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While the Ring Went South...: 21. January 11, 3019 (Night)
Pippin stared at the path ahead of him—or rather what little he could see of it in the cloudy night—and tried to decide whether or not the trail was actually weaving back and forth or if it was just him. When he felt Merry seize his arm and steady him, he had his answer. With a sigh, Pippin squeezed his eyes shut and tried to get his headache to subside. He didn’t want to admit it, but he wasn’t sure if he could keep going.
The beginning of the hike had been fine, and Pippin had been justifiably proud of himself. The Fellowship had started off at a good pace, and though they climbed steadily up a series of switchbacks, Pippin had endured no unusual hardships. Merry had been right beside him, of course, in case aught should happen, but Pippin had forged ahead with almost no help from his friend. That had lasted for an hour or so. After that, the beginnings of a pounding headache had started. At first, the throbbing pain was something that could be ignored with effort. But after another hour or two, Pippin’s vision would blur and double. He found himself swaying from side to side or misplacing his feet. Merry started reaching over and righting Pippin more and more often. The pace of the Fellowship slowed significantly, and though Pippin knew they now walked a very treacherous path, he couldn’t help but assume some of the guilt.
"Steady," Merry whispered in his ear. "Steady here. You don’t want to trip. Not after climbing that last switchback, because then you’ll just have to climb it all over again."
Merry’s attempts at levity were noted and appreciated, but Pippin just couldn’t find it within himself to give any reply in kind. He merely nodded and struggled forward, not missing the flash of concern in Merry’s eyes and very conscious that a hand was still gripping his arm. Normally he might have protested, but given his headache and his dizziness, he seriously doubted that he could maintain his balance without Merry’s assistance. The idea was rather galling, but fortunately for Pippin, his pride was not too stubborn to recognize that help was needed.
"The night grows steadily darker," someone murmured behind him. "The trail becomes more difficult to see." It took Pippin a moment to recognize Gimli’s gruff voice, but when he did figure out who was speaking, he mentally thanked the dwarf. Pippin had thought the increasing darkness was just another trick of his vision. It was good to know that not everything was going wrong. At least, not yet.
"Gandalf’s eyes are keen. He will not lead us astray," another voice—probably Aragorn, but Pippin wasn’t sure—answered.
"I said not so, nor do I have concerns in that area. Rather, I fear for the hobbits and the pony. Even now, Pippin is stumbling. If we are forced to scramble over more rock piles as we did a mile ago, then I fear not all of us shall be able to hazard it."
"We cannot leave any behind," Aragorn said. "Not in these lands."
"Then we shall have to find more light. But these clouds do not seem eager to part. And in my opinion, they are far too dark. A storm is coming, Aragorn."
Pippin hastily shifted his mind to the trail ahead, hoping he wouldn’t hear anything else from the back. A storm was the last thing they needed. Things were bad enough already. "Merry, let’s get ahead of Sam and Frodo," Pippin said, hoping this would prevent further eavesdropping on his part and so save his ignorant bliss.
"What’s wrong with walking back here?" Merry asked, concern etched in his dark brown eyes.
"I’ve got Bill walking right in front of me," Pippin said, calling into practice many notorious years of creating spontaneous alibis and excuses. "And while I can normally avoid any presents he drops, we are currently on a rather narrow trail here, if you take my meaning."
"Ah. Yes, I see your point. Right then, let’s go," Merry said. "But we go carefully! The trail is still shrinking in width."
"When am I not careful?" Pippin asked innocently, hoping to bolster both his spirits and Merry’s with forced humor.
Ahead of them, both Frodo started to laugh while Sam turned and shot them a rather incredulous stare. "When are you not careful?" Frodo asked with a grin. "Do you really wish me to answer that, Pippin, or were you asking in jest?"
"You clearly don’t understand just how cautious we Tooks are," Pippin said, wincing as his headache grew larger now that he and Merry were traveling slightly faster. He tried to inject a note of bravado into his voice, but his spirits were falling again and he wondered just how long he could keep going before toppling over.
"Clearly not," Frodo said with a shake of his head. "And apparently, the rest of Middle Earth is also in the dark Caution?" The Ring-bearer chuckled. "The day I see a cautious Took will be the day that the Bolgers decide to take off on an adventure."
"You’re one to talk," Pippin muttered. "I think you get most of your caution from your mother."
"Brandybucks are respectable, cautious hobbits," Merry protested. "And Frodo’s mother was living proof of that."
"Respectable?" Sam exclaimed. "How can you claim to be respectable hobbits, what with fooling around in those boats and playing with who-knows-what in the Old Forest. Respectable hobbits? Mr. Merry, I think you’ve been out in this cold too long. The Brandybucks are some of the strangest folk in all the Shire. Meaning no offense to you, Mr. Frodo," the gardener added hastily. "You’re a Baggins, after all, sir."
By now, Pippin and Merry had managed to get in front of Frodo and Sam, which also meant that they could return to their normal speed. Pippin was intensely grateful for this because he was beginning to feel sick to his stomach. The change in pace seemed to help this particular problem, but his headache still persisted.
"There’s nothing wrong with boats," Merry said in response to Sam. "They are a very useful means of transportation. I’d actually rather take a boat than a pony, if given the choice. You can relax and sit back in a boat. That’s not true about riding a pony. In fact…" The hobbit trailed off and paused, making Pippin stop as well. Behind them, Frodo and Sam were force to come to a halt. Wondering at the cause of the delay, Pippin turned his pounding head to ask Merry about what was happening, but he stopped as a sudden rush of cold air brushed against his cheek. A soft moaning sound echoed from the deep chasm on their right, and it was answered by sighs and whispers from the heights to their left.
"The wind is picking up," Frodo said quietly.
Behind Bill, Aragorn moved forward and closed his eyes as the growing breeze began to tease his hair. Deciding that this was probably a bad sign and that the Ranger sensed something ill in their surroundings, Pippin shivered and felt yet another rush of cold air go by. Ahead of them, Gandalf stopped and turned, sensing that he was no longer being followed. "For what are we waiting?" the wizard asked.
"We are listening to the wind," Aragorn answered on behalf of the hobbits, now moving past them to join Gandalf at the head of the party. "I believe it speaks of snow."
"Wonderful," Merry groaned. "I thought the wind was bad enough, but now we are talking about snow. Can things get worse?"
"Merry, if I have learned one thing from all my journeys, it is to never ask whether or not things can get worse," the Ranger replied. "They always can, and if you ask, they always will."
"That’s optimism for you," Sam grumbled.
"Optimism or not, it is true," Aragorn said with something akin to a shrug. "Come. We must continue."
"Do you feel up to this, Pippin?" Merry asked quietly.
Trying to ignore his friend’s scrutiny, Pippin sighed, nodded, and then started out after Aragorn and Gandalf. Merry was quick to follow, keeping a tight hold on Pippin’s arm should he stumble or trip. For a minute or two they continued in silence, and then Frodo spoke up, his voice soft and scarce to be heard above the steadily rising wind.
* * * *
Trying to rid himself of the clinging snow, Legolas ducked his head and shook himself slightly. While the storm was not completely unexpected—clouds had been shadowing the mountains for several days—the way it was rapidly increasing in ferocity was rather surprising. Legolas had seen winter storms before. They were quite common in the High Pass as early as November, and Legolas had been caught in a few of them. And they were certainly frightening to behold, for their speed, strength, and chill could all be deadly enemies. But something about this particular storm struck Legolas as rather odd. For one thing, they were too far south for a storm of this magnitude to hit them so low on the mountain. Another problem was that this storm had almost materialized out of nowhere. The wind had risen for only a few moments before the flakes started to fall, and they had only fallen for perhaps five minutes before visibility became hindered. It was starting too quickly for Legolas’s comfort, and he wondered if there might not be more to this storm than a simple winter squall.
Ahead of him, Boromir’s toiling form had become greatly obscured by falling snow, and Legolas could barely see Gimli beyond that. He thought he might be able to decipher the outline of Bill, but anyone ahead of the dwarf was little more than a guess in the dark. Still, if Gimli’s struggles were any judge, then the hobbits would not be faring well. The wind continued to howl around them, the flakes fell faster and faster, and the trail that had previously been clear as far as Legolas’s eyes could see was now covered with ankle-deep snow.
"I don’t like this at all," someone near the front of the party said. Legolas couldn’t tell who was speaking for the voices were too faint and the wind too strong, but he guessed it to be one of the hobbits. "Snow’s all right on a fine morning, but I like to be in bed while it’s falling. I wish this lot would go off to Hobbiton! Folk might welcome it there."
Definitely a hobbit, Legolas thought, but the spoken complaint made him pause. While contemplating the potential trials of his companions, he had thought primarily of the uphill climb and the struggle against the wind. But now that he considered the idea further, he realized that his mortal comrades would quickly suffer from much more. As an elf, Legolas was not particularly mindful of the cold until it became very bitter or until he became soaked to the skin in an icy river, such as had happened earlier. Since neither was the case in the current situation, Legolas had not been paying much attention to the drop in degrees except as far as it might be useful for predicting a storm. But he now realized that the temperatures had probably become dangerous for mortals, especially if those mortals were tired and travel-worn. And the building snow on the ground could prove to be a further hindrance. Legolas noted with despair that Boromir and Gimli both were wading through the growing drifts with increasing levels of difficulty, and at this point, the elf began to doubt for the first time as to whether or not they would make it over the mountain.
How must the hobbits be doing? he questioned, wishing he could see better in the cloud of flying white. But sight was becoming next to impossible, and even Gimli was fading from view. Normally this would have been a source of great joy for the elf, for any time he could put the dwarf from sight and mind was a time for celebration. But at the moment, Gimli was his best guess as to the trials of the hobbits, and if he couldn’t see the dwarf, he had no way to measure how those smaller than Gimli were doing. But then, perhaps the dwarf is not the best guide after all, Legolas reconsidered. Gimli had shown himself to be possessed of immeasurable fortitude and endurance when he had been trapped with the elf and Pippin in the ravine. It was a very strange thing, but Legolas found he was coming to have a grudging respect for the bearded creature. Not that he would ever admit to such respect. But Gimli was…Gimli was something unexpected, flying in the face of many of the elf’s preconceived notions of dwarves. And anything unexpected was a source of great curiosity for any elf. Even young elves like Legolas had seen so many years in Arda that surprises were rare gifts, and much to the prince’s chagrin, Gimli was turning into one of those rare gifts.
Caught up in wondering just how a dwarf had come to be so fascinating for him, Legolas almost walked right into the back of Boromir. Of course, it didn’t help that he could barely see Boromir, but the lapse in concentration still grated harshly against the elf’s pride. Fortunately, the flying snow prevented anyone else from noting his faux pas, and after a quick mental scolding, Legolas was back on track.
Gandalf had stopped, the snow now piling on top of his hat, and the rest of the Fellowship had bunched around him, the hobbits huddling together for protection. Glancing up into the storm, the wizard shaded eyes with his hand and tried to find the heights. Legolas followed his gaze, and though he could not see as far as was his wont, he could discern enough to know that the snow was not stopping in the near future.
"This is what I feared," Gandalf sighed, his eyes traveling over the bedraggled Fellowship before stopping on the Ranger who stood next to him. "What do you say now, Aragorn?"
"That I feared it, too, but less than other things. I knew the risk of snow, though it seldom falls heavily so far south, save high up in the mountains. But we are not high yet; we are still far down, where the paths are usually open all the winter."
Legolas grimaced, not at all pleased that his earlier observations had been validated and confirmed by Aragorn. It was one thing to suspect that this storm was unnatural. It was another thing to have a trusted friend voice the same opinion. But what was this about fearing snow less than other things? I did not sense that spies were following us too closely, Legolas pondered, thinking over the last few days. Perhaps this has somewhat to do with the private conversation that Aragorn and Gandalf had earlier today. Perhaps I should have listened to it after all.
"I wonder if this is a contrivance of the Enemy," Boromir suddenly spoke up, his voice shaking slightly with cold. "They say in my land that he can govern the storms in the Mountains of Shadow that stand upon the borders of Mordor. He has strange powers and many allies."
"His arm has grown long indeed if he can draw snow down from the North to trouble us here three hundred leagues away," Gimli answered, apparently skeptical. Much to his surprise, Legolas found himself in agreement with the dwarf. This was not a natural storm, that much was certain. But as for being from Sauron… The elf shook his head. Perhaps when Sauron had still been in Dol Guldur such a thing could be possible, but surely he could not reach them from Mordor.
"His arm has grown long," Gandalf said with a weary sigh, throwing doubts on Legolas’s thoughts.
"Are we turning back?" Merry asked, and there was a definite note of hope in the hobbit’s voice.
"Let us wait a moment and see if we are granted a reprieve," Aragorn counseled, speaking up before Gandalf could say aught. "Mayhap the storm will cease its fury and we shall be able to continue."
"Even if it does stop, my feet are frozen," Pippin muttered, wrapping his cloak firmly around his body. "The snow isn’t all going to melt away from the path just because the storm comes to a halt."
"Patience," Gandalf advised. "Let us see what fates brings."
Legolas was of the opinion that fate was not going to bring them anything good in the near future, but as they continued to stand there, only speaking occasionally, the wind began to die down. Frowning, Legolas studied the clouds overhead and wondered at this shift in the weather. Even the snow was beginning to lighten, though it certainly did not stop snowing completely. But judging from the clouds, there was still much more to come. Why this sudden change?
"It seems that fortune is a kind mistress today," Boromir said quietly, but he sounded just as suspicious as Legolas felt.
"I wonder," Gimli muttered. "I like this not."
"I’m not going to complain," was Sam’s contribution. "It’s not snowing as hard. That’s good enough for me, and it’s good enough for Bill."
"But to change so quickly…" Legolas whispered with a frown, deciding to ignore the fact that he was vocally agreeing with the dwarf.
"We know not whether this change bodes ill or good," Aragorn said, his voice strangely earnest. "Let us continue now that the storm has slowed. Perhaps we can gain the pass and cross to the other side of the mountains. Perhaps the weather shall be kinder to us there."
"Perhaps," Gandalf said dubiously, eyeing the clouds. He gave his head a shake, dislodging the snow on his hat, and then sighed. "Come then. If this is indeed a stroke of favor on our behalf, we must not waste it. Quickly, before the storm begins anew!"
There did not seem to be an abundance of joy at the announcement that they were continuing—except perhaps on the part of Aragorn, which puzzled Legolas greatly—but nevertheless, the Fellowship continued their weary struggle. Almost immediately, the wind began to rise again, and the snow started to fall faster, but Aragorn and Gandalf did not stop. Wondering at the wisdom of this, Legolas was about to speak up and suggest they descend in the hopes that the next day would prove better, but before he could do so, he stopped and froze. Closing his eyes, the elf cocked his head and listened as the faint sound of laughter began to tease the edges of his hearing.
* * * *
Pulling his cloak tight about his shoulders, Sam stared into the blinding snow ahead and wondered why they were still walking. Bilbo’s tales of the Fell Winter of 1311 were the hobbit’s only real experience with extreme cold, and just listening to them had chilled Sam’s blood. Now caught in a storm upon the slopes of Caradhras, Sam decided that Bilbo had probably toned down his stories for the sake of his audience. At least there weren’t any white wolves here to—
Sam shook his head, remembering his own father’s advice about thinking of worse things. It almost always brought them to you, and the last thing he wanted on these slippery mountain slopes was a pack of white wolves after him. Bilbo had painted very descriptive pictures of them through his tales, and Sam would be happy if he never saw one. The Warg Legolas had killed was enough for him. He didn’t want any more experiences with those things. Of course, he didn’t want any more experiences with cold and snow, but there didn’t seem to be much he could do about that. He was more or less surrounded by it.
Over his shoulder, Bill snorted and shook his shaggy head, snow flying from the frost-encrusted mane to splatter against the side of Sam’s face. "Steady," the hobbit whispered, pulling the pony’s head close to his own. Bill’s warm breath felt good against his cheek, and he found a great deal of comfort in the simple knowledge that the pony was with him. And Mr. Frodo, too, Sam added, glancing at the Ring-bearer who walked to his right. Though I wish he wouldn’t stray so close to the edge. He’s liable to fall!
Seeming to sense Sam’s gaze, Frodo lifted bleary eyes and gave him a weak smile. "How are you holding up, Sam?"
"Well enough, considering," Sam answered, trying to lift his legs higher so that he wasn’t kicking through drifts with every step. "What about you, Mr. Frodo?"
Frodo grimaced. "I wouldn’t be too upset if it stopped snowing. And it could be a bit warmer."
"A bit warmer?" Merry asked, glancing back at the two. His arm was wrapped around Pippin’s waist, and the younger hobbit was leaning heavily upon his friend. "You clearly have no idea as to what constitutes a sensible temperature. It needs to be much warmer than this."
"You’re from Buckland," Frodo said with a dismissive wave of a shaking hand. "You practically live in a jungle. It’s a wonder you don’t sweat away all your wit in the summer."
"And you in the frigid north of Hobbiton have had your brains frozen right out of you," Merry retorted, his teeth chattering slightly.
"Neither one of you has any sense at all," Pippin broke in, a definite shiver rattling his voice. "Buckland can’t be more than a league or so south of where Bag End sits even though it’s considerably further east, and yet you complain about the differences in weather as if you were comparing Long Cleeve to Sackville! Now Tuckborough, on the other hand…" Pippin paused for dramatic emphasis, which was more or less destroyed by his shaking body. "Tuckborough is a place of great heat during the summer."
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Pippin, but Tuckborough is only about two leagues further south than Buckland, judging from the maps," Sam said. "I don’t see what all this talk is about. There shouldn’t be no difference at all in the weather."
"Maybe not to you," Merry answered. "But trust to those who know better. I’ve seen hobbits from Hobbiton melt away under Buckland’s sun."
"Why don’t you describe this great heat for us, Merry," Frodo said, drawing his cloak up higher on his shoulders. "Maybe it will make us feel warmer. If not that, then at least we’ll have a warm picture in our minds."
"Merry doesn’t know anything about this," Pippin protested. Sam frowned and studied the youngest hobbit. To his mind, Pippin’s voice was weak and growing weaker. Maybe he should suggest that they stop soon. "If you want to know what real heat is like, you have to ask me."
"You just worry about keeping your feet underneath you," Merry ordered. "I’ll talk about the heat. And if I need better references, I’ll talk about Tuckborough. I’ve been there occasionally."
"Good," Pippin murmured, slumping even harder against Merry. Merry stumbled slightly, trying to compensate for Pippin’s weight, but the growing snowdrifts and the howling wind were making it difficult.
"Get behind Bill," Frodo suddenly said. "He’ll block part of the wind for you, though certainly not all of it."
Merry nodded obediently and stood to the side as Frodo, Sam, and Bill passed him. Sam kept careful watch to see that Merry followed in Bill’s tracks, and he slowed his own pace considerably to ensure that the two struggling hobbits would be able to keep up. Casting an anxious look at Frodo, he was met by an equally concerned gaze but also with a helpless shrug. There was nothing more that could be done for them. They were all struggling.
"Maybe you could talk about something warm, Sam," Frodo suggested after a while as the snow continued to build. They were now moving next to a towering cliff that seemed to rise up out of nowhere and the trail was slightly wider, giving the Fellowship a brief respite from the fear of falling.
"Something warm," Sam muttered, pressing his face against Bill’s cheek as a strong blast of icy wind came up. "When was the last time we were warm, Mr. Frodo?"
"We had a fire this morning for Pippin," Frodo answered.
"I don’t know as I can remember it," Sam sighed wearily. "Right now, it seems that all I can think about is—"
Sam abruptly froze, falling completely silent as the tone of the wind around him changed. Stopping beside him, Bill snorted and dipped his head, his ears going flat against his neck. Swirling around them came the sudden sound of shrill laughter and screams. They spiraled upward into the night, teasing and answering one another in no language that could be understood, but a cold dread squeezed Sam’s heart and he pressed against the equally frightened pony. No mortal voice uttered those cries, and their haunting cadences were playing havoc with Sam’s mind. The laughter was even worse. As if mocking the futile attempts of the Fellowship, it seemed to rise from the depths of Arda and echo off every crag and outcropping on the mountain.
A harsh grating sound directly above him startled Sam out of his frozen shock. More out of instinct than anything else, Sam pushed against Bill, driving the startled pony against the side of the cliff. A large boulder slammed onto the trail exactly where they had been standing, and as Sam looked on in astonishment, more rocks and boulders came flying down the side of the cliff. Some of them missed the trail entirely while others were far more accurate. One nearly crushed Frodo beneath its massive weight, while in the back of the Fellowship, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli scrambled out of the way of two more. It was then that Sam realized he was not the only one to have stopped. They had all stopped upon hearing the eerie voices, and seeming to seek protection from the falling rocks, they were now all bunched together against the base of the cliff.
"We cannot go further tonight," Boromir said harshly as a heavy rumble shook the air and yet another giant boulder flew overhead. "Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices in the air; and these stones were aimed at us."
"I do call it the wind," Aragorn answered, eyeing the hidden heights far above, "but that does not make what you say untrue. There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs and yet are not in league with Sauron but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he.
"Caradhras was called the Cruel and had an ill name long years ago when rumor of Sauron had not been heard in these lands," Gimli said darkly, joining the hobbits as they took cover behind Bill. Sam wasn’t certain, but thought he saw Frodo stiffen at these words.
"It matters little who is the enemy if we cannot beat off his attack," Gandalf said, watching the storm through narrowed eyes.
"But what can we do?" Pippin asked weakly. By now, Frodo had also taken a hand in supporting him, and the youngest hobbit was leaning on both the Ring-bearer and Merry. But even with their combined body heat, he was still shivering violently and sagging against them.
"Either stop where we are or go back," Gandalf answered, sounding somewhat unsure of himself. This was enough to take Sam to the verge of a full-fledged panic attack. Up until now, he had trusted that their guides would have a way around this. But upon hearing the note of uncertainty in the wizard’s voice, Sam’s fear began to escalate dramatically. "It is no good going on," Gandalf continued, sounding as though he was voicing his thoughts out loud. "Only a little higher, if I remember rightly, this path leaves the cliff and runs into a wide shallow trough at the bottom of a long hard slope. We should have no shelter there from snow or stones—or anything else."
"And it is no good going back while the storm holds," Aragorn added. "We have passed no place on the way up that offered more shelter than this cliff-wall we are under now."
"Shelter!" Sam muttered darkly, wishing he still had enough energy to scream the outrage he felt at this word. "If this is shelter, then one wall and no roof make a house."
"This time, I must agree with you, Sam," Boromir said, hugging his arms to his chest and pressing against the side of the cliff.
"Stay close together, all of you," Gandalf ordered. "The cold is as deadly an enemy as the rocks."
"Wonderful," Sam muttered, pulling Bill closer to the hobbits as they backed into the cliff. "The cold, the rocks, the snow, the cliffs, the spies, and here we sit in what is apparently considered a shelter! What else can we expect?!"
"You heard what Aragorn said about questions like that," Frodo muttered as he tried to hide his entire head inside the hood of his cloak. "Don’t ask and maybe we won’t find out."
And as if in answer to this, the sound of shrill laughter once again echoed off the mountainsides.
* * * *
Gimli did not like to be cold. Nor did he like to be wet. He absolutely hated being both cold and wet. Thus, given their present circumstances, there was more than sufficient reason to justify his current mood, which could be likened to a dragon that woke on the wrong side of the gold pile. But unfortunately for the dwarf, the reasons for his sour disposition did not stop with being cold and wet. Apart from that, he was also slowly disappearing underneath a mountain of snow. Though he stood with the hobbits behind Bill, the snow was now up to the pony’s hocks, and the situation was beginning to turn desperately hopeless. Cold, wet, and buried alive, Gimli grumbled to himself. What else may I add to my list of complaints?
Glancing around to see if fate had obliged him by providing additional problems, he soon discovered that it most certainly had. To complete and perfect the dismal scene, Legolas was wandering about on top of the snow, looking none the worse for wear and seeming to not even notice the storm that raged above them. He did stay close to the cliff as a protection against falling stones, but aside from this precaution, he looked as though he had not a care in the world. From time to time, the elf would glance up and study the heights, though how his eyes could pierce the snow’s blinding fury was something Gimli could not even begin to understand. The one consolation in all of this was that Aragorn and Gandalf seemed to be just as disgusted by the elf’s nonchalant attitude as Gimli was. But since they were not acting upon their frustrations, the dwarf decided that he couldn’t justify any actions of his own. But it would be great fun to give the elf a little shove and see if he could catch his balance before flying over the edge…
Beside him, Frodo suddenly stirred and murmured something. Startled, Gimli glanced over and discovered that the hobbit’s eyes had closed and he now seemed to be drifting into a deep sleep. Alarmed, Gimli started clearing snow from the hobbit’s face and calling his name, but he was just as weary as Frodo and his hands were numb with cold. Hypothermia was beginning to set in and his mind was starting to wander as a drowsy haze crept over him. Perhaps Frodo had the right idea after all. Perhaps the best thing to do was to simply close his eyes and wait this out.
"I wanted rest and sleep, Bilbo," Frodo muttered, his voice somehow boring through the building layers of drifting consciousness that now weighed upon the dwarf’s mind. A shadow moved above them and Gimli looked up in time to see Boromir bend down and lift Frodo out of the snow bank. Beyond the Ring-bearer, the other hobbits were huddled together in a failing attempt to share body heat. Gimli debated about moving toward them, but he found that he no longer had the energy.
"This will be the death of the halflings, Gandalf," Boromir called out, his own voice trembling with cold. "It is useless to sit here until the snow goes over our heads. We must do something to save ourselves."
"Give them this," came the wizard’s answer, and Gimli’s vision cleared enough for him to watch Gandalf search through a pack and pull forth a flask. "Just a mouthful each—for all of us. It is very precious. It is miruvor, the cordial of Imladris. Elrond gave it to me at our parting. Pass it round!"
Cordial? Gimli wondered blearily as sleep once again crept over him. Of all the idiotic notions, why are we drinking cordial at a time like this? Gandalf has been consulting with elves for far too long.
"Gimli? Gimli, wake. You must take some of this."
Opening eyes that he did not remember closing, Gimli found himself staring into the face of Aragorn who was offering him the flask that Gandalf had produced a moment ago. "What…what are we—"
"Drink," the Ranger ordered, the tone of his voice leaving no room for argument.
Too weary to disobey, Gimli obediently took the flask, watching with detached interest as the simple task of holding the bottle required two shaking hands. For a brief moment, the dwarf forgot what he was supposed to be doing, and then Aragorn’s hand slide beneath the flask and pushed it toward Gimli’s mouth. Oh yes. Drinking. His mind slowly clicking again, the dwarf dutifully put his mouth around the lip of the opening, tipped it back, and swallowed.
The result was almost instantaneous. A pleasant heat filled his body, and his mind started to clear as miruvor began to course through his system. The need for sleep dissipated and Gimli found himself gifted with renewed hope and strength. Confused, the dwarf frowned and studied the flask in his hand, wondering exactly what was in the cordial.
"Not all that comes from the elves is perilous to dwarves," Aragorn said with a hint of a smile. And without waiting for Gimli to compose a response to that statement, the Ranger took the flask back, turned around, and tossed it to Legolas, who was watching the storm play out over the mountains from his perch atop a snowdrift. The elf easily caught the bottle, took a small sip, and then threw it back, smiling briefly with thanks.
Thoroughly disgusted, Gimli turned away and shook his head, doing his best to ignore the elf. It was bad enough that they were cold, wet, and almost buried, but did Legolas have to flaunt the fact that he was in no way bothered by any of this?
"I don’t know quite what I imagined when I told Elrond I was coming on this quest, but I don’t think this was it," Pippin muttered. He looked better now, probably due to the miruvor, but he was still leaning heavily upon Merry.
"Perils come in many forms," Gimli answered, rubbing his hands together. The miruvor was helping, but his fingers were still stiff and swollen from cold. It would be a long night.
"I know I could do with a warmer peril," Sam sighed.
"No perils at all would be my wish," Frodo said quietly. Boromir had set him back down and he seemed to be more aware now thanks to the cordial, but his face was pale and he was still shivering.
"How’s your head, Pippin?" Merry asked, gingerly brushing snow out of the other hobbit’s hair.
"It’s fine," Pippin said with a wave of his hand. "You can stop worrying about it."
"Just tell me if you start feeling sleepy," Merry ordered. "I don’t want you passing out on us. Not with the weather like this."
"I’m feeling sleepy now," Pippin answered, a hint of irritation creeping into his voice. "But so are you and so is Frodo and so is Sam. You can’t do anything about it, so stop worrying."
Gimli sighed and began chafing his arms. The hobbits weren’t the only ones feeling sleepy. Despite the continued warmth from the miruvor, Gimli was beginning to sense the return of a drowsy haze. And judging from the tired faces of Aragorn and Boromir, he was not alone in this. Even Gandalf was looking rather dismal under the mound of snow that his hat was collecting.
Without warning, Bill suddenly shook himself off, sending snow flying in all directions. Cursing quietly, Gimli wiped his face and discovered that his hands were going numb again. This could not continue. The hobbits had ceased speaking, Sam looked as though he were drifting off to sleep, and the snow showed no signs of stopping its relentless attack.
"What do you say to fire?" Boromir suddenly asked, also sensing that their situation was growing dire. "The choice seems near now between fire and death, Gandalf. Doubtless we shall be hidden from all unfriendly eyes when the snow has covered us, but that will not help us."
"You may make a fire, if you can," the wizard answered reluctantly. "If there are any watchers that can endure this storm, then they can see us, fire or no."
Boromir nodded and dropped his pack to the ground, pulling kindling out of the top and swiftly digging out a place in the snow where the fire would be somewhat sheltered from the wind. Gimli moved over to aid him and pulled flint and steel from a pouch on his belt, but the dwarf’s hands were shaking so badly that he could not hold them steady long enough to strike a flame of any kind.
By now, Aragorn had joined them, and he took the flint and steel away from Gimli, holding the dwarf’s hands and rubbing them hard between his own. "By my own counsel have I brought this upon us," the Ranger murmured to himself with a dark shake of his head. "Legolas!"
"I need but a moment," Gimli growled, incensed with the thought that the elf was being called upon to start the fire.
"We do not have a moment," Boromir answered, taking the flint and steel from Aragorn and striking them together. "The hobbits need warmth now."
"The wind blows hard," Legolas warned, kneeling next to them and glancing curiously at the dwarf as though wondering why he was not trying to start the fire. "I do not think you can strike a flame that will hold."
"We have no other choice," Aragorn said, continuing to work with Gimli’s hands. "Boromir, give the flint and steel to Legolas. Shield him from the wind as best you can."
"Aragorn, I do not think I—"
"Have you a better idea?" the Ranger demanded, glaring at the elf.
Legolas sighed and looked at Boromir, who handed over the flint and steel before moving behind the elf in an attempt to block the wind. Unfortunately, the cliff caused the wind to swirl and blow in many directions as it wove its way around the mountains. No matter where Boromir stood or how Legolas positioned his own body, every time a spark of flame caught upon the wood, a sudden gust of wind would snuff it out.
"Move aside," Gimli ordered gruffly as his teeth began to chatter. Managing to escape Aragorn, he shouldered the elf away from Boromir’s fire pit and caught hold of the flint and steel. "Do not trust an elf to do a dwarf’s work."
"It is not a matter of skill or ability but rather one of fortune," Legolas said stiffly, but surprisingly enough, he offered no other rejoinder. Instead, he stepped behind the dwarf with Boromir, both attempting to divert the wind with their bodies. Aragorn joined them quickly and the hobbits also closed in, sensing that the makings of a fire was their only chance to avoid a frozen grave.
But much to Gimli’s dismay, Legolas’s words proved true. This was certainly not a matter of skill but of luck. And their luck seemed to have run out. The other members of the Fellowship crowded close in an attempt to make an effective shield, but the cursed wind always found a way around them to extinguish the tiny glimmers of fire that Gimli was creating. And though Gimli dutifully kept striking the steel against the flint, he knew the situation was hopeless. If something miraculous didn’t happen soon, they would no longer need to worry about the fate of Middle Earth or the evil of the Ring, for they would all be dead. Even the elf.
A shadow moved over him and Gimli looked up, bracing himself to tell Aragorn that he could not start a fire under these conditions, but he stopped when he saw Gandalf instead of the Ranger. The wizard’s face was unreadable though there seemed to be some reluctance in it, and he firmly pushed Gimli aside as he picked up one of snow-covered logs. Raising it above his head, he cried aloud and thrust his staff into the bark.
"Naur en edrainth ammen!"
Almost instantly, flames of blue and green blazed forth. Gandalf hastily dropped the log, and Gimli needed no one to tell him what to do next. Other logs were quickly stacked above the growing fire, positioned in the form of a lean-to so that they would both shelter the flame and allow it to spread to themselves.
"If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them," Gandalf muttered as the hobbits mobbed the fire. "I have written Gandalf is here in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the Mouths of Anduin."
"Then take comfort in Merry’s words," Aragorn suggested quietly with something of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "The crebain we saw might not be evil but rather good, or they might have nothing to do with us."
"I didn’t mean it," Merry said through chattering teeth while holding his hands as close to the fire as he dared. "I believed you when you said that the crows were dangerous."
"I’m just grateful for a fire," Pippin said, now supporting his shivering frame on his own. "I was about to drift off to sleep, and I don’t think I would have liked waking up from that."
"If you were able to wake up at all," Frodo added as he and Sam tried to scoot closer to the flickering flames.
"Take care," Legolas cautioned. "The fire is warm, but it can be a bit warmer than you like. Do not get so close that you singe yourselves."
"We’ll be careful," Sam promised with a sniffle and a shiver.
"They’re not the only ones who will need to be careful," Gimli muttered.
Beside him, Aragorn shifted and sent the dwarf a questioning gaze. "Have you a graver fear?"
"The fire," Gimli explained quietly, his voice no higher than a whisper. "The wood is burning quickly, and though we have all brought fuel for the fire, it will not last the night unless we are very cautious and tend the flames well."
"And the storm shows no signs of stopping," Aragorn sighed, glancing beyond the light of the fire and into the darkness where swirling flakes continued to fly. "It will be a cold dawn."
"If we live to see it," Gimli murmured.
Naur en edrainth ammen—Fire be for saving us.
Once again, this chapter has quite a bit of Tolkien’s own words and so I have kept the dialogue intact and unchanged. That said, I have also placed additional dialogue (my own) to the ends and beginnings of these sections. If you want to find Tolkien’s dialogue in the book, look on pages 344-347 of The Fellowship of the Ring Ballantine 50th anniversary edition.
Regarding the translation of Gandalf’s words, I’m going with someone else’s translation on this because I don’t quite trust myself, but if I were to translate it, I think I’d say "Fire be the saver for us," using the word "saver" as an active participle derived from the verb "to save." Beyond that, having "fire" followed by the noun "the saver" makes more sense in an equational sense, which is what this sentence essentially is. You’ll notice that the "to be" verb is implied rather than written. But that’s just me. Comments anyone?
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