DISCLAIMER

I do not own any of the characters and most of the events/settings in this story. They belong to JRR Tolkien and his estate. I do not make any profit from their use and offer apologies and thanks for their tolerance.

I'd also like to thank Frodo Baggins of Bag End for being my beta reader,

general encourager and medical researcher on this fic.

If you're daft enough to try any of the medical procedures in this fic. I take no responsibility for your physical or mental health. You're obviously even sillier than me.

WATER AND STONE

Merry was trying to get his pipe to light but the 'weed seemed to have become too damp. Just as he was about to strike flint to it again Pippin caught his arm, and the spark flew wide as he tried valiantly to restrain the annoyance that flashed across his face.

"Why is Gimli doing that?"

Merry followed his cousin's gaze to where the dwarf was marching up and down the cliff wall determinedly, dealing ringing blows to the stone with his axe.

"I don't know, Pip. Maybe he thinks he can hack his way in," replied the older hobbit impatiently, returning to the pesky task of trying to kindle the reluctant pipeweed to life.

"I don't think his axe is strong enough to do that, is it?"

Merry decided to treat that as a rhetorical question and struck another spark from the flint.

"What's he doing, Merry?" Pippin tapped his cousin's shoulder urgently. Merry sighed and decided to put away his pipe. It was at least the fifth time that the younger hobbit had asked some silly question as they sat shivering outside the gates of the dwarven city of Moria.

Once more Merry turned to seek out the subject of his question. Gandalf was every inch the imposing wizard as he stood before some faint markings on the seamless rock face, alternately chanting under his breath and commanding loudly in various languages. But the doors, if they were doors, remained stubbornly closed and Gandalf was looking less imposing with each passing minute. In truth Merry thought he could actually detect a note of desperation creeping into the wizard's voice.

Pippin's tap on his shoulder brought him back from study of their guide. "What's he doing now?"

"He's trying to get us inside and away from those awful wargs," replied Merry testily, waving in the general direction of the Wizard.

"No. Not Gandalf…….. Legolas." Pippin nodded towards the wood elf' who had pressed his head close against the rock face.

Merry had to admit that it was odd behaviour. He had seen Legolas listen to trees but never rocks. But then, all the big people that formed their party seemed odd to him. He missed the simple, straightforward folk of the Shire. Everyone here seemed to have some hidden motive or identity. No one was as they first appeared and it made life very complicated.

Gandalf appeared to be a kindly old man who made fireworks. Now he was revealed as a mighty wizard.

In Rivendell Gimli had appeared to be a friendly dwarf with a store of funny after dinner tales. Now he was revealed as a person with connections in the very highest circles of dwarven society; a cousin to the Lord of Moria. Although that did not seem to be helping him get inside, thought Merry ruefully.

Boromir, at least, did not appear to be other than he had declared himself to be at the Council. That did not make him any less frightening, however, as he had made no secret of the fact that he thought the ring ought to be his, to own and to wield. Merry found that he constantly wanted to set himself between the huge man and Frodo, although in their journey so far he had provided ample evidence that Merry would have little chance against him in a match of strength. Still he would try . . . he had promised to protect the Ringbearer, and if that meant that he had to protect Frodo from other members of the Fellowship, then so be it.

Even Boromir had shown a softer side to his nature, however, when he had offered to teach Merry and Pippin to use their swords properly. Everything Merry now knew about fighting he had learned from Boromir, but if it came to a fight to protect Frodo, he did not think he stood much of a chance against such a doughty warrior as the son of the Steward of Gondor.

Strider had so many names that Merry had given up trying to remember them and continued to call him Strider most of the time. Every time he thought he knew all about him, the would be king opened up another door to reveal more of his life and heritage.

But to Merry it was Legolas who was the strangest of them all. He did not know how many centuries the wood elf had lived, but there were times when he was almost as childlike as Pippin in his joy and wonder. He never seemed to tire of Pippin's chatter about the Shire, which was just as well for the young hobbit chattered incessantly, and laughed freely at descriptions of the antics of Pip's various relatives. At those times it was easy to forget that he was a royal prince and many years older than anyone in the Fellowship . . . perhaps even older than Gandalf.

At other times, as now, it was very obvious that the elf was totally different from them all in many ways. Legolas would never age and die and he was linked to the earth in a way that mortals could never be, for he could hear the song of Iluvatar, which created and held all things together. Even as Merry watched, the elf had moved from the rock face and was now leaning close against one of the two ancient holly trees that flanked the supposed gates of Moria. Merry wondered if it was very noisy, being able to hear the thoughts and feelings of every living thing. What sort of thoughts did trees have, he wondered, and could Legolas hear his thoughts? Legolas glanced his way and the little hobbit instinctively ducked his head. "Stupid hobbit," Merry berated himself. If elves could hear his thoughts would ducking his head stop him?

Pippin nudged him again and Merry realised that it had been some time since he had been asked the question that had set off his line of thought. "I have no idea what he's doing."

"I'll go and ask, shall I?" Pippin made to get up, but Merry pulled him down again.

"It's none of your business, Pip. Leave him to . . . whatever it is that he's doing."

Pippin shot him a frustrated look, but remained seated. "I was only curious," he muttered.

Merry smiled. "And curiosity killed the cat."

Pippin stuck his tongue out in response.

Legolas now turned to survey the dark lake, and Merry and Pippin followed his gaze.

A chill breeze seemed to flow from, rather than over, the oily mere for it did not ruffle the slimy liquid. For the first time Pippin noticed that neither moonlight nor stars were reflected in its surface. Rather, it absorbed all light like some deep pit. He wondered if it was some trick of his imagination and, picking up a small stone at his feet, he lobbed it into the still waters. It made a loud plop and sent out sluggish ripples, only faintly laced by the moonlight.

A wavelet broke on the shore a few inches from his toes, disturbing the slime at the edge and sending up a waft of putrid air that made Pippin wrinkle his nose in distaste. Considering how little movement his thrown pebble had caused the hobbit was surprised that a ripple had even reached the shore. He selected another stone and drew back his arm to throw, but yelped when a huge hand grasped his wrist. He looked up to find his arm captured by Strider.

"Do not disturb the water." The Ranger's voice was barely more than a whisper but carried all the authority of a royal edict. He released Pippin's hand and the little hobbit dropped the pebble without question. Another wavelet gnawed hungrily at the shore and Pippin snatched his foot out of the way. Now Strider and Boromir had joined Legolas in staring at the dim water. Tiring of this boring activity, Pippin glanced behind him.

Sam was sniffing quietly as he redistributed the contents of the pony's baggage between their various packs. Bill had already disappeared back down the trail at a whisper from Gandalf and a slap on the rump from Strider. Pippin hoped that the wargs did not catch Bill but he thought it very unlikely that the placid pony would slip past them, unnoticed. As he watched, Merry joined Sam, offering the gardener his hanky and putting an arm about his shoulder. That was just like Merry. He was everybody's big brother. Of course, this particular big brother still had a talent for pranks.

Deciding that his presence would not be appreciated there, Pippin got up and crossed to where Frodo and Gimli sat watching Gandalf. The young hobbit flopped down quietly next to his older cousin and Frodo flashed him a quick smile of welcome before turning back to stare at the pale symbols on the rock face. The older hobbit's eyebrows quirked up in the middle as they usually did when he was thinking.

Pippin had always been slightly in awe of Frodo. Even back in the Shire, he felt that Frodo knew more about the world than Pippin could ever hope to know, and Pippin wanted to know everything. As the future Thain Pippin had and still was receiving the best of education's but Frodo knew things that would never be considered essential by Pippin's tutors. Pip could not resist letting a small grin cross his face. Most of his tutors would be horrified if they found out what sort of ideas Mr Baggins was putting in Pippin's head.

For his part Frodo never seemed to mind the constant questions and would spend hours talking with him about anything that came in to Pippin's eager mind. Merry often did the same, of course, but Frodo never lost his patience and was willing to go over things again and again until Pippin understood, whereas Merry would lose interest after a while.

"Oh, it's useless!" muttered Gandalf, throwing down his staff and twitching his robes angrily as he sat down on the same rock ledge with Frodo, Pippin and Gimli. The younger hobbit opened his mouth to say something but Frodo anticipated him and shook his head, blue eyes wide in warning. Pippin closed his mouth with a snap, suddenly remembering the wizard's comments when they had arrived. His head ached just thinking about being used as a doorknocker against the huge stone portal marked out on the cliff face. The loud belling howl of a warg reverberated off the rock around them and Pippin shuddered. The creatures were gaining on the party.

Frodo's eyebrows evened out and he stood slowly, a light growing in his eyes. "It's a riddle."

Gandalf's gaze flicked from Frodo to the doors and back again as the Ringbearer turned to him.

"What's the Elvish for 'friend'?" In his excitement at discovering the answer, all his lessons from Bilbo had slipped from his mind, and the word refused to come to his tongue.

Understanding grew in Gandalf's face, and he too rose, turning to face the faint sigils. Clearing his throat and throwing out his arms theatrically, he spoke one word in a loud, ringing voice that echoed resoundingly off the granite walls.

"Mellon!"

Slowly the shape of a large doorway was outlined where no seam or mark had been visible before. It divided in the middle, there was a loud grating sound and the huge gates swung ponderously outward to reveal a yawning black portal, which exhaled a dry, cold, dusty breath.

Scooping up his staff, Gandalf strode triumphantly through the doors and into the gloom of Moria. The rest of the Fellowship gathered up their packs and followed more reluctantly, blinking in an attempt to accustom themselves to the solid darkness once within the doors. The four hobbits were near the back of the party, with Legolas stepping lightly, but strangely hesitant, behind them.

It was Gimli who saw the remains first, his dwarven eyes more accustomed to the dark of stone and cave.

"No!" He ran forward, to one of the mouldering heaps scattered about the floor. From its size it had obviously been a dwarf once but now it was a shapeless mound of bone, cloth and armour. Gimli wrested a large black arrow from the place where its chest would have been, only to have it snatched from his hands by Legolas. Gimli rumbled ominously but the elf ignored him, bright eyes narrowing as he assessed the fletchings and construction briefly.

"Orcs," he declared firmly. His mouth turned down at the corners, as though speaking the very word left an unpleasant taste.

Gandalf wasted no more time. "Leave! We must leave this place. Now!" For a moment, the unexpected note of fear in his voice made everyone freeze.

It was then, as the hobbits huddled hesitantly, at the rear of the party, that it happened.

TBC