Quest by Cathleen

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Quest

Chapter Eight

 

“Revelations”

 

She stretched forth her great wings, extending claws of iron and drew them down the walls of her prison, shuddering with pleasure at the shrill sound. The uneasiness of the little one was growing greater with each step he came closer, and this pleased her. She released a shriek of amusement as her pawn shook with fear.

Soon. Yes, freedom was only a short distance away now. . .

 

***

 

It had taken all Frodo’s skill in stealth, and all his patience to wait for the right moment to slip away from them. Legolas had stepped away briefly, but it was long enough.  Gandalf had appeared to doze.  And in those quiet moments he had made his escape.  He was sorry for the distress his disappearance would cause.  But, the outcome would be worse than worry if his cousins were not found quickly. Of this he was certain.

Frodo bristled as he recalled the conversation he’d overheard.  It was simply unbelievable that Aragorn would do such a thing as drug him into sleep, night wandering notwithstanding. He listened closely for several minutes, leaning into the darkness, getting accustomed to the dimmer light of this passage.  He felt a grim satisfaction as he shifted his torch into the other hand. If he hadn’t been able to secure it then all would have been for naught for he wouldn’t be able to travel far.  It seemed that fate was on his side for once.  Who better than he to locate his cousins? He knew their ways, their inclinations. He knew how to think like they did. Frodo nodded with determination. He had taught them much about mischief and furtiveness himself. But he did not believe that mischief making was behind their disappearance; even moreso now after having heard what Gandalf told Legolas of his suspicions. What was it Gandalf had said about the Seeing Stones being compelled to reunite? The nature of the predicament reminded him all too much of the Ring and its draining, fiery pull on his every waking moment. He shivered at the thought of his youngest cousin confronting a similar force. And what of Merry? Had he simply followed Pippin to bring him back or was he too affected?

As he searched ahead in the hopes of seeing some sign of his cousins, he failed to notice a section of loose stones and scrim at his feet. He found himself slipping and cried out when he found himself tumbling down a steep corridor that dropped off suddenly. He landed sharply and his head struck the sharp point of a stalagmite protruding from the floor. His world went dark despite the flickering from the torch that lay dangerously close at his side.

 

***

 

Aragorn held the blanket aloft, his expression darkening.

Sam turned sharply. “Oh no!” 

“How did he evade you?” Aragorn flung the blanket away. Can you not watch over one small hobbit by yourselves?”  His voice rose sharply, distressing the others.

“Aragorn,” Gandalf attempted to soothe him. “Frodo did give his word to both of us that he would not stray.  He must have felt compelled to break that vow.” 

“Gandalf, do you realise what this means? We now have three missing hobbits!”

“Strider, I really tried hard to keep him safe! You have to believe me!  I mean, I didn’t lash his foot to mine but I thought we had an understanding. He must have done it right after I fell asleep.  Oh, how could I have let this happen?”  Sam started away.  “We have to find him.  Come, let’s go right now.” 

Aragorn’s expression softened.  He sank to one knee and placed his hands on Sam’s shoulders. “Samwise, it will be all right,” he soothed.  “We will find him.”  He stood and regarded the group. “All right then.  We shall form a search party in the same fashion as we did before.  We may search for three as easily as two, I suppose.”

“I think it would be wise to split up,” the wizard said.  “We may cover more area that way and we can mark our way as we go along.”

“You are right, Gandalf.” Aragorn was already turning down the passageway when the wizard pulled him aside. 

“Aragorn, I believe it is of the utmost importance that we locate them as quickly as possible. Most particularly Pippin.”

“Why, Gandalf? Is something else amiss?”

“There is no time to lose, nor time to explain. Trust me please.”

Aragorn nodded. “Of course.” He followed the wizard into the corridor leading away from the crevasse.

 

***

 

“We will take a brief rest here.” Aragorn pointed.

“No, we don’t need to stop!  Strider, if I can keep going then all of you can too!”  Sam spun on them, his dismay radiating like a hot flame around the circle of weary travellers now reunited after a long search.  “Come now, let’s go.”  He began marching off from the group, oblivious to the calls for him to come back.

“Sam, we have been making our way through the rocks and streams for hours.” Aragorn called.  “Please come back. We will continue in a short time.”

Sam halted, but he did not turn around.

The Ranger spoke softly.  “I know how distressing this is to you. However, there is a good reason for resting. Please come back now.”

Sam stood there saying nothing, considering Aragorn’s words.  

Boromir sighed, watching the exchange uneasily.  They were all tense enough without a member of their party acting blindly. 

Sam could not help himself. In spite of his hobbit sense telling him that Strider was right, something else was telling him that his master needed him and there was no time to lose. He took another step.

“Confound it Samwise Gamgee!” Gandalf bellowed. “Get back here now!”

Sam sprinted away.

With a wordless cry Boromir was on his feet and running before anyone else. 

Sam tore down the corridor gaining speed and skidded into the turn ahead, not looking where he was going. 

“Watch where you’re going Sam!” Aragorn was only a few steps behind Boromir.  “The way is treacherous, you little fool!”  The words had no sooner left his mouth than a yelp of fright and the sound of sliding rocks met their ears.  “Oh no.” Aragorn quickened his pace.

They rounded the corner just in time to stop themselves before they, too, tumbled down the steep incline into the shallow water below. 

Boromir pointed.  “He fell just there, to the left of the water.  Here, lend me your arm and I will lean down to see how deep the hole is.”

“Samwise! Can you hear me?” Gandalf leaned over and peered into the darkness. “Aragorn!  I smell something burning but I do not believe it is a torch.”

“Aye, there’s something afire up ahead, just away from where I’m at. I can smell it and I can see a light,” Sam called, pointing.

Boromir leaned down into the hole with his torch and then assured them the incline was shallow. “We will be able to slide down carefully at an angle, yet afoot.” Boromir gestured at the ground. “Here, one of you hold a torch close by while I--”

His words were cut short by Sam’s frantic shout.

“Ahhh, it’s Mr. Frodo! And his breeches are catching afire from his torch!  Help! He’s burning alive!”

Legolas sprang into action and slid down the shallow embankment, landing gracefully on his feet at the bottom and hurried to Frodo’s side. He grabbed the torch and flung it away, then knelt in the shallow water and lifted him gently. Sam struggled to his feet and limped as fast as he could to the still form, reaching him just a moment later. 

The Elf deposited Frodo into the Ranger’s waiting arms. Aragorn sighed with relief before encircling himself with the rope Gandalf tossed down to him. Legolas did the same and together they hoisted the injured hobbit from below while the wizard and the dwarf pulled from above.

“What about you? Are you injured?”  Boromir gave Sam a cursory glance with a practiced eye while Sam shook his head.  “Come then.”  He hoisted Sam onto his hip and waited for the rope.  Gimli and Legolas hauled them up soon after.  Grunting with the effort Boromir gave one final hearty pull before he and Sam managed to scramble over the edge of the hole.  He placed the shaky hobbit on the ground but Sam was immediately on his feet, scrambling over to Frodo.

“Oh dear, oh dear! Is he burned? How bad is it, let me see.” He pushed his way in closer and knelt by the still form. “Oh, how could I let you get away from me? It’s my fault Strider! It’s all my fault.”

“Sam, calm down please. Kindly allow me room to check Frodo’s injuries.” Aragorn turned a frown on the well-meaning hobbit. “Go with Boromir.”

“But--”

“Hush. Come, allow me to look you over to make certain you are not hurt.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me Boromir! It’s Mr. Frodo you should be concerned with.” Sam attempted to shrug Boromir’s arm off his shoulder.

“Come with me and allow Aragorn to see to Frodo.” Boromir carried him into an alcove and deposited him firmly on a boulder, immediately beginning his examination. At last he nodded, satisfied that no harm had come to the wayward hobbit. “It would seem you are quite right. You appear to be your usual hearty self. I can detect no real injuries save for a few scrapes and bruises.”

Sam bristled at Boromir’s tone.  “I told you so,” he muttered, yanking his arm away and straightening his clothing.

“I dare say your body is in better shape than your common sense.”  Boromir stepped back and crossed his arms over his chest surveying the hobbit sternly.

Sam’s head shot up and he scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know very well what I mean. That was quite unworthy of you. A cave is no place to be tearing about and not looking where you are going. We have been telling you that time and again. The dangers here are rampant. You not only put yourself at risk, you risked harm to all with your actions.”

“I had to find Mr. Frodo!” Sam’s voice rose. “You saw, Boromir! He was about to burn up and he would’ve too if we hadn’t reached him in time.”

“Peace, Sam. It is only by chance that this worked out as well as it did.”

“You call this working out well?” Sam’s face clouded over like a gray sky on a cloudy day, his voice growing loud as he stood to face the warrior.

Boromir felt his own temper rising along with Sam’s ire. “Sam--”

“I call it a foolish disregard of my command, “Aragorn said. He stood behind them, cradling Frodo in his arms. 

“Is he all right, Strider? Please, just tell me he’s going to be all right.” Sam rushed to his side.

“Yes. He has a nasty bump on the head and a cut.” Aragorn nodded to the place they had found Frodo. “I believe he made contact with one of the sharp rock formations. See, he is coming around now.”

Frodo groaned and lifted a shaky hand to his brow.

“Oh, glory! He’s alive, that’s all that matters. You just lay still there, Mr. Frodo. Everything’s going to be fine.” Tears of relief slid down Sam’s cheeks unchecked.

“Sam?” Frodo tried to lift his head from Aragorn’s shoulder.  “Oh, my head.  What happened?”

“Perhaps you should tell us the answer to that question.”  Aragorn told him. “He also has a very minor burn to the right leg. We must make camp so I may finish attending to him.”

“What about Pippin and Merry? We cannot abandon our search!”

“Of course not, Boromir. However, we need to decide how best to proceed and I must tend to this scoundrel.” Aragorn said as they started back.  “We will continue our exploration further into the caverns.  But in order to do that we must be prepared. As I have reminded everyone, this is not a place to become distracted and react rashly for it is far too treacherous a place.”  He frowned in Sam’s direction and then nodded at the hobbit in his arms.  “I must make certain Frodo is tended to first.  Come, we need to prepare a bed for him.”

The others shared an uneasy look before hastening after them. Time was precious. They were losing too much of it. 

Gandalf followed at a short distance, watching them retreat into a sheltered grotto where Aragorn laid Frodo gently onto the blanket Sam hurried to spread out. Aragorn’s increasing temper worried him, as did Boromir’s growing unrest. Samwise was clearly not himself; he had traded his good sense for poor decisions and Gandalf was worried about the strain the hobbit was under. He had never seen Sam act so temperamentally, or Frodo either, for that matter. And what of Legolas’s poor judgment in keeping Pippin’s confidence when the problem was so obviously becoming serious? Strange sounds. Voices whispering in the darkness. . . It seemed only he and Gimli remained themselves. Gandalf wondered if the dwarf’s frequently crude humour could also be attributed to the unusual circumstances they found themselves in, then dismissed the idea with a grunt. The wizard’s unease had grown with each disturbing incident and he was loath to allow his thoughts full sway to drift in the direction they wished to go. However, it was more difficult to dismiss his mounting sense of dread. The old legend kept coming to mind and for the first time he gave it his full attention. There were too many things pointing towards the possibility of the unthinkable.

 

***

 

“He is asleep.”  A weary Ranger lowered himself beside the small campfire, joining the remaining Company as they picked at their meal.  “He must be awakened every hour for the rest of the night to make certain he does not have a concussion.  As long as he remains coherent for the night then I believe he will recover quickly.”

“The head wound was not serious then?” Boromir asked.

“Nay. Although there was a great deal of blood that is, of course, to be expected in an injury of this nature. The burn is of little consequence,” Aragorn said.

“Aye, and no thanks to any of you for that tidy bit of good fortune!”

“Samwise! Mind your tongue, my lad!”

“Well, it’s the truth Gandalf!  If I hadn’t’ve run ahead Mr. Frodo might have been burned very badly. I knew we had to hurry.  I had a strong feeling!”

“You did not know what the outcome would be Sam, and you failed to heed my instructions. That is something that cannot happen again.”

Aragorn touched a weary hand to his brow. “We shall start out again in a few hours. As soon as I am certain that Frodo is out of danger I will leave him in your capable hands, Gandalf. Do you agree?”

The wizard nodded.

“Sam will, of course, remain with you to assist with Frodo.”

“Aye, yes I will!”

“We shall form two search parties. Gimli and Legolas will explore one direction whilst Boromir and I take the other. We will mark our way as we go and meet back at our starting point within one day’s time if not sooner, depending on how we fare.” He glanced around the circle at each of them.  “Are there any questions? No? Very well.”

“Now, I have something I must share with you all.” The wizard looked at Legolas before continuing. “It is time that all secrets held close to heart are placed before this Company.”

“What secrets are you referring to?” Gimli removed the pipe from his mouth and tilted his head.

“Yes, what secrets? What are you talking about?” Boromir placed his full attention on Gandalf.

Aragorn asked, “This has bearing on the urgency you spoke of earlier?”

Gandalf nodded. “We are all aware that something has been amiss for some time now, Pippin’s odd behavior, the eerie whispering and touch felt by Legolas on watch that one night, the flaring of tempers between the hobbits, the unusual ability of Merry and Pippin to slip by Gimli on watch. A general feeling of unease amongst us all.”

Heads nodded in agreement.

“Following a conversation with Legolas earlier I have come to the conclusion that there is a strong possibility that Pippin is in possession of some small Stones which are pieces of ancient palantíri lost at sea many years ago.  If this is indeed true, these Stones are seeking to reunite. I believe they are also affecting our passions and our tempers. However, who or what the force is which drives them is unknown to me still.”

“What? Certainly that cannot be so.” Boromir leaned forward in disbelief. 

“I wish I could agree.” Gandalf sighed. “There have been signs all along, for some weeks now, that something was not as it should be, but I have been quite unable to put it together before now. Legolas has some important information that he had not revealed out of a misguided concern for Pippin’s well-being.”  Gandalf smiled gently at Legolas.  “You did not do it out of malice, my friend. You were actually being manipulated by Pippin, who in turn was being manipulated by the power of the Stones.”

“Are you saying that neither of them had a choice in their actions, Gandalf?”

The wizard sighed. “No Aragorn, I am not saying that. I am saying their choices may have been influenced by something outside themselves. Legolas, if you would kindly explain what you have observed.”

The Elf was quiet for a moment before he lifted his gaze to his companions and unburdened his heart at last.  “For more than a week now I have been aware that Pippin has been hearing voices. I have observed him playing about in the water on numerous occasions as if seeking something. The day I followed him into the woods while Aragorn and Frodo were having words was the first time I observed these actions. Pippin freely admitted to me what he had been hearing. He was very puzzled by it but did not seem frightened.  Or, so he said. He begged me not to tell anyone. I foolishly agreed, however with the warning that I might need to reveal it later. Pippin agreed and no more was said. His actions after that time led me to believe it was continuing and perhaps worsening.”

“I believe that being trapped here increased his unease,” Aragorn added.  “Based on what you told me earlier, Legolas, Pippin’s reaction to your attempt to have him share what was happening grew worse during our first night here.”

“Indeed, it is even quite possible that Pippin found additional Stones within the cave waters,” Gandalf said.

Boromir’s head shot up.  “I recall just such an incident!” All eyes turned his way. “When we were seeking fish our first night here I observed Pippin removing something from the water. I happened to look over to see what he and the others were doing. He had wandered away from Merry and Frodo and appeared to be brooding after having had some words with his cousins.  I recall he suddenly thrust his hand into the water and removed something bright. His grin of delight was of such contrast to his earlier mood I thought he had found some treasure that had lifted his dark mood. He placed whatever it was in his pocket rather quickly.”

“A treasure indeed,” Gandalf snorted.  “I am not surprised that he wished no one to see it.”

“I thought it to be one of those cave pearls we have seen in the waters here,” Boromir said.

“And you believe this is why the lad has been as moody as a she-warg in heat, eh?”

Legolas grimaced at the dwarf’s coarse remark. “I see nothing to jest about, Gimli.”  

“Well, I’m not meaning to offend anyone’s delicate feelings here, laddie.”

“There is no offence taken,” Legolas said. He pointedly ignored the dwarf and turned his attention back to the wizard.

“Nevertheless. We do have quite the problem on our hands. The Stones must be removed from Pippin’s keeping. He will not want us to take them.” Gandalf shook his head.  “He is being used to bring together as many portions as possible. Pippin will be very much under the Stones’ influence by now and he will not give them up lightly. He may even be losing touch with what is real and what is not, by now.”

“But just who is directing the force through the palantír? And what of Merry’s part in this? Do you believe he realised Pippin had something he should not?” Boromir asked.  “Or, could Pippin have had some sort of control over his cousin?”

Gandalf thought for a moment. “I do not know what forces may be at fault.  And no, I believe that Merry may have seen Pippin slipping away and gone after him. As for whatever has befallen them, I do not know.”

The group fell quiet, each of them lost in their own thoughts. Aragorn went to check on Frodo. Their soft voices carried to the others and before long Aragorn returned to their circle. “He is doing well.” 

“We will find them, will we not?” Boromir asked as he tossed a twig into the fire.

“Yes, we will find them,” Gandalf reassured him.

Aragorn nodded. “Despite our earlier panic I know those two are quite resourceful. And whatever Pippin is up to, I feel his cousin is not far behind and will see to his safety ere we find them.”

“Do you really believe that?” Sam looked up; the silent plea in his eyes was almost painful to see.

“I have to believe that. It is the hope that keeps driving me,” Aragorn said.

“I could not bear it if anything were to befall them,” Boromir added in a quiet voice.

“Nor I.” Aragorn placed an arm around Sam’s shoulders and looked down into the earnest eyes.

“We have to find them, Strider.”

Aragorn gave a solemn nod. “We will, Sam.”

 

 

***

 

Cold. So cold.  So. . .lost. . . Emptiness unlike anything his heart had ever known engulfed him.

Limping on his injured leg he tripped and stumbled downward through the oppressive darkness, still following the distant sound of weeping. The sound echoed throughout the chambers of the cavern he had tumbled into; the warmth from the Stone he clutched between his fingers sustained him and urged him on.

The voice crowding his mind pushed him forward. Somewhere in the distance he heard maniacal laughter. Merry knew he was falling into a trap but his will alone was not enough to stop it. . .

 

***

No matter how much he wept, no matter how ardent his plea for help, he was alone.  All by himself, but with a multitude of voices swirling about in his mind, driving him slowly into madness. He knew his pain no longer. He was aware that he had fallen, and a great distance at that, but that was all. He did not feel the great purple bruises that blossomed on his body. He no longer knew he was cold.

The wailing voice was never ending. They were at last, one. His legs moved because she controlled them. His eyes saw because she looked through them.  One small part of his awareness remained his alone. Fear; It was his constant companion. He knew another still pursued him yet he had forgotten if it was friend or foe. He struggled to remember but it was a futile task. He battled with her will, wishing nothing more fervently than to turn and rush back to the safety of the light and warmth he had abandoned. But rather than retreating he was compelled to wander further into the great blackness, into the treacherous twilight zone of the cavern’s deepest and most secret place. Pippin clutched the Stones between both hands and stumbled on. . .

 

 

 

 




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