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A/N: Thank you to everyone who has left me a comment or review, and for those following along! That each of you have taken the time to do so means to much. Now, on with the show as we go back to where we left the others. The perils our beloved Company face are far from over. Remember, the events at the gates of Moria have caused an entire chain reaction of problems.
Day came pale from the East and Pippin jolted awake. Someone was shaking him. His eyes followed the hand on his shoulder to Frodo's haggard face. "We're to set out soon," his cousin offered apologetically, looking as exhausted as Pippin felt. Somewhere behind Frodo, he heard Sam let out a great yawn.
He stayed on his back for another moment as he came to full alertness, staring at the pale-blue sky peeping among the moving branches and trying to work up the courage to actually roll over. He get couldn't say for certain he hadn't rolled closer to the edge in the night—a thought that terrified him just as much now as it had when he'd been trying to fall asleep. He had said so a time or two…or perhaps three before the others had implored him to just be silent. Now his skin crawled with both the need to see how near he was to the edge and the utter terror of actually knowing.
Pippin might have a reputation as a bit of a climber, but this was the highest he'd ever been from the ground—a record he hoped never to repeat or surpass. He finally forced himself to look to his right and was reassured to find there was still a safe amount of room before the edge of the flet dropped away into midair. Breathing a sigh of relief, he rolled over and got to his knees, putting out a hand out to brace himself. Instantly, pain flared in his palm and fingers and a yelp escaped his mouth before he could stop it. He quickly took his weight off of the offended appendage. He'd forgotten about that.
Somewhat sheepishly, he glanced around, but other than a raised eyebrow from Boromir and one of the elves, the others paid him no heed as they gathered the meager remains of their belongings and rolled up the borrowed bedding. Frodo and Sam were far too uneasy over the height to take much notice of anything else. Rúmil must have already gone ahead of them, Pippin observed absently.
In the growing light, he brought his throbbing hands up to inspect them. He couldn't see beneath the bandages, but his fingers felt swollen and stiff. The hand he'd disturbed stung like mad. Not a good sign of how the morning was going to go, in his opinion, but he had to go down the ladder sometime—if for no other reason than to finally deal with urgent needs best taken care of behind a private tree somewhere. He shuddered. How was it everyone else managed to appear so dignified while he came across as a bumbling tween? He struggled to his feet with a groan, his entire body had stiffened and now protested at the interruption of the first real rest it had been allowed since the orcs had come upon them in Moria.
He wondered absently if Merry and Strider had been this sore—or worse, in Strider's case, when they'd set out before dawn. He chanced another look at Boromir and wasn't surprised to see the man trying to stretch out sore muscles. The man looked quite perturbed that he had to show the weakness, but Pippin was just relieved they'd all lived long enough to be sore. His hands were a minor hurt in the scheme of things.
Glancing over at Sam, he could see from his demeanor, and how he avoided Haldir, that the gardener's opinion of the elves had suffered after the revelations of the night before. He himself had never been overawed by the elves. In his mind, their refusal to see Gimli's worth because he was a dwarf was less of a fall from grace and more of a glaring and stupid prejudice. Haldir, he thought, was a bit thick anyway when it came to matters of mere mortals. The elf had acted like a few wafers of bread were a great hospitality. If not for Rivendell, he'd have thought elves ate waybread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It tasted nice enough, but hobbits needed more variety. Let him come to the Shire—perhaps he'd learn a thing or two. His thoughts stuttered to a halt as a wave of homesickness washed over him.
With Merry gone, he felt hesitant and wrong footed, and he certainly wasn't going to call attention to the fact that he was nearly helpless, at least where climbing was concerned. He wasn't proud as Merry, but even so, he'd been treated like a youngster often enough since Rivendell and, after Moria, he didn't want to give them further reason to think he should have stayed in the Shire. Slamming the door firmly shut on that train of thought, he gave a decisive nod. Boromir certainly wouldn't be asking to have his wounds looked at again, so neither would he-and, anyway, nothing would change the fact that he still had to go down that ladder in a few minutes.
No one tried to make conversation as he waited for his turn down the ladder. Pippin supposed he was relieved. He wasn't in the mood for small talk anyway. Instead, he looked through an opening on the south side of the flet. Beyond, he saw all the valley of the Silverlode lying like a sea of fallow gold tossing gently in the breeze. That was where they were going. He swallowed hard. For all its beauty, the Golden Wood only reminded him how very far he was from the Shire.
As Sam began his descent, Pippin forced himself to open and close his hands. He winced as he felt the newly formed scabs break open and weep, but he was grateful for the light bandaging—it would help with the pain of trying to hang on to the rope. Still, if they didn't loosen up a bit, he didn't know how he would make it down the ladder. He would have thought a night of healing would have done his hands good, but, if anything, they felt worse than before. The night had only served to make them swollen and inflamed.
When Sam had gone down far enough, Pippin sat down and took a deep breath before positioning his feet on the rungs and climbing gingerly over onto the ladder. It jerked slightly and swayed both with his weight, and with Sam and Frodo's movements below. He froze, clenching his eyes shut as his heart sped up in terror. For a few moments, it was all he could do to cling to the ladder, weak kneed and trembling, his hands stinging painfully.
"Come on, then, Pippin!" Boromir's voice wafted impatiently from below, and Pippin came to himself again. Of course it looked odd that he hadn't moved. The man's words had not been unkind, but Pippin found he could neither move nor speak and belatedly realized that none of the others knew of his close call the night before. If only Merry were here, he would know just want to say, he lamented to himself before giving himself a firm shake, muttering, "Pull yourself together, Peregrin Took."
Forcing himself to breathe in and out, he clung to the ladder, trying to convince himself he couldn't fall when he began his descent. He could feel the rung under his feet. He wasn't going anywhere. Determination overcame terror, and some of the pain, though not as quickly as Pippin would have preferred. He made his move slowly, making sure to keep his arm crooked over each rung as he went, never moving until he made sure he had a firm foothold and handhold, terrified his clumsy hands would slip and drop him to his death. "Sterner stuff, Pippin. Sterner stuff."
When he at last reached the bottom without incident, he staggered backward off the ladder, stumbling a bit as he misjudged the distance. He looked up to see Frodo eyeing him critically, his face pale, with smudges of exhaustion under his bloodshot eyes. His cousin's eyes narrowed as Pippin shakily regained his footing, and he knew the exact moment Frodo finally noticed his hands because his cousin paled a bit and looked back and forth between the flet, now hidden in the treetops, and Pippin's bandaged hands, only now realizing the danger Pippin had been in as he'd climbed down.
"Are you alright, Pippin?" The strain in Frodo's voice did not go un-noticed. He stepped closer to him with an expression Pippin had seen many times before-one that plainly said he thought Pippin had just done something very, very stupid, but that he was too relieved to scold him. Sam picked up on this almost instantly.
As the attention was turned to him, Pippin flashed his most cheerful smile and lowered his hands with a shrug. "Just a bit of rope burn from last night." He was certain the trip back down the ladder had undone any healing that had taken place the night before.
"You didn't have any run-ins with those nasty orcs, did you, Pippin?" Sam asked, the older hobbit's eyes looking him over from head to toe.
"I promise, those orcs never even got close to us," Pippin hastened to reassure him before the attention of the others was also drawn to his shortcomings. That it depended on a person's interpretation of close, he wisely did not add. He felt a burst of triumph and relief as the look of guilt eased from Frodo's face. Pippin hoped he wasn't imagining that his cousin stood a bit taller. It was Sam who fixed him with a hard look, but Pippin couldn't be bothered to care. Frodo had enough burdens. He would manage just fine now that they were on the ground.
The morning was still young and cold as Haldir guided them southward. They went back to the path that still went on along the west side of the Silverlode, and for some way they followed it southward. As their distance from the others increased, their steps became heavier, despite the wood's pleasantness.
Pippin felt he might have found some pleasure in the walk had his heart not been so heavy and had his hands not become more painful the deeper into the wood they went. After the ladder, they'd begun to throb and now felt even more stiff and swollen, but he knew he wasn't the only one suffering. He didn't miss the lines of weariness in the others' faces, or the occasional grimace from Boromir, who was walking behind him. Having had his share of mishaps, he knew from experience that climbing with fresh stitches was extremely painful, but the man didn't seem too worse for wear. At first, Boromir had fallen in step with Haldir, discussing their path—and wargs, of all things. Pippin didn't want to think about those, but eventually the man had taken up the rear, and since the other elf didn't speak Westron, they'd fallen silent.
The great stones of the road grew fewer the farther south they hiked, though one occasionally appeared just in time to be stumbled over. Poor Sam had stubbed his big toe more than once and had settled into a quiet grouchiness.
Frodo hovered on his right-he had apparently forgiven, but not forgotten, his and Merry's mad plan from the night before. Retrospectively, he and Merry had probably scared several years off his life. He didn't regret it, exactly, but he wished he would have spared Frodo the fright. He knew his cousin felt responsible for keeping them all safe, and he knew Frodo wasn't willing to lose anyone else he cared about, even if it meant risking himself.
They had not gone far when they found prints of orc-feet in the earth, rekindling their worry for Legolas and Gimli. No one said much after that, not even to comment on the tranquil beauty surrounding them, each keeping his own worries.
All Pippin could think about was the last time he'd seen the elf-faltering in the dusk, yet trying to be strong. Legolas, who seemed to match him in temperament with pranks and merry jokes, who had seemed to understand him, yet had had such grief and sadness in him. Pippin had seen it early on, in the quiet of the night when the elf would stand apart from them—and when Gandalf fell, it was as if the elf's mask had shattered. Pippin shuddered and pulled his coat tighter. Besides Merry, he suspected only Legolas had seen his love of good cheer as anything other than a young hobbit-like exuberance. Even Frodo and Sam tended to forget he'd done his own share of careful plotting to get them all out of the Shire—it hadn't all been Merry's doing.
His heart sped up with the knowledge that whatever had happened the night before could not now be undone. Their companions could be dead, but he refused to let himself think on that for long. He took comfort in the uncertainty. With nothing confirmed, he could choose to believe Legolas and Gimli were alive and well, and that Aragorn and Merry were no longer in any danger.
Soon Haldir turned aside into the trees and halted on the bank of the river under their shadows. It didn't take a genius to deduce that the elf meant to lead them across it. Pippin felt a prickle of unease as he watched the swift water carry away the golden leaves that fell into it from the great tree limbs that overhung the water.
The marchwarden waited until they'd all gathered near before he spoke, "There is one of my people yonder across the stream," he said, "though you may not yet see him." He gave a call like the low whistle of a bird, and out of a thicket of young trees Pippin saw an Elf step forward, clad in grey, but with his hood thrown back; his hair glinted like gold in the morning sun. As the hobbits and Boromir watched, Haldir produced a grey rope and skillfully cast it over the stream, and he caught it and bound the end about a tree near the bank.
"Celebrant is already a strong stream here," said Haldir, and Pippin rather thought he was stating the obvious. He turned slightly, expecting a sarcastic remark from Merry before he remembered the hobbit was miles away. Giving himself a shake, he forced himself to listen.
"And it runs both swift and deep, and is very cold. We do not set foot in it so far north, unless we must. But in these days of watchfulness, we do not make bridges. This is how we cross! Follow me! He made his end of the rope fast about another tree, and then ran lightly along it, over the river and back again, as if he were on a road.
Pippin was not the only one staring, mouth agape. Sam looked horrified, and Frodo pale, but Haldir didn't seem to notice. The elf just stood in front of in front of them with his arms crossed, looking very satisfied with himself as he waited for them to say something. Surely the elf didn't expect them all to prance right across.
"Come on, Pip," he chided himself under his breath, "Where's your sense of adventure?" The water didn't scare him so much, nor did the prospective balancing act—he was very unhobbit like in that way, but there was no room for error here, and it made him nervous. He wouldn't stumble harmlessly into a straw hill, or splash into a shallow pond.
It was Boromir who finally broke their incredulous silence. He cleared his throat and seemed to be at a loss for words for a moment before he finally declared briskly, "We are no elves to walk this path—are we to swim across?" Sam gave an audible sigh of relief. The man had tried—and failed—to sound diplomatic, and Pippin found himself suddenly feeling very, very fond of the man and his abrasive manner.
"No!" said Haldir, somewhat sheepishly, "We have two more ropes. We will fasten them above the other, one shoulder-high, and another half-high, and holding these you should be able to cross with care."
Only when this slender bridge had been made did the others relax, though the extra ropes did not solve all of Pippin's worries, and he anxiously tried and failed to flex his fingers closed. The Company passed over, some cautiously and slowly, others more easily. Sam shuffled along in a manner that would have been comical in a less perilous situation, clutching hard, and looking down into the pale eddying water as if it was a chasm in the mountains. Pippin could hear his relief when he was safely across. "Live and learn! As my gaffer used to say. Though he was thinking of gardening, not of roosting like a bird, nor of trying to walk like a spider. Not even my uncle Andy ever did a trick like that!"
Frodo went next, turning to Pippin before he went and grasping him by his upper arms. "You can manage, right?"
"I've the best balance in Westfarthing, and you know it," Pippin retorted with a calculated preen, "I'm practically famous."
Frodo gave huff of fond exasperation. "As I recall, Pervinca has bested you for two years running."
Pippin's laugh was genuine. It felt good to feel real humor. "That's only because she blackmailed me," he returned, lowering his voice as he let Frodo in on the conspiracy.
"Just promise me you'll be careful, Pip."
"I always am."
His cousin raised an eyebrow severely in return, but did not challenge him further, making it to the other side with ease. Boromir followed, also without mishap, and then it was Pippin's turn. The elf who had been accompanying Haldir remained on the western bank behind him.
He could do this, he decided, resisting the urge to glance downward. After all, his balance had always been quite good, and he had won a quite lot of dares, beyond even those Frodo knew about. There was nothing wrong with his balance, only his hands. He just needed to convince his mind that he didn't need the hand hold. Besides, if he went across like Sam, grasping at the makeshift hand rail for dear life, he was sure he would slip or get stuck.
At first, everything was fine, and he walked quickly and surely, only trailing his right hand lightly to keep his balance. The key was to go at a brisk, steady pace. Too slow, and he'd start wobbling. He was glad to finally show his worth-that he didn't come in last and youngest in everything.
The Silverlode rushed beneath his feet, no longer the merry gurgling stream it had been closer to Moria. This far south, it had indeed picked up both depth and speed, rushing along beneath him. He swallowed hard. The sounds below him reminded him far too much of the sounds he'd heard in the depths of the chasm he'd been forced to leap over in Moria. He pushed away the thought. This was nothing like that—this was familiar. He'd done this before, even if it hadn't been over a river.
Pippin was nearing the eastern bank when the wind picked up a bit, gusting warmly from the South with a scent of rain. It was hardly noticeable to the others on land, sheltered as they were by the trees. A downpour of golden leaves rained down from the treetops as the gust strengthened, upsetting Pippin's balance.
He wavered and flailed only slightly at first, wheeling his left arm in an effort to stay upright while he instinctively grabbed for the makeshift hand rail with his right hand. At any other time, he would have instantly regained his balance, and perhaps been accused by his friends of a poorly timed joke, but despite straining painfully for a tight grip, his hand couldn't close around the thin rope enough to hold his weight. Tamping down his panic, he hastened his pace, gaining a few more steps as his body continued to waver, and then there was only air beneath him, and he was falling, dropping like a stone into the water below.
The icy mountain water knifed through him, stealing his breath as it closed over his head. It was even colder than he could have guessed. He panicked for a moment, and had the shock of the water not paralyzed his lungs, he might have forgotten to hold his breath. To his surprise, his feet scraped at the river rocks on the bottom. Frantically, he shoved off, his lungs screaming for air as the current resisted him. A long few seconds later, his head surfaced and he gasped and sputtered frantically, breaking free to the frantic cries of his companions, muffled by the rush of the water. They already sounded farther away.
He tried to call to them, but could only cough and wheeze before the current pulled him under again, and he instead inhaled the river water. Kicking himself up to the surface again, he sputtered and gulped in the air as soon as his head broke the surface. He couldn't see the others, but he could hear them. What if they couldn't reach him? He could be swept all the way to the Great River—he would drown for certain then. He had to get to shore. Struggling not to panic, he tried to swim to the side, but he was powerless against the pull of the river.
The next time he went under, he tried his best to propel himself toward shore, but the current was so strong. If anything, it felt like it was pushing him farther from the bank. He glimpsed the others running frantically along the river's edge before the water closed over him again. It took even longer to surface this time—was the water getting deeper? Frodo and Sam were at a dead run and still trailed far behind the others. He knew they were as powerless as he was.
Pippin could no longer feel his feet, though he kicked anyway, struggling to stay above the water. He could still see his kin to his left. His eyes locked on Frodo's ashen face and his stomach clenched in guilt as he heard the anguished calling of his name. The water closed over him again, but the panic he had been fighting against was slowly being replaced by resignation. He didn't see a way out, but neither did he want his cousin to watch him drown. Everyone knew the story of Drogo and Primula. If he was to drown, why did it have to be with Frodo watching?
He pushed himself upward again. He sank. He broke free again and gulped in the air. He sank again. Over and over the river pushed him under until he could neither see nor hear the others. Was the river too swift for them to keep up? He could no longer feel his knees working, and dimly, he thought he should be worried about that, though he couldn't recall why. It took even longer to resurface now, but he felt strangely calm.
He was just considering how the river must be growing warmer as it flowed further south when his head came up again and he was swept right into something solid. He flinched, expecting to be dashed against a rock, but suddenly, there were arms wrapped around his body, though he could barely feel them. He started to sink again, but something held him fast. Blinking, he looked up into the piercing gaze of Haldir. The elf stood easily-he seemed hardly bothered by the current flowing over his shoulders. The elf's expression in that moment so closely matched a look he'd seen many times on Legolas' face that, for a moment, Pippin dimly wondered if it was instead Legolas who had caught him. But that couldn't be possible. He blinked to look again, but his eyes weren't cooperating. Everything was so gray, and he was starting to feel very strange. There were more calls and shouts. Something struck his cheek, but he knew no more.
Pervinca is Pippin's older sister by five years.
If you are a stickler for the geography in the book, read on. If you don't really care about canon geography as long as what you just read made sense, you may wish to skip this extremely winded explanation: Tolkien's map of Middle Earth shows the Celebrant (Silverlode) running west-east, dividing Lothlórien, but Tolkien writes the Company stayed on the West side and crossed to the east, which means the Silverlode/Celebrant would be running Southeast into Lothlórien. The party with Legolas is already on the other side of the Silverlode, so I'm assuming they would have no need to cross the Celebrant like the others do in the book. So in your mind, ditch the map and picture a stream flowing southeast from the Misty Mountains. The Nimrodel comes from the west and flows into it, at the edge of the Golden Wood, merging to become the Celebrant, which continues southeastward into the Great River. I think this is what Tolkien was describing, but I have no idea why his map doesn't seem to match up with his writing. I was very confused when I tried to use it to follow along with that part of the book.
Thank you all for following along so patiently. I hope this chapter didn't seem too disconnected from the rest of the story, but PJL was never just about Legolas.
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