own body between the hobbit and danger. Pebbles and sharp rocks skittered about them, but the main barrage was diverted to either side of them. Apparently Legolas had found a rise and a sheltering boulder to hide behind, though there was still the danger that an errant rock could leap the protective barrier and crash down upon them. Sending up a prayer to any Valar that would listen, Gimli squeezed his eyes shut and waited for disaster to strike.
But fortune had decided to favor them this day, and after several minutes of mind-numbing cacophony. The noise died away and silence fell, broken only by the sound of a few stray rocks bouncing their way down the new cliff-face. Scarcely daring to believe that they had been spared, Gimli blinked his eyes open and sneezed. Managing to stifle the coughs that tickled his throat, he glanced about and sighed in relief as he noticed the dust was settling. Beside him, Legolas was curled up in a tight ball with his hands over his head and his breath coming hard. A rockslide was probably not something the elf encountered often, and Gimli felt a flash of amusement as he noticed that Legolas was trembling slightly.
"Master Elf?" he questioned, glancing to his right as another rock tumbled past.
The elf stopped shaking and slowly lowered his hands, raising his head tentatively to eye the situation. "It is over?"
Gimli nodded and eased himself away from the large boulder that had saved them, coughing as he did so. There was still much dust in the air, and he and the elf would do well to leave the area as soon as possible. "Are you injured?" he asked, noticing that Legolas was slow to right himself.
"I am unhurt," the elf replied, his voice curt.
"Then come," Gimli said, picking Pippin up and trying to situate him in a way that required no support from his injured arm. "We must find clearer air, and this disturbance will have been heard for miles."
"It seems we are moving sooner than either of us expected to," Legolas murmured, stepping to Gimli’s side and taking Pippin from him. "Your shoulder still bothers you," he said in answer to the dwarf’s dark glare. "Allow me to carry the hobbit. We travel faster this way."
Pride once again warred with common sense, but as before, common sense won out and the dwarf reluctantly nodded. Turning, he began picking his way through the rocks that now littered the ground, treading carefully lest one turn underfoot and cause a sprained ankle. The last thing he needed was another injury.
The dwarf stopped and turned around, surprised. Legolas rarely used his name when addressing him. "Yes?" he asked, his eyes suspicious.
"Our…disagreement almost prevented you from sensing the rockslide," the elf said, his voice strained. He coughed and then shook his head, blinking at the dust. "I do not wish for that to happen again. And I…I thank you for warning me."
Now thoroughly surprised, Gimli stared while grasping vainly for some kind of answer. It had obviously taken quite a bit for Legolas to say that, and he could keenly sense the elf’s discomfort. "You are welcome," he murmured at length, noticing that he was on the verge of another series of coughs. Gimli hesitated then, unsure of his next words, and ultimately blundered forward. "Thank you for guiding me."
Legolas gave a terse nod, his eyes not meeting the dwarf’s. "We are even, then, but let us take care to see that we meet with no more distractions."
"Agreed," Gimli said, wondering at himself. "If that is all, Master Elf, let us continue. This dust is not good for Pippin." And with that, unable to look at Legolas any longer, Gimli turned back around and resumed the journey. If nothing else, this side trip into the ravine was proving…interesting.
* * * *
As the last sounds of falling rocks died away, Aragorn pursed his lips and shook his head. That had not sounded good, and the Ranger could only imagine how much dust and debris now filled the bottom of the ravine. Judging from the noise, the slide had taken place about a mile back, and Aragorn hoped that Legolas, Gimli, and Pippin had been well beyond it. But if they had been hampered by injuries… Aragorn grimaced. He did not want to think about the implications.
Beside the Ranger, Boromir let out a slow breath. Like Aragorn, the noise had roused him from a restless slumber, and he now watched as dust rose out of the ravine, clouding the sky and blocking sight. "If they were caught in that, I do not think much of their chances," Boromir murmured, sounding as though he spoke more to himself than to anyone else.
"We must hope that they avoided it," Gandalf said, leaning against his staff and staring into the dust as though it might show him their lost comrades. "To think otherwise is only to invite doubt and despair."
"Is not doubt an integral part of prudence?" Boromir asked.
Aragorn sighed, sensing the beginning of the debate that had taken place late last night. He did not want to argue this again. There was nothing to be gained from it, for the hobbits—and Merry especially—would allow no other course to be taken so long as they retained an inkling of hope that Pippin survived. And beyond that, Boromir’s words stirred the haunting doubt in Aragorn’s own heart. For the moment, his uncertainty was balanced by his hope, but it was a tenuous balance at best and more pessimism on Boromir’s part might well tip the scales.
"What would have us do, Boromir?" Gandalf asked. "We may well entertain doubts, but of what use are they? We are bound by the duty of friendship to seek our lost companions. Think you that you are capable of persuading Merry, Frodo, and Sam to turn another direction? Can you find it in your heart to turn aside yourself?"
"I do not counsel abandoning them," Boromir said, his tone becoming angry. "I am not one to leave a comrade by the wayside, and I am insulted you thought otherwise."
"Peace, son of Denethor," Gandalf said, waving his hand in dismissal. "It was but a challenge, not a reflection of my thoughts. I have no doubt but what you are a man of loyalty, for such are the teachings and policies of Gondor even at the end of its glory. Yet you have no answered my question, Boromir. What would you have us do? You counsel prudence and remind us that doubt exists, but you have not stated your purpose for doing so."
"I would look further ahead than simply the ravine’s end," Boromir answered, slightly mollified. "You know as well as I, Mithrandir, that there is little chance of ever seeing our comrades again. If they are not waiting for us when we arrive, how long shall we wait for them? And even if they do survive to climb out of the ravine, what makes you think that they shall expect our coming? Perhaps they shall head for the main road and resume the journey, thinking that we did likewise."
"Legolas will not make that assumption," Aragorn said, reluctantly deciding to involve himself in the conversation. "He knows we will make for a likely rendezvous. At the very least, I will be waiting for them. As his friend, I owe him no less. Indeed, I owe him a great deal more."
"That is well and good, but what of Frodo? What of that which he bears? Shall It also tarry, waiting for companions we might never see again?" Boromir shook his head, his mounting frustration evident. "We cannot separate, for we are already few in number. We cannot leave some behind to wait while others go ahead. Yet judging from the feel of this company, you would have use wait out the rest of the Age. Gondor is strong, but even she will not last that long."
"Your fear is misplaced," Gandalf said. "We will not wait long. An hour perhaps, or two. After that, we shall depart on our road."
Aragorn blinked and stared at the wizard. "An hour would require them to be keeping time with us, and would assume they had no injuries or problems to delay them. Surely we must give them more time than two hours!"
"To my mind, more than an hour is far too much," Boromir said. "We carry the fate of the world, Aragorn. We cannot tarry for an elf, a dwarf, and a hobbit."
"That elf, dwarf, and hobbit are bound up in our fate," Aragorn shot back, feeling the bite of anger and trying to force it back.
"Aragorn, if our friends escape the ravine but we have already left the area, then Legolas and Gimli should be able to find us," Gandalf interjected. "Both are capable trackers. If they escape the ravine and find us waiting for them, so much the better. And Boromir, two hours is not so great a time to wait for lost comrades. It will give our hobbit friends a chance to rest before we begin climbing into more arduous terrain, and it will be necessary for their morale. Your concern is admirable, my friends, but both of you must realize that sacrifices are required. We will not tarry less than an hour, yet we shall not prolong our wait for more than two hours." The wizard stared at both Boromir and Aragorn for a moment and then nodded, apparently satisfied with what he saw. "Now that this is settled and behind us," both Aragorn and Boromir made faint sounds of disagreement at this, but Gandalf studiously ignored them, "I counsel rest. There is still an hour left to my watch, and you would be wise to use that hour well, Boromir, ere it is your turn."
"So long as keep in mind that Frodo and the mission are of paramount importance," Boromir said darkly with a glance at the hobbits. His brow furrowed and he frowned, shaking his head. "It is beyond me how any creature can sleep so soundly. Surely the rockslide would have roused them."
At this, Aragorn discovered that he could not quite keep back a short laugh, and he smiled helplessly when Boromir turned a questioning gaze upon him. "They need sleep," the Ranger explained with a shrug. "Their thoughts will be clearer if they are well rested."
"They will not easily forgive you for this," Gandalf warned.
"A Ranger is used to being disliked, and I am no exception to this," Aragorn answered, his mind flashing back over a long lifetime of trying experiences. "The disapproval of the hobbits will be no great concern."
"You drugged them," Boromir surmised, his eyes narrow.
"Merely something to aid their slumber," Aragorn said. "Fear not, though, for it is not potent enough to hinder them should we need to move during the day for any reason."
"I wondered how it was that Merry was sleeping," Boromir muttered.
"You should follow his example," Gandalf said, pulling out his pipe and searching his pack for pipe-weed. "We have far to travel, and your strength will be needed in the days ahead."
"You seem to have taken a keen interest in our sleeping habits," Aragorn noted, though he did move toward his bed where his cloak served as both mattress and blanket.
"Perhaps I am simply weary of ill-tempers caused by lack of sleep on your parts," Gandalf retorted.
"And what of irritable wizards?" Aragorn asked.
"If you continue this conversation, you might very well create one."
The Ranger laughed quietly but did not press the issue, choosing instead to lie down and follow the counsel he had been given. In any case, he was not truly in the mood for banter, and he sensed that Gandalf felt the same. Their mirth was forced, and their hearts were elsewhere. Tonight will tell, Aragorn sighed, closing his eyes and forcing his mind and body to relax. I pray you remember my words, Legolas and Gimli, for if you do not work together, you sacrifice not only yourselves but also Pippin.
* * * *
He was first aware of a gentle rocking motion, something so soothing that for a long time, he made no effort to collect any more information concerning his surroundings. It was such a comfort to simply lie still and be rocked as vague memories of home and family awoke, memories so distant that they seemed to come from another lifetime. But his attention span was shorter than most, and it wasn’t long before Peregrin Took decided that he was bored with simply rocking back and forth. So he moved on to bigger and better things.
It didn’t take him long to discover that, while bigger might be the case, better was certainly not. His next discovery was a feeling of dust and grit clogging his mouth, his nose, and his eyes. This was coupled by a pounding headache that would have surely been heard by everyone in not only the Great Smials but the entire West Farthing. The ringing in his ears was shrill enough that it stood a good chance of drowning out the voice of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins should the two sounds ever compete. The rocking motion was no longer as pleasant as it had been before, because it seemed to exacerbate his headache. In addition to that, his stomach had decided to join the party by announcing its intent to send whatever contents it had hurtling up his throat and out his mouth. Pippin quickly came to the decision that things would have been best had he simply been content with the initial rocking motion. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do about that now.
The outside voice rang through his head like a siren, echoing back and forth until finally dying away. The hobbit moaned pitifully, wondering just how bad things were going to get, and then the voice sounded again.
If Pippin wanted that voice to stop, he was going to have to respond to it in some way. Otherwise, it would probably keep calling him until his brains assumed the consistency of one of Sam’s stews. Putting all his hobbit endurance and tenacity behind this single objective, Pippin concentrated and eventually his eyes fluttered open.
The world that met him was strange and disorienting. The sky above might have been blue in color, but Pippin couldn’t tell as dust hung thick in the air. He heard a muffled coughing sound and then his body decided to follow his suit. By the time his lungs finished expelling the fine particles that had collected in them, Pippin was ready to cut his throbbing head off.
"So he is awake."
The voices—and Pippin had eventually recognized that there were two distinct voices speaking from time to time—were softer now and didn’t hurt his head so much. But the hobbit was having trouble placing himself and could not recall exactly what had happened. Thus, he needed to speak to these voices and have them explain things, so he tried to hold his vision steady and focus on nearby objects.
This proved to be more of a challenge than it should have been. Pippin’s sight was strangely blurred, and looking at any one thing for a long period of time made him dizzy. On top of that, the world seemed to have developed a crazy spin, and at times, the hobbit was certain that he was upside down.
"Pippin, can you speak to us?"
The voices were getting louder again, and Pippin detected a note of growing concern. This wouldn’t do. If they became too concerned, they would undoubtedly start shouting, and the hobbit didn’t want to imagine what that would do to his head. Concentrating as much as was possible given the pounding behind his eyes, Pippin refocused his energy and his determination, tried to make his mouth move in a semi-coherent manner, and finally managed to spit out a rather garbled sentence.
Pippin felt a chest move with a silent sigh of relief and abruptly realized that someone was carrying him. That explained the rocking motion. "You were hit on the head during the rockslide that took us into the ravine," someone said. "How do you feel?"
Well that’s a silly question, Pippin scoffed. How do you think I feel? But he didn’t voice these thoughts out loud, for the small amount of tact that occasionally graced Pippin’s mind had decided to make an appearance. Instead, he started running back over his last moments of consciousness as gaps began to fill themselves in. Ah, he thought. Now I remember. A rockslide. That makes sense, then. I think. It would explain my head and—wait a minute… What rockslide?
"Still here," the hobbit mumbled, noting that it was becoming easier to speak. "How…how long was I unconscious?"
"A day and a half," the rougher of the two voices answered. "I feared you might never open your eyes again, Master Hobbit. It seemed that—"
"Pippin, can you see me?"
Unfortunately, Pippin was trying to answer that question himself. The blurry world was still tilting precariously to the side as though at any moment all of Arda might slip into the sea, and to make things worse, there was at least two of everything. Pippin could now tell that figures were hovering above his body and that one of these figures was still holding him, but he couldn’t tell anything beyond that. He didn’t know how many people were around, who they were, what they were doing, or where they were. Still, there’s probably only two people here, because only two people have spoken, but that’s no guarantee.
"Pippin?" the softer voice prompted again.
"I already answered that question, Pippin. In return, please answer mine. Can you see me? Do you know who I am?"
Pippin decided that he was at a severe disadvantage and that it was terribly unfair for this voice to be exploiting that. Apparently the owner of the voice could still see. He couldn’t and was now being forced to admit it out loud. "No to both questions," he finally said, wincing as shame crept over him.
A rather uncomfortable silence fell, and then the gruff voice spoke again. "We should continue. The dust here is still thick."
"Wait!" Pippin interrupted just as he felt the rocking motion begin anew. "Wait, where am I? Who are you? What happened? When did—"
"I am Gimli, Master Hobbit. As for what happened and where you are, you hit your head while falling down a ravine and now travel in the company of myself and the elf," Gimli answered. "We are still in the ravine and are hoping to reach the top soon where we shall rejoin the rest of the Fellowship. It is currently sometime in the middle of the afternoon."
"Oh," Pippin murmured, his mind clicking away with this latest information. "No one else is around?"
"Nay, I fear you are forced to endure our company," Legolas answered, his hand gently sweeping Pippin’s hair away from his forehead. "Do you feel ready to travel again, my friend? Or shall I wait until you are better prepared?"
"No, you can go," Pippin answered. "The sooner we get out of here, the better."
"Tell me if your sight improves," Gimli instructed. "Aragorn shall wish to know all the details of your injury."
That’s assuming I ever see Strider again, the hobbit thought despairingly. He couldn’t think of a worse pair to be caught with, and he was slightly amazed that they hadn’t killed one another already. Probably waiting for me to wake up so Legolas can put me down. Gimli’s too honorable to attack while the elf is carrying me. I guess I’ll just have to play sick until we get out of this canyon, or ravine, or whatever it is. And that won’t be too hard to do, he added as a wave of nausea swept up from his stomach. He shivered slightly and hoped he hadn’t been fed anything recently.
"Are you well, Pippin?" Legolas asked, apparently having felt the hobbit tremble.
"Fine," Pippin mumbled, wondering for the first time if he really was fine. But it didn’t really matter, after all, because no matter what his condition, there wasn’t a lot that could be done about it right now. So in true hobbit fashion, Pippin shoved all questions regarding his health to the back of his mind and ignored them. "Let’s go. I don’t want to spend any more time down here than I have to."
"Believe me, young hobbit, when I say that I heartily share your wish," Legolas whispered, and with this rather unnerving statement, the world began to rock and the journey began once again.
Mahal—Dwarven name for Aulë
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