To Get to the Top

Pippin poured himself a well-earned brandy and sat down with a sigh. Merry sat in the other chair by the fire, sipping at his own brandy. Saradoc regarded the two from behind his desk in the Master's study. The crackling fire made a pleasant counterpoint to the sleet that hissed against the windows.

'Well?' the Master asked his new Steward.

'Everything's buttoned up snug,' Pippin replied. 'Looks like we finished the repairs to the stable roof just in time. This storm hasn't carried much wind with it, yet, but the ice is building up fast.'

'Anyone caught out that we know of?' Saradoc asked his son.

Merry shook his head, thinking of another ice storm a few years back. 'No, thankfully, we've got everyone accounted for. And nobody I know is foolish enough to travel in the miserable weather we had before this ice started.'

Pippin gave a snort, but sipped his brandy without comment.

Merry continued, 'The kitchen is heating up bricks to tuck into the beds, with extras for the old aunties and uncles, and I've ordered a big fire in the great room tonight.'

Saradoc nodded. 'Good idea. Get everyone's mind off of being holebound.'

A quiet knock sounded at the study door. 'Come!' Saradoc called.

The door opened and a servant poked his head in. 'Sorry to disturb, you, Sirs, but we seem to have a bit of a problem in the Hall.'

Saradoc glanced at Merry, then Pippin. The latter shrugged, saying, 'If there's a problem, I wasn't aware of it.'

'What is it?' Saradoc asked.

'Mistress Daisy Brandybuck's beside herself, Sir. Seems as if one of her young ones has gone missing.'

Merry rose, putting down his half-empty glass, and said to his father, 'I'll let you know.'

Pippin took another sip of his own glass and rose. 'I'll join you.'

The servant took them to where Mistress Daisy was pacing and wringing her hands. She stopped with an exclamation of relief to see the young master and the Steward. 'O I'm so glad you're here!'

'What is it, Daisy, who's missing?' Merry said, crossing to his cousin's side.

'The children have been playing hide-and-seek about the Hall all the day,' she said tearfully. 'It's kept them busy and safe... at least I thought they were safe...'

Merry nodded encouragingly, patting her back.

'When Feledoc didn't come to tea, I thought nothing of it; several of the children missed tea and their mates said they were playing. But when he didn't come to supper, I got worried, and now it's past his bedtime!'

'Where have you searched?'

'Everywhere I can think of, attic to cellar and in between. Half the family is out searching but they've found no trace!'

Merry raised his eyes to meet Pippin's. 'We need to organize the search.' He looked down at Daisy again. 'I want you to scour the corridors, find every searcher you can, tell them to spread the word to meet in the great room as soon as possible.'

The distraught mother was calmer now, with a voice of authority and a plan in the works.

Pippin spread maps of the Hall out on one of the tables in the great room, marking off where different hobbits were assigned, while Merry handed out lanterns and candles to the searchers. As the last of these left, Pippin penned his own name in one of the empty spaces and picked up a lantern. At his cousin's questioning look, he said, 'Well, both of us don't need to cool our heels down here. I'd rather search than sit.'

Merry chuckled and said, 'You've got a point. All right, I'll be the one who sits, but come back and spell me when you've done your bit.'

'Right!' Pippin sketched a mock salute, spun on his heel, and headed out. He had put himself down for one of the more remote areas of the Hall, storage rooms and such. That's where he'd hide, were he playing hide-and- seek, after all. He soon left the more populous corridors, and the lamps and candles and calls of 'Felly! Feledoc! Felly, can you hear me?'

It was very dark and quiet. He tapped on each door in turn and rattled the knob, calling for the lad as he went. He'd gone nearly to the end of the long corridor when he heard a muffled answer. Opening the door, he thrust the lantern through the opening to cast its light about the room. 'Feledoc?'

Seeing movement in the corner, he stepped into the room, hearing a small frightened voice saying, 'No, don't--' The door closed behind him with a click, and he turned back. There was no knob on this side of the door. He checked for hinges, but these were on the outside of the door. They were neatly trapped inside.

Pippin slipped his knife from his belt and tried to slip it between door and jamb, but the door had been too carefully set in its place. He ran his fingers all the way around and was not happy with his conclusions. Unless there were another source of fresh air, it would soon be stuffy in here, despite the air that he'd brought in with him. He wasn't sure how long the room's air would remain breathable, with two of them, plus the lantern.

'Now there's a conundrum for you,' Pippin said softly.

'What's a cone... cone-un...' the hobbit lad faltered, eyes enormous in the flickering lamplight.

Pippin chuckled. 'It's a problem set before us to solve. Do you like problems?'

The boy shook his head. 'Not this one,' he said. 'I've been in here for hours.'

'Since before teatime?'

'Yes.' Good. The lad had not used up the air in here that quickly, then. He'd sounded sleepy, but at least he'd been conscious when Pippin had entered.

'Did you have a candle stub with you?'

'Aye,' the boy answered.

'How long ago did it burn out?'

'Long enough,' the boy answered, and Pippin chuckled at the chagrin in his voice. The boy could very well have been sleepy from long hours in the dark, not bad air, then. That was heartening.

'I have some apples in my pocket, here!' and Pippin tossed one to the lad. 'I find I solve problems better on a full stomach, myself.' He sat down upon a box and took out his own apple, and the two munched companionably.

The lad looked up suddenly. 'Aren't you going to yell for help?' he asked.

'Haven't you been doing that all this time?' Pippin asked.

'Yes,' the boy whispered.

'Well, there isn't anybody else searching this part of the Hall,' Pippin said reasonably. 'And they're all busy in other parts.' The boy nodded. 'I imagine when they're done, and they all check back in with the young master, they'll figure out where we are. Don't you think so?'

'I hope so,' the lad said, his eyes falling.

Pippin got up from the box to sit down next to the door. He put his knife back in its sheath, detached the sheath from his belt, and tried tapping the hilt experimentally against the door. It made a satisfying thunking sound.

'Come here, lad,' he said. 'Sit next to me. If someone else opens this door we don't want them to join us in this trap, now, do we?'

Feledoc shook his head and scrambled over to sit next to Pippin.

Pippin smiled down at him and tousled his hair. 'That's a lad.' He spoke more gently. 'I'm going to have to blow the lantern out, Felly.' The boy's eyes widened. 'I'm afraid there's not enough air in this room for the three of us. One of us has got to go.' The lad gulped but nodded. 'I'm right here with you,' the young Steward said reassuringly. The lad nodded again. Pippin opened the glass. 'Do you want to do the blowing?' The lad took a deep breath... and they were left in darkness.

'Well,' said Pippin, 'Since it looks as if we're to be here for awhile, we might as well enjoy ourselves. How about a story?'

'Could you tell one about the dwarf and the elf again?' the boy asked hopefully.

'O lad, I could tell you stories about those two until the dawn and beyond,' Pippin chuckled.

The lad said in dismay, 'We're not going to be here that long, are we?'

Pippin laughed heartily. 'We'd better not be! I still have half a glass of brandy awaiting my return!' He settled back more comfortably against the doorjamb, feeling the lad press against his side as he settled, back to the door. He draped an arm around the lad's shoulders. 'It's going to be all right,' he said softly. 'Now, let's see, what were we talking about?'

'The elf and the dwarf,' the boy prompted.

'O aye, that's right. An elf and a dwarf went a-journey into the Wilds of Middle Earth--d'you remember their names, now?'

'Leg... Leg-o...' the boy stumbled over the odd-sounding name.

'Yes, Legolas was his name, and the dwarf was--'

'Gimli!' the lad shouted. He was quite fond of the dwarf and his funny ways in stories.

'D'you know, they got to arguing.'

'They were always arguing, weren't they,' the lad put in.

'O aye, but it passed the time. Well, this one day, they were camped at the edge of a forest and the elf was talking about how his people climbed up tree and down in a twinkling. The dwarf was in a bad humour that day, I cannot recall exactly why, but he was... anyhow, he said, Gimli did, that it was nothing at all to get to the top of a tree and he saw no reason for Legolas to go on about it so.'

'What did Lego... Legolas do?' Feledoc asked.

'Then and there he picked a tree and scampered to the top and back down again. He was right, I'd never seen any hobbit climb a tree so fast, and you've always got to be more careful and slow going down. But Legolas is a wood elf, you know.'

'Yes, you told me,' the boy affirmed.

'Well, then and there, Gimli the dwarf challenged Legolas the elf to a contest. He said, "Let's pick out two trees as near alike as possible, and I bet I can beat you to the top of mine." And what do you think Legolas said?'

'You're on!' the boy shouted, and laughed.

Pippin laughed too. 'Well, words to that effect. Though you know, those elves speak a lot more elegant than most folk.'

'O aye,' the boy agreed.

'Well, they picked out two trees at the edge of the wood, and they had me stand by and give the call... Ready... set...'

'Go!' shouted the lad in delight.

'And Legolas the elf was up that tree, and climbing fast, whilst Gimli the dwarf still stood on the ground. The rest of us were standing there, scratching our heads, wondering when he would start his climb, when what do you think he did?'

'What?' the boy asked in suspense.

'He took up his ax, and in four or five strokes he had that tree falling into the clearing!'

'How could he climb it, then?'

'O, he didn't now, don't you know! He just ambled along to the tip and sat upon it, then called up to the elf in the other tree, "I win!" He got to the top first, you see.'

The two burst out laughing in the dark.

Pippin found it hard to catch his breath after he stopped laughing. 'Lad,' he said softly, 'Is it just me, or is it stuffy in here?'

The boy thought a moment. 'It's a little stuffy,' he said. 'How come you always breathe so funny? You were breathing funny in the Old Forest, that time, and you're breathing that way now.'

Pippin thought of the stories Gimli had told about the little birds that the dwarves took with them into the mines, to tell them when the air was bad. He thought, if this job of Steward ever fell through, he could hire himself out to the dwarves. He could tell, already the air in here was not what it should be.

'Ah,' Pippin said in a wise tone, 'It all comes of having trollish lungs, you see.'

'Trollish lungs?'

'O aye. You see, down South in the War, I fought a troll, you might have heard of it.'

'Yes, I heard you fought ten trolls!'

Pippin chuckled. 'No, one is quite enough, believe me.' He took several unsatisfying breaths.

'You see, this troll had a hammer as big as you in his hand, and he beat down the shield of a friend of mine and then lifted him as neat as your dad would lift a sack of potatoes.'

'Why?' the boy gasped.

'O those trolls, they had no manners. They thought it great sport to bite out the throats of those they beat down.'

'What happened then?'

'Well, I wasn't going to let any uppity troll with poor manners rip out the throat of the best guardsman I knew, so I whipped out my sword and I thrust it into that troll. But you know, that fellow really had no manners at all,' Pippin said gaily.

'What did he do, then?' the boy breathed.

'Why, he died, and he didn't have the good grace to fall somewhere else, o no, he had to topple over--right on top of me!'

'Did he... did he...?' the lad was not sure just what question to ask.

Pippin nodded in the dark. 'He flattened me, lad. Flat as a griddlecake.'

'O my!' The boy paused for a long moment, then said in confusion, 'But you... you're...'

'Ah, I'm still here, is what you're saying,' Pippin said cheerfully.


'Well, that dwarf we've been talking about--'

'Gimli,' the boy put in.

'Gimli,' Pippin agreed. 'He was looking around the battlefield for somewhat else to swing his ax at, and he happened to see the tip of my foot just poking out under that troll.'

'What did he do?'

'He pulled that troll off of me, of course. Dwarves are tremendous strong, you know,' Pippin said.

'Aye,' the lad breathed. 'Then what did he do?'

'Now remember, I was as flat as a pancake, I was.'


'Well, he put his mouth to mine and blew me up the way you'd blow up a pig's bladder!' Pippin chuckled.

The boy made a sound of disgust, and Pippin laughed a little harder, though it robbed him of precious air.

'You don't know the half of it,' he whispered, then took a few more breaths. 'Have you ever smelled a dwarf's breath, lad?'

'No,' came the answer.

The lad could feel Pippin shaking with merriment as the young Steward continued, 'Well, then, you don't ever want to, neither!'

Throughout the storytelling, Pippin had kept a steady rhythm of knife handle against door. Every few seconds the lad heard another thunk. But now the thunking stopped, and Pippin stopped talking as well.

'Pippin?' the boy asked. He could hear the young Steward breathing hard, as if he'd just run a race. 'Pippin?' he repeated.

The answer came in a whisper. 'Lad,' the young Steward said, 'I think I'll lay me down for a little nap. D'you think you could take the knife now, just tap against the door like I've been doing?'

'Aye,' the boy said, and felt the knife fumbled into his hand.

'That's good,' Pippin said, his voice coming in gasps. 'Thanks. They'll find us, lad. They know I'm here. They'll miss me soon. They...' his voice trailed off, and Feledoc was again left alone in the darkness.
Searchers had returned to the great room for new assignments, and Merry marked off every section searched and every new section under search. He noticed that most had come back and gone out again, but there was still no sign of Pippin. He couldn't shake a growing sense of unease, though he couldn't imagine what could befall his cousin in the Hall.

When Merimas and Berilac came into the great room together, along with fat old Uncle Merimac, Merry caught them, saying, 'I need your help.'

'What is it, lad?' Merimac asked gravely.

'Uncle, would you mind the map? Peregrin's not back yet, and he's been gone twice as long as anyone else. I'd like to take Merimas and Berilac with me to go over the section where he was to be searching.'

'Aye, lad, go ahead,' Merimac answered, seating himself at the table. 'My legs could use a rest.'

'Come on,' Merry said to the others. They made their way to the remote storage areas, finding the corridor Pippin had marked out on the map, and began going down both sides, tapping on the doors and calling.

'Wait!' Berilac hissed, holding up a hand. They all stopped to listen. From the far end of the corridor they could hear a steady tapping noise. Tracing the sound, Merimas found the door and gave the knob a yank. Out tumbled a gasping Feledoc, knife still in hand. Pippin lay just within the door.

'No air,' the boy panted. 'No air in the room.'

'Come on,' Merry said to the others, 'Let's get them down to fresher air. Can you walk, lad?' The boy nodded, and the three grown hobbits picked up the young Steward and bore him down to brighter light and fresher air.

They had nearly reached the great room when Pippin began to move and try to pull free of their hands. 'Put him down,' Merry said, then knelt beside his cousin. 'Pippin? Can you hear me?'

'Of course I can hear you,' came the irritable answer. 'I've ears, haven't I?' Merry laughed. His cousin continued. 'Well, since the search is over now, d'you suppose I can get back to my brandy now?'

'Of course,' Merry answered, and helped him to his feet.

Pippin took a great breath of air and turned to his cousin. 'What took you so long?' he demanded.