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Falcon, The: The Adventures of Peregrin Took: 6. The Bone Shore
The beach was full of ghosts. The current rising from the faraway southern ice scraped against the scorched rock and the dry beige sand, raising thick fog that streamed inland for miles. Bones lay upon the sand: whales, seals, antelope, the mighty tusks of oliphaunts.
Through the mist came a lion. Unlike the lions of later ages, it had no mane, and it was a third again their size. Though not long enough to be considered sabers, its fang teeth protruded their tips below the flaps of its jowls. It growled and rumbled in its belly, sniffing the air for carrion. Instead it smelled fresh and unfamiliar meat. It padded over the sand, perceiving shapes through the mist, objects strewn upon the beach by the waves.
The scent came from a small creature lying facedown upon the sand. The lion approached it warily. It would make a good snack. The lion bent its snout to nudge the creature onto its back and bare its neck and belly. It was a pale, furless thing, with soft skin, easily eaten. As the lion moved it, the creature made a soft noise. The lion licked its chops.
Out of the fog with a loud cry came a Man. He threw himself at the lion, stabbing at it with his knife. The lion snarled and lashed out with a paw. The man leapt barely clear, and swung his knife again, cutting the lion on the nose. The lion, annoyed and hurt, roared and gnashed its jaws at the Man. It reared up on its hind legs and leapt at the Man.
The Man fell. The lion pounced on him and growled, preparing to relish this larger and more satisfying meal, when suddenly a three-foot-long sword was run through its neck behind its head. It fell dead upon the Man.
The Man looked past the predator’s jaws to the small, grim face above him.
“Poclis?” said Pippin, pulling Trollsbane from the lion’s neck.
Poclis nodded. “I am all right.” He pulled himself from beneath the corpse. “And you?”
Pippin crawled off the lion and stood, swaying unsteadily on his feet. His clothes were rent and his face hollow and his arms and chest were marked with sunburn and fading bruises. He blinked slowly, beholding himself.
“What happened?” Pippin murmured. Slowly he crumpled like a leaf, and Poclis caught him and gently eased him down.
The storm had battered the ship for three days and three nights. With all Morelin’s skill and knowledge, they had been unable to break free of the tempest, and it was all he could do to keep the ship upright amidst the waves that threatened to sink it at every moment. They had touched the Isle of Meneltarma; Ossë was not amused.
Within the ship “dry” lost any meaning. Every corner seemed touched by the madness of the sea. The lower decks were constantly flooding, and twenty men had to work continuously in shifts to bail out the bilge. Up on deck, the sails were reefed tight, but Morelin and Poclis feared the lines would break. If the sails, as huge as they were, were unfurled in the storm winds, the yards and masts would be lost.
Pippin had become seasick again, and fought through it, working where he could to help the ship survive. He worked so hard, in such dangerous places, that Morelin had Poclis take him aside. “Doom oft goes ill with those who dare to master it.”
When the port anchor came loose, the entire ship wheeled in the sea, stuck like a snared animal. The iron anchor was caught in the deep currents of the roiled sea worse than had it snared bedrock. Morelin ordered the rope cut, and Davy, closest to it, took out his saber. But another swell crashed against the port side and Davy stumbled and almost washed overboard.
Pippin was lying pressed against the forward boat and the bow deck. He saw what they needed to be done and crawled towards the anchor hold and the rope capstan. Morelin shouted, “Peregrin! Don’t,” but Pippin ignored him, pulling out Trollsbane as more waves raced murderously toward the keeling prow. Rain and wind and knifing spray tore at his clothes and face as he braced himself against the deck and the gunwale and reached with his knife for the treacherous rope. He couldn’t strike the rope properly, but he tried anyway, trusting the keenness of his sword’s edge. He struck it, once, twice, three times, a fourth—and the rope frayed and gave way; but not before it coiled around Pippin’s arm and pulled him into the sea.
“Peregrin!” cried Morelin.
Poclis took one look at the Halfling lost in the midst of the tempest. He raced down the drenched deck and snagged a halyard from the mainmast and then flew with a leap into the sea. He swam to Pippin, clutching the rope.
Morelin dashed to the gunwale, and Brogar, and Davy, and the other men. “Pull!” cried the captain, as Poclis pulled Pippin’s head from the water and in the middle of all the chaos cradled him against his shoulder like a father comforting a son.
Then disaster struck. The loosened halyard caused the mainsail to loosen and strain against its ropes. In a gust of wind, the ropes broke, and the Mormegil’s vast black mainsail was opened to the full force of the tempest. The men leapt for the stays, for the flapping halyards. Some were thrown down, others thrown into the sea, only to pull themselves back.
“Tame that sail!” Morelin cried. “Cut it loose if you have to!”
Brogar leapt to comply, leaving Morelin and Davy to hold onto the rope to which out in the sea Poclis clung one-handed, still cradling the half-conscious Pippin. Brogar pulled out his scimitar, speeding to climb the shrouds and cut the bindings of the mainsail. Then came the sickening crack of tearing wood strained beyond the limits of its strength. Morelin saw it. “Davirin!” he cried, throwing himself at Davy and getting them both out of the way. Pulled by the winds and the weight of the tremendous sail, the main yard and mast broke, and crashed against the deck, breaking the port gunwale and sliding in ruin into the sea.
“Can you see them?” Morelin cried to anyone.
“There, captain!” said a pirate. “Poclis and Razàr!”
Morelin’s eyes hardened. He took out his sword and went to the nearest boat. He cut its moorings. “Into the sea! Give them a chance!” he ordered. Davy, Brogar, man after man ran to the boat and they all pulled it and threw it into the sea.
Brogar shook his head. “They are lost,” he said.
Morelin said nothing. Then he ordered, “Clear the deck of this mess. We will survive.”
The men jumped to their tasks. Davy was among them, quick and relentless as any of the others, and everything was so wet none could tell the rain or the spray from his tears.
But in the sea, Poclis swam to the boat and caught it. He threw Pippin in, followed by himself, before losing consciousness amid the waves like hills upon the sea.
When Pippin woke again, he saw Poclis sitting by a fire, roasting strips of meat. He lay beneath the shade of the boat, propped up by a long bone. A glistening, translucent object lay by the fire, filled with air. The lion’s stomach.
Pippin propped himself up on his elbows. He ached, and his mind was fuzzy. His throat was dry.
“Water,” he said.
“There is none,” said Poclis. “There is blood from the lion.”
Pippin was nauseated. “No, thank you.”
“There will be water-holes in the interior,” said Poclis. “When you feel better, we shall seek them.”
Getting a drink would be the best way for him to feel better, thought Pippin, but he didn’t say it. He sat up. His right shoulder ached a little, more than just the bruises and strained muscles of the rest of him. He massaged it.
“It was dislocated when the anchor-rope took you,” Poclis said. “I reset it several days ago. The tenderness will pass.”
“I’m glad I was asleep for that, then,” said Pippin.
“You were not. You cried out when I popped the joint.”
“I don’t remember it.”
Poclis nodded. “That is best.”
Pippin grunted. He was a hobbit; hardier than he looked. He’d survive injury. The lack of water, on the other hand, was a bit more alarming. He looked around, seeing the landscape for the first time.
The beach of gray sand stood athwart the blue sea where massive breakers crashed against the strand. The surf extended out many yards into the sea. A pair of rocky islands beyond teemed with peculiar creatures Pippin could not make out. They looked like birds, but seemed to act like otters. He looked around him, discerning the skeletons like markers lost in the sand, and through the thinning mist saw the sand rise to the crest of a high dune. The air was growing dry. A longshore wind had begun to blow from the east from inland across the surface of the sea.
“Where are we?” he asked. His voice seemed both loud and lost in the expanse of his surroundings.
“The Bone Shore of Far Harad.”
“What?” Pippin said, his eyes suddenly wide.
A small smile lit Poclis’s face. “Far Harad. You wanted to come here, you are here. You are good luck, Ràzanur Tûk.”
Pippin’s smile faded. “The others?”
Poclis sighed. “Last I saw the ship,” he said, “she had lost her mainsail.”
“Oh, no,” Pippin said.
Poclis shook his head. “If any can survive such a storm, it is the Black Sword of the Ocean and her captain.”
“The last thing I remember was cutting the anchor loose,” Pippin said. “You say the ship was still afloat… I’ll have to hope they made it safe back to Meneltarma or some other land. Or sail still.
“But how did we survive?” he wanted to know.
Poclis was silent so long Pippin started to think he wouldn’t answer him. A dry wind from the dunes was roiling the mist. The sun was beginning to grow hot. The meat was done roasting; other strips of the lion’s flesh was drying and curing in the sun.
Then Poclis asked Pippin, “Do you have a god?”
Pippin flinched. What a question to have first thing in the morning.
“I don’t think so,” he finally answered after a moment’s hard thought. “I mean, we’ve no temples or such things in the Shire. We’ve never really given any thought to it.” Pippin frowned. “But I’ve seen—”
He stopped himself, thinking again. “I don’t know any gods,” he said, “because none have introduced themselves to me. Except Sauron, I suppose, but he doesn’t count. I’ve seen wondrous things, though. Why?”
Poclis sighed. “Wondrous things,” he repeated. “So. We escaped the storm, but were dying of thirst. A line of clouds appeared and it began to rain. There was no wind and the sea was calm. It only rained. It rained and filled the boat until it nearly sank. Then it stopped, and we had fresh water to drink.
“You always wear your cloak. I have never known why, but on that boat I realized it was proof against water. With it I kept some of the water, enough to live on. But I didn’t have much hope.
“Then in the evening I heard the song of great whales.”
Poclis’s voice became distant. “I thought I had slipped into a dream.
“Blue leviathans swam beneath us and around us. They came up from the depths graceful as gazelles, as the leaping deer on the coast of Belfalas. I had never seen whales so close. I did not know them, nor what they would do.
“They bore us upon their backs, Razàr. First one, and then another, at great speed, into the southern seas. I counted five sunsets on our journey.
“And all that time, they sang to us, such songs I cannot describe. Do you not remember?”
Pippin did, colors, shapes, and the trembling of the bones that came to mind as he remembered what he had perceived in his sleep: the deep song of the leviathans.
“They took us here?” he asked, his voice small.
Poclis stared out into the sea. He, too, was transported from their little camp. “They took us far, but then went their own way. I do not remember how we came to land here. I do remember pulling myself up onto this shore, and then taking you from the boat. And sleeping. When I woke, I went to explore our surroundings, gathering firewood. When I returned I saw the lion.”
He looked down at Pippin. “To be cast from a storm-tossed ship: that, I understand. To be swept in a steerless boat onto this desert coast: that, too, I understand.
“But rain without wind or storm, which quenches thirst, and an escort of whales … these things I would not credit, if I had not witnessed them with my open eyes. Such things are impossible.”
Pippin wondered what to say. “Impossible things happen sometimes,” was what he came up with. “I’ve seen them.”
They stopped talking. The lion meat was cooked, and though it was tough and had a gamy aftertaste, Pippin was starving.
“When I asked you about the creatures of this land,” Pippin complained, “I could have sworn you didn’t mention dragons.”
“That is not a dragon,” Poclis whispered back. “That is a very large lizard.”
Pippin peeked over the crest of the dune, down towards the watering hole. The creature was twenty feet long from nose to tail and covered in dull green scales. It had a blunt snout with a spike upon its nose, and though wingless, its splayed limbs ended in curved claws. It rested in the shade of a stand of thornbushes, frightening away even the desperately thirsty long-horned antelope watching from a safe distance away.
Pippin turned from the creature to the remains of the dead antelope, one that had gotten too close. It was still covered in the green slime that had killed it, that came from the great lizard’s mouth, spit some ten feet from its jaws.
“It’s big, it’s scaly, and it looks like an unpleasant fellow to run into,” Pippin said to Poclis. “That’s ‘dragon’ enough for me!”
Poclis noticed Pippin’s hand rested on Trollsbane’s hilt.
“Razàr,” he said, “we can find another watering hole.”
“Not likely before we bake away,” Pippin retorted. It was almost noon. The sand was baking, the rocks sizzling, and Pippin apt to broil.
Thankfully the elven-cloak once again proved its worth; it remained light and cool, and with its hood it protected Pippin from the sharpest edges of the sunlight. It allowed Pippin to remove his shirt, which was making him hot, and wrap it around his waist.
But he was thirsty. They had been walking all morning, searching for a watering hole, and this was the first they had found, following the tracks of animals. From sight the water must have been as warm as stale tea, but it was water nonetheless, freshest they could get this close to the Bone Shore. Poclis had brought along the dried, preserved lion’s stomach, which he said was a water bottle, and Pippin wanted it full, and his own stomach along with it.
“I want a drink,” he said, “and all we have to do is get past that, that—dragon. Lizard. Thing.”
Poclis sighed. “Very well. What is your plan?”
Plan? What plan? Pippin was thinking of running down there, up its back and hacking its head off with his sword.
For some reason Poclis was not keen on this course of action.
“It will feed on the oryx,” he explained, “and then, if I know my lizards, it will go to sleep. Even a reptile must take care in this sun. While he sleeps, we may then collect our water.”
“And how long will that take?” Pippin wanted him to explain.
“Patience, Razàr,” Poclis said.
Pippin gazed narrowly at his companion, wondering when the tall, dark Man had turned into Merry.
“All right,” he conceded. He turned around. “Shall we wait here?” He eyed Poclis critically. “I don’t care how dark your skin is, you need shade. Do you want my shirt?”
“It would not fit.”
“For your head, silly.”
“I am fine.”
“That’s what you said about your feet,” said Pippin, nodding at the painful calluses that had sprouted on the Man’s feet. “Can’t have that on your head,” he added, and untied the sleeves of his shirt from his waist. He handed it to Poclis, who sighed and placed it on his head, shading his face, neck and shoulders.
They settled in to wait. Pippin quickly got bored of watching the lethargic lizard and turned his attention to the coast. They had walked a long way from where they had left the boat. The islands with the swimming, pied, otterlike birds were closer now, and Pippin could see that it was a rookery of some sort. On the shore farther north some few miles away he could see a great horde of heron-like fowl with pink plumage and sharply bent bills. As they had walked he had seen swift little seabirds with black hoods and sharply pointed wings, and high in the sky over the arid dunes, golden-backed vultures, wheeling upon the columns of rising air.
The land they had passed through included many coastal cliffs and hollows encrusted with salt. Poclis had scraped some of the salt into a small cloth he had torn from his pants leg and, tying it off, kept it in his pocket. Pippin himself had been tempted, upon the sight of bird’s nests in the rocks, to gather some eggs, but their first priority was not food—they still had strips of dried lion meat—but water.
Pippin had observed, earlier that morning, black beetles climb to the top of the dunes and stand on their heads, catching the rolling fog and drinking the droplets that condensed upon their bodies. He had suggested a similar contraption involving his cloak, the boat, and Poclis standing holding it for a few hours. Poclis had not agreed.
They had glimpsed few larger forms of life. The oryx, as Poclis called the deerlike creatures with striped faces and long spearlike horns, were the first, but not the largest, counting the coastal lion. They had spotted tracks which Poclis said were of ostrich, which Pippin imagined as some sort of giant turkey with horses’ legs. They had seen small, thin lizards with bulbous, shining eyes, that Pippin named gollums when Poclis couldn’t identify them. Late in the morning Pippin had come across the strangest tracks he had ever seen, a series of undulating lines crossing over the dunes.
“Side-winding viper,” Poclis told him.
“Viper?” Pippin repeated with a shudder. “You mean snakes. I hate snakes.”
“Oh, is Ràzanur the Impetuous afraid of a few snakes?” Poclis teased.
“Did I say I was afraid? I am not afraid,” Pippin retorted. “Snakes, serpents, basilisks, salamandrines, great worms, dragons flightless and winged, fell beasts—I am not fond of scaly things.”
“There are no dragons here,” said Poclis. “They live where you come from.”
Now Pippin peeped over the crest of the dune at the giant reptile between him and fresh water. No dragons indeed.
The lizard had taken the body of the dead oryx into its mouth. It shook the carcass violently till it tore apart. Then it snapped up a hunk of meat in its mouth in one gulp.
“Oh that’s disgusting,” said Pippin.
“Is it sleeping yet?”
“We’ll be sleeping soon, dry as parchment,” Pippin said. “Let’s just run down there, you distract it, and I’ll cut off its head. Simple!”
“I know, I know. Patience, planning … honestly, Poclis, sometimes you sound just like a Brandybuck.”
“Why does that not sound complimentary?”
It took nearly half an hour, or so Pippin reckoned, for his dragon to consume its meal. He sighed and pulled the hood of his cloak lower over his face, grateful for the shade and the coolness it afforded. He looked at Poclis, who seemed to have dozed off, and threw a corner of his cloak over his friend’s shoulders and chest.
When his dragon’s eyes began to grow bleary, Pippin straightened. Instantly Poclis was awake. The man turned close to the hobbit.
“So?” he whispered.
Pippin nodded. He grinned.
They climbed down the back face of the dune and went around it, following the dry bed that ran from the muddy pond to the seashore. Poclis moved stealthily, Pippin silently. The oryx had wandered back closer to the water hole, and some of the fowl including golden vultures were coming for a drink of their own.
As they drew near, Pippin drew his sword and gave it to Poclis.
“I’ll get the water,” he said softly.
Poclis nodded, keeping his eyes on the giant lizard, now curled up in torpor in the shadow of the thorn-bushes.
Pippin took the lion-stomach bag and dipped it into the water where it was least muddy and trod. He filled the bag full, and then twisted the skin top and bound it tightly with the cord of sinew, amazed once again by what Poclis could make out of a single lion carcass.
Once he’d filled their water skin, he bent over and began to drink himself. He forced himself to swallow the first muddy mouthful, but afterward his thirst overcame his qualms and he drank deeply of the bad water. He rubbed his face with it, tipped it over his tangled hair, splashed his chest and arms, shuddering in delight as the warm water turned the air cool over his sunburnt skin. He had to remind himself to keep from laughing out loud at the pleasure of potable water on his skin and tongue. He looked at Poclis and beckoned him to take his fill.
A clear bird-cry lanced through the air. Pippin looked up, startled, as a wanderer falcon alighted by the thorn-bushes. It had a black hood and upper plumage and golden eyes over a speckled breast. It looked at him. He returned the look with a small smile.
Suddenly a fight broke out amongst the oryx. A young male had pushed a calf, angering its mother, who snipped at the rude interloper. The commotion made the falcon cry out and leap into the air, followed by the other words, as Poclis lay on the ground and filled his stomach.
The lizard’s eyes opened.
Pippin nudged Poclis. “It’s awake!”
Poclis nodded. He quietly but swiftly rose to his feet. Pippin stood next to him.
The lizard eyed them flatly. Its tongue flickered in and out of its lips. It began to unwind its limbs and body from its slumbering pose.
Poclis began to back away, Pippin as well, all the time watching the creature. Poclis handed Trollsbane back to Pippin with a meaningful glance. Pippin understood: Poclis would distract it, Pippin would strike.
Slowly the lizard’s eyes blinked. Its belly heaved, and its throat rippled. It began to open its jaws, and both Pippin and Poclis braced themselves to run from the first jet of poison.
Instead the lizard vomited a piece of the oryx.
Pippin almost gagged. Even Poclis winced. But they kept watching as the lizard looked down, as if bemused by the sudden reapparance of its meal, and took a few steps before dining on the softened flesh.
Pippin and Poclis evacuated the scene as quickly and unobtrusively as they could.
“That was the most revolting thing I’ve ever seen,” Pippin said, once safe.
Poclis laughed. “It was quite bad,” he agreed. “Still, we have our water, thanks in part to a disagreeable antelope!”
They found more, and fresher, watering-holes, the further north they walked. Indeed it soon became apparent, as they neared a low ridge of sandy hills, that they were passing from the desert into grassland.
Poclis’ footsteps grew stronger. He seemed to smell things in the air, things that meant nothing to Pippin but which made his companion often fill his nostrils with them. Perhaps he was smelling in the scents the memory of home. Pippin often thought the smell of dry oats and greenwood and sheep and Merry and Frodo were his surest memories of his early childhood.
They walked during the morning and the evening, resting beneath what shade they could find, or make, during the heat of the day, and sleeping by a guarding fire by night. Pippin’s body adjusted quickly to sleeping upon the ground again, falling to sleep immediately and waking immediately to take his watch. It was like he was a tweenager again.
Pippin’s sunburn faded into the beginnings of a brown tan. His hair was bleaching fair in the sunlight. To his dismay, he had sprouted a field of freckles on his cheeks and nose.
They hunted once, succeeding in bringing down a small antelope, most of which they dried and smoked, seasoned with the salt Poclis had gathered. Still, after almost a week of dining on nothing but lean meat, they were slightly unwell. It was when Pippin was beginning to eye a patch of bilious green seaweed, washed up on shore, with something akin to gluttony that they came upon the encampment.
Three rude shacks made of wooden boards and leather skins, covered in dust and windblown sand, lay upon the beach, by a dune with grass tufting from its summit, and a shallow seasonal lagoon. Poclis and Pippin hid for a long time, watching it, but no one came or went and they judged it either abandoned or temporarily uninhabited. Poclis wondered aloud if it was some sort of occasional encampment for hunters or fishermen.
Pippin didn’t care if they were shacks for people come to mine the bird droppings from the outlying sea-rocks. If there were anything of use within the shacks, he was borrowing them, permanently.
They went to the largest of the shacks.
“Break it down,” Pippin said, pointing to the door.
Poclis replied by indicating a window, covered by a leather flap. “Or you could climb in.”
“Or I could climb in,” said Pippin, putting Trollsbane away. He grabbed the wooden ledge and nimbly pulled himself up, peeking under the flap.
Poclis lifted the flap to take a look himself. They saw a table, two racks that may have served as beds, and dusty shelves containing inviting items in baskets and jars.
“If they have grain, or dried fruit …” Poclis muttered.
“If they have bread that hasn’t been touched in a hundred years I’ll be satisfied … or pipeweed,” said Pippin, hopping into the room. His feet raised dust, and he absently kicked it from his fur. He walked to the front door, unbarred it, and opened it wide with a genial grin. “Peregrin’s Adventure Supply Store is now open for business!”
There was sadly neither pipeweed nor food in the main shack, but they did find dried beans and preserved nuts and fruits in one of the other shacks, as well as preserved meats including, to Pippin’s delight, what looked suspiciously like dried salted pork. It was tough as leather, but deliciously tasty, and Poclis cut off a small chunk for Pippin to gnaw. Pippin accepted it happily, and with one breeches pocket full of dried fruit and the other full of nuts, he ransacked the main house in contentment.
“Let us not break anything,” Poclis suggested as Pippin fumbled with a large crock jar he was peeping inside. “If by some chance those who use this camp come in the morning with us merely walking a few miles away…”
“Yes, yes, agreed,” said Pippin, eyeing a cabinet locked by a twisted thong.
“Let me cut it,” said Poclis, for the thong had been tied wet and allowed to dry stiff. But Pippin put his hands on it.
“Don’t bother,” Pippin replied lightly. His fingers had met with tougher knots than this.
“You are a creature of many talents,” said Poclis amusedly.
“Thank you, I know,” said Pippin. “But all hobbits have nimble fingers.” He swung open the cabinet door. “O ho! Treasure!”
Arrayed in racks were knives, tools, and weapons. Poclis stood behind Pippin and took up a large, curved knife. “We should not take too many things,” he said. “I recognize the make of this blade. These are the same people who live at the mouth of the jungle river, north of here.”
“The ones who took you prisoner when you were a boy?”
“Well, then, I suggest we take all the weapons we can and bury or destroy the rest,” said Pippin, taking a good dagger and a couple of thin throwing knives meant to be hidden in boots. These latter he beamed at, then frowned at, remembering he didn’t wear footwear. Reluctantly he put them away.
Footwear. Poclis’ feet had been bothering him early in their trek. “You should go look for boots or something,” he said.
In the end they chose to leave the encampment as they found it, taking a pair of packs and some supplies for their planned journey to Poclis’s people. The nuts, fruit and grains they had found were a needed addition to their diet, and they were strengthened as they set out. Of the weapons, Pippin took the dagger, and Poclis took the long knife, a stout staff, and one of several bows, with a quiver of arrows.
“I’ve never been good at that,” Pippin confessed, regarding the bow. “A friend tried to teach me once, but … have you ever seen an ageless elf prince pull out his hair and curse in Dwarvish?”
“You have your sword,” Poclis replied. “If anything gets close enough to kill either of us, I’ll trust to you.”
Pippin smirked. “Agreed. Oh! That reminds me, I need a whetstone and some good clean grease. There we are.”
Bedrolls, rope—“Sam,” sighed Pippin, making Poclis frown—an iron for use with the whetstone to make sparks for fire; fate was smiling kindly upon the two travelers, it seemed to them, as they left the encampment and made for the low hills that bound the desert from the grassland.
Pippin was berating himself for eating so much of the nuts when Poclis came to a halt atop the sandy, rocky hill. It was just after dawn, and the air was cool and damp.
“What is it?” Pippin asked him. The wind was rich and wafting over the hilltop. Poclis stood like a statue.
“Poclis?” Pippin said again, jogging up to him. “What’s wrong?”
Then he saw.
Myriads of creatures of every shape and size moved upon a plain of grass endless as any sea. Great wild beasts like long-limbed cattle in the hundreds of thousands fed upon the green grass left by summer rain. Among them were herds of striped horses, and gazelles large and small, and deerlike creatures tall as trees and spotted like pards; and birds, in the sky, in the grass, riding upon the backs of the hoofed animals. To the north glimmered the folds of a fat and lazy river, set among marshlands and shadowy jungle; copses of broad-boughed trees like islands dotted the grassy plain. Far to the east, the mist shimmered on the horizon like the glittering of beaten silver, and was it only a figment of his imagination, or did Pippin see the hint of two mountains…?
He heard a trumpeting sound, and looked past the ridge, into another part of the grassland, and gasped. Oliphaunts were walking. Unbound by weapons of war, unadorned by the signs of Men, the mumakìl walked in a group of twenty, cows and calves taller than the orchard trees of the Shire. Their great ivory tusks gleamed in the sun. Their grey and wrinkled bodies betrayed the movement of flesh stronger than any that walked the earth; and that earth trembled as they walked, or was that the sound of their voices, low and bone-shaking, like the leviathans of the deep?
Pippin was speechless. He was almost thoughtless, or, rather, too many thoughts were in his head, each one hooked to a sight beheld in his eyes that were watering from the effort and yet refused to cease their gaze. As a youth he had never cared for maps. The War changed that. He had stared at maps of the world, hungry for answers that were out of reach, wondering what lay within their blank spaces. Now one of those spaces was filled before his eyes, as if by an unimagined divine hand.
Pippin began to laugh, and he found he couldn’t stop. Poclis began to laugh with him. As they laughed, they forgot their aches and pains and their precarious situation, lost in a vast land. What mattered was the journey: for one a journey home, for the other a journey to whatever end.
Poclis grabbed Pippin and lifted him up onto his shoulders. Pippin stood. He was eleven feet tall. All the untracked world rolled out before him.
He crowed. It was a cry high and free. Poclis laughed harder, and lifted him higher to the rising sun.
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