Written for Marigold's CTale hallenge #38
Many thanks to Marigold and Llinos for both Beta and some wonderful suggestions!
Author's Chapter Notes:
Hithfaer, the mysterious soothsaying cat from Boromir's tale, makes another appearance.
"Perchance to Dream"
“This will be the death of the halflings!”
Boromir wrapped his great cloak around the shivering shoulders of the hobbits as they huddled together in sheer desperation against the cutting wind. Pippin shook violently and his teeth chattered so hard he thought they might shatter. The Company turned as one to Gandalf, the smallest members imploring the wizard for some sort of reprieve against the raging blizzard.
Gandalf regarded them solemnly for a moment before speaking. “Let the Ringbearer decide,” he intoned.
Frodo hesitated, the decision weighing heavily on him. He eyed his cousins and Sam, taking in their wind-reddened faces and their imploring expressions and he knew Boromir spoke the truth. “We will go through the Mines.”
“So be it.” Gandalf swung around and motioned the group to proceed back the way they had come.
The weary travellers forced their way through the deep drifts, forging a new path through tracks already filled with snow as they struggled to find a place to shelter. All about them the wind continued to moan and howl as if it were some sort of wicked creature that sought to do them harm. The cold prodded them with rigid stabbing fingers of ice until Pippin was certain he would go mad with the pain. He heard the dwarf muttering ahead of him.
“Caradhras the Cruel, aye, an apt name it is. I shouldn’t wonder how it earned it.”
Pippin had to agree. There was nothing crueller than the continuous sharp wind and the wet snow that whipped around his face and froze his ears clean up to their pointed tips. He felt like a great icicle and was certain he would soon be as stiff as one if they didn’t find shelter before much longer. He felt Merry strengthen his hold around him as if reading his thoughts. “I should never have come, Merry. I am of no use here, I am simply a burden.”
“No, Pip! That’s not true.”
“It is true and you know it.”
Merry squeezed him again and shook his head, urging his shivering cousin forward. The Fellowship finally arrived at an area where a great outcropping of stone afforded them some respite from the wind and snow and they gratefully gathered beneath it. Aragorn pulled sticks of kindling from the pony’s pack and dropped them inside the circle as he led the pony under the overhang. The wood was damp but the Ranger set about his attempt to build a fire. With aid from Legolas and the wizard they were finally able to coax a feeble flame from the smouldering sticks. The hobbits crouched around the meagre fire, their bodies creating a barrier to the wind and allowing it to grow steadily brighter.
Pippin breathed a sigh of relief and gratefully held his hands out to warm them. Everyone followed suit and at long last they were able to enjoy a small measure of comfort. Between the fire and the warmth of his companions surrounding him Pippin was able to smile genuinely at his cousin. Merry grinned back. Their companions relaxed a little and Aragorn tugged off his boots.
“A bit chilly for bare feet, is it not?” Gandalf quirked an eyebrow at him and Aragorn grinned sheepishly.
“Something has been inside my boots for a good part of the march but I could do nothing for it.” He turned them each upside down one at a time and shook them. Several very fine pebbles rolled out. The Ranger massaged his feet gratefully for a moment and then set about re-donning his boots with no small amount of satisfaction. “Ah, that’s much better.”
“Yes indeed, I imagine it is,” the wizard chuckled.
After a meagre repast of dried meat they settled into silence, each of them lost in their own thoughts. Outside the little alcove the wind continued to howl. Pippin’s mind again returned to his despair over their situation and his regret for having accompanied the Fellowship. He wriggled about, attempting to get comfortable and detected something hard poking him in the backside. Grimacing, he reached down and felt around until his hand closed around something. Pulling it out he studied it curiously for a moment before realizing what it was. He turned it this way and that, wondering how in Middle-earth a dead, frozen frog could turn up in the middle of a blizzard?
“What is that, Pip?” Frodo peered at the object in his cousin’s hand.
Merry leaned over and examined it. “Why, it looks like a frog! “
“A dead frog. A frozen dead frog.” Pippin shook his head and chuckled. “I wonder where it came from?”
“Could’ve been dropped by a bird,” Merry ventured.
“Aye, or perhaps it forgot it needed to burrow down into the mud when the snow and cold came,” Sam guessed with a grin
The little group shared a laugh in the rare, lighthearted moment. Aragorn watched them, amused. “I recall a time when the sky rained frogs.” He looked over at Legolas. “Isn’t that right, my friend?” The elf nodded.
“What? You are having us on, aren’t you Strider?”
“Yes Sam, surely he is,” agreed Pippin.
The elf and the Ranger both shook their heads, their amusement growing.
“Tell us!” Pippin demanded, his discomfort momentarily forgotten. He placed the macabre form down in front of him and listened eagerly.
“It is really not all that mysterious Pippin,” Legolas told him. “When conditions are appropriate sometimes a great water spout may scoop up all manner of things into its midst, including fish and frogs. The wind helps carry them over the land and then drops them with the water. Thus, it appears to be raining frogs. And fish!”
Pippin thought this over. Frodo grinned at him. “Perhaps that is the origin of the old saying ‘it’s raining cats and frogs’ then?”
“Hmm, I thought it was an old wive’s tale. But perhaps you’re right.” He nodded toward the unfortunate frog. “I suppose it doesn’t matter to him now, either way, just how he got here.” A strange chill overcame him as he stared at the dead creature. He plucked it up suddenly and flung it as far away as he could. Silence embraced the Fellowship for a moment. Finally Boromir shook himself from his reverie.
“Well, best get some sleep whilst you can, lads,” he extended his cloak invitingly and quickly found himself surrounded by hobbits.
After a time, and much shifting about to find a relatively comfortable position, Pippin and Merry fell into an exhausted sleep, both of them huddled against each other and burrowed into the welcoming warmth beneath Boromir’s great fur-lined cloak. On his other side Sam and Frodo tucked themselves into a similar position and were soon snoring gently. Aragorn smiled slightly at the sight and, shaking his head, he leaned back and joined the others in settling into the greatly appreciated respite from the harsh elements. Legolas took up the lonely first watch although he did not move away from the group. It was unlikely any creature would brave the raging storm to seek them out this night. There was not a star evident in the stormy night sky, nor did the moon peek out even once. There was only snow and the cold wind to keep them company.
Pippin stirred and shifted restlessly for a time, his stomach gnawing at him uncomfortably from the lack of food, before falling into a deep slumber at last. As the night wore on Pippin began to dream…
“Dizzy!” Pippin shrieked with excitement as he streaked down the green hill at full speed, at last stopping to scoop up his beloved puppy as Dizzy gambolled about his feet in anticipation. “Oh, Dizzy.” Pippin rubbed his face in the soft fur and sighed happily. The pup obligingly licked his hands in greeting and then his face as Pippin lifted him up and gazed into the melting brown eyes. He giggled with pleasure. “Oh! If you only knew how much I’ve missed you.” Dizzy panted happily at his master’s pats and hugs, then yipped with excitement when Pippin placed him on the ground. The pup wriggled and danced around his feet weaving his way in and out between his legs. Pippin was leaning down to pat Dizzy again when he spied a flash of white as pure as the winter snow headed towards him. He stood, his mouth gaping open and then grinned widely.
A pure white cat made her way across the field, carefully placing one delicate paw in front of the other. Pippin’s eyes lit up in sheer delight. “Lily!” Pippin ran towards her and eagerly scooped her into his arms. Her coat was as smooth and soft as he remembered it and Lily began to purr when he rubbed his cheek across her fur. “What a lovely kitty you are. I’ve missed you so very much.” Lily simply continued her song, settling into Pippin’s arms as he stroked her. “Come on Dizzy! Let’s go home and see everyone!”
Pippin trotted along, Lily tucked securely into his arms and Dizzy yipping and barking at his feet. Before long he reached his home and strode through the farmyard. He looked around, puzzled that he hadn’t seen anyone yet. At this time of day the area should be buzzing with activity. He stopped and slowly turned in a circle. He saw no one. Pippin put Lily down and hesitated for a moment before heading towards the barn.
His footsteps slowed as he approached the great door and he paused to listen. He didn’t hear a thing. No cows moving in the stalls, no chickens wandering about. He squinted at the enclosure behind the barn. There were no ponies to be seen. The old bull was missing too and so was that troublesome goose. Pippin couldn’t help feeling a bit relieved about that. He and the goose were not the best of friends. Pippin had been chased about the farmyard and had his heels pecked on occasion so he had taken to being vigilant and always carried his catapult just in case.
The eerie silence persisted as Pippin cautiously pushed open the barn door, certain he would see his father working at some task and the farmhands bustling around. His mother and sisters might even be about. He smiled at the memory of watching Pervinca gather the eggs and scold Pansy the goose when she came too close. Dizzy and Lily followed and stayed close to him as if sensing his nervousness.
The door swung wide and all was still. Pippin leaned into the darkness and called out, “Da? Mum?” No answer. “Vinca?” All was quiet and Pippin began to quake. “Where is everyone?” The young hobbit’s voice broke and he struggled to hold back a sob of despair. Suddenly he felt very young and vulnerable. And very alone.
Pippin explored his surroundings not losing the hope that he would turn a corner and spy someone at any moment. Finally after circling through the barn twice and checking all the stalls he sank down onto a bale of hay and despaired. Placing his head in his hands he wept. Alarmed by his tears Dizzy tried to crawl up onto his lap. Pippin reached down and scooped the puppy up, cradling him in his arms while he cried. A gentle voice called out his name from the dim recesses next to the great stacks of hay. Pippin startled. Raising his head he peered at the corner. He did not recognize the voice and he still saw no one.
“Who is it? Who is there?” Shakily he arose still holding the pup in his arms. A slight movement in the darkness caught his attention just before a magnificent tortoiseshell cat stepped into the light. Pippin shook his head in wonder and fell back onto the bale of hay. Surely it was not the cat that had spoken? He chuckled nervously at the very thought. No, of course not. He watched the cat curiously, tilting his head to the side and spoke to her softly. “Hullo kitty! And where did you come from, hmm? I don’t remember seeing you around here before.”
The cat stopped and sat back on her haunches leisurely licking her paw and eyeing the hobbit in a casual manner. Gradually her paw travelled higher until she washed over both of her ears. Pippin laughed. “It would seem we are due for a storm then, aren’t we kitty? Or are we having some company?” The cat continued washing over her ears, occasionally pausing to gaze at him and then returning to her task.
Pippin watched in fascination until he suddenly remembered the voice he’d heard. Pulling his attention away from the cat he spoke into the dark recesses again. “'Hullo', I said! Who’s there? Please come out and let me see you.”
There was no answer and he got up and headed towards the corner. As he searched about the hay bales and tools leaning against the wall he again attempted to lure the recalcitrant visitor from hiding. There was no other sound. Pippin wondered if he had imagined the voice.
Returning to his seat on the bale he kept Dizzy on his lap, uncertain how he would react to their feline visitor. The great tortoiseshell cat tilted her head in much the same gesture as Pippin had earlier and watched the pair. Pippin was certain the cat was smiling at him and he stared at her in wonder. “Well, perhaps you can tell me where everyone has gone? And also who spoke to me earlier. What do you say kitty?”
The cat shook her head and Pippin gaped. He threw a hand up to his mouth as he gasped in disbelief when the cat spoke. “Nay, Peregrin. I do not know where your family has gone. And ‘twas I who spoke to you.”
Pippin struggled to find his voice for a very long moment before he finally squeaked, “What?” He cleared his throat and tried again. “How, how…how can this be so? Cats do not talk! Where did you come from?”
The cat gazed at him gently, her demeanour one of great compassion and Pippin felt himself relax. “I am Hithfaer and the man of Gondor spoke of me to you and your companions not long ago.”
“My companions? Oh! The Fellowship. But I have returned! The Quest is completed, is it not?”
“Nay, little one. It has barely begun.”
Pippin fell silent, his thoughts awhirl. The memory of the tortoiseshell cat of Gondor returned to him. It was one of the big man’s stories told around the campfire one morning.
“Aye…Boromir told the tale…but he said it was a myth. A story based on the real one, the one of Queen Beruthiel’s cats.”
“I am no myth, little one.”
“No, you appear real enough, for the moment at least.” Pippin tilted his head thoughtfully. “Why are you here?” He looked around the barn and back at Hithfaer. “For that matter, why am I here? You say the Quest is not yet completed. Yet I am home again, in the Shire. And no one is here,” he added sadly.
“I wish to pass on the gift of future sight to you, young one. That is within my power. Do you not recall the man telling you that a cat such as I is held in the highest esteem for our soothsaying abilities? And that a tortoiseshell cat is not only able to see into the future but may pass this gift on to one of her choosing?” Hithfaer smiled again. “And as I recall, you were quite amused by that notion.”
“I, I, well of course I was. After all, it’s not every day one hears such a tall tale!”
“Ah, but ‘tis not a tall tale young Peregrin. ‘Tis the truth. And I am here to help you.”
“Help…help me? Why?”
“Because you are a good lad. Your thoughts are pure and you seek to care for those whom you love, be it with your songs and humour, or your gentle touch and indomitable spirit. You must not give up. You are needed. Indeed, you are crucial to the success of this Quest and you cannot allow yourself to give in to despair or self pity.”
“I do not pity myself. I simply said that the Fellowship would have been better off without me because I am useless to them and a burden.”
“No. That is untrue in the utmost! You have much to accomplish on your journey. There will come a time when much depends on your actions. The Quest will not survive without your participation. Listen, and listen well, young one. You must survive so that others will also. The Ring must be destroyed and the veil of darkness lifted from Middle-earth. Your companions, your family, your very life depends on this. You must succeed!”
“No! No giving up. Nor speaking of feeling you should not be on this journey. You will go on, you will persevere. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Pippin whispered.
“There is much despair and heartache yet before you but you will not allow it to sway you from your task.”
“Very well. Close your eyes Peregrin.”
Pippin obediently shut his eyes and waited. He heard the cat begin to chant in a mysterious, unfamiliar language. After a few moments he started to feel sleepy and his head drooped.
The chanting voice faded farther into the distance. In its place a wind began to blow around him and cold, wet snow fell on his cheeks. Pippin’s eyes flew open and he groaned. He had shifted from beneath Boromir’s cloak until his face was exposed to the elements. Snow pelted his face and he quickly drew it back into the warm fur. He curled up against the others and pondered his dream in wonder. It had been oh, so vivid and he felt he could reach out and touch the tortoiseshell cat as she lingered in his mind’s eye. Could the message she delivered have some truth?
Pippin decided not to doubt the mysterious dream that had sprung from the depths of his being. It was much better to be safe than sorry. Despite his discomfort his heart somehow felt lighter than it had in quite some time. He was needed. He would not give up.
Yes, other great storms lay ahead of them. He knew this without a doubt. He wondered if he actually might be able to see into the future? Hithfaer had been adamant about passing along her gift to him, after all. Ah well. Time would tell. And in the meantime he now knew he did indeed have a place in their Fellowship - and perhaps an important one.