1. Splashing and Sputtering
Both Pippin and Gimli were resurfacing when I reached the edge of the bank. Pippin sputtered a little, shook his head like a dog trying to dry itself, and exclaimed, “Oi, that’s cold!” He then began paddling toward shore.
Boromir had joined me and looked ready to plunge into the small pond himself to rescue our comrades when Pippin’s actions froze him where he stood, his expression askance. While we hesitated, the rest of the fellowship reached our sides. I glanced at the other three hobbits to see how alarmed I should be, but they all looked quite calm and matter-of-fact.
“All right, then, Pippin?” Merry called to his cousin. Pippin’s reply was somewhat obscured by his splashing, but it seemed to be to the effect of, “Cold!”
We were still in the first leg of our journey, crossing through the deserted land of Hollin. We had spent the day crossing a half-dried out marsh, where the soil was deceptive and could crumple beneath you without notice. That was, I ascertained, what must have happened to Pippin and Gimli, sending them slipping down a sharp, eight-foot embankment into a small, but deep, pond.
Assured that Pippin was in no immediate danger of drowning, as he clearly could swim, I turned my head to check on Gimli. With a jolt, I realized my concern had been misplaced. The dwarf was floundering about, clearly unable to steer himself in any direction and barely able to stay afloat. Indeed, as I watched his head briefly submerged and then bobbed back up.
“The dwarf, Aragorn, the dwarf,” Gandalf cried, turning everyone’s attention to Gimli’s plight. I felt Boromir tense to plunge down the embankment, and stayed him with a hand.
“There is no sense in more of us becoming soaked with freezing water,” I said to him, then called to Gimli. “If I throw you a rope, Master Gimli, will you be able to grab it so we can pull you to shore?”
Gimli was sputtering and splashing, out of his element and entirely out of sorts. “I believe I can manage that much, Aragorn,” he grumbled.
The closest accessible shore was a good 55 feet from where Gimli wallowed. Moving quickly, I circled around to the shore and prepared a rope. When I was ready to throw it, I noticed that Pippin was merely 25 feet away by now, still paddling away.
My first throw fell short by 10 feet. The second was only five feet away, but Gimli seemed unable to move himself even that far. Also, he was dipping beneath the water more and more often, and taking longer to resurface.
Frodo was at my side, watching the goings-on intently. “Frodo,” I asked, “how far can Pippin swim? Could he get the rope back to Gimli?”
“Oh, certainly,” Frodo replied confidently. “He’s a strong swimmer -- I helped teach him myself when he was just a little scrap of a thing.”
Pippin was almost to shore, and to my eyes still appeared a little scrap of a thing. I hated to ask him to stay longer in what I knew must be frigid water, but I did not want to expose more members of our company to the water if I could avoid it. Before I could call to him, however, he paused, treading water, and cried out to me.
“Strider, do you want me to take the rope to Gimli? He doesn’t look like he’s having much luck.”
My lips quirked as I heard Gimli growling his response to the hobbit’s words, but I quickly assured Pippin that I did, indeed, wish him to take the rope to Gimli. He dutifully turned around and back to the waterlogged dwarf, dragging the rope behind him. Gimli was soon secured and Boromir and I hauled him to dry land while Pippin paddled back to shore.
The next few moments were taken up with getting Gimli on shore and on his feet. After several attempts to ascertain if he was harmed, and to wrap him in dry blankets (all taken gruffly and with some muttered words in the dwarf-language that I felt certain did not belong in polite company), I turned to see how Peregrin was faring. He was much more cooperative about being tended to. The other hobbits had stripped him of most of his sopping clothing and wrapped him snugly in several blankets. Merry was behind him drying his curly head with another blanket while Frodo fished through packs for dry clothing. Sam came up to me as I approached their little group.
“Are we going to stop, Strider? He could use something warm in him, and I’m sure Mr. Gimli could too.”
“I don’t know yet, Sam. Let me speak to Gandalf, but first I want a look at Pippin.” Sam nodded his acquiescence and set to fussing with Bill.
I knelt in front of Pippin’s shivering little form. I had learned quickly that it was less disconcerting to the hobbits if men didn’t tower over them, making them crane their necks to have a conversation. I wanted to examine Pippin, but was not certain how he would respond. Of all the hobbits, I had had the least contact with him. On the road to Rivendell, when I had needed a scouting companion or assistance with some task or another, I had generally asked Merry or Sam. Pippin was a pleasant, cheerful little hobbit, but I was acutely aware of his youth and inexperience.
I started with a smile, using the less formal tone I reserved for the hobbits, as they were more accustomed to it. “Well, Master Took, that was nice work. I dare say our friend Gimli owes you a debt.”
“I should say so. I have been wanting a bath but that was not what I had in mind!” Pippin’s teeth were chattering together by now, and the end of his sharp nose was turning quite red, but he sounded typically buoyant.
I smiled wryly at him. “No, I should think not,” I replied. “Now let me look at you.”
Merry finished with his cousin’s hair and, tossing the now-wet blanket aside, came to stand beside me and watch carefully as I took Pippin’s face in my hands. The young Brandybuck had long overcome his initial mistrust of me, but I noted from the corner of my eye that he was watching my every move intently. I knew from my travels with them that both Frodo and Merry, but Merry especially, were rather particular about anything involving Pippin -- how people spoke with him, what he had to eat, if he was warm enough when they slept. I had a very clear image that Pippin was the baby and the darling of both the Brandybuck and Took families, and that he had generally been given anything he wanted. Fortunately, hobbits did not seem to spoil that way, as I have seen some children of men do, becoming demanding and unpleasant.
Pippin’s nose was already running, and the tips of his pointed ears were as red as his nose. His cheeks also were taking on a rosy tone, and his teeth continued to clatter. I was concerned about his loss of heat more than anything. It is difficult for a man to resume his former warmth if suddenly and thoroughly chilled without a warm shelter to retreat to, and I knew from experience that this was more true for children -- or those of children’s body mass. I feared that out in the wilderness, it would be difficult to get Pippin warmed up again.
I slid my hands down Pippin’s back and chest, looking for injuries as I checked his body temperature. To my surprise, I found only a sore spot on the left side of his chest, near his ribs, that I felt certain would be an impressive bruise by the morrow, and a scrape on his right elbow. I also was pleased to note that he showed no fear or resistance toward me. Gimli had not even let us undress him, and I could still hear him rumbling away behind me as Gandalf and Boromir tried to offer assistance.
Pippin was very cold, however, and seemed to be getting more chilled with each passing moment. Sam was right -- he needed something warm in him, and quickly. I finished my cursory exam by checking his feet and then wrapped the blankets back around him tightly.
“Well, you seem none the worse for wear,” I said to my small patient. “Let us see what we can do about getting you warmed up.”
Frodo had now joined Merry at my side. Both were watching with concern, but neither seemed alarmed. I had the thought that Pippin and tumbles down hillsides or into bodies of water was not a novel experience for either of them.
“Keep him warm while I talk to Gandalf,” I said to them. “Sit him down and huddle close. I am going to see about a short rest -- at least long enough to kindle a small flame and heat something to drink.”
As I moved away I saw Merry unceremoniously plunk Pippin to the ground and then sit down behind him and wrap his arms around his cousin’s chest, pulling his own cloak around both of them. Frodo hunkered near Pippin’s feet, nestling a blanket about them and then sliding his hands inside to briskly rub them.
The rest of our company was still gathered near Gimli at the very edge of the shore, save Legolas, who was keeping watch over the landscape from a higher vantage point. Gimli had dried off and put on a new tunic, and was now insistently fastening his mail back on, over Boromir and Gandalf’s objections. Gandalf abruptly ended the bickering when I walked up.
“Well, then, how is Gimli’s small rescuer?” he queried.
“Unharmed, but he has taken great chill,” I answered. “Gandalf, we must halt, at least for a short while, and we must have a fire.”
“Hmph,” the wizard answered. “Can we not dry him off and bundle him up and then have you or Boromir carry him? We are much exposed in this countryside.”
I turned my head to survey the land, knowing that Gandalf was right. I paused to mull the question before giving my answer.
“We could, but I think it better that we at least give him something warm to drink. It would do Gimli well, also. After that, I would be happy to bear him. I do not think he will come to harm, but he is small, Gandalf, smaller even than the other hobbits, and his body is not made to store heat the way a dwarf’s is. I fear if we do not begin rewarming him now, we will regret it later.”
“Hmph,” Gandalf said again, and I could see his eyes gleaming with thought. He knew as well as I that one of our company falling ill on the road would prove dangerous to us all. “Very well,” he agreed after a moment. “Kindle a fire -- a very small one, mind you -- and heat the lad something to drink. Then we must be off.”
Pippin accepted the offering of a hot drink eagerly, and wiggled his body up as close to the negligible fire as he dared without setting himself aflame. Gimli did not turn down his drink, but did not accept it with the wholehearted gratitude that Pippin did. I was gathering the impression that Gimli was rather disgruntled about being rescued by a hobbit, particularly by this nattering little hobbit who asked (seemingly, even to my more kindly mind) incessant questions about every topic upon Middle-earth.
Once said nattering hobbit and disgruntled dwarf had finished their prescribed hot drinks, we doused the fire and rearranged our gear to set out again. I crouched down to where Pippin sat, Merry still wrapped around him from behind and Frodo pressed up against his side.
“Will you let me carry you, Pippin? It will be much warmer, and I am concerned that you not become further chilled.”
Pippin looked surprised at the question, and for all that I had heard him whining to his fellow hobbits about why did we have to walk so fast, and why did we have to walk so far every day, and why did we not stop more often, he now seemed reluctant to accept a ride.
“I can walk, Strider. I’m not hurt at all, you said so yourself.” Even though I had stooped to the ground, he still had to tip his head up to look at me, and when he did I saw that his jaw had a determined set to it.
“No, you are not hurt, but you are still shivering,” I said gently. “You need to conserve and rebuild your body heat, not walk on the frozen ground in the biting wind. Otherwise, you could fall ill, and I do not think I have to tell you that an illness on the road is a grave matter.”
As I suspected, the threat of becoming more trouble to the fellowship led Pippin to accept my offer. I scooped him into my arms, still swaddled in blankets, and tucked him underneath my cloak. I pulled the blankets up to shelter his head and we soon were off.
After peering around at our surroundings from under the shelter of his wrappings for some time, Pippin laid his head on my shoulder. I suspected he was tired, and had been tempted to guide his head down when I had settled him in my arms, but thought he would resist. I hoped now that he would rest. I felt one of his small hands winding in my cloak in a slow, aimless fashion.
“Strider,” he said after we had walked in silence for half of an hour, “did I really do good today?”
I peered down at him in amusement. “Yes, Pippin, did I not say so? If you had not swum back out to Gimli, I most likely would have had to do it myself, and then I would be just as cold as you right now, and not much good to either of us.”
Pippin watched my face intently as I answered. “Gimli did not seem very happy about it,” he said solemnly. “And I fell down the bank in the first place.”
I patted his back gently. “I do not think Gimli is used to being in any situation where he needs to be rescued,” I said. “It is difficult for all of us to admit sometimes that we need someone else’s help. And,” I lowered my voice conspiratorially, “if I am not mistaken, Gimli fell down that bank first.”
Pippin giggled a little, and then cut off the laugh with a large yawn. My hand was still on his back and I began to rub it gently in a slow, soothing circle. Pippin tucked his head a little further into my shoulder. He was still shivering slightly, but seemed much improved. The fact that he was sleepy indicated he was somewhat warmer. His breathing took on the slow, deep rhythm of sleep as we trudged onward.
The mishap on the bank had occurred as dusk was deepening into night, mere hours into that night’s walk. We had begun in the early evening so as to navigate the marsh while there was still light, but we had now passed it and made good time on the even turf. Pippin slept the rest of our march away in my arms, his shivering finally abating. I slid my hand inside his shirt periodically, satisfied when his skin continued to feel warmer. We halted in the hour before dawn to make camp, and I jostled my small passenger to wake him.
“Pippin, wake up or I shall eat your supper,” I teased gently.
He squirmed and buried his face more firmly into my shoulder. “Strider, that isn’t very nice,” he said sleepily. I stood him up on the ground, keeping the blankets around him, and he scrubbed at his face with his hands. He looked bleary and bothered, but on the whole well enough that I was no longer concerned about his health.
Frodo came up and critically eyed his cousin. “Well, I can see you’ve had a fine, leisurely nap while we’ve toiled along. I believe I shall toss myself into the next stream and see what privileges it gains me,” the Ringbearer stated.
“Strider said I did very well, thank you, cousin,” Pippin replied loftily. “There’s no use getting jealous of my feats.”
Now thoroughly convinced that young Peregrin was no longer in need of my services, I left the hobbits and set about helping the others establish camp. I also tried again to tend to Gimli, but he brushed me off brusquely, though with less temper than before.
“I’m fine, fine, Aragorn,” he rumbled. “No need for a fuss.” He pitched his voice lower and dipped his head in closer to mine, harrumphing. “How, hmph, how is the, ahem, young hobbit?”
I carefully kept any look of amusement off my face. “I think a hot meal and a warm rest will leave him fully recovered come evening,” I answered in the same low tone. Then I added, in a tone implying afterthought, “He quite showed his mettle, don’t you think?”
Gimli gave me a smoldering look that showed he wasn’t fooled at all by my maneuverings, but a gleam in his eye revealed he was more amused than anything. “Yes, yes, Aragorn, he did indeed, and I will thank him.”
I smiled openly now and clamped a hand to the dwarf’s shoulder. “Please do. I know Pippin can seem a handful at times, but he is eager to prove himself capable and useful. I believe he showed himself to be both in these circumstances.”
Gimli harrumphed some more and moved on, muttering to himself. Soon after, though, I saw him approach Pippin where he sat ensconced in blankets near the now-kindled fire, giving Sam elaborate instructions on what he wanted for dinner. Sam was absent-mindedly agreeing to everything Pippin said, and then ignoring every word as he got dinner ready.
I could not make out their words, but Gimli stooped and I could hear his gruff tones. Pippin’s face lit up like the sunrise, blushing and beaming at the same time, and I could hear his piping little voice cheerily answer. The dwarf chortled at whatever it was Pippin had said and laid his hand briefly on the lad’s curly head before stomping off.
“So, so,” Gandalf murmured close to my ear, “our first incident passed without harm done. We may make a fellowship out of this group yet, Aragorn.”
“Aye, we may at that, old friend,” I answered softly. “We may at that.”