56. Two Discoveries
Their pace quickened and Merry’s head came up when the increased volume of the waters announced its exit onto open ground, spilling forth from the rocky tunnel with a great rushing roar, widening broadly. Before Aragorn could call them back, the hobbits ran down to the foaming waters, beginning to search frantically among the rocks and eddies. Even Sam, who feared rivers with all of his heart.
“Be careful!” Aragorn cautioned them, “The rocks are slippery!” The hobbits paid him little heed. They scrambled among the great boulders lining the bank, over and under the waterlogged and rotting fallen trees, looking into every little space that might shield a small, injured form. Watching his cousin covertly, Frodo quailed at the desperation in Merry’s eyes. By worrying about Merry, Frodo could manage, for a time, to divert his grief for Pippin. Frodo told himself firmly, that like Aragorn, he would not mourn Pippin until he held the lad’s body in his arms. He refused to think his little cousin dead – he could not. A world without that sharp face and perpetual motion and overflowing joy was inconceivable. Inconceivable. So Frodo turned his thoughts to Merry and refused to consider the alternative. Since his cousin had wept in his lap, Merry had not spoken. None of the party had been very talkative, but Merry’s absolute silence was frightening.
Sam paused, panting, gripping tight to a rocky outcropping to steady himself. He had just climbed down into a little hollow between two fallen logs, despite thinking the space was too small to hide a cat. But he could not leave it unsearched. Pippin was small for his age; no telling where the youngster could end up. Wiping the perspiration from his brow, he raised his head to locate the others. ‘Odd that no one’s calling for the lad,’ Sam thought. Then he realized with a sudden shock, ‘No, it isn’t. They all think he’s dead.’ Sod that! Sam inhaled deeply and bellowed, “Master Pippin! Pippin!”
Frodo and Merry jerked visibly to hear Sam’s shout. Legolas and Aragorn looked at him as if he had gone mad, but Sam determinedly ignored them. After a few moments, Frodo’s voice joined his. “Pippin! Pip-lad! Answer me!” Merry remained silent, too afraid of shouting and receiving only stillness as a reply.
Aragorn and Legolas called and searched also, able to climb upon higher rocks and look between boulders where the hobbits could not reach. It was Legolas who made the grim discovery. They heard him utter a strangled cry and all looked over to see him stoop down for something hidden by the rocks. “Aragorn!” he called. “Aragorn!”
Almost before he could straighten with his find the walking party had converged upon him. In Legolas’ hands dripped Pippin’s burgundy cloak, sadly torn and slashed by the river. He handed it to Aragorn wordlessly. One end dragged oddly, and with a frown, Aragorn shook out the sodden cloth and pulled open the hood.
Something glistening fell from the hood into the sand, something long and spike-shaped. It was fully as long as a Man’s arm, wrist to elbow, and milky white yet occluded with all the colors of the rainbow. The rounded base was broader and rougher than the tip, and the tip itself narrowed to a sharp point, sharp enough to draw blood. Aragorn was glad he had not closed his hand upon it.
When no one else made a move to pick it up, Sam finally did. The stocky hobbit turned it over in his hands, tracing the play of iridescence across it with a calloused thumb. “What’s this, then?” he asked.
“Legolas…” murmured Aragorn, reaching hesitantly for the object. Sam surrendered it to him, a puzzled frown on his face. “Is this what you were trying to work free for Merry?”
The Elf gave a single nod, but, strangely, did not seek to touch the spike. He was staring at it, transfixed. “Only once before have I seen one. It was smaller than this… Never before have I touched one. When I was very young, one was presented to my royal father as a gift from a sycophant who desired a great boon from him. I have never forgotten the excitement of that day. It was taken immediately and locked in the treasure-vault. Such things are no longer found discarded in Middle-earth; any that were ever found were taken and hoarded long ago.”
“It is what I think it is, then?” asked Aragorn softly. “I have but seen illustrations in Elrond’s books.” He laid it reverently in the Elf’s hands, and Legolas slowly slid his fingers over it, brushing the clinging mud from the spike. The hobbits crowded closer, even Merry, their grief momentarily lessened by their curiosity.
“It is told that the greater ones shed them and grew new ones to replace those lost. The discarded ones still carried some of their owner’s power, and could be used for many things by lesser beings.” Legolas turned the spike over in his hands, marveling. “There is no way to tell which shed this, or how it became lodged in the earth above the river. Possibly it was just let fall, unneeded and unwanted, and the drifting earth covered it as the long ages passed.”
To Merry’s surprise, the Elf turned to him and laid it carefully in his hands. Merry looked at it blankly. Seeing that the hobbit did not understand, Legolas crouched gracefully before him until they were eye-to-eye. “Merry,” Legolas said, “it is a dragon’s tooth.”
The hobbit stared down at the priceless, beautiful thing out of legend, coveted by powerful kings and great lords. He held it carefully but without the reverence shown by the two Big People. Then he raised his head and the look on his face said more clearly than any words that Pippin’s life was worth more than all of the teeth of all of the dragons that ever were. Still without speaking, he unslung his little cousin’s pack from his shoulder and laid the tooth amongst the carelessly wadded and battered clothing. Turning away from the others, Merry continued searching.
* * * * *
Even as the icy waters bore him away from Legolas’ outstretched arm, Pippin continued to fight. The very strength of the current helped him in keeping his face turned up in the underground river’s rocky tunnel, though a heaviness strove to pull his head down and back into the water. Again and again the relentless water pushed him under, but more often the pressure of the water against his small body kept him from sinking. His hands scrabbled at the rocky tunnel above him, to keep his face from scraping against it, and trying to catch a rock or root or something to hold on to, to at least allow him to breathe at intervals and gather his wits. He no longer felt the pain of his torn and bloodied hands; he no longer felt his hands at all.
He found that if he stretched out his arms straight ahead and slightly above his head, he would have a moment’s notice of the approach of an air pocket, giving him time to thrust his face up and snatch a breath or two hanging on for the briefest instant. Twice his arms encountered large gaps in the rocky earth but before his mind could register them, he was past the openings in the earth that would have allowed him escape from the river.
If this continued much longer, he would not drown. No, he would freeze to death instead. Not only was it harder to hold his arms ahead of his head, but he cared less about doing so. Pippin’s mind was shutting down, lulled by the darkness and cold and the press of the water upon him. He no longer felt terror, felt pain. He did not feel much of anything, other than regret for the grief his death would cause Merry and Frodo and his family. Soon he did not feel even that.
So it was that he did not immediately notice when the pressure upon him changed, lessened. He had become no more than the discarded twig that he had raced, laughing, only to lose his bet and forfeit his blackberries to Frodo. Like that twig, he swirled around in the water, head tilted back and rump raised to level his body, no longer remembering of the reason for it.
Gradually he became aware that he was not being pushed along at such great speed. Then he noticed that the unyielding blackness was no longer absolute. Rather, he could see greyish shapes above him; indistinct forms that resolved into roots and the bottom of the earth. The underground river was rushing out toward the open air. Swiftly he shot out into bright sunlight and the sudden light hurt and dazzled his eyes. But he was free of the tunnel! Some small flicker of defiance awoke in his breast and railed against his fate. For the first time in several minutes, Pippin was not content to be carried along. He inhaled deeply and choked, the convulsion causing him to lose his balance in the water. Half-turning on his side, he sank and water closing over his head awoke instinct. Pippin thrashed leaden limbs, then forced them into an awkward dog-paddle.
It was almost more than he could manage to raise his dripping head above the water. He could see no escape when he did; the rocky tunnel had given way to large smooth rocks and boulders on both sides of the water. Water glistened on them, making the colors richer and more vibrant. He could not hope to climb the slippery rocks. That realization momentarily made his body forget its task and he went down again, thrashing uselessly until he could find his rhythm again.
His clothes were dragging at him and the weight of his cloak against his throat was torture. He tugged at the clasp but his fingers tangled in his scarf and he could not tell by feel which was cloak and which was scarf. His fingers would not work properly. Desperate, he hooked his hand underneath the clasp and jerked hard, choking himself. But the weight came free. He gave no more thought to the cloak as he needed that hand for paddling. Continuing to be pushed downstream Pippin stroked for the side of the tributary, where he knew the waters would be more sluggish. Even if he could not climb out, perhaps he could cling to a rock to keep from drowning.
The current did not want to give him up. Pippin felt as if he was pushing against an invisible wall, and it took many minutes and nearly the last of his strength to thrust himself from the center of the river to the sides. Water moved more slowly at the sides of a river; Merry had taught him that.
He saw the low boulder coming at him but had no strength or time to avoid it. He tried to back-paddle but only succeeded in turning himself vertically in the foaming water. Pippin crashed into the boulder with his right shoulder leading. His head snapped sideways on his neck then slammed forward against the rock, and the world went grey and dim. With the last of his strength, he clung to the half submerged rock and managed to struggle out of the foaming water to lay on the rock like a piece of jetsam discarded by the river.
* * * * *
“What is it?”
“I do not know. It looks somewhat like one of Lord Elrond’s halfling guests.”
“It is very muddy.” This observation was accompanied by the feeling of large, warm hands easing his arms out of his sodden jacket and gently untying the scarf from around his neck.
“And almost frozen, and wet and hurt. Will you hurry up with that fire?” Fire. Pippin’s mind fastened onto that word and hung on like grim death.
“Perhaps it is a kelpie.” His shirt and breeches followed his jacket, then his underthings. Pippin would have protested, but he felt so lethargic. It was difficult to pay attention to what these Big People were saying.
“In Imladris? These are Lord Elrond’s lands. The Fairy-Folk do not walk here uninvited.”
“I think it is a kelpie. It carries a fairy-stone in its pocket ... though why one of the Fairy Folk would wish to guard against their own illusions I do not know.” A blanket was wrapped around him, and Pippin sighed in relief at its soft warmth. Then the hands moved up to his hair and face, something spongy cleaning away the mud. “Why would one of the Fey water-folk choose to travel a river in such an unsuitable form?”
“A kelpie would not do so. I do not think it is one of the Fairy-Folk. It is too large for any of the Fey that I know of. And not very fair.”
Pippin took exception to that. No one would be very fair after tromping through the Wild for several days, forced to forage for bits of questionable food under threat of starvation, being attacked by Men, then terrorized by a wild pig, then falling into an underground river and being carried who knows how far from one’s companions. It was most unjust.
“Uupp-ahobick,” he protested.
Silence above him. Then, “What did it say?”
“I believe it said, ‘uup-a-kick’.”
More silence. “Is that a threat of some kind? It does have large feet.”
“I’m a hobbit,” Pippin repeated. From the continued silence, he could tell they doubted that.
Then one said, “Like Master Bilbo? Lord Elrond’s friend?” Pippin nodded wearily. There was another swift exchange above him, then he felt the soft cloth continue its washing, stroking over the rest of him and wiping off the mud. “Are you one of the halflings that arrived with the Ring-bearer?”
“Yes,” whispered Pippin. “He’s my cousin. Bilbo, too. And Merry… Sam isn’t but he almost is. A cousin, I mean… I have rather too many cousins, I think sometimes, but -”
“Hush,” said the other softly and Pippin fell silent, too tired to clarify his confused and confusing answer. He really should open his eyes. Rather rude of him not to. With a great effort, he dragged them open. The setting sun slanting over the two figures’ shoulders dazzled him, and he could see nothing but vague dark forms outlined by brilliant shimmers of light. It must be almost evening … how long had he been unconscious?
One of the forms sat back on its haunches and regarded him doubtfully. “Greetings, little one,” it said at last, and Pippin felt a cool hand stroke along his brow. It explored the side of his head and the tweenager gasped, pain flashing through him like fire. “Oh, I am sorry!” murmured the voice, then the gentle hand was stoking his hair, easing away the pain.
Pippin knew of only one person whose gentle hands could stroke away hurt aside from his Merry. “You’re an Elf,” he managed to whisper. “Why does my head hurt so?”
He thought one of the figures looked up at the other but it was difficult to tell in the misty darkness. “Because you have a nasty gash in it, little one. You barely missed losing an ear. You were very lucky. If my friend and I had not found you, you might have bled to death or died of exposure upon that rock.” A shadowy hand motioned to the side, and Pippin became aware of the muted roar of the river. It had been there since he awoke, he realized, but it was so familiar that it seemed almost a part of him. He had certainly swallowed enough of it.
He should stand and bow, Pippin thought, and introduce himself properly. Frodo would be horrified at his lack of manners. Merry would box his ears. Both of them, Pippin thought, and giggled.
“I think it is going back to sleep. Can you stay awake, little one? We must know where you belong if we to help you.”
“Legolas calls me that,” murmured Pippin. He could feel the fire now; it must be a miniature bonfire from the amount of heat it was putting out. It felt good. His entire body ached, and his head felt as if the skin were too small. He was so very sleepy…
There was a quick exchange in Elvish above him that he could not hope to follow, even had he understood more than a few words of the language. “Legolas Greenleaf?” asked one of the voices. “The Prince of Mirkwood?”
“That’s him,” Pippin replied with a dragging effort. “He’s an Elf, too, you know. He and Strider are friends. They took us to see the geyser. Strider’s my friend, too, they both are, and Merry’s and Frodo and Sam. Legolas…” Pippin paused, aware that he was rambling, and not making much sense while he was doing it.
Gentle hands cupped his face and turned his head sideways to examine his head. Pippin whimpered incoherently, and the hands paused to caress his face, cool and soothing. “Go to sleep, little one,” the kind voice whispered. “You have told us what we needed to know. We will talk when you are better.” With a sigh, Pippin did.
* * * * *
When next he awoke, it was deep night, for the misty murkiness had evolved into true darkness. Pippin could not even see the stars. His hurts had diminished to a dull throb that echoed throughout his body with every beat of his heart. His head hurt the most, a sharp, burning pain like a brand had been inserted through the back of his neck and angled up to his eyes.
Pippin didn’t remember the previous night being so dark. Odd. The clouds must be so thick that they hid all the light given off by the heavens. Last night wasn’t so unrelievedly black. No, he clearly remembered the stars shining through the smoke of the fireworks, winking and clear and cold as the rocket-sparks were hot and sparkling. Never would he forget that sight. A firework from Gandalf that had been all his own, made especially for him! And the others had been amazing too. So very beautiful... He smiled in remembrance, then grimaced as swollen skin pulled. “Ow,” he murmured, allowing himself the smallest of complaints.
Immediately there was a rustle of cloth and the sensation of movement at his side. “Good morning, little one,” a cheerful voice said. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yes, thank you,” Pippin replied, struggling to focus on something. “Please forgive me – I did not give you my name. I am Peregrin Took, son of Paladin, at your service … or rather, in your debt. But everyone calls me Pippin.”
A hand was checking the bandage that had been wrapped about his head at some point. Pippin craned his neck obediently to the side in response to a gentle push. His hands were wrapped, too, and the bandages felt as if they were wound too tightly. “It is our pleasure to meet you, Peregrin son of Paladin. I am Brendion and this, my companion Granlion. We are scouts sent out from Imladris, and are returning with news for our lord.” The hand stroked his hair again, and Pippin sighed in relief; the gentle hand seemed to contain in it some ability to lessen his pain. “And now, it seems,” the voice continued with a smile lurking in it, “we shall take back to our lord more than mere news.”
Pippin started to shake his head, found that to be a very bad idea, and immediately stopped. Brendion probably wouldn’t have seen the gesture in such dark as this anyway, not even with Elf-eyes. “Oh, no, I can’t go with you. I have to find Merry and Frodo and Sam and Legolas and Aragorn.”
“Aragorn?” This was the other voice, and Pippin turned his head towards it. The fire burned warmer on his face on this side, and he caught the herbal scent of tea of some sort.
“Aragorn son of Arathorn,” supplied the tweenager helpfully. “He’s in charge of our walking party. Well, when we let him be. He’s quite nice, really, but he doesn’t play fair in riddle-games.” He paused and resisted the urge to rub his throbbing ear. “They will be terribly worried about me, Merry especially.”
The Elves digested this in silence. Pippin was quiet, too, trying to work around his aching head and pin down what was bothering him. Something was wrong, very, very wrong. He could feel the fire on his face, smell the tea brewing, and Brendion had said …he had said… Then after a long, dreadful moment, he whispered, “Morning?”
Movement above his head, and Pippin felt a slight breeze pass over his cheeks. “How many fingers am I holding up, little … I mean, Pippin?”
Pippin stared before him. Suddenly his heart rose in his throat and he lashed out with a small arm. His hand slapped against something before his face and Pippin clutched, feeling leather and soft-woven cloth in his hand. A wrist, then a hand with long, slender fingers. But his eyes saw nothing before him but deepest night.
* * * * *
“He is sleeping again,” Granlion murmured, sinking down cross-legged to sit next to his scouting-partner. “He is very frightened.”
“So would I be, if I found my sight was gone,” Brendion returned, stirring the fire. The Elves had offered the little creature journey-bread and strips of salted meat, but he had refused all food, curling up into a ball and sobbing piteously. Granlion had tried to comfort the little one, but he had only curled up tighter and cried for “Merry,” hiccupping and choking so that it was impossible to make out more. That had helped neither Pippin’s eyes nor his head, and pain and residual shock had finally driven him to find surcease in sleep.
“There is no doubt that this little one is one of our lord’s guests?” asked Brendion.
“No doubt. He is kin to the Ring-bearer. I do think I remember seeing him, briefly, during the execution of a … small wager I placed with Raolilth.”
Brendion smiled, his fair features lightening. “I remember. Lord Elrond declared all of the wagers void, as I recall.”
“I am greatly pleased to hear this young one say that the Ring-bearer is well enough to travel to see the geyser,” Granlion replied, adroitly changing the subject. “Do you not think we should take Pippin back to them?”
“We have our own duties, Granlion,” the senior Elf reminded the junior. “And in any case, having lost this small one, Estel will lead them back by the straightest route. If we ride hard, we can finish and perhaps arrive in Imladris not long after them.”
“I sorrow to think of Estel mourning this little one as dead,” Granlion said softly. “But I agree that we cannot abandon our responsibilities to search for his party to return Pippin.” Both Elves were silent then, until Pippin drew them to him with soft cries when he opened his eyes and could still see only darkness.
* 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.