“Pippin!” Merry’s own shriek brought the other three at a run, Aragorn easily outdistancing Frodo and Sam. The Ranger’s gaze darted about frantically, seeking the tweenager. Gasping for air, Merry rolled out from underneath the Elf and hurled himself at the opening. He grasped the rocky shelf of earth and would have thrown himself in, but unyielding arms restrained him. He tried to tear himself free, throwing himself from side to side. “Let me go! Pippin! Pippin!”
A smaller set of hands locked around his ankles and a heartbeat later, another weight slammed down on the back of his legs. Frantic, Merry kicked like a stranded fish, and dimly he felt the backs of his heels impact on someone’s chin and heard a grunt. He felt vaguely sorry, but it didn’t matter. Only Pippin mattered and Pippin was drowning. Words were being shouted at him – Frodo’s voice, shrill with terror, Aragorn roaring, but he had no time to listen and paid them no heed. With desperate strength, he jackknifed his body and pushed backward, foiling the restraining arms. Free at last, he flung himself down at the water’s edge and sucked in a great breath of air before throwing himself in.
A hand clamped on his shoulder with bruising force, preventing him, then slid off to support Legolas as he knelt beside him, still gasping, elven-eyes focusing on the water. “Hold!” ordered the Elf. “Will you go foolishly after him into the dark? Let me look.” Merry stilled, fighting to understand the Elf’s words, his mind struggling to overrule blind panic.
The sun shone over their shoulders, reflecting into the water and turning the waters black, like ink poured into a bowl. Legolas could not see Pippin. Nothing could be seen in that murk save the white foam of the current that danced in the middle of the swift-moving stream.
Merry had come to that same conclusion. Coherent thought was returning; somehow around the screams of unbearable terror drilling through the fire-shot darkness in his mind, he was already evaluating how best to go after Pippin. He would swim faster unburdened. Struggling up to his knees, he tore off his cloak and jacket then ripped the buttons off his waistcoat as he shrugged it off. Before he could kick himself off the ledge, a huge hand caught him at the scruff of the neck and hoisted him unceremoniously into the air.
“Merry, no!” Aragorn’s voice was hoarse, straining. “You would have no more chance than Pippin. Let Legolas try!” Merry fought him, rabbit-kicking, twisting in his grasp like an eel, then suddenly went limp. Aragorn dropped him, fearful that he had been too rough. But no, even in his terror Merry had realized the wisdom of Aragorn’s words, unwillingly admitting that the Elf had more chance of success than he. He was quite unaware of Frodo and Sam, each now clutching one of his arms, both supporting and restraining him. Legolas was stretched out at the opening, his cheek pressed to rocky ground, fishing about in the icy water with his long arm. Merry crouched down by Legolas’ head, unaware of the whimpering cries dying in his throat or the tears streaming down his cheeks, and watched as the Elf’s shoulder thrashed back and forth, frantically searching for Pippin.
Then the Elf was shaking his head. “I do not feel him! He should be rising to the surface, even with the current.”
“The current!” Frodo’s voice was still shrill, the words breathy as if he could not get enough air. “He’s too small to fight it! It would push -”
Legolas was already moving. The Elf was speeding to the second opening when a choked gasp burst from the gap that lay ahead of him, and something dark and featureless exploded from the water. Pippin’s soaked head rose above the surface, the water streaming from it in such cascades that he was difficult to recognize. His sodden clothing was heavy and clung to him, turning him into a featureless dark mass. Desperately his small hands scrabbled at the ground but found no purchase. Legolas saw torn and bleeding hands dig into the ground seeking an anchor – a rock, a root – anything to hold him – but they found nothing. With a sobbing cough, the little one was pulled back under the water.
The Elf leapt the last few meters, flying above the ground as if he had grown wings, his arms extending to grasp Pippin before he could be pulled away. His impact on the hard earth sent a tremor through it that those equally desperate but less quick could feel. Aragorn was mere steps behind. He also threw himself full-length onto his stomach, his arms locking around the Elf’s knees, his hands catching his own upper arms with bruising force, holding on to the other with a death grip. Aragorn and Legolas did not discuss their course of action; they had traveled together many times and no words were needed between them. The Ranger dug the toes of his boots into the rocky soil and a moment later, felt three small sets of hands latch onto his leather coat and add their weight to his.
Legolas did not look behind him. Trusting to those who anchored him, the Elf raised himself up on his hands and threw himself forward. His entire body to the waist went into the freezing river. The shock of the icy water drove a gasp from him, then he closed his mouth and concentrated on not wasting what remained of his air. The Elf’s calves and feet clamped against his chest, Aragorn closed his eyes against the sudden intolerable strain as the swift current caught Legolas. If the current were so fierce as to almost tear Legolas from his grasp, little Pippin would have almost no chance. Aragorn refused to think of that and concentrated instead on the desperate task of keeping hold of Legolas. He thought his shoulders would be jerked from their sockets. But Aragorn held, and the small hands holding them both safe held also.
Legolas inched forward like a caterpillar and the others scooted forward as well to accommodate his unspoken demand. They could see nothing past where the water swallowed the Elf at his waist; the water was utterly dark and the Elf’s frantic movements were obscuring their view. Then they felt a violent tremor quake through the lashing body beneath them and the Elf surged forward again. Ignoring the screaming agony of his shoulders, Aragorn loosened his grip around the Elf’s knees and controlled the slender legs as they slid through his grasp. His hands caught on Legolas’ ankles with a jerk that dragged them all forward nearly half a meter before the hobbits could dig in their toes and find purchase on the rocky ground.
Were he not an Elf, Legolas would never have been able to see the flicker of shadow and movement under the rocky shelf that was the young hobbit’s struggling form. Unmindful of his own safety, Legolas twisted sideways in the water and thrust one arm forward, the hold on his legs a distant and unimportant thing. He could see Pippin distinctly now, his clear eyes piercing the lightless water like sunbeams through a cloud. He could see the little one’s white face, cheeks puffed with the gasp of air he had managed, little bubbles trailing from his tight-clenched mouth. The little one was kicking, those overlarge feet serving well as paddles. He was fighting hard against the relentless current. The youngster’s green-gold eyes looked black in the shadowed darkness, staring and terrified. Those eyes widened as he caught sight of the Elf, and Legolas could see the little one’s desperate plea for help in them. Pippin reached out a straining arm and Legolas did the same, stretching every muscle of his long body to make contact
Aragorn responded to the shift of muscles, rolling up into a sitting position with his hands tight on Legolas’ ankles, digging in the heels of his boots. How long had Legolas been under? Pippin had been under even longer, and his lungs were so much smaller than the Elf’s… Sam and Frodo darted around him and placed themselves against his shoulders, their chests against his, short legs braced against the dragging force of the water. Merry hesitated for a moment, uncertain what hold would do the most good, then fastened his hands on Aragorn’s leather collar, much as the Man had restrained him from following Pippin. Merry dug his feet into the loose soil, seeking rock to brace them both. Distractedly, Aragorn registered the blood dripping down Sam’s chin, bright rivulets of red smearing his jacket and shirt. Sam’s eyes were clenched shut as he pushed and Aragorn wondered if the hobbit even was aware that his teeth must have bitten through his lower lip when Merry had kicked him in his frantic struggles. Then there was no more time for observation as a shudder and twist of the Elf’s body demanded even more leeway.
Legolas paid no heed to the iron grip upon him; his attention was focused on the small form that battled to reach him. Another effort to gain a few more inches made Legolas’ face twist in pain but he was not aware of it. And that effort had results - Legolas felt small fingers brush against his hand. Impossibly, the Elf reached further and felt his fingers lock around a small hand. ‘Just a little farther, little one,’ the Elf prayed. ‘Please, dear heart, just a little more…’ But the hand was sliding – he could not hold it. The current was too strong. ‘Oh, Elbereth, please!’ He clamped his fingers down on the little hand but it was gone. Gone. He slumped in defeat, out of air and out of hope. Then the current was pressing even more forcefully upon him, and he realized he was being drawn backwards. Legolas tried to resist the force pulling him up but he could not refuse it. His last sight before being hauled up on the rocky shelf was of his little rescuer’s terrified face as it grew smaller and smaller and was lost to sight in the icy murk. Then Legolas’ own world grew smaller and smaller, and finally disappeared entirely.
* * * * *
“Legolas!” Someone slapped his face and from a far away place, the Elf tried to protest such treatment. He slurred something, the meaning of which even he did not recognize, and managed to drag his eyes half-open. His limbs seemed to weigh as much as the very mountains and would not respond to his wishes. He shook his head weakly to indicate his return to awareness. When the hand holding him upright released him, he promptly fell over onto his side.
Hands propped him up again. More of them this time. “Legolas! Wake up!”
Legolas would have liked to inform this discourteous person that he was awake, thank you, but his tongue would not cooperate. To his mortification, what emerged from his mouth sounded more like, “Imwak, ‘Gorn, stopslpmui” instead of “I am awake, Aragorn, stop slapping me.” Thankfully that evidently satisfied the Man, for Aragorn sat back on his heels and waited for the Elf to focus.
Shivering, Legolas realized how very cold he was. That realization brought to his attention that he had been stripped of his clothing and was sitting wrapped in every blanket their small company possessed. A fire crackled merrily in front of him and he leaned closer to its heat. He was being supported by something warm pressed against his sides and looked down and around to see a dark head and a bright gold one against him. Slowly it came to his blurred mind that the halflings were crouched against him to keep him upright. How very undignified.
Samwise crossed into his vision, dumping another armload of wood near the fire, the hobbit’s grey eyes looking at him worriedly. There was blood on Sam’s face and splattered on his shirt. Legolas stared blankly, unable to comprehend the blood, or the unnatural silence. He should at least be able to hear Pippin chattering. The youngest hobbit was rarely silent. A silent Pippin was no doubt a Pippin getting into trouble. Someone should be looking after him. Someone should… Someone…
The Elf’s ragged cry brought Aragorn’s hands to his face again, but this time in comfort. “I could not hold him,” Legolas said wildly, his own long hands batting at the Man’s. “I had him – our fingers touched – but I could not hold – the current -“
“Shush,” the Ranger said softly in tones one would use to reassure a child. “You did your best. No one blames you. You did all you could.” More words poured from Aragorn’s lips, but Legolas could not grasp them. He stared blankly at his friend’s moving mouth, then looked down at the two curly heads at his sides. They had not moved away when he regained consciousness, but neither did they lift their faces to look at him. Both small bodies were trembling, and he knew it was not because they were cold. Abruptly, Legolas wished for the first time in his long life that Elves were not immortal. Pippin had drowned saving him, and through all the ages to come never would he forget the littlest hobbit’s sacrifice.
The calling of his name brought his attention back to his friend. Aragorn was looking at him anxiously. “Legolas, are you listening? I said, we must not give up hope.” What was the Man talking about? His words made no sense. Aragorn had not seen the look in Pippin’s eyes as the young one was swept away from rescue. He had not been the one to fail the youngling. He heard a sob and realized it was his own.
“Legolas!” The Elf jerked under the whip in the Ranger’s voice. Startled, his eyes came up to meet the Man’s. “We will stay here a little longer until you are warmed. Then we will go to where the stream surfaces and empties itself…” Aragorn hesitated, his eyes traveling to the silent hobbits. “Empties itself,” he continued more slowly, “into one of the great waterfalls that flows from the mountains into Imladris.”
On his left Legolas felt Merry stiffen. He felt a shudder at his other side and the Ring-bearer raised his dark head. The hobbit’s blue irises had been almost completely eclipsed by the black pupils, making Frodo’s eyes appear staring and blind. “Do you mean to say that … Pippin…” Frodo paused, then swallowed. “That Pippin’s … that his … body might … be swept into Rivendell? Before we get back? ”
Aragorn dropped from a crouch onto one knee before the lost one’s eldest cousin. “Frodo,” he said carefully, “I will not mourn Pippin until I hold his body in my arms. Until then, I will believe that he is alive. Perhaps we will find him along the banks of the stream after it has surfaced.” Frodo looked up at him, and slowly, a single tear welled in those agonized eyes and ran down his pallid cheek. Aragorn watched it fall. The Man’s hands cupped the hobbit’s face, more gently than he had the Elf’s. “Do not despair yet, Frodo. I have seen many wonders and marvels in all the years I have wandered the Wild, but never have I seen a wonder equaling a hobbit’s ability to bounce back from unhappy chance.”
“Unhappy chance?” Merry spat the words out. Aragorn was startled by the acrimony in the hobbit’s gaze. Merry’s blue eyes blazed, his face twisted in anger and grief and something else. “You call drowning in some unknown river, far from his home unhappy chance?” Abruptly the hobbit stood, causing Legolas to list sideways at the sudden removal of support.
“Merry,” Aragorn said, unsure of the reason for the young hobbit’s rage.
“Unhappy chance?” Merry was fair shouting, evidently unaware of the tears that had begun to spill from his eyes. “It anyone had to go into that river, it should have been me! I was the one who wanted to know what some stupid thing was under the rock shelf. Legolas wouldn’t near have fallen in if I hadn’t begged him to get it for me, and Pippin would never have had to do what he did to save him. We are lucky that they did not both drown because of my foolishness! It’s my fault, for always having to know everything. I should have been keeping an eye on Pippin, not worrying about some useless rock! I should have kept him farther away. I failed him. I…”
Frodo squeezed Legolas’ arm gently to make sure the Elf was steady, then rose and wrapped his arms around his younger cousin. Merry fell silent and turning suddenly, buried his head into Frodo’s shoulder. “Come on, lad,” the elder whispered to the younger, “let’s go talk for a bit, you and I.” Aragorn watched sadly as Frodo led his cousin some distance away, and saw them sink to the ground behind what privacy a few small boulders could afford. Merry lay his head in Frodo’s lap, his shoulders shaking violently as Frodo stroked his hair. Frodo leaned over him, whispering to him softly as tears shimmered again in his own eyes and fell glistening into Merry’s curls. Sam watched them, grief marring his gentle features, and fear for what Merry’s wrongful blame of himself might result in. He closed his eyes against the prickling of yet more tears and vowed to keep a close eye on the young hobbit.
Legolas was dressed and standing, if weaving slightly, when the hobbits returned. The Elf appeared still somewhat in shock, his usually clear gaze unfocused and muddy. He kept staring at his hands and there were telltale tear-tracks on his pale face. Frodo guided Merry over to his pack and helped him shoulder it, exchanging a worried, weary look with Sam that rent Aragorn’s heart.
Merry did not look up; his eyes remaining fixed on the ground. Sam had packed up the blankets and put out the fire and readied the packs, including Aragorn’s and Legolas’, all in a flurry of activity that Aragorn knew was meant to stave off too much thought. The little gardener had placed Pippin’s pack next to his own, but when Aragorn reached for it, Merry knocked his hand away and snatched up the pack, hugging it to himself as if it were the most precious thing in the world.
The Ranger had spent the last few minutes immersed in thought, interspersed with curses at himself for using the fireworks Gandalf had given him. Had he foolishly wasted them on amusing young hobbits instead of saving them to signal for help in an emergency? But then he remembered how Pippin’s eyes had reflected the falling stars of fire, and how the young one had laughed, throwing himself back against the earth and crowing in sheer delight. Never had he seen the small hobbit happier and more filled with joy. No. No help could possibly have arrived in time to prevent this disaster, or to save Pippin when they themselves could not. His last thought, before the grieving party moved out, was that he was glad he had set off the fireworks after all.
* TBC *
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.