6. Lesson Six: Hobbits and blizzards are not a good mix
At least we have stopped struggling upward, and taken what meager shelter we can against the cliff wall. A strong gust of wind covers me in snow to my drawn-up knees, and once I uncover my legs I turn my head with difficulty to see how the little folk fare.
They are nearly buried in the snowdrift, even though poor Bill seems to understand his purpose in standing in front of them and does his best to shield them. They are covered so deeply that I cannot even see Frodo or Pippin's faces, and Merry and Sam huddle in upon themselves in what must be bitter misery indeed if they are unaware of the plight of the other two hobbits for whom they normally show such care. I stand as swiftly as my frozen limbs will allow and grope about in the snow bank, pulling out the first hobbit I grasp. It is Frodo, and he shudders, then kicks, rabbit-like, when I pull him from his heap of snow, rousing him. I am even more incensed with the leaders of the fellowship -- did they intend to leave the hobbits to freeze or suffocate under a mound of snow?
"This will be the death of the halflings, Gandalf," I say to the wizard. "It is useless to sit here until the snow goes over our heads. We must do something to save ourselves." I struggle to kick aside some of the snow pile and set Frodo back down between Merry and Sam. Then I snatch Peregrin out of the snow that covers him to his curls. He is cold and limp in my arms, his hair wet and his face blue with the cold. I am suddenly fearful that for this little one it is already too late, but a small whimper causes me to gasp in relief and I clasp him to me even more tightly. I do not bother to put him back down in his freezing seat, but sit down myself and place him on my lap, wrapping cloak and blanket around us both.
"Give them this," Gandalf says, pulling a flask out of his bag. "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!"
When the flask comes to me I take my sip and feel the warmth, more healthful and enduring than any spirits that have ever passed my lips, flow through my veins, and the deep chill in my bones subsides somewhat. Pippin, huddled against my chest, is not truly conscious, but I place the flask to his lips and tip his head back to force the cordial in and he accepts it. He gives a deep shudder and seems to come around a bit as I hand the drink off to Gimli on my other side. "Are you all right, little one?" I whisper into his pointed ear.
He shivers miserably and clings to me, burrowing closer. I tighten my embrace slightly, hoping that I am warming him at least a little. "I am so very cold," he says in a dazed whisper through chattering teeth.
Whether the cordial wears off quickly or the storm worsens, I am soon freezing again as the snow and wind whip into our faces unrelenting 'til I can scarce make out my companions through the maelstrom. The other hobbits are fast disappearing again under their snowdrift, and this time Aragorn stands to fish Frodo out from under it and place him on his own lap. I slip a hand out of a glove and feel my small companion's face and feet. He is frigid with the cold, and shakes uncontrollably with every breath. The freezing air is cutting into my lungs every time I struggle to draw a breath, and I gather from Pippin's condition that it is doing the same to him. I did not jest when I said this would be the death of the halflings, and it may very well be the death of us all if we do not take some kind of action. This little one, at the least, will not see daylight again under these conditions.
"What do you say to fire?" I ask the wizard. "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."
To my surprise, he relents. "You may make a fire, if you can," he replies. "If there are any watchers that can endure this storm, then they can see us, fire or no."
Legolas takes charge eagerly, and I know it must be a dire chill indeed if the elf feels the cold. He gathers the faggots we have carried with us, but his efforts to strike a flame in this cursed wind are for naught. Grumbling, Gimli joins him, but this storm surpasses even the skill of a dwarf. Pippin is limp against my chest again, though I can still feel him taking halting breaths. Aragorn stands, Frodo bundled in his arms, and moves to hand the Ringbearer to Gandalf so he can join Gimli and Legolas in their efforts, but Gandalf waves him off. It seems that he, too, has finally reached the conclusion that the halflings, and indeed all of us, are in mortal peril of freezing to death.
Gandalf picks up a faggot and holds it aloft, commanding, "Naur an edraith ammen!" and thrusts his staff at the stick. It bursts into flame. Thank the Valar!
"If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them," Gandalf states as he sits back down. "I have written 'Gandalf is here' in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin."
I do not care who sees at the moment, nor does the rest of the company seem to as we draw near to the fire. Legolas picks up Merry and hands him to Gandalf, who bundles the hobbit into his cloak and turns their faces toward the flames. Merry's blue hands emerge to reach out toward the warmth. The elf then scoops up Sam and sits down, drawing them near the fire. Aragorn and I likewise pull up as close as we dare to the welcome heat with our bundled companions, wedging the dwarf between us. Thus, each shoulder to shoulder for warmth, we turn our backs on the black night and our faces toward the heartening flames.
After a while, Pippin stirs in my arms and moves to peer outside of his coverings. "Oh, a fire," he says in blissful awe. He squirms around until he can point both his feet and his hands out toward the flames. He body still is shaking from the bitter chill, but at least he is aware and alert again, and I am enormously relieved. I press the slim body tightly against mine as we warm ourselves, and not for the first time, I wonder what possessed Gandalf to insist that this young one come with us, and what will come of that decision in the end.
The young one in question yawns against my surcoat and nuzzles against the soft material. "Are you cold, Boromir?" he asks drowsily. He has stopped shaking, for the most part, though an occasional shudder runs through him.
"Yes," I answer with a half-chuckle. "It is freezing out here, or did you not notice?"
"You seem too big to get cold," he murmurs, eyes drooping closed with the weight of his fatigue.
"Well, I am not," I assure him, and draw my arms a little tighter around him, surprised by the swell of protective urges I am feeling. "Are you any warmer?"
"Yes," he says, a near-whisper, eyes finally shutting. "I am cold, but it is not so bad now."
"Then sleep," I whisper back, and I indulge myself by pressing my face into those unruly curls for a moment. They are fine and soft against my rough face, and I fight off the desire to place a kiss atop that curly head. Peregrin may be young, but he is not a child, and I am a man of Gondor, not one of his cousins. But still, I leave my face to linger a moment longer, turning my back to the bitter wind to best protect the precious bundle in my arms.
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