River and Rain: 1. River and Rain

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1. River and Rain

Pippin dreamed of Buckland. He was in the great hay barn leaping from bale to bale in the loft where sunlight shafted down through missing shingles turning motes of chaff into gold. He bounded over the rail and floated like a bird to the floor twenty feet below. Frodo waited there patiently, and as Pippin gently lit Frodo kissed him on his cheek warmly and said Thank you.

A white deer fleeted past the open barn door. Pippin dashed outside into a bright day, and splashed unexpectedly into water. He found himself in the shallows of the Brandywine, which had welled in silence from its bed to the very door of the barn. The deer was gone, and his feet were cold. It was an unpleasant feeling; except for warm baths (for which he had a great fondness), Pippin disliked being wet.

Hobbits waded into the river: his grandmother out deep, her hair like a fluff of milkweed against the dark water; various aunts, uncles and cousins followed several steps behind her. Her dress wet to the waist his mother struggled after them, led by his father, who held her hand. Behind them his sisters and friends stood strung out like beads on a string away from him, eldest out deepest in the water: Frodo, Folco, Pearl, Pimpernel, Sam, Fatty, Merry, Estella, Pervinca. Knee-deep in the river Pervinca beckoned. Come on, she said. It's only a little water.

Pippin woke to steady rain chilling his feet where they stuck out from the blanket. The rest of his body was covered, including his head; he could smell wet wool but he remained dry, except for his feet. He curled up, drawing his feet into the warmth and entertained wistful thoughts of his featherbed and quilts, and how sometimes his mother used to bring him hot coffee and eggs in bed.

"Bother!" muttered Frodo; it seemed the rain had woken him, too. Pippin heard other small noises of complaint from the sleepers and a grumbling sigh from Gimli as he walked through the camp, his armor smoothly ringing with every step.

"How rude," Merry said, aggrieved. "I was sound asleep and the sky decides to throw cold water on me."

Though it was hardly a featherbed, Pippin felt great reluctance to leave his warm cocoon of blankets. The Fellowship had scrambled over trackless wild lands, from afternoon the previous day until well after dawn this day, and if he could hazard a guess from how tired he still felt, Pippin figured it was hardly past noon. Holding still he pretended he was asleep and listened as the others rose and readied for the next march.

"Come on, Sam," said Frodo, closer now. "There's not much shine, but we must rise."

Just then a rock or root he hadn't noticed before began to impress its shape into Pippin's hip, but he did not want to move and give up his pretense of sleep.

"I'm awake, Mr. Frodo." Sam spoke through a yawn. "I was just hoping the rain was a bad dream that would pass soon."

"I'm afraid not," said Merry. "It woke us all up."

Pippin's nose began to itch; he wrinkled it but found no relief.

"Mr. Pippin's still asleep," Sam said. Pippin heard blankets being shaken.

"It was a long march and a short rest," said Frodo. "I would sleep more if I could."

"I could load up his pack while I do ours, Mr. Frodo. Let him catch a few more winks."

"No, I'll get it. You get your breakfast."

"Frodo," said Merry, "you look as though you could use a few extra winks yourself."

"Maybe you can give me a hand with this, Mr. Merry?" said Sam. "Then Mr. Frodo could take a bit more rest before we start." Pippin stifled a laugh.

"All right, Sam," said Merry. "I'll take the favor out of Pippin later. By force, if necessary." Leather creaked. The itch on his nose was maddening, and although whatever pressed his hip seemed to be growing Pippin didn't want to leave his blanket. He heard a splash: an unfortunate meeting of foot and puddle Pippin guessed. "Drat this rain!" said Merry.

"At least the wind stopped." Frodo sounded resigned rather than relieved. Pippin could hardly remain still for want of itching his nose and the growing cramp in his hip. "It's such a dreary sound."

"Ah, young Pippin still sleeps," said Legolas. "He and I were to fill the bottles today. Maybe I should fill them myself and let him rest."

"Oh for heavens' sake," said Pippin as he flipped his blanket down and rubbed frantically at his nose, "I'm awake, I'm awake."

"You lazy lout!" Merry exclaimed. "You were faking, weren't you?"

"There are those of us who can sleep despite a spate of rain," said Gandalf sharply from his bedroll, his eyes sparking with anger under the deep brim of his hat, "if they are not subjected to noisy and prolonged complaints. Get up or go back to sleep, but do it quietly!"

"Oh, I beg your pardon, please, Gandalf," said Merry, abashed. Pippin stammered his apologies, and Sam looked scared.

"It was the rain that woke me," said Aragorn dryly.

"The rain and the noise," added Boromir.

"No matter the reason," Aragorn said, "we are all of us awake now, and if we can't sleep then we should push on."

Gandalf sighed and then said, "Indeed." He made a noise of effort as he rose. His knees popped loudly.

The steady rain weighed down Pippin's hair. The others were already wet, or wrapped snugly in their hoods and cloaks. "I wasn't faking," he muttered. "Mostly. I was almost sleeping."

"You were sleeping in." Merry eyed him dubiously. Pippin noticed Merry's foot was wet and muddy past his ankle.

"Oh he'll grow out of it," said Frodo. "All children do eventually."

The comment stung. "Frodo, my dear old hobbit," he said, "I'm hardly a child."

Frodo smiled a little at that. "Pippin, my dear young hobbit, child or not, it's time to get up." He stooped and grasped the edge of Pippin's blanket, pulling it off and exposing him fully to the rain. Pippin sputtered and complained to the general amusement of the entire Fellowship, and he glared daggers at Frodo throughout their hasty (and unsatisfying) breakfast of stale bread, dried fruit and plain water. He found some commiseration with Gimli, for like Pippin, Gimli did not wake easily or cheerfully, and they talked as they walked together in the rain.

"He's got some gall, calling me a child," muttered Pippin.

"You're not far from your majority, are you?" asked Gimli.

"Exactly," replied Pippin. "So I'm hardly a child. If I was a child, would I be here, helping Frodo go to Mordor?"

Aragorn, in front of them, frowned at Pippin over his shoulder. Pippin looked down quickly, and when he spoke again, he lowered his voice. "Can't a hobbit want a few extra winks before facing the day without being called a child?"

"You're not so far from your childhood, Master Peregrin," said Gimli. "But you're right: leaving the pleasure of sleep before you're ready is a bitter parting. Dwarves know the value of rest."

"Exactly. And so do I."

"Dwarves also know the need for long labor, with or without the respite of sleep."

"I know the value of labor. I just wanted to sleep a little more."

"But our errand can hardly wait," said Gimli, looking ahead, as if into memory, and his beard twitched as he smiled, "and though there's not much to you, the rest of us would hardly enjoy carrying you through the wild as you snored your way through pleasant dreams."

"I would never do that!" said Pippin. "Are you calling me lazy?"

"I was thinking of old Bombur, my father's companion on his adventure, not you," said Gimli. "This time."

"Then by all means, please, tell me all about Bombur's indolence."

"Cheeky hobbit," grumbled Gimli. "Do you not know your own family history?"

Pippin frowned.

"You're related to Bilbo, aren't you? I'm speaking of Bilbo's trip to the Lonely Mountain with Thorin Oakenshield and his twelve companions. In Mirkwood, they encountered an enchanted river --"

"-- and Bombur fell into the water and fell asleep!" said Pippin excitedly. "Yes, I know that story well. Bilbo wrote it all down in a big red book, and sometimes he would read parts of it to my cousins and me."

"Then you know what a burden Bombur was to his companions. He is immense now, but he was fat then, too."

"It wasn't as if he did it on purpose," said Pippin. "He fell into the river. Did your father tell you about his adventures with Bilbo?"

"He did, and so did the others," replied Gimli.

"I wonder: how did Bombur fare after the dragon was killed?"

Ahead of Aragorn and Boromir walked the other hobbits, and Pippin could hear the creak of leather from the pony Sam led. Gimli's voice rose over the mounting breeze, the leather, and slow clopping hooves.

"Bombur always liked toys," he said. "Even when he had grown a thick beard and long, he spent hours with the young ones, rolling on the floor as if he were one of them. After the dragon, he had time to take notice what they liked best, and then work with the smallest of tools and gold and gears, making the most marvelously clever toys."

"I wonder," Pippin said thoughtfully. "Bilbo gave me a wonderful toy at his last party. It was a white hart, so big, hammered of silver and fixed to a tiny pole on a golden base wrought with flowers. There was a key in the base that turned and made the hart leap up and down on the pole. I used to wind it up and watch it for hours. Bilbo said it was genuine dwarf-make."

"Ah, that sounds like something from his hand," said Gimli. "He is a legend among children for leagues around the Lonely Mountain."

"I kept it for years," said Pippin. "But when I got older I gave it into my mother's safe-keeping; she put it on the mantle in her reading room. She said it would be a treasure for my own children someday."

"The crafts from his hands become heirlooms of many houses," Gimli said, nodding, "and the children of kings know him well: dwarf, Man, and elf."

"Really?" Pippin frowned and watched where he placed his feet on the uneven ground. The sun touched the horizon and cast long shadows, dangerous in this trackless land.

"Oh yes. He may be so fat now that he needs stout dwarvish backs to bring him to table, but none can master the skill of his fingers when it comes to the manufacture of clever little machines."

The wind cut cold and brisk suddenly, and rather than raise their voices, they let the conversation fall away. Pippin thought about his silver hart on the mantle in his mother's reading room. When last he saw it, it was as bright and shiny as the day Bilbo gave it to him.

***

The wind plagued them all night. Pippin recalled Rivendell's sweet-voiced streams and kindly autumn with longing. He had explored much of the valley walking up and down trails, sometimes with Merry, sometimes with an elven guide, sometimes alone. Frodo, Sam always at his side, spent much of his time with Bilbo, who had become, for Pippin, more a figure of legend than a family member. Frodo spent time closeted with Elrond, Gandalf and Strider as well, looking at maps. Pippin examined the scrolls once or twice but few of the names and places penetrated his memory; he found Elrond's presence daunting, and remembered too well the solemn elf-lord's doubts about his place in the Fellowship.

Pippin walked at the end of the line when dawn glimmered in the eastern sky and brought with it a calm in the wind. All the Fellowship found a measure of peace in the stillness until they encountered a broad stream, swift and noisy in its bed. At the company's head, Gandalf made a disgruntled sound but said nothing. Probing ahead with his staff he plunged forward, and the water darkened the hem of his robes shin deep. Man and elf, hobbit and dwarf, the rest followed. Bill the pony's hooves knocked the stones, a hollow sound above the river song. The hobbits struggled through the dark current clutching above their knees and icy enough to bite.

Pippin, trailing them all, hitched his pack higher on his shoulders and clenched his teeth against the cold. The drag of the current pulled at his legs; his feet slipped over rounded rocks, making him stagger, and his cloak, which he had been holding above the water with his hand, dropped and was drawn downstream by the rush. Pippin grimly yanked it out of the water, dripping, and he recalled how traipsing across the Shire to Crickhollow had been a lark in comparison. He wished for the pack he had carried then, lighter than what he carried now though he had griped at the time; he missed the mild weather, and familiar trees to shelter him from the unremitting sky. Teasing Sam, provoking Frodo in the mornings and wondering when his small conspiracy would be revealed had occupied his mind most. Even the terror of the Black Riders had been too unreal, there, in the Shire those months ago. Pippin grimly wondered if he would have ever left the Shire had he foreseen the sheer misery of the journey, to which a voice answered And let Frodo go off, alone? Never!

But the doubts were strong. The world outside his home was both more beautiful and more frightening than he had imagined, and he felt very small. And though Gandalf had pleaded his case with Elrond, to allow him to be part of the Fellowship, he had also hinted that Pippin would not dare to go, if he knew what hardships awaited him.

"But I did come," thought Pippin. "And I'm still here, and Frodo is not alone at all -- he has me and the entire Fellowship with him."

Ahead, only Gimli remained in the stream; the rest of the company was on the other side. Pippin quickened his pace, determined not to be the smallest, last, or least useful member. His foot came down on nothing and sank into the stream's narrow but deep thalweg. Pippin lurched forward, flailing, and he smacked the surface, arms outstretched. The cold water closed over his head and shocked the breath from him.

One moment felt like a sleepless night of dark thought. Many things ran through Pippin's mind: the cold was like a blow; he should have felt ahead rather than rushing forward; he would have to strip and don dry clothes or risk his health in the cold, which would take time and maybe a fire, things the company could ill afford. The water held him up even as his struggles weakened.

The water isn't deep -- drop your arms and legs and stand up! he told himself sternly, and he did. His toes caught purchase; he pushed against the bottom with his hands and, though his own body seemed heavy as iron, clumsily thrust himself upright. He sucked in deep draughts of air, edged and cold in his lungs.

Gimli splashed back to him and clutched his arm. "It's hardly an enchanted river, but it is cold," he said. "You're not going to fall asleep like old Bombur did, are you?"

"N-no." Pippin ached deep in his chest.

"Ah, but you might freeze hard as stone. Come now. Do you need me to carry you?"

"I-I'll walk on my own."

"Good lad."

The others stood on the further bank, and when Gimli hauled him to dry land, the hobbits surrounded him.

"Pippin!" exclaimed Merry. "Are you all right?"

Pippin clenched his teeth to stop their chattering and nodded.

Gandalf laid his warm palm on the top of Pippin's head. "Of course you're all right, my boy. Fools are tougher than they look, or the Tooks would have perished from the Shire long ago."

"Really, Gandalf," said Frodo. "That's family you're insulting."

"It's less an insult than you think," said Gandalf. "The Tooks have put their foolishness -- and their strength -- to good use in the past, and I foresee it will serve our purpose. Eventually." His eyes kindled with amusement. "Though it hardly seems evident now."

Frodo shook his head and turned his attention to Pippin. He murmured encouragements and hugged Pippin despite the water while the others assembled a hasty fire and Merry dug through his pack for dry clothes.

Pippin said nothing. He feared suddenly the other members of the Fellowship, and he wanted not to have to wade into danger after them. He had a sudden dreadful thought that no one would ever know that his old white hart, safe on its shelf, had come from Bombur's hands unless he returned to tell them, and yet he was here, in the wild, following Frodo and Sam with Merry because it was the right thing to do. Hot tears mingled with the cold water dripping from his hair, and he hoped no one noticed because he did not know why he cried, and so could give no reason if they asked.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Lullenny

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 12/11/03

Original Post: 12/01/03

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