When There Is Little Hope: Chapter 4 (A Dangerous Ledge)
Again, sorry for the very slow update; I thank you immensely for your lovely reviews! Some action has finally reached the story so hopefully it should be livelier. This is the other scene I mentioned in the Author's Note of chapter 1: one of the two movie-scenes I'm including in my chapters, but I haven't stuck to canon exactly. I've changed some of the spoken lines and the course of action, towards the end -- so I guess that will make the story "AU" from here onwards. I'm in a rush, so I hope you enjoy! The next chapter might not be up for a while.
It was morning, and nobody was looking forward to the tough hours ahead. To follow was another exhausting day of dragging themselves up vicious Caradhras, battling the snow, hail, wind and cold with every slow step. The despised weather conditions had been bad for the past couple of days, but to make matters worse for them since then – excluding the illness that seemed to recently be passing through Frodo – they had grown even more terrible during the night.
From the shelter of the large cave the Company could quite loudly hear the awful howling of the wind as it crashed into the wall of rock, and they glumly turned their heads away from the narrow entrance where it openly showed them the bitterness they would soon enough have to face.
All had low spirits. Gimli, in particular it seemed, for he was audibly grumbling to his axe. But the faces of Merry and Pippin, normally bright and mischievous, were hung with absolute gloom. Sam had done his best beforehand to raise the scarce cheerfulness and lighten the general mood, but had failed dismally, and now he was being a little snappy – which was quite out of character for him – to anyone who made the slightest of noises, or abandoned a cup in a place to his disliking, or complained about the climate for the twentieth time – even though he did that himself. Even Legolas, who rarely gave hints of his thoughts and emotions, was often sighing to himself and glancing outside with a slight loathe within his sharp eyes.
Aragorn had been relieved from watch by Legolas – who had apologised on Gimli's behalf – late into the early hours of morning, and the Elf had roused him again shortly afterwards. Apparently Gandalf had decided they were making an early start today… perhaps that was another added reason for the foul moods in the atmosphere.
And now the Wizard sat bent-over on a rock by the drafty hole into the cave. He was obviously in one of his deep thinking periods; to prove that he was chewing the tip of his pipe absently, having not even attempted to light and smoke it. The Ranger watched discreetly as a hobbit – Pippin, by the slightly darker colour of hair – shuffled over to where Gandalf was seated, and plopped himself down at his side. He grinned up at the serious but kindly face, and Aragorn shook his head. Even for a hobbit, that was very daring: no Wizard usually allowed the mildest of disturbances whilst he was lost in thought. And a chattering Took was slightly more than a mild disturbance anytime – every member of the Fellowship had come to know that over the recurring few weeks. But the two were now talking naturally, Gandalf reaching out and fondly ruffling Pippin's hair as he chuckled at the hobbit's words.
Sam was continuing to make mugs of tea, which nobody was ungrateful for – and in truth, they probably would not have dared refuse it anyway, considering the warning glint in Sam's eyes this morning. After thanking the hobbit appreciatively, Aragorn sat down in silence and drained his cup without bothering to add to the scarce mutters of conversation. He then poured some in a flask for Frodo, and moved over to the sleeping form.
Where he was curled up soundlessly Frodo looked very pale, Aragorn thought, as he examined the Ring-bearer's small face intently. He did appear worse than he had done a few hours ago, although he was sleeping peacefully which the Ranger supposed was more encouraging.
"How is he?"
Aragorn looked up to find Gandalf bending down with a look of concern on his face.
"Not good; Frodo is certainly unwell." He sighed heavily. "This chill he has is dangerous in these parts and it is rapidly becoming worse. I fear…" Aragorn glanced around to check the hobbits were out of listening distance and lowered his voice. "I fear it may be developing into a case of Pneumonia…"
Gandalf nodded sadly, his eyes leaving the man's and wavering down to the blanket-bundled hobbit below.
"Gandalf," said Aragorn firmly, "if he grows in the slightest more ill, we shall have to rest for a while until he is better. If we wish for Frodo to live then I'm afraid there will be no alternative."
A stern glisten passed through the Wizard's eyes for a second, but he nodded slowly in agreement, and stood by as the Ranger bent over Frodo's chest and listened to his breathing. It was heavy and strained, as if it were a huge effort. Aragorn shook his head gravely.
"I doubt he will be able to walk today, and it is probably dangerous for him to do so anyway… I have a few herbs and plants that I think will help him, as well as special medicines given to me by Elrond, but the main thing is to keep him as warm as possible."
He shook Frodo gently and carefully lifted him into a much-supported sitting position. Frodo's eyes fluttered open.
"Good morning, my dear hobbit," Gandalf said quietly to him, as Frodo sleepily rubbed his eyes.
"Is it… time to go?" Frodo asked, his voice clouded thick with sleep. Smiling, Gandalf crouched down beside them.
"Shortly," Aragorn replied. "Don't worry about having to walk, though: we will carry you today. How do you feel, Frodo?"
"Oh, I can walk a little way, I think... Better… My head is all right now; chest hurts badly..."
"I'm afraid your chill is turning into quite a nasty chest infection," Aragorn told him, exchanging a quick glance with Gandalf. "Later I will give you something to ease the strain. Concerning your cough, however, there is little I can do – we will just have to hope it will subside and gradually go away by itself, although honey and other substances in my supplies may aid it slightly. Sam has made some tea for us all…"
Aragorn scanned the ground around them, confused, but realised what he had done when Sam came over with the forgotten flask. He smiled at the hobbit.
"Ah! Thank you, Sam."
"That's no problem, Strider… Here you are, Mr. Frodo! This should warm you up, sir."
Sam removed the sealed lid and handed his friend the flask. After one mouthful Frodo felt refreshed and warm, and, indeed, he felt he could definitely walk a short distance that day. He told Aragorn this.
The Ranger was apprehensive, and sighed. "It is up to you, Frodo, but the dizziness you experienced last night was due to exhaustion. If you're sure you are feeling strong enough, though, I'll allow you to walk. I cannot imagine why you would want to do so."
"I'm feeling fine now," Frodo mumbled, embarrassed, as Sam assisted him with his jacket and cloak.
When he was fully clad he stood, wishing the three pairs of observing eyes were not alert to every sign of slight weakness he showed. And as if to disagree with his own previous words he wobbled, but as ever, Aragorn's arms were there to steady him.
"I am all right, Aragorn," Frodo told the man without looking up into his face – for he was certain there would be two highly-raised eyebrows creasing Aragorn's forehead. "I'm not too dizzy… and it is passing."
He shivered and pulled his cloak around him tightly as everyone made to leave the cave and set out, and finally stepped out into the cold, ready to briskly walk through the day.
The rest of the early morning passed by without much excitement. The Company paused briefly for a bit of breakfast, in which Frodo had to be persuaded by Gandalf, Aragorn and Sam to eat something. Then they trudged on non-stop without talking for the best part of noon-time, feeling slightly more energetic now their stomachs had been somewhat filled.
Frodo was managing a lot better than Aragorn had though he would: the hobbit was certainly much stronger than he appeared to be. Only when the blizzards arose did he begin to stumble and cough, but Sam who was beside him, leading Bill, was careful to make sure that he did not fall behind.
Aragorn ran to them, and placing his hands on Frodo's shoulders, whispered something in his ear. With relief washing over him, Frodo nodded gratefully and soon found himself in Aragorn's arms, his head rested on the Ranger's broad shoulder.
"Thank you," he said quietly with chattering teeth.
Looking over Aragorn Frodo began to notice the blizzards becoming gradually worse; he could barely see Sam's form next to Bill. Although he could tell the snow was getting deeper; and if he judged correctly then it would be up to Sam's chest by now.
"Aragorn," croaked Frodo, after briefly coughing.
"What is it?" asked Aragorn. "Is your chest hurting you badly?"
"No… well, yes… but, I mean, it's not me… I don't think Sam can carry on much longer," he hastily explained.
Turning around, Aragorn viewed the depth of the snow – and the fact that Sam was nearly drowned in it. As Boromir approached he gave the Ranger a sharp look and Aragorn nodded understandingly.
"Sam!" he called to the struggling hobbit. "Come, I will carry you as well. If this snow gets any deeper you'll be buried underneath it! Gimli can take Bill."
Lifting and holding Sam in his free arm, he could tell that Frodo was definitely the lighter of the two; but it did not matter – he could easily carry both of them. He glanced back and saw Boromir picking up Merry and Pippin, and Gimli grasping the pony's leading rope.
As they went on, the snow got deeper and the snow-storms stronger. Aragorn could feel Frodo and Sam shivering against him, and he silently wished he had covered the Ring-bearer in an extra shirt before leaving; though there was little he could do about it now. Gandalf, up in front, was making it easier for them by forcing a jagged path through the thick snow with his staff, but even then it was difficult, especially for Aragorn and Boromir bearing two hobbits each.
When squinting his eyes Frodo could just make out Legolas walking carefully past on a bank of solid ice on the edge of the cliff ledge. It amazed him how light and sure-footed the Elf was – how he could take steps on there without slipping and falling down the rocky walls into thin air; even Hobbit Feet were not that skilled. Half of Frodo wanted to cry out to Legolas and order him to get down from there at once, but he knew what he was doing, after all.
He definitely knew what he was doing. Suddenly Legolas halted and stared keenly into the open air, which for anybody else was blinded by splints of sharp, blistering ice.
"There is a fowl voice in the air," he stated loudly.
Frodo strained his ears, but could not determine anything besides the wind whipping against his throbbing eardrums; yet it soon became apparent that Legolas was correct…
"It's Saruman!" cried Gandalf, one hand against the cliff wall as if for support.
Then there was a splitting, angry crack up in the sky. Shocked, Frodo quickly glanced up… only to preview the broken-off rocks crumbling and hurling down from directly above, seemingly aiming for the exact spot where they were stood with their mouths hanging open and their breaths caught in their throats.
Tightly clinging to Frodo and Sam, Aragorn rapidly ducked, twisting round slightly to shield the hobbits in his protective arms, as did Boromir in the exact same moment. The heavy rocks fortunately missed them, tumbling down the mountain edge with huge crashing noises, almost causing the ledge beneath them to tremor.
"He's trying to bring down the mountain!" Aragorn had to shout to be heard by the Wizard. "Gandalf, we must turn back!"
"No!" Gandalf answered, shaking his head vigorously.
Aragorn gently lowered Frodo onto his own two feet, sliding an arm around his shoulders, keeping him as close as possible. Holding his hood with numb fingers to keep it in place, Frodo looked out from the little shelter he had in the Ranger's grasp. He did not understand what was happening.
Gandalf stepped up onto the same ledge as Legolas, thrust out his staff, and bellowed words Frodo did not understand – the language was unfamiliar to him. But after a few seconds there was a terrible strike of blinding lightening. The bolt hit the rocks above them, and again they came dangerously hurling down followed by sharp chunks of ice and heaps of heavy snow. Sam, who was desperately clutching the front of Aragorn's black cloak, gave a small cry as he turned his head upwards. Frodo saw Legolas grab a handful of Gandalf's robes and haul him against the wall, the rocks narrowly missing him. Yelling, Aragorn dived away from the ledge, tugging Frodo and Sam with him.
The next thing Frodo knew was that he had been buried alive under a thick mound of drenching snow. The daggered flakes – tightly constricted together – were biting painfully at his face, hands and feet, spreading the cold through his veins. He could not tell what position his body was in, but the weight was crushing him. He could not breathe: it felt like he was suffocating. He was suffocating. Desperately he tried to bury his hands upwards and through the compacted snow to the surface but, as he had hoped, it did not reach the air.
Then both Frodo and Samwise felt themselves being lifted out of the deepness and re-surfaced to where they could finally draw breath, although the snow levelled to their chests and they could hardly move. Frodo panted painfully once he could breathe; and Sam choked on the icy flakes, causing Aragorn to shift a large quantity of the snow away with his arm and bare hand to give the hobbit enough space.
"We must get off the mountain – make for the Gap of Rohan!" called Boromir. "Then take the West Road to my city!"
"The Gap of Rohan takes us too close to Isenguard!" Frodo vaguely heard Aragorn shout from right behind him.
He was barely listening, leaning on Sam for support – too tired and cold to care as he shivered uncontrollably.
"First let us carry on!" Gandalf suddenly begged them. Boromir passed him a look of insanity, but Aragorn, who knew the Wizard well, made no sign of his thoughts.
"This ledge will end shortly; there are few paces until we may come to open space again! There shall be nothing for Saruman to haul at us then except for bad weather, which we have been through enough of before now! If we carry on this way we will face less danger than if we were to go by the Gap of Rohan, and there is less than a week's journey left over Caradhras – it is less than if we were to head back." Gandalf spoke – or shouted, rather – urgently and insistently, whilst sharply scanning the sky with his old eyes for further danger-signs. "To turn back now would be madness! Utter madness!" he finished firmly.
"Yet if we cannot pass over the mountain, why not go under it?" piped in Gimli, offering another possibility. "Let us go through the Mines of Moria!"
Amongst the Fellowship it was silent at this suggestion. They watched Gandalf, who narrowed his eyes as his thoughts raced. Frodo had heard from Bilbo about the Mines of Moria – the hobbit had passed on what the dwarves had told him, many years ago: of the great stone halls and deep black chasms, with roaring fires between the tall, mighty pillars and the hundreds of mining dwarves, working hard to collect more dazzling Mithril. But even though spitting, hot fires were extremely appealing to Frodo at the present, he had not forgotten the rest of the tale. Bilbo had also told of what the dwarves had re-awoken in the deep emptiness of Moria: …shadows… flame. It scared Frodo even now and he shuddered, the quiver adding to his harsh shivers… He was knocked back to the present scenario by Gandalf's next words.
"Let the Ring-bearer decide."
But the Ring-bearer was completely taken aback at this: how was he expected to choose the right road? He had no experience with these journeys, unlike Legolas, or Boromir, or most of all Aragorn. He turned desperately to Sam, who gazed back at him helplessly.
"We cannot stay here!" shouted Boromir, rubbing the shoulders of Merry and Pippin who were no contrast to the surroundings with their white faces. "This will be the death of the hobbits!" Indeed, the two cousins looked as if they could not stand any more.
"Frodo?" Gandalf prompted, his stare penetrating into the blank face of his small friend.
Frodo vaguely felt Aragorn give his shoulder an encouraging squeeze, and he almost heard Bilbo's voice inside his head: "Do what you think is best, Frodo my lad."
"We will go through the Mines," he found himself saying loudly and clearly. He noticed the excited grin which passed through Gimli's face, and the small growl of triumph the Dwarf gave – and glimpsing around, everyone seemed to be relieved. Only Gandalf and Aragorn looked as if they knew Frodo had not finished speaking.
"Although… I never go against the council of Gandalf. We will go through the Mines… if we do not cross this mountain."
"Then so be it," said Gandalf solemnly. "It is settled. But come! We cannot discuss it here. At the next shelter we find we will make camp for the night."
They began to move on once more, half still shaken up, half grumbling to themselves. Aragorn smiled at Frodo as he picked him (and Sam) back up, which gave the hobbit a little comfort over his decision.