12. Chapter Twelve
With unparalleled grace, the Elf rose silently and drifted back to the silo door. Built high off the ground to allow the grain-wagons to funnel their loads into the storage area, he and Aragorn had had to leap up to it and pull themselves in. Its very height would discourage casual interruption, for who would search for strangers in such a place?
Legolas placed his pointed ear against the door, then the palms of his hands. The rumbling was growing. He glanced uneasily at the sleeping Ranger. It was almost time to awaken him anyway. Even as Legolas moved to rouse him, Aragorn abruptly rolled over and raised himself up on his forearms, awake and alert.
“What is it?” Aragorn asked in a whisper.
“I don’t know.” The thick wood of the door muffled Legolas’ keen hearing. “I think I hear Men – many Men – shouting. They sound angry.”
The Ranger joined the Elf at the door but could not discern the noise so finely. But it was definitely growing louder. “You don’t think –“ began Legolas.
“It is too great a coincidence,” returned Aragorn. “Three hobbits, alone in a town of Men? Let us open this door a little.”
This they did and Legolas leaned out with Aragorn supporting him. His head turned rapidly to the sides. “I can see much of the streets from up here. There is … a disturbance … approaching. Many Men. They are chasing - oh no.”
Aragorn resisted the urge to drop the Elf. “Oh no what?”
“The halflings – it is Merry and Pippin and Samwise. They run before a mob.”
Aragorn groaned. “What have they done now?”
Legolas raised himself up enough to award the Ranger a look of mild reproof. “That I cannot tell. But they look very frightened and near exhaustion. They are coming this way.”
Now the mob was close enough for the Ranger to see them. The three hobbits were running flat-out, but the men were closing. The men were shaking their fists and roaring with anger. Pippin’s face was very white and his eyes enormous; he looked utterly terrified. Merry ran behind him with uncharacteristic grimness, his blue eyes searching for an escape. Samwise came last and Aragorn saw Sam glance back over his shoulder; the nearest man only yards behind him. Aragorn saw fury and resignation in those grey eyes, and he feared what Samwise was about to do.
“Aragorn, quickly!” The Ranger tore his gaze from the impending massacre to see the Elf bracing himself, hands spread to catch the sides of the door. Understanding instantly, Aragorn wrapped his hands around Legolas’ knees as the Elf bent his legs. Aragorn propped his feet against the wall as Legolas pushed himself upside-down out the door.
Pippin was sobbing, tears running down his sharp face, almost spent. He stumbled as they rounded the corner of the small intersection fronting the silo and Merry caught him, pushing him ahead, but the stumble had slowed them both. Sam struggled not to crash into them, his feet skidding on the cobbles.
“Run!” gasped Merry. “Pip, run!”
Pippin clung to his cousin, choking. “I – I can’t -” he managed, tears closing his throat.
In that instant, Sam made his decision. ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Frodo,’ he thought as he whirled, his small sword in his hand. ‘You’ll understand, I know. If I can cut the leaders enough so they’ll fall back an’ let ‘em escape…’
Facing back, waiting for the first of the Men to round the corner, Sam did not understand the “Uumph!” he heard. He spared a glance behind him and almost dropped the sword in astonishment. Merry and Pippin were nowhere in sight. What -?
Strong hands fastened under his arms and he was lifted from his feet, choking back a cry of startlement. Sam slashed upward with the weapon and heard, “Peace, Samwise! I am helping you! Lower your sword!”
Sam tilted his head back and met clear eyes that crinkled in amusement at his expression. “Peace,” repeated Legolas more gently. Sam nodded and sagged in the Elf’s grasp, allowing himself to be pulled up and through the high door of some sort of storage facility. Dragged in on his back, Sam saw Aragorn release Legolas’ knees and run past them to close the silo door. Merry and Pippin were hugging each other in shock and relief. As Legolas released him and sat up, they rushed forward and caught up Sam in that embrace, all three staring at their rescuers in astonishment.
“Are you all right?” Aragorn asked. Three sweat-soaked curly heads nodded, none yet having the breath to speak. He reached out and tousled Pippin’s curls. The tweenager stared up at him, green-gold eyes still panicky. “Now then,” the Ranger said gently. “Tell me what happened.”
Merry grimaced and coughed, but got no further. “Quiet!” hissed Legolas. “They are coming!” All were silent as the mob emerged, shouting questions at each other, kicking over barrels and trying the doors of the surrounding buildings. Legolas dropped and opened the door only the slightest bit, Aragorn beside him. The two watched through the crack as the men milled about in anger and confusion, shouting threats into the air.
“We must leave this place,” mouthed Aragorn silently, watching as the crowd searched every possible hiding spot. Merry crawled up beside them, hobbit-quiet. The Ranger pointed at the only other exit, a square ventilation shaft set farther up the wall. With a glance at Pippin and Merry, Samwise went first, holding up his arms for Legolas to pick him up and heft him into the shaft. Once inside, Sam turned around in the narrow space and guided Pippin in.
Two hobbits, one Elf … where was Merry? Aragorn looked back just in time to see a blur of motion that was acknowledged a heartbeat later by a shrill yowl from the street. Aragorn shot to the open door, jerking the hobbit roughly back by his collar, furious gaze centering on the empty sling. Merry glared at him, unrepentant. “Let me go!” the hobbit snarled. “I still have two more walnut shells -”
“The silo! The silo!” A beefy man was rubbing his neck, blood on his hands, staring up at them. Aragorn slammed the door shut and snatched up the hobbit and ran with him to the shaft. Merry twisted in the Ranger’s arms, still intent on delivering his walnut shells with lethal force.
“Stop that!” hissed Aragorn, giving the hobbit a shake. Merry subsided, but not without muttered growls. The rumbling of the mob was growing louder – they were discussing entry into the silo. Two men were struggling to lift the fat man by his legs, the three tottering uncertainly while hands supported them from all sides. The man latched onto the silo door and was fighting to stay upright to open it.
Aragorn shoved the hobbit into the passageway and Merry slammed into Pippin with an “oof!” The three crowded together and an instant later, a thud and a shaking of the wall announced Aragorn’s arrival, followed by Legolas. Crawling on their hands and knees, the five slogged their way through a thick layer of grain-dust to the rough mesh that protected the shaft from marauding pigeons and roof-rats.
It gave easily. Samwise stuck his head out and looked around, then reported, “There’s a drop of about six feet ‘ta the roof of another warehouse. I can’t see any o’ the Men, but I can hear them. It looks safe enough.”
“Go on, then,” encouraged Aragorn. Sam turned himself around and the hobbits used the Big Folk’s chain in reverse. Sam locked hands with Pippin, who had his ankles held by Merry, who was held by Aragorn, who was held by Legolas. Thus supported, Sam was lowered gently to the adjoining roof, and Pippin after him, and Merry. Aragorn could not turn around in the narrow space and had to be lowered face-first, landing on his spread hands with a small thump. The hobbits held their breath but no sounds of discovery drifted up to them from the milling mob below. Legolas joined them a moment later, using his arms to catapult himself into a ball and roll.
Aragorn and Legolas stayed low and edged just close enough to the roofline to see what was happening. The beefy man had forced the door open and was peering inside the silo, his day-adjusted vision failing him in the murky interior of the storage facility. The two men holding him up were swearing and teetering under his weight, and he was swearing down at them.
Shouts interrupted the exchange of insults. “Where are they?” and “Can you see the little buggers?” and from the fat man, one loud, “When I get me hands on that little -” The small group on the roof cast about them frantically. Sam and Pippin crawled to the rear of the flat roof and sought a way down, returning to report a small stairway to the ground. Aragorn silently motioned them towards it. “Light a torch!” someone shouted. “They must be hiding in there!”
Sam’s eyes traveled to the grain silo. “Half a moment,” he whispered. “They’re not -”
Merry had come to the same conclusion. “Aragorn, we’ve got to go,” he whispered urgently. The Ranger and the Elf looked at the hobbits in bewilderment. Merry and Sam glanced at each other than fastened their hands in the Big Folks’ cloaks, tugging them into motion. Pippin pushed from behind. “You aren’t a farming folk, like hobbits – you don’t understand – we must go!”
More shouts were rising from the other side of the buildings. The beefy man was demanding a torch and others were trying to shout him down. Someone lit one and handed it up to him. Men scattered, howling. “Get down, get down!” cried Sam, no longer trying to drag Aragorn and Legolas away. Not understanding, they nevertheless dropped obediently. Merry pulled himself over a very pale Pippin and Sam fell beside them, covering his ears.
BOOM! The explosion was so loud that the small party of refugees did not actually hear it; but felt it only as a terrible pressure on their eardrums. The shockwave rolled over them with the force of a thunderclap.
Aragorn turned over on his back, muscles twitching. Legolas was rubbing his ears, his fair face twisting in agony. The hobbits had sensibly clapped their hands over their heads and that had protected them, a little. Aragorn dragged himself to his feet. “What was that?” he asked, or tried to – he could not hear his own voice. Then small hands were winding themselves in his cloak, and he was being urged to move. Merry and Pippin had him in tow and Sam was tugging Legolas to his feet, the Elf’s expression still stunned.
With insistent yanks on their clothing, the Ranger and the Elf were guided between the buildings and past the mob. Small openings between the edifices afforded them glimpses of the destruction; most of the men were on the ground, stirring feebly and groaning. None saw them or seemed to recognize them. Smoke was billowing all about, rolling down the narrow streets, filling every corner and crevice. The smoke was brown, not black, and it clogged the lungs unlike any smoke the Ranger had known. Coughing and choking, they stumbled on for some time. At last the hobbits allowed them to stop, pulling the Big Folk into a deserted courtyard. All five cast themselves on the ground, too spent to take another step.
After some time, Aragorn cleared his throat and tried again. “What was that?” This time he could hear his words.
Sam coughed and spat. “What that was, was right stupid. Grain silos are full o’ dust and chaff, and any idiot knows you don’t light a fire in them, or let a spark anywhere near ‘em!”
Legolas fought his way to a sitting position, long arms dangling limply between his raised knees. “I did not know that.”
“Well, you wouldn’t,” Merry gasped. “But you’d know it if you spent the fall bringing in the harvest, and setting it in storage for the winter. In addition to the dust and chaff, grain can ferment and produce a highly explosive gas. If the silo is poorly vented, all it takes is a spark to set it off. Just striking your flint to light a pipe will do it.”
Legolas collapsed back against the cool earth. “Traveling with hobbits is most educational,” he murmured, closing his eyes.
“Do you think anyone was killed?’ asked Pippin.
“Let us hope not,” replied Aragorn. “We have already burned down their inn, and Legolas and I unfortunately fired a warehouse. This little town will never be the same.”
Pippin had been darting glances at the Ranger and the Elf, trying to understand their filthy appearances and singed hair and clothes. Now he focused on Legolas’ formerly glorious blond mane. “Is that what happened to your hair?”
The Elf nodded. “It will grow back,” he said indifferently. “I am more concerned about finding Frodo.” He was nearly buried under a torrent of questions, urgently posed in shrill hobbit voices. “Please, a moment,” Legolas requested. He coughed then continued, “We found the Ring-bearer but lost him again when his captor set fire to the warehouse in which he was held. There was no chance of trailing them in the ensuing confusion.” He paused and looked at their strained faces. Tears were starting to drip from Pippin’s eyes again, and the Elf reached out and squeezed the small shoulder reassuringly. “Do not fear,” he added. “We will find him.”
With a groan, Aragorn dragged himself to his feet. “There is a well here. We could all use some cleaning up.” So saying, he dipped the bucket into the well and hauled up the cool water. It was clear and fresh, and eagerly accepted by the small company.
They were using more of the water to wash the dirt and smoke from themselves when Merry clapped his hand to his forehead. “I almost forgot! Aragorn, we must go to the guardhouse! Gandalf and Boromir and Gimli were arrested for the fire at the inn, and the commander wants to hang them!”
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.