Pippin's lids seemed burdened by a heavy weight as he gazed into the dazzling fire. He felt as if he were in a dream with his head lolling periodically to his breast and dream-images appearing before his half-closed eyes. His limbs ached and he was cold in spite of the golden flames that now seemed too bright. The chill wind seemed to find its way even through his woollen cloak and blanket, and the small fire they had built did not help to ease the chilly waves that shook his weary body.
Pippin felt a cold hand on his waist as Merry pulled him closer and he eagerly huddled against his cousin's arm dragging Frodo, whose head was resting heavily on Pippin's left shoulder with him. To the young Took's utter disappointment the new won warmth was stolen away as quickly as it had been gained by another gust of chill wind. His sigh of relief turned into a moan of frustration that matched the low, distressing moans and sighs of the tree-tops above them. It was a sound that made even his cheerful heart gloomy and miserable and, at the moment he felt too tired to fight the melancholy. All he wanted was some rest, some sleep in a warm, soft bed with a thick blanket - no, two
thick blankets - a warm fire crackling in the hearth of his room at Great Smials, and a steaming cup of tea.
He had almost managed to smell the comforting odour of chamomile, feel the weight of many blankets on his chest, and hear the crackling of the fire, when another gust of wind got entangled in his curls and sent icy shivers down his spine. Pippin jumped awake blinking as he tried to focus on the gnarled tree-roots that hung over the shallow pit in which they were resting. Shadows danced before his tired eyes and he wearily shook them away.
"Pippin?" his cousin whispered voicelessly and the young hobbit turned his head to meet Frodo's confused gaze. His elder cousin looked more tired than ever and his eyes were not as clear as they used to be. It seemed to Pippin that a shadow had been laid upon them and that the spark of the life they held was concealed.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, slightly confused himself, though he now realised that it had been Frodo's head resting on his chest rather than warm layers of blankets and that his movement had wakened him. He put a tired arm around his cousin's shoulder and pulled him close again, allowing him to rest his head on his legs. "Go back to sleep and rest while you can," he whispered though his own words belied him. Frodo had not rested in a long while and he looked more tired with every day that passed.
Frodo did not protest when Pippin guided his head to rest upon his lap and his eyes closed even before he touched the ground. There he curled into a tight ball to get as warm as he could, but he kept shivering violently.
Pity and love welled up inside Pippin and he flung both arms around his cousin clutching Frodo's cloak with his left arm as if his life depended on it. Frodo, who had once allowed him to see his very heart, was now locking him out. He would not even bother Sam with his feelings; though Sam, if no other, was determined to take care of everything concerning his master - he and Merry would never live up to the gardener's standards and neither would Strider. The latter tried his best to ease Frodo's discomfort, but he could do almost nothing for him. Frodo kept saying he was all right, but Pippin, like everyone else, knew better. He was in great pain, Pippin could tell from the look in his eyes and the way his eyebrows narrowed when Bill would take a jolting step. Frodo had not found any rest since that dreadful evening on Weathertop. Even when he slept, his dreams did not give him peace and he kept tossing and turning all night. Pippin shuddered, thinking of what Frodo's dreams might be and found himself looking fearfully out of the pit, expecting to see a shadow or some sign of the enemy, but seeing and feeling nothing of their threatening presence.
Beside him Merry stirred, huddling his blanket closer and leaning heavily against a rock on his right. For a moment Pippin was tempted to follow his cousin and huddle close beside him drawing in his warmth but he did not want to disturb Frodo again. He looked at the dear face, pale even in the golden light of the fire, and brushed a stray strand of hair back from its brow, sorrowfully watching his brow crease in pain and the fingers of his right hand twitch. His left arm remained still, almost lifeless. Carefully Pippin placed his own hand on it. It was icy cold. He gasped and pulled Frodo's cloak over it, rubbing it slightly in hopes of getting it warm again, when suddenly another pair of hands was on his.
Pippin looked up to see Sam gazing down at his master. "'tis always cold since Weathertop, no matter what I do," he said in a low whisper. "It's almost as if those wraiths had taken all the warmth from it."
Pippin nodded. He had noticed the chillness of Frodo's left arm before but he always blamed it on the wind and the unfavourable weather. Now that he thought about it, he realised that Sam was right. Though Frodo's wound had healed well already, his left arm remained cold and the pain it caused him seemed to grow every day.
Clutching Frodo's cloak tighter, Pippin lowered his gaze unable to conceal his concern and worry any longer. His eyes rested on Frodo's face watching the shadows of the firelight paint their playful images on his pale skin. To his distress he noticed a thin layer of sweat on his cousin's forehead and his heart ached even more at the sight of it. Painfully, he remembered the words Strider had spoken only this evening.
"Frodo has been touched by the weapons of the Enemy and there is some poison or evil at work that is beyond my skill to drive out."
"Do you think he has been poisoned?" he asked, his voice sounding broken and thin even to his ears and yet he hoped Sam would not notice.
"I don't know," Sam answered quietly and his voice, too, was full of concern. Though Pippin did not lift his head to look at him he knew Sam was watching Frodo's face as intently as he was. Sam had grown to love Frodo just as Pippin had loved him for all his life.
Beside Merry, Frodo was his closest friend and Pippin now realised that he had followed Frodo not only because of their friendship and relation but also because of genuine love that had bound them together since the earliest days of his childhood. He understood that he had left with Frodo because he would not have been able to stay without him. Frodo had been there for him all his life. He had dried his tears when his sisters had been mean to him and had chastised the girls much to Pippin's satisfaction. Frodo had stuck to him though he had caused more mischief than even a Took should have been capable of, and had soothed Paladin and Eglantine's wrath upon occasions that Pippin would have more deserved to face it. Frodo had taught him how to catch frogs, told him great tales and had taken him on adventures to the most stunning places in the Shire - hills and lakes - where Pippin had collected the most gorgeous stones. How could he have stayed at home knowing that Frodo was in danger? How could he have let him face trouble alone and still call himself 'friend'? Friends, after all, had to be there for one another, had to lend a shoulder to lean onto when things were dire, and they had to be each other's strength when their own powers failed them.
But what should he do if Frodo's strength failed him now? What if he could not help him?
Pippin felt Sam's hand on his shoulder giving it a compassionate squeeze. "Don't you worry, Master Pippin, your cousin is made of stern stuff and will be strong enough to fight whatever evil is at work here."
"I know." Pippin managed a wry smile. His dear cousin's stubborn nature could keep him calm through the most gruelling trials, but the youngster could not conceal his own fears. The compassion he saw in Sam's eyes almost made him want to weep but he gathered himself and gave Sam a thankful nod. Their love for Frodo bound them not only to him but to each other as well and he knew Sam felt the same as he did.
A shiver ran through him and Pippin was suddenly aware of how tired and cold he was. Sam noticed it too and suggested he get some sleep.
"I will look after him," he promised, his eyes on Frodo's face.
Seeing Sam like that made Pippin smile, despite his fears, his weariness, and the cold. Sam took care of Frodo as if he had never done anything else and Pippin was glad to have him along. Alone he might not have been able to cope, but together with Sam and Merry, he could give Frodo the strength he needed to fight the evil that had taken hold of him. Laying his hand on Sam's shoulder, Pippin returned the gardener's earlier compassionate squeeze. "Thank you, Sam," he whispered as he looked deeply into the other's eyes. "I know Gandalf bade you come with Frodo, but you could still have stayed in the Shire. I know you miss your home, but I'm glad you're with us."
Even in the dim firelight Pippin could see Sam's blush. The hobbit fumbled awkwardly with his cuffs and bashfully lowered his eyes, mumbling some incoherent words. Pippin could not help smiling a little. "I mean it, Sam," the tween repeated honestly.
Sam, though still red as an overripe tomato, finally lifted his head again and met Pippin's gaze. No trace of abashment remained in the gardener's dark eyes and Pippin was almost astounded at the loyalty, honesty and love that greeted him instead. If he had not been convinced before, he certainly was now. Sam would follow Frodo anywhere, just as he and Merry would. He would have gone with him even if Gandalf had not asked. Sam, as if to prove Pippin's newly won conviction suddenly opened his mouth to speak and for a moment Pippin doubted that he had ever known Frodo's faithful servant, for his words held more truth in them than Pippin would ever have imagined.
"It's not only that, Mister Pippin. He's like that and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but at his side. Besides, there is this feeling," he paused for a moment as if pondering the words he was uttering, "I have something to do before the end and though I don't understand it yet I know I have to be with him."
Pippin gaped at him for some moments until Frodo moaned in his sleep again. Casting a quick glance at his cousin and assuring himself Frodo was all right, Pippin shook his head and leaned against a rock behind him. "Samwise Gamgee, I think you're going to surprise me a great many times during this journey."
Sam did not answer. He checked Frodo's left hand yet another time and snuggled into his own blanket. The last thing Pippin saw before his eyes finally gave up the fight against his heavy lids was Strider who had returned from exploring the surroundings.
* The Lord of the Rings - Flight to the Ford
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