12. Silver Is the Color of Hope
“Come, Shadowfax,” called the wizard. “We will be able to reach Merry easier from the foot of this cliff. Hurry, the light fades.”
The stallion snorted and tossed his head. They were supposed to be chasing the crebain flock. Gandalf planted his staff firmly on the ground and placed one hand upon his hip. The two had been arguing for the better part of an hour. “Do not argue with me on this! I have already explained it to you—Merry will be of great importance during the upcoming battle.”
Shadowfax flared his nostrils. “For the last time, I am not exactly sure what his role will be. I only know that it is important!”
The silvery-white horse merely flicked his tail and stomped his forefoot: Crebain flock.
“O for the love of Mandos!” swore Gandalf, throwing up his hands in despair. “King of the Mearas, my staff! Bah! Son of the Mules I name you, stubborn beast!”
Shadowfax flattened his ears and neighed in indignation. He was most certainly not a mule, and the Istari was sorely mistaken if he believed otherwise. “Well fine then,” snapped Gandalf. “If you are so set on following the birds, by all means, go ahead—” Shadowfax whinnied victoriously and readied himself to resume their hunt. “—I, on the other hand, shall occupy myself rescuing this hobbit.” Gandalf gestured towards the cliff ledge, where Merry lay tangled below in a pine tree.
The great stallion turned and glared at the wizard. One of them had mule blood flowing in his veins, and it certainly was not Shadowfax. “Look at it this way,” reasoned the wizard as they hazardously slipped and slid down the wet mountainside, “you shall have more chances to run after we retrieve Merry. First, we must race back to Imladris, then we race back over the mountains to catch the flock… Ai, Valar.” Gandalf stopped his conversation abruptly and gazed upward at the formidable cliff face. They had reached its foot, and it appeared the wizard had sorely misjudged the cliff’s height. Merry was, in actuality, more easily reached from the top of the cliff than from its base.
Gandalf tugged at the wide brim of his hat and sniffed with embarrassment. Shadowfax let forth a neigh that sounded suspiciously oath-like. The horse turned swiftly on his hind legs, almost unseating Gandalf in the process, and furiously refused to trek back up the slick, muddy terrain. Gandalf nudged Shadowfax with his heels, yet still the horse would not budge.
The grey wizard slid off his steed’s back in resignation and, hiking up his robes, began to plod diligently up the slope. Using his staff as an anchor, Gandalf thrust it into the earth and pulled himself forward. Several sturdy trees also aided the wizard in his progress. The task became more and more difficult as the mountain grew steeper, and soon he found himself battling the combined forces of mud and gravity.
Pausing momentarily to catch his breath and readjust the shoe he nearly lost to the wet earth, Gandalf glanced back over his shoulder to see how Shadowfax was faring. The stallion actually had the audacity to lie down in a particularly muddy patch and began languidly rolling around in the muck. The wizard wondered how the horse would react if he were to suddenly turn into, say, a pig. Chuckling quietly to himself at the thought of the proud Shadowfax squealing in pig-like fury, Gandalf turned and resolutely resumed his climb.
He had almost reached the top when his feet suddenly slipped out from under him. Back down the mountainside the wizard slithered, narrowly avoiding numerous trees and boulders, and landing (much to the amusement of Shadowfax) in an undignified heap at his exact point of origin.
Gandalf struggled to his feet and attempted to wipe the cold mud from his face with the back of his hand. “Ugh,” he grunted in disgust as he examined his tangled beard. Shadowfax wiggled his ears and lips while snorting profusely. “Stop laughing at me,” Gandalf retorted. “I look no worse than you. Now come, I’ve enough of these games. We must reach the top before nightfall.” Luckily, Shadowfax felt the wizard had suffered enough, and to Gandalf’s great relief, complied with his rider’s request.
When at last the muddy duo reached the summit, dusk blanketed the Misty Mountains. Stars winked and twinkled in the darkening sky, and the chill air bit at the wizard and stallion with frosty teeth. Gandalf muttered a quiet spell, and a soft light appeared at the end of his staff. Shadowfax’s breath hung in misty puffs as he grumpily watched the wizard shuffle about the woods.
“Ah, here we are,” exclaimed Gandalf with satisfaction. With forceful tugs, the wizard began pulling down a thick vine wound tightly around a towering beech tree. Dragging the vine to the edge of the cliff, he knotted one end of it around a solid tree stump. The other end of the makeshift rope he threw over the ledge.
Giving the vine one last experimental tug, Gandalf eased himself over the cliff’s edge. “Wish me luck,” he called to Shadowfax. The stallion ignored him.
Slowly but surely the wizard made his way towards Merry. In the waning light, the hobbit was just barely visible. The wind did not help matters either; it buffeted the wizard against the cliff wall in powerful gusts. The previously wet trees and earth had begun to freeze, making already wet terrain even slicker. ‘He shall be half frozen by the time I reach him!’ thought Gandalf in alarm as the wind shoved him against a boulder for the umpteenth time. Wincing, he increased the pace of his downward descent.
In the several hours since he spotted Merry, Gandalf had not seen the hobbit move once. As he drew nearer, the severity of the hobbit’s injuries became more apparent. Judging by the angle at which he lay in the tree, Merry was most certainly suffering a broken leg and shoulder. An angry red gash marred his right temple, and his face held an unusual grey pallor.
Reaching forward and struggling for footholds, the wizard grasped the icy branches of the tree and began pulling himself towards the unconscious hobbit. The bitter scent of broken pine branches flooded his nose, and the wind caused the tree to shake unnervingly. It was a miracle Merry had landed in it at all.
“Merry,” the wizard whispered urgently. He gave the hobbit several gentle taps on the cheek, knitting his brows together as he noted the icy temperature of the other's skin. Merry’s lips had a bluish tint to them. ‘He is freezing to death,’ Gandalf thought worriedly. ‘I shall have to move him as quickly as possible.’
Grabbing the young hobbit’s unbroken arm and silently grateful Merry was not awake to feel his methods, Gandalf tugged the hobbit closer to him. Merry remained limp as a rag doll and his deadweight proved to be extremely challenging to move. Gandalf panted in exertion as he attempted to dislodge the hobbit’s foot from closely-knit pine boughs.
“That’s it… Just… a… little… more,” he grunted, roughly jerking the hobbit. At last, the tree’s branches conceded and Gandalf was able to lift Merry out by the torso. The hobbit’s head lolled as the wizard threw him over his shoulder.
“Oof, you are quite a bit heavier than you look! Steady, steady!” Gandalf tightly grasped the shouldered hobbit with one hand and the rope in the other as the wind coughed up a nasty blast of air. Unable to maintain a foothold on the icy rocks and frozen soil, Gandalf suddenly found himself swaying to and fro on a twisting vine rope.
He stuck his elbow out to shield Merry as they came in contact with the cliff wall. The elbow cracked most painfully, and the jolt of the meeting caused Merry to roll onto the wizard’s neck. “MMmmmf!” Gandalf received a mouthful of tunic and felt his hat go flying off his head. He was becoming uncomfortably aware of just how cold the night was. ‘This does not bode well,’ thought the wizard, trying to shift Merry to a more comfortable position while at the same time avoiding the wall. ‘And I was rather fond of that hat.’
He lifted his eyes in surprise as the rope began moving upward. Had they been captured? The vine continued to be hauled in, and Gandalf grimly awaited whatever fate rested atop the mountain.
Over the edge of the cliff they were brought, but the vine did not stop there. Gandalf and Merry were dragged along the ground for several meters before the wizard finally shouted “STOP!” The rope ceased moving as quickly as it had begun. Gandalf sat up and gently wrapped Merry in his cloak. He looked up just in time to see the large head of Shadowfax looming in front of him. The stallion held a piece of the rope in his teeth, and had a decidedly smug air about him. Gandalf chuckled. “I should have known it was you when we were dragged the extra distance. You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”
Shadowfax sniffed arrogantly and stretched his aching jaws. Gandalf gave the horse an appreciative pat on the flank before stooping down to gather up Merry.
They charged off into the night towards Rivendell, and Gandalf could not help but notice the definite strut in the stallion’s gait. ‘As if his ego could not get any bigger,’ the wizard thought ruefully. ‘I suppose I shall have to deflate it myself.’
* * *
A crescent-shaped harvest moon leered against a backdrop of inky blackness. The three hobbits huddled pitifully on the icy ground as raven-feathered crebain roosted for a few hours in darkened tree branches. As best Frodo could guess, they were probably close to Hollin. He had no way of knowing for sure.
“Mister Frodo,” whispered Sam through chattering teeth, “I don’t think we can go on much longer like this. Leastways, I know I can’t.” The faithful gardener glanced over at the quietly sobbing form of Pippin. “Don’t think Pip will make it either.”
The younger hobbit had been inconsolable once he had regained consciousness only to discover his cousin missing. Frodo and Sam had relayed the events as kindly as possible, but there was no real way to soften the blow of Merry’s loss. Nothing they could say would bring him back, and Pippin felt his absence more keenly than the others. “It’s my fault,” he sobbed, “He tried to grab me by the ankles because I cried out to him. If only he had run away! If only I had not begged him to save me!”
Frodo curled up tighter against his two companions in the hopes of some warmth. He felt sick and dizzy from being shuttled across the sky all day, and his many wounds stung and burned. “We’re in a nice pickle now,” Sam continued quietly, his speech sounding strangely mumbled due to the fat lip he had received, courtesy of a particularly nasty crow. “Yes we are.”
“Why don’t we just give them the Ring?” Pippin suddenly whispered, sniffling loudly.
“No!” hissed Sam. “Mister Frodo, don’t!”
Frodo sighed wearily and regarded his two faithful friends. Pippin’s eyes were red and swollen from crying, adding to his already beaten appearance. Both Sam and Pippin were covered with numerous scratches, bruises and dried blood. Frodo supposed he looked no better. “Pippin, I don’t think it would do much good. If they just wanted the Ring, they could have taken it long ago. I think they need us for something as well. What, I don’t know.”
The three remained silent for a while as each conjured up his own personal vision of what terrors lie waiting for them. “At least Merry won’t be tortured,” Pippin murmured, a sob hanging painfully on the edge of his voice and burning his throat. He swallowed and licked his lips. “Frodo?” he asked timidly.
“Do you… Do you think he felt anything? I mean, when he hit the ground?”
Frodo shivered and winced. “I don’t know, Pippin. I hope not.”
Pippin began shaking with grief and cold. “I want to go home.”
“We all do Pippin,” mumbled Sam, his lip re-splitting. “We all do. But it’s like the Gaffer always says: ‘You can sit and wish all you want, but wishing won’t get you nowhere and sitting gets you even less.’”
Frodo felt an unexpected burst of strength surge through him. He was cold, injured, starving, and quite possibly on his way to face a particularly brutal death, but he would not let his friends fall to ruin on account of him. They were going to escape. He was not sure how, but they would find a way. “We’re going to escape,” he stated, the conviction in his voice surprising even himself.
Sam and Pippin remained silent as his words sank in. “How?” ventured Pippin after a few moments. “We can’t. Unless we… unless we… Merry…” His voice broke and he softly began to cry again.
“I don’t know. But we will.”
Fifteen minutes later, the hobbits established that in order to escape, they needed weapons of some sort. Unfortunately, between the three of them, their persons contained One Ring, three gold coins, a cracked wooden button, and an oversized lump of lint.
“I don’t think there’s much we can do with this,” Sam stated ruefully.
“There must be something we can use,” insisted Frodo. He glanced at the crebain. The winged creatures were beginning to rouse themselves and would soon continue their journey. Time was running short.
“The only other thing I have is my lucky coin,” a disheartened Pippin whispered. “Though I don’t suppose it’s very lucky.”
“Your what?” asked Sam.
“My lucky coin,” repeated Pippin. “Do you remember when we had that singing contest during the summer festival a while back?”
Sam nodded. That had been the first time he noticed Rosie Cotton. She had been wearing a dress as green as… Sam pushed those thoughts aside. Rosie was far away, safe in the Shire. And he, Samwise Gamgee, had been kidnapped by crebain and was now lying in frozen mud on Valar knew what mountaintop in the middle of nowhere. Painful regret rose and swiftly washed over him. No, that was a different time. A different life. A different world.
“I was so nervous,” continued Pippin at a low whisper. “And Merry—“ he stopped and anguish stole briefly across his face. Taking a deep breath, he continued. “Bilbo told me it was a magic coin given to him by the King of the Wood-Elves and that it would bring me good luck. I won, remember? And Bilbo let me keep the coin. I’ve had it ever since.”
Reaching into his breast pocket, Pippin pulled out an extremely shiny silver coin. It was about the circumference of a large walnut and well polished. He sighed and rubbed the coin, then returned it to its pocket. “It’s not a weapon, though. Unless,” he half-laughed, half-sobbed, “we want to shine them to death.”
Sam blinked. “Birds like shiny things,” he said slowly.
Frodo felt a ripple of excitement wash over all three of them. They had, in their possession, something unexpected. Something they could use… But how?
Before any plans could be formed, they found themselves under the now-standard abuse of crebain jabs and scratches. The birds snatched the trio up with sharp talons and sped off into the gradually lightening sky.
Yet unbeknownst to the dark beasts, a glimmer of hope shone faintly within the hearts of their captives. All the hobbits needed now was a bit of luck, perhaps they had found it in the form of a single Elven coin.
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.