Knight of Gondor
The Fellowship is reuniting, but may face a new threat that is hunting them all.
Frodo was exhausted - physically, mentally, and emotionally. His injured leg ached furiously, his head was pounding, his stomach turning at the bloody scene around him, and he had decided that if Sam told him he looked pale and should sit down one more time, he would hit him! All in all, he was not in the best of moods.
He stood atop the high wall of Calembel, watching the first dim rays of dawn light up the horizon, and wishing for nothing more than a nice quiet place to curl up and sleep for a week. However, he knew that even should he be given an opportunity to rest, which was unlikely, he would not be able to sleep. His mind was too troubled by grief and despair. It seemed to him that a blackness had settled over his thoughts, and try as he might, he could not shake it. He yearned for the simple life he had once known within the Shire, when his only worries had been the Sackville Bagginses. He could not believe that there had once been a time when he had longed for adventure. Now, all he wanted was his life to return to normal. To be a simple hobbit once more.
‘Is that possible? Can things ever be normal again?’ The questions of his mind haunted him. Somehow, he doubted it. Things never would be the same for him again, for he himself had changed.
A gentle hand resting on his shoulder caused Frodo to glance up into the worried eyes of Gandalf. The wizard looked a sight, his normally clean white robes stained and blood splattered, his long hair tangled and ratted. Frodo also thought he looked tired, yet it almost did not seem possible. The wizard was always strong and unshakable, giving hope where all hope had failed.
“Are you alright, Frodo?” Gandalf asked quietly, his voice toned low for Frodo’s ears only.
Frodo attempted a reassuring smile. “I am fine, Gandalf,” he whispered back, “I am just thinking, that’s all.”
“Ahh, a dangerous pastime for hobbits, as I have learned,” Gandalf replied, his small smile doing nothing to hide the worry in his eyes. “Any thoughts you would care to share with an old friend? Perhaps it would help lighten the burden you seem to carry so heavy upon your shoulders.”
Frodo hesitated, glancing away from Gandalf and shrugging his shoulders slightly. “I was just thinking of home,” he replied at last, unable to hide the wistfulness in his voice.
Gandalf nodded understandingly. “Perhaps wishing you were there, instead of here?” he asked quietly.
“Wishing we were all there,” Frodo replied tiredly. “Me, Sam, Merry,…Pippin.” The last was said in a near whisper, and Frodo had to fight back a tight knot forming in his throat. “I wish Aragorn and Arwen were happily married and safe within Gondor. I wish Gimli was busy working within his mountain; Legolas safely relaxing in the forest he so loves, and you…” Frodo trailed off for a moment, glancing back up at Gandalf. “And I wish you were wherever your heart desires to be! An awful lot of wishing, yet it does not change a thing. We are still here.”
Gandalf’s eyes were filled with sadness as he looked down at Frodo, and the hobbit found himself once more glancing away, unable to meet the troubled depths of the wizard’s gaze.
“Things will never be the same again, will they, Gandalf?” It was not really a question, but a statement, and Frodo felt the wizard’s hand tighten on his shoulder.
“My dear hobbit,” the wizard murmured sadly, “You have been through much, suffered much, and still suffer. If it were in my power, I would change that.”
Frodo shook his head slowly “It is not I that suffers,” he said quietly, unable to contain his own sadness. “Pippin, Legolas, Gimli, Merry; they are the ones who truly suffer. My pain is merely for them, and is only a shadow of what they must feel.”
“The last few days have been hard on all,” Gandalf murmured, no longer looking at Frodo, but gazing away toward the mountains.
Frodo did not reply, but also turned his gaze from the wall, looking to the east where the sun was just peeking its bright face over the horizon. A cluster of clouds hung close to the earth, capturing the sun’s light and reflecting it in a myriad of bright colors that contrasted sharply with Frodo’s dark thoughts. All night and into the morning he had been plagued with thoughts of Legolas and Pippin. Like the others, he found it hard to entertain even the briefest thought that his friends could possibly, even likely, be dead. Yet he knew that he had to accept, or at least consider this possibility if he was to be any help to Merry should it prove to be true. He had to prepare himself for the worst, no matter how it hurt!
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it, master Frodo.”
Frodo gave a slight start at the voice beside him, turning to find Sam staring at the rising sun, his face bathed in golden light.
“Aye Sam, it’s beautiful,” Frodo replied sadly. “Yet I cannot help think that such beauty does not belong here, at such a time as this, surrounded by nothing but death and destruction.
“Nay, master Frodo,” Sam answered immediately, turning from the sunrise and studying him. “I think it belongs here just fine! It shows that no matter how long or dark the night, there is always a sunrise waiting at the end. No night lasts forever, and darkness can never defeat the light of a new day!”
There was a vehemence to Sam’s words that caused Frodo to stare at him in surprise. Finally, he shook his head, letting out a wry laugh. “You should have been a philosopher, Sam, not a gardener.”
It was Sam’s turn to shake his head. “Aye, but master Frodo, gardeners are philosophers. We argue our points to our plants all the time, and we never have to worry about them arguing back!”
Sam’s words brought a small smile to Frodo’s face, as indeed, Sam had intended them to. Frodo was just opening his mouth to reply to his friend, when another voice spoke up quietly from behind them.
“I wonder if Pippin is watching the sunrise.”
Frodo turned, his smile fading and his heart sinking as he took in Merry. The hobbit looked a wreck, his face strained with dark circles beneath his eyes. He too was staring toward the rising sun, his expression distant and his voice sounding almost as if he was in some sort of trance.
“It has all his favorite colors in it,” Merry continued quietly, still not looking at the others, his voice containing a hopeless note. “I wonder if he can see it.”
“Maybe he can, Merry,” Sam said quietly, eyeing his friend sadly. “Maybe he can.”
Frodo stepped closer to Merry, reaching out and gently touching the younger hobbit’s arm, offering silent support. After what seemed like ages, Merry at last seemed to come out of his trance, blinking his eyes and returning to the present. He raised his head, glancing toward Gandalf.
“Shouldn’t we go and find the others now?” he asked somewhat shakily. “I want to begin our search as soon as possible.”
Gandalf nodded. “Here comes Aragorn now.”
Frodo turned just as Aragorn mounted the wall and began making his way toward them. The ranger looked as tired as Frodo felt, his blood stained armor contrasting sharply with his pale features, his long brown hair falling about his haggard and worn face. Faramir walked beside the king, a slight limp marring his usual graceful strides.
When the two warriors reached them, Aragorn immediately ran his eyes over his companions, obviously checking for injuries. Frodo imagined that his gaze rested just a little longer upon him and Merry, before passing on.
“Is all well here?” Aragorn asked quietly, once more perusing the small company.
“As well as can be expected,” Gandalf replied slowly. “None here are hurt, though we all are weary.”
Frodo was somewhat surprised that Gandalf had included himself in the confession of weariness, and he began to study the wizard closely. However, he was soon distracted from his task when Aragorn addressed him.
“And what of you, Frodo? Are you all right?” his friend asked softly.
Frodo was surprised and slightly disgruntled at being picked out by the ex-ranger, but before he could think of a proper reply, Sam spoke for him.
“If you ask me, he is far too pale, and I think he should sit down before he falls over!”
Frodo turned a withering glare on his friend. “He didn’t ask you, Sam, and I am not going to fall over!” Frodo was growing embarrassed by Aragorn’s continued perusal.
“I think you are right, Sam,” the ranger finally spoke, “he does look pale. Perhaps you should sit down and rest for a while.” The last was spoken to Frodo, who immediately began shaking his head.
“I am no more pale than you, Aragorn,” he stated firmly, dividing a glare between the king and Sam, “And I will sit down and rest just as soon as you do.”
Aragorn looked surprised at the response, a slight smile lightening his features. He looked as if he was about to argue, when Merry broke in.
“Where is Gimli,” the hobbit asked impatiently, his eyes scanning the wall top for any sign of the dwarf.
Aragorn immediately sobered, his face growing serious and worn once more. “He departed from me shortly after the orc’s retreat,” he told them all quietly, his eyes sad. “He did not tell me where he was going, and I did not ask.”
Gandalf nodded in understanding to this news, but Merry did not seem to like what he had heard at all.
“What if he has left without us,” he cried, looking around desperately. “Perhaps he grew tired of waiting, and now has gone and left us behind!”
“Peace, Merry,” Aragorn said gently, laying a hand upon the distraught hobbit’s shoulder. “Gimli knows that we have promised to help aid him in his search. He would not have left without us. I believe he just needs a moment alone.”
‘And who can blame him,’ Frodo thought wearily. ‘Especially after the cruel game Malek played with us this morning.’ He could still picture the form of Legolas, or Malek disguised as Legolas, standing upon the field. Even knowing it for the trick it was, he had been unable to quench the horror at the sight before him. He wondered how much worse Gimli must have been affected.
“I am sure that he will return shortly,” Aragorn was telling Merry, his hand still resting on the hobbit’s shoulder.
Merry nodded glumly, his eyes cast to the ground. An awkward silence fell then, as each were lost in their own thoughts. At last, Aragorn spoke to Gandalf.
“I have sent for our horses to be prepared for us. I think it best if we ride as far as we can, before continuing on foot. I will take us to Malek’s lair, and we can begin our search from there. I expect we will be gone for most of the day.” This last sentence was spoken to Faramir, and Aragorn’s eyes were apologetic.
Faramir shrugged his shoulders casually. “Have no fear for the city during your absence, my lord. I will see that everything is done to prepare for Malek’s next attack.”
Aragorn smiled. “I do not fear for the city, but see that you get some rest as well as getting that leg looked at.”
“It is only a scratch, my lord,” Faramir replied dismissively, “but I will do as you say.”
Aragorn nodded, satisfied, then turned back to Gandalf. “Shall we go to the stables and wait for Gimli there?”
The wizard nodded slowly, and after Faramir bid them all farewell and good luck, they left the wall and began making their way into the city. When they had reached the stables housing the horses and the hobbit’s ponies, they found grooms already saddling their mounts. Merry moved away from the others, retreating under the stables’ high awning where he could watch the entrance for Gimli while remaining sheltered from the morning sun’s glare. Aragorn and Sam immediately moved to the horses, Sam already holding a one sided conversation with his pony. Aragorn dismissed the groom saddling Roheryn and took over the job himself. Gandalf, not surprisingly, seemed to have disappeared.
Frodo sighed, glancing around him before starting to pace up and down the walkway in front of the stables. Each stall door had a top that opened out to the courtyard, and Frodo’s pacing soon caused several large heads to poke out through the openings, big eyes regarding him with a mix of curiosity and annoyance. Frodo paused his pacing to pat the noses of several of the more friendly looking beasts, feeling their hot breath wash over him as they snuffled around for any snacks he might have brought them. A familiar whinny caused him to turn just as a fiery head poked from a stall a few yards away.
“Hello, Shandarell,” he called out softly, causing the horse to turn and regard him with large brown eyes. Shandarell stamped his foot loudly, before turning away and eying the courtyard before him. It seemed almost to Frodo as if the horse was searching for something, and he shook his head sadly as Shandarell let out another loud whinny. “He is not here, boy,” he stated quietly. Shandarell flicked an ear in his direction, but did not turn away from his perusal of the courtyard. After several minutes, he let out what sounded like an indignant snort, disappearing back into his stall, more snorts and a couple of loud bangs drifting from the opening.
Frodo could not help but smile. “Throwing a temper tantrum, are we?” he muttered softly. “I shall have to tell Legolas that he needs to start teaching you some manners.” He had said the words before thinking, and he immediately winced, turning from the stalls and making his way toward where the grooms had finished preparing the horses.
Sam glanced at him, opening his mouth to speak, but at that moment, Gimli strode through the gate into the stable courtyard. Merry leapt to his feet, his face shining with relief, and Frodo, Sam, and Aragorn all turned to greet their friend. All froze, however, when they saw what the dwarf was carrying.
“Legolas’ bow,” Frodo heard Aragorn whisper hoarsely, the words almost lost beneath the heavy pounding of his heart. All stared, as Gimli made his way toward them, the bow gripped tightly before him, his face an unreadable mask.
“Are we ready to go?” he asked simply upon reaching them, and Aragorn nodded slowly.
“We have been waiting for you,” he replied quietly, his eyes still locked upon the weapon held in the dwarf’s grip. “Gimli…,” he began, then trailed off, obviously having trouble with what he wanted to say.
Gimli met his eyes, shaking his head ever so slightly. “He needs me, Aragorn,” the dwarf whispered, his face a mask of determination and his voice so low that Frodo had to strain to hear him. “Already I have made him wait too long.”
Aragorn studied his friend for a few seconds before once more nodding slowly. “Everything is prepared, and we are ready to move out.”
“Good,” Gimli said loudly, brushing past Aragorn and sending a glare over the horses. “Now, which one of these horrible beasts am I to ride. As long as it has a smoother gait than that fiery beast Legolas rides, then I shall be happy.”
Aragorn shook his head slightly, a small smile tugging at his lips despite the pain evident in his eyes. “I have rarely seen a horse with a smoother gait than Shandarell, and none of those are here now. I am afraid you will have to settle with Roheryn and I.”
Gimli merely grunted in response, moving to the large horse and eyeing him up and down. Aragorn walked over and helped the dwarf mount before swinging into the saddle in front of him. The three hobbits moved to their own ponies, pulling themselves into their saddles just as Gandalf reappeared from one of the large barns.
Quickly mounting, the wizard ran a critical eye over all of them, briefly resting on Gimli and the bow he still carried before him. His dark eyes flickered slightly, but otherwise there was no response. “We are ready then?” the wizard asked. Without waiting for a response, he swung his horse around and urged him forward.
The others followed silently, all thinking the same thoughts as they started out on a mission all prayed would be successful.
Pippin was in trouble, and the small part of him that realized this dangerous fact cried out in warning. He was slowly loosing his battle against the cold taking over his body, and he was finding it harder and harder to continue on. He stumbled forward, surrounded by cold and darkness, hardly aware of where he was going and unaware that his steps grew slower with each passing minute. Complete numbness was settling over body and brain, and if something didn’t happen soon to waken him from his stupor, both he and Legolas would most likely die alone and forgotten within the mountains. The night sky stared down at them uncaringly, the stars giving little light and no warmth to aide the weary travelers beneath them.
It seemed like ages ago that he and Legolas had stumbled free of Malek’s cave, stopping only long enough to catch their breath before stumbling forward once more. Then, the knowledge that orcs would soon be swarming the mountains in search of them had urged him on. He had not known which way Calembel lay, so he had merely randomly picked a direction, content that it led away from the horrible cave they had been imprisoned in and praying it would lead in the basic direction of the city. His adrenaline and fear had served to warm him and give him energy, yet after nearly an hour had passed with no sight or sound of orcs, Pippin had begun to relax. This had been his downfall. The night had suddenly become ten times colder, and weariness had begun to drag at him.
Now, he found it more and more difficult to fight off the cold and exhaustion claiming his body, and at last he gave up the battle completely, falling to his knees upon the hard ground, and barely aware of Legolas collapsing behind him. He released Legolas, wrapping his arms around his body in a futile attempt to ward off the chills that swept through him. A large boulder lay nearby and Pippin slumped against it, closing his eyes and attempting to stop the slow flow of tears.
‘I can’t go any further,’ he thought numbly, the tears flowing even faster. ‘I am so tired and cold and hungry. I think I will just rest here for a moment.’
A small voice within his mind began to desperately argue against the idea. No! Get up, get moving! You stop now, and you will never go on. Both you and Legolas will die here in this wilderness!
Pippin sobbed at the thought, but he was simply unable to get his rebellious body to move. He had passed his endurance, and there was nothing he could do.
“I’m sorry, Legolas,” he whispered brokenly. “I’m so sorry, but I just can’t go on.” He opened his eyes and looked toward the shadowy figure of the elf, his heart skipping a beat when he caught sight of the eastern sky. The heavens were alive with the light of dawn, the first morning rays reflected from the clouds and sending out a myriad of color that took his breath away. Even as he watched, the golden orb lifted from its bed upon the horizon, rising slowly to cast the earth in its light and warmth.
Pippin closed his eyes again, breathing deeply as the sun’s golden rays came to dance upon his face with a warm and gentle touch. Vaguely he realized from the sun’s position that he had been heading steadily southeast for the last hour, which meant that with a little adjustment to the south, he would be heading directly for Calembel. The city was probably no more than three perhaps four hours steady walking from where he now lay.
Still thinking of giving up? The small voice was back. You are so close, it would be a shame for you to have come so far only to quit now. Come on, get up!
“I don’t think I can,” Pippin sobbed out loud, his voice sounding weak and desperate in the early morning stillness.
Fine, sit there and die. Just realize that you are killing not only yourself, but Legolas as well. That is, if the orcs don’t find you first! I wonder what Merry and the rest of your friends would think if they found out you were so close and gave up!
This last was more than Pippin could bear, and with a small shout of frustration, he pushed himself up from the ground, wobbling slightly as dizziness caused the world to sway before him. He used the large boulder to steady himself as he waited for the dizziness to pass, then turned to Legolas.
It took him several attempts to get the elf on his feet, and Pippin was nearing despair once more before Legolas at last rose from the ground. Pippin was unsure of how much longer his friend could go on; how much longer he could go on for that matter, but he was determined to get as far as he could.
Grasping the elf’s arm tightly, he began stumbling forward once more, changing his direction slightly so that he was heading almost directly south. He knew that once he worked his way free of the mountains, the going would be easier for both him and Legolas, and the rising sun would serve to dry their wet clothes and warm their bodies.
He had gone about a mile before his senses suddenly became aware of an unnatural silence surrounding them. He froze, listening intently, then suddenly dived to the side, ducking behind a large thicket and pulling Legolas after him. He was not a moment too soon, for a large group of orcs suddenly appeared around a bend in the path, moving silently and quickly toward their hiding place.
Pippin held his breath, trying desperately to still the mad beating of his heart. His eyes fell with horror on a single print pressed firmly into a patch of dirt and unmistakably pointing directly toward where they crouched hidden. He had to fight off a sudden desire to break free and run, knowing that they would not stand a chance against such a large group of orcs. If they saw the print…
To Pippin’s dismay, the orcs slowed, then stopped not ten feet in front of the thicket where they hid, a large orc boot coming to rest right beside the print left in the dirt. Pippin closed his eyes, expecting any minute to hear a shout of discovery, followed by a search that would unavoidably end in their capture.
“Are you sure we’re looking in the right direction, Sharbag,” Pippin heard one of the orcs growl.
“This is the way back to the city, aint it!” The one called Sharbag snapped back. “They’ll be trying to get back to their friends, and this is the way they have to come!”
“Well, how come we haven’t seen any sign of them? Not a single print! I still think we’re looking in the wrong place!”
“Just shut your face and leave the thinking to me, Sluggut. Maybe if you quit your whining and started looking you would find something!”
“Well, we had better find them soon, cause I am getting tired of wandering around under this blasted sun!” A new voice spoke up, but was quickly silenced by Sharbag.
“Shut up, Fletwit! We wouldn’t be wandering these mountains if you hadn’t lost the prisoners in the first place!”
Fletwit let out what sounded like a whimper. “How was I to know that the hobbit wasn’t really sleeping? When I get a hold of him, I’m going to make him dance at the end of my knife before I slit his scrawny throat.”
“We have to find them first, now don’t we! And if we don’t, it is you, Fletwit, that the master is going to eat alive!” Another pitiful whimper followed this statement. “And just remember, we are supposed to bring the elf back alive! The master has some sort of plan for him!”
With this last statement, the group of orcs began to move again, trudging by barely five feet in front of the thicket! Pippin’s vision was beginning to blur with the effort of holding his breath, and he felt sure that the wild pounding of his heart would alert the orcs to their presence.
Pippin remained crouched behind the thicket for several minutes after the last orc had disappeared from view, listening intently for any sound that would indicate their return. When he was at last certain that they were indeed gone, he leapt to his feet, pulling Legolas after him. It seemed as if the orcs orders were not to capture him, but to kill him and return Legolas to Malek to finish whatever he had started with the elf. Pippin was not about to let that happen! He liked being alive way too much!
With desperation fueling him on, Pippin hurried forward once more, still moving south, but at an angle away from the orc party. Legolas followed silently after, his movements still frustratingly slow.
Pippin now kept his senses carefully alert in case they should run into any more orc parties, but relief soon swelled within him as he realized they were nearing the edge of the mountains. A bit further, and they would reach the foothills, and Calembel lay only shortly beyond that.
“A few more hours, Legolas,” Pippin gasped quietly, “and we will be home! Aragorn can take care of you, and we will have a nice large fire to warm ourselves and all the food we can eat!” The thought of warmth and food caused him to groan softly and pick up the pace as much as Legolas would allow. The morning sun was beginning to dry their sodden clothes, yet Pippin was still chilled, and Legolas’ arm was deathly cold beneath his grip.
So it was, that as the sun was still hanging near the horizon, Pippin and Legolas passed from the mountains into the foothills. Much of their path now lay out in the open, yet free from the oppressive slopes of the mountains, Pippin found himself relaxing once more. He doubted the orcs would have ventured this far away from their caverns, and even if they had, they would be as visible out in the open as he and Legolas were. As long as he remained alert and watchful, things would be just fine.
They were passing through a wooded glade at the base of two large hills, when suddenly, without warning, Legolas collapsed, carrying Pippin to the ground with him.
Pippin cried out as he landed heavily on top of the elf. He immediately rolled to the side, his eyes widening with dismay as he looked down at Legolas. His friend’s eyes were closed, his face deathly pale, and for a horrible second, Pippin thought for sure that he was dead. With a cry, he fell beside the elf, reaching out with trembling fingers and searching for a pulse. He let out a ragged sob of relief when he found it, the beat fast and erratic beneath his fingers.
“Legolas,” he called out softly, tapping the elf’s cheek gently with his hand. There was no response, not even a flutter of his eyelashes, and Pippin sat back, knowing there was no use trying to rouse his friend. It was obvious that Legolas had gone as far as he was able.
Pippin closed his eyes tightly, frustration causing him to clench his hands at his sides. Legolas needed help, and soon, or he would die and Pippin would never forgive himself. The only problem was, help now lay completely out of reach. There was no way Pippin could carry Legolas, and dragging him was not an option. He could barely carry his own weight.
‘I’ll have to leave him here, and go and get some help.” The thought had no sooner entered his mind, then Pippin shied away from it. He did not like the idea of leaving Legolas alone. There were simply too many things that could go wrong!
‘But what other choice have I? If I stay here with him, I might be able to protect him from orcs, but he will still die from his injuries.’ Indecision gripped at Pippin, though he already knew what he had to do.
Leaning forward, he gently brushed a stray strand of golden hair from Legolas’ face. “Legolas, I am going to get help. I’ll be back, I promise!” he whispered softly, his heart wrenching at the decision. He doubted Legolas could hear him, but saying the words out loud somehow made him feel slightly better.
Unclasping his cloak, he gently laid the garment over Legolas’ prone form before rising and slowly backing away. Each step away from his friend was torture, but with a final look, Pippin turned and began climbing the large hill before him. His steps were slow at first, but as desperation took hold of him, he quickened his pace until he was half jogging, half running up the steep hill.
Once he reached the top, he glanced around hopefully for a sign of the city, sighing when all he saw were more hills stretching away before him. Gritting his teeth, he pushed forward once more, jogging down one hill and up the next, each time stopping to look for the city.
After what seemed like hours of this, Pippin was beginning to grow desperate. He began to think that he might have somehow passed up the city, and with that thought the first flames of panic arose within him. Time was running out for Legolas, and if he didn’t find the city soon…
Pippin never finished the thought, for suddenly he gained the crest of a tall hill, and the sight below him caused him to gasp in excitement. It was not the city, but it was the next best thing; horsemen. The riders were moving swiftly across the small valley at the base of the hill, and with a shout, Pippin began racing down the hill, waving his arms frantically in an attempt to gain the horsemen’s attention.
Aragorn almost did not hear Pippin’s frantic calls over the loud pounding of the horse’s hooves. It was pure luck, and perhaps the strange alerting of a sixth sense, that caused him to turn suddenly in his saddle and glance to the side. He pulled Roheryn to an abrupt stop, the hobbits’ ponies nearly crashing into him, as he stared in disbelief, thinking that his eyes were somehow deceiving him.
Yet the small figure racing down the hill towards them did not disappear, and now with the horses stopped, his faint calls could be heard drifting upon the breeze.
Gandalf was about to ask Aragorn why he had stopped when he too heard the calls, as did the others. All stared in shock for several seconds. Not surprisingly, it was Merry who reacted first.
“Pippin!” the hobbit cried, digging his heels into his pony and leaping forward toward the small figure, which had now collapsed at the bottom of the hill. Sam and Frodo were right behind him, and after exchanging surprised looks, Gandalf and Aragorn followed.
Pippin was numb with relief as he knelt upon the grass, weeping openly as he heard Merry repeatedly calling his name. His friend’s pony was charging toward him, closely followed by the others, and Pippin merely knelt and waited for them, suddenly drained of every last ounce of energy he had left.
Merry did not even wait until his pony came to a complete stop before flinging himself from the saddle, collapsing before Pippin and pulling the exhausted hobbit into his arms. The two friends knelt there, tightly holding on to each other and weeping unashamedly. Sam and Frodo stood silently to the side, tears streaming down their own faces as they watched the reunion between the two friends.
“Oh, Pippin,” Merry sobbed, “I thought you were dead! I thought I would never see you again!”
Pippin did not respond except to cling to his friend even more fiercely, watching through a veil of tears as Aragorn, Gimli, and Gandalf dismounted a few paces off. The ex-ranger approached the two friends slowly, dropping to his knees beside them and taking in Pippin’s rumpled, wet clothes and bloody cheek.
“Well met, Pippin,” he said softly, reaching out and gently brushing the injured cheek. “I will admit we were all despairing of ever seeing you again.”
Merry at last released Pippin, allowing the hobbit to sit back and run a teary eye over all his companions. Pippin attempted a small smile, his overwhelming relief causing his exhaustion to set in. “What are you all doing here?” he asked softly, realizing it wasn’t the brightest question he could ask, but thinking of nothing else to say.
“We were looking for you, Pip,” Sam explained slowly. “You and Legolas! We never expected you would just pop up and…”
“Legolas,” Pippin interrupted, sitting bolt upright, dismayed that he had forgotten about his friend, even for a moment.
Aragorn saw the dismay on the young hobbit’s face, and shook his head sadly, thinking it was caused by the news that Legolas was not with them. “I am afraid Legolas is also missing, Pippin,” he stated quietly, his eyes flickering to where Gimli stood with bowed head.
“No!” Pippin shouted, surprising them all. “He’s not missing! He was captured along with me, and we were both taken to Malek!”
Aragorn’s heart skipped a beat at the news that Legolas had indeed survived the fall from the cliff, but his relief was quickly replaced by horror as the realization of Pippin’s words hit him. “Then Malek has him,” he whispered softly, horrified at the thought.
“No!” Pippin exclaimed again, shaking his head fiercely. “He’s here! Well, not here. I had to leave him about a mile back. He couldn’t go any further, and I thought I would go and get some help. I didn’t want to leave him, but…”
Pippin was suddenly cut off as Gimli pushed forward, kneeling before him and reaching out to grip his shoulder painfully. “Are you saying that both you and Legolas escaped from Malek?” the dwarf asked intently, his voice a hoarse whisper.
Pippin nodded, then turned to Aragorn. “We have to go to him, and fast. He is hurt badly. Malek and his orcs, they…” he trailed off, unable to complete his sentence as new tears filled his eyes.
Aragorn looked stunned, but he reached down and gently pulled Pippin to his feet. “Take us to him,” he ordered softly.
Gimli had never before experienced the wave of emotions that now threatened to overwhelm him as Pippin led them to where he had left Legolas. Though he had refused to admit it, even to himself, he had thought his friend to be dead, and now that he found out otherwise… Relieved did not even begin to describe his feelings at the moment. For the first time, he was immensely relieved that they had the horses, for the beasts would bring him to his goal much faster than walking.
It seemed like only seconds, instead of minutes, had passed before Pippin directed them into a small wooded glade between two tall hills. As soon as he caught sight of Legolas lying upon the ground, Gimli slipped from the saddle, not waiting for assistance in his rush to reach his best friend. He ran to Legolas’ side, dropping to his knees and worriedly gazing over the elf’s prone form. When he reached out and gently grasped Legolas’ hand, he shuddered at the cold and clammy feel of his friend’s skin.
Aragorn knelt on the other side of Legolas, Gandalf beside him. He quickly examined the elf, feeling his unnaturally cold skin and the dampness of the cloak that covered him. He felt Legolas’ forehead, then took his pulse, aware of the hobbits standing worriedly behind him. Removing the cloak, he inspected the bruised and bloody skin of the elf’s chest, frowning at the deep scratches left by Malek’s claws. The wounds were red and inflamed, the skin next to them the only warm spot on Legolas’ body.
Gimli watched Aragorn closely, studying the man for any clue as to the extent of his friend’s injuries. At last, the ex-ranger lifted his head from his inspection.
“We have to get him to the city,” Aragorn stated firmly. He reached forward with the intention of lifting Legolas from the ground, when a shout of warning caused him to freeze and turn a questioning look on Pippin.
“His back,” Pippin explained softly.
Aragorn frowned, turning back to Legolas and gently shifting the elf to his side. A low growl escaped from Gimli’s lips as he took in his friend’s torn and bloody back, and he clenched his fist in rage at the thought of the obvious torment Legolas had gone through.
Aragorn’s face was grim as he lifted the elf as gently as he could, being careful to position his arms where they would not aggravate Legolas’ injuries. He strode over to Roheryn, and Gandalf helped him set Legolas before him in the saddle. As soon as the elf was positioned as comfortably as possible, Aragorn kicked Roheryn into a gallop, knowing the others would catch up. He had to get Legolas back to the city, and fast, for he could sense his friend was fading quickly.
Gimli watched Aragorn ride away, his hand gripping the haft of his axe in a death grip, his eyes tormented. Gandalf gently laid a hand upon the dwarf’s shoulder.
“He will be fine, Gimli,” the wizard spoke softly. “He has not survived all this way to die now.”
Gimli nodded slowly, watching as Roheryn disappeared over the rise. “Malek shall pay for what he has done to him,” Gimli muttered softly. “This I promise, I will not rest until Malek is dead!”
Arwen gently brushed her hand across Legolas’ brow, forcing her movements steady and fighting down the bile that rose in her throat. Each touch to Legolas sent a wave of darkness and evil radiating through her, threatening to make her sick.
“There is a shadow over him,” she whispered softly, “A darkness deeper than any of his wounds.”
“I sense it, also,” Aragorn murmured from where he stood on the other side of the bed, “though it seems to affect you more than me.”
“You see these scratches?” Arwen asked, running her hand lightly over the markings on Legolas’ chest. “The darkness seems to come from here.”
Aragorn nodded slowly. “I am not sure how to tend this,” he admitted softly. “Any ideas?”
Arwen shook her head. “First, we must learn what happened to him. We must know what caused these markings. Perhaps then we will get a clue as to how to treat them.”
“The others should be returning soon,” Aragorn replied quietly. “Only Pippin can tell us exactly what happened. In the mean time, we can only tend the wounds that we do see.”
Arwen sighed, reaching for a basin of water and a clean cloth. “Aye, and these wounds are enough to worry me. We must clean his back carefully, before infection sets in.”
Aragorn nodded, and the two set to work on their friend, cleaning and binding his wounds tightly. They had nearly finished when the door opened and Gimli entered, followed closely by Gandalf and the hobbits.
“How is he?” Gimli asked worriedly, hurrying to the bedside and peering down at Legolas.
“His wounds are serious, but not life threatening,” Arwen replied gently. “Yet there is something about his condition that bothers me, and will continue to until I learn more of what has happened to him.” She glanced at Pippin then, her eyes gentle as she took in his exhausted state. “Hello, Pippin,” she called softly, receiving a small blush and bow from the young hobbit.
“Pippin,” Aragorn called gently, moving over to the hobbit. “I know that you are tired, and you shall receive rest soon, but first, we must know what has happened if we are to completely care for Legolas.”
Pippin nodded slowly, letting out a weary sigh. “Where do you want me to start?” he asked tiredly.
“From the beginning,” Aragorn commanded, as he gently led Pippin toward the single chair in the room. “Tell us everything from the moment Legolas and I left you to explore the cave. Don’t leave anything out, no matter how inconsequential it may seem to you. I want to know everything.”
For the next hour, the company listened carefully to Pippin’s tale, Aragorn only interjecting occasionally when he felt the hobbit was being too vague or to clarify a certain fact. When Pippin reached the part where the orcs had whipped Legolas, followed by Malek’s actions, Aragorn made him repeat it several times, his face thoughtful.
Gimli did not look thoughtful, he looked murderous, and Aragorn caught him muttering darkly beneath his breath, though he only caught ‘axe’ and ‘Malek’s head’ in the dwarf’s mumbling.
Pippin continued his story, relating his and Legolas’ near escape and how he had almost given up several times before spotting the others. He did not seem to notice the growing surprise and respect upon his listeners’ faces, his eyes firmly cast down to his clenched hands, his voice low and ragged with the effort of reliving each moment of what was probably the worst day of his life.
When he had at last finished and the silence in the room had grown so great that he could not resist glancing up, he found Aragorn staring at him with a very strange expression upon his face.
“Pippin…” the Ranger began; but the hobbit cut him off.
“I’m sorry, Aragorn,” he whispered brokenly. “I wish I had just acted sooner, instead of sitting and waiting for Malek to finish whatever it was he was doing to Legolas. If he dies, it will be all my fault! I should have…”
“Pippin!” It was Aragorn’s turn to cut off the hobbit, his voice firm and strong. He knelt down before Pippin, reaching out and resting his hands on the hobbit’s knees. “You saved his life!” he whispered harshly, forcing the hobbit to meet his eyes. “You continually risked your own safety for him, showing more courage and determination than many veteran warriors I have known.”
“But I almost gave up several times!” Pippin exclaimed, self-disgust evident in his voice.
“Yet you didn’t.” Aragorn pointed out firmly. “Despite being cold and tired, you kept going, and Legolas owes you his life for it!”
“I was frightened,” Pippin whispered softly, not understanding why Aragorn kept picturing him a hero.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, my dear hobbit, but the ability to continue on despite that fear! You have shown great courage this day!”
Pippin stared into the dark eyes of Aragorn, his breath suddenly catching as he saw the sincere respect deep within their depths.
“Do you remember what I told you the other day,” Aragorn asked softly, “about never having to prove yourself to me?”
Pippin nodded wordlessly, unable to tear his eyes from Aragorn’s.
“Well, that remains true, yet even if it wasn’t, you have proven yourself ten times over this day! I am proud to have you in my service. You are a true knight of Gondor!”
Pippin continued to stare at Aragorn, tears filling his eyes. It seemed as if he had been doing a lot of crying lately, and he struggled to keep his emotions in check.
“Don’t worry about Legolas, Pippin,” Arwen spoke quietly. “We will care for him, and everything will be fine.”
Pippin nodded, swallowing hard as Aragorn rose and moved back to the bed. Gimli replaced him, moving forward and gripping Pippin’s shoulder tightly, the gratitude and emotion in his eyes speaking more loudly than any words he might have spoken. At the silent thanks, Pippin felt the tears at last spill over.
Arwen gently helped him up, leading him to a small room next to Legolas’ where she cleaned the scratches on his face before leaving and bidding him to rest.
Merry, Frodo, and Sam had all followed him over, and they now stood around his bed, regarding him silently, a different expression on each face. Pippin soon became uncomfortable under their scrutiny.
At last, Frodo spoke. “I’m proud of you, Pip,” he whispered quietly, “you’re a true hero.”
Pippin shook his head firmly. “You weren’t there,” he whispered softly. “We almost didn’t escape.”
“Ahh, but you did, and I’m glad your back!” Merry exclaimed, reaching out and grabbing Pippin’s hand in his own.
Sam let out a small laugh. “I sure would have liked to see Malek’s face when he realized you had escaped!”
“Not me!” Pippin exclaimed. “I have seen all I want of him, and I don’t think I would like to be anywhere near him when he is angry. You can expect that his attacks will be all the more fierce from here on out.”
“It doesn’t matter, Pippin,” Merry stated firmly. “We’re all together again, and that’s all that matters. Together, we can handle anything Malek decides to throw our way!”
Pippin nodded, though he was secretly doubtful.
“Is there anything we can get you before we leave and let you rest?” Frodo asked.
Pippin’s eyes lit up at the question. “Well,” he said slowly, “there is one thing…”
“Anything,” Sam offered boldly.
“Food,” Pippin whispered dreamily. “Lots and lots of food!”