1. Hopes Pinned
Cold rain pounded him, the roar of the Brandywine in wrath assailed his ears, slippery wet earth cradled him uncertainly, and yet he still seemed to be astride his pony.
He opened his eyes to waking nightmare. He *was* astride Jewel, but the two were lying upon the bank of the great River, crushed beneath a tree. ...no, not crushed, for there was no pain; he could even move a little, but pinned for a certainty.
Merry remembered riding the riverbank on floodwatch, as the rain came down in torrents and the River slowly rose to meet it. He'd gone down the bank to get a closer look at the shoring timbers they'd laid the previous fall in an effort to stabilise the soil.
Evidently *that* effort had failed. Merry snorted. With terrible suddenness, Jewel had thrown up his head, half reared; the bank had slid out from under them as the trees lining the shore started to fall into the churning water ... to fall ... to fall upon the pony and young master of Buckland.
The first time he awoke, he was honestly surprised. He'd thought they were about to slide into the River, to be drowned and carried away, or alternatively crushed beneath one of the great falling boles. He'd not imagined this possibility, to be trapped, not crushed, upon the Riverbank as the waters slowly rose to embrace them. He must have hit his head, for he kept drifting in and out. Each time he woke the water was higher; now the current teased at the pony's tail as they lay beneath the great tree. On consideration he would have preferred the quick struggle to this slow death by inches, but for the hope he clung to. Pippin would come. He would find them.
Pippin shouted encouragement to the sandbag crew defending the Hall. A part of his mind was giving attention to the periodic flooding that threatened Buckland, the great untamed River that was both a source of life and disaster. There had to be some better way than this desperate struggle whenever they had a flood year, some permanent defense.
Another part of his mind was given to this year's struggle, going over all the contingencies he and Merry had thought of, remembering the reports he'd received from hobbits riding the banks to keep an eye on the monster the angry River had become. He didn't need reports to see that the water was coming up fast.
A solitary rider caught his eye, and he clapped the sandbag foreman on the shoulder and trudged up towards the Hall. All riders were supposed to be out in pairs, and if this was one of the bankriders from the Hall some explanations would be in order.
The dripping pony stood with drooping head, and the rider on its back looked worse, muddy, thoroughly soaked, sprawled forward on the neck of his mount. A stable worker had come up to seize the trailing reins, though it was hardly necessary. The pony had made its way home, and was plainly not about to go anywhere.
Pippin's strides quickened as he recognized the bright blaze on the rain-darkened face, his cousin Berilac's pony. In short order he joined the gathering hobbits; his hands helped to slide the limp form from the saddle. Berilac's eyes were closed, his face white. What had happened? He had ridden out that morning with Merry.
'Berilac?' Pippin said urgently. The other did not stir. 'Berilac!' He had to know where Merry was.
Merry craned his neck as well as he could from his cramped position, trying to locate his cousin Berilac. He'd been higher on the bank when the slide started. Merry had heard him shout, the pony scream... a splash? He closed his eyes, the better to remember. Though he'd been busy with his own predicament, yes, he remembered a splash sounding above the roar of the current. Berilac was gone, then, thrown into the river, probably drowned. Ah, well, seemed he'd be in good company soon enough. Jewel struggled beneath him to feel the water pulling hungrily at his hindquarters now.
Merry dispassionately considered his options. He must try to stay alert, watch for that moment when the River came high enough to loosen the grip of tree and bank on either side of them. There was a tiny chance, that he could push free as the River reached out to take them, and if he could grab hold of the tree, the trap might become the saviour. He might be able to pull himself out of the water's reach if the whole tree didn't slide into the River at the wrong time.
He wouldn't be able to save the pony, though. Tears stung his eyes, to be washed away by the rain before they reached his cheeks. He patted and stroked the sleek neck, murmuring in that special language that only he and the pony understood.
He clung to one undeniable hope: Pippin would come. He would find them.
It didn't take long to put together search teams. Several of the bank patrols had come in and were resting in the great room of the Hall, weary riders fortifying themselves with hot stew before going out again. Pippin pulled several hobbits from the sandbag crew as well. Stable workers saddled fresh ponies while the young Steward outlined his strategy.
They knew where Berilac and Merry had planned to check the bank; Pippin stretched his thumb and finger across that section of map, talking, as the hobbits gathered around to listen and nod.
'Right, then,' Pippin said, 'You've all got your assignments. Let's go.'
Estella was among those at the door of the Hall to see them off. Pippin stopped to give her a hug, stepping back to hold her hands and look down into her fearful face. 'We'll find him,' Pippin said. If he's still anywhere to be found, her eyes answered silently. With a final squeeze, he released her hands and left.
Pippin nodded to Merimas Brandybuck as he mounted Socks. They turned their ponies to the road and set off at a swift pace, other pairs of riders following. They were upriver from Merry and Berilac's last known position. No need to slow down for a more careful search, not yet.
If Merry reached far enough behind him, he could dabble his fingers in the passing water. He was slightly surprised that the water hadn't yet swept them away, from the pull on his pony's hind legs. The tree held them too firmly, he supposed. He felt himself starting to drift again, forced himself to stay focused. He must be ready to grab at the tree when the pony started to shift beneath him.
He was starting to wonder how it would be. Would it be quick, swept into the current and away, down the great River, past the White City and down to the Sea? I'll have to wave at Strider as I go by, he thought incongruously. Would it be slow, pinned between tree and bank, death by inches as the water crept ever nearer?
He closed his eyes as Jewel's struggles ground his leg painfully against the bank. Surely, even if Berilac had been swept away, they were overdue back at the Hall. Surely searchers were on their way, searchers who would reach him before the quick death or the slow.
Quick death, slow death, he clung to the third possibility. Pippin would find them. He would come.
The riders spread out along the road as they reached their destination. Pippin saw to his dismay that great sections of bank had given way, trees that had stood proud now bowed down to the water's edge. Not daring to go too close to the edge, the searchers desperately scanned the banks of the angry River.
A shout sounded faint above the roar of the waters, and Pippin kneed Socks towards the sound. Hobbits gathered, dismounting, one taking the reins from all the others, holding a group of ponies as their riders scrambled cautiously down the bank.
Pippin slid from Sock's back, tossing his own reins over. He followed the pointing finger, and his heart fell. It looked as if they were too late, that Merry's drowned figure lay where the River had washed him, and his pony. The pony was submerged to the withers, Merry's head and shoulders on the pony's neck were all there was to be seen of him.
The first of the searchers had reached them and was securing a rope around Merry. More ropes were being passed over and under the pony, the hobbits having to reach under the water to do so, their own safety ropes securing them from being swept away. The tree seemed to be pinning the trapped pair securely, only if the bank beneath them washed away would they be moved.
When Pippin reached them, he was surprised to see the pony lift its muddy head. He bent down to take Merry's shoulder in his hand, and his cousin moved beneath his touch. The situation became more pressing, and he gestured urgently to the hobbits who held axes and saws. The water was rising by inches as he watched.
In a desperate race the hobbits attacked the great tree. One lost his balance to fall into the swift current, but he was quickly hauled in by his safety rope. The top of the tree fell away in pieces and was instantly gone, swept away. The work became more careful, the rescuers fixed more ropes to hold the mighty bole, that it might not crush the pony and rider beneath it as the supporting branches were cut away.
Ponies were brought partway down the bank, the ends of ropes fixed to their saddles, hobbits encouraged them to pull against the weight of the pony and rider on the bank. Pippin saw Jewel move, slightly, then Merry was being pulled free. Hands reached out to grasp him, drawing him from the waters' embrace, then his rescuers lifted him, to carry him up the bank.
It was easier to pull the pony free, now that the danger of crushing his rider beneath him was averted. As they hauled him from underneath the tree bole, he began to struggle, to get his feet beneath him, and soon he was standing and climbing the bank under his own power.
Merry opened his eyes to find himself cradled in Pippin's lap. Rain still poured down upon them, but to his eyes his cousin's bedraggled face had never looked better.
'Hey, there, Merry,' Pippin said. 'Welcome back to the world. Good thing you didn't drown, but your troubles aren't over.' At Merry's questioning look he laughed. 'Your wife is going to kill you when we get you back to the Hall.'
Merry took a few deep breaths of the air he'd expected to be gone from him by now. 'You found us,' he said. 'You came.'
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.