I hate exams. I hate them very much.

Here we are, at chapter 8! Thank you to everyone who reviewed chpt 7: Unhobbity Hobbit, Emerald-Water, Ice Ember, Audrey Miercoles (a belated good luck to you as well!), therinspell, banana flavoured dragon (love ya!), anon, Jenni, Hai Took, pippinsfangurl, KAJ, Samwise the Strong, Athril, pipinheart, pipwise brandygin, nekohebi (love ya too!), Strawberry Shika, The FireV, pru and Sheep (I'm a leprechaun!)

Big hugs to you all! Unlike my other chapters, this one begins where the last left off.

Disclaimer: I do not own LotR.


Pippin was lost. He was stood alone, hurt and afraid, surrounded by swirling grey fog. All he knew about his surroundings was that he was stood on a firm mud-track. His clothes, made damp by the impenetrable mist, clung to him, their dampness chilling his goose-pimpled skin. There was nothing to guide him- he could see nothing, smell nothing, hear nothing. He was stranded in the middle of an empty lifeless world, friendless and oh so much alone.

The despair weighed heavily on his mind. It consumed him, making the agonising pain in his shoulder seem many times worse. He dared not even touch the wound to assess its severity. Such was the pain he feared he would black out. He valiantly tried to ignore it, box it away in the back of his mind, but with nothing around him to distract his attention it was growing harder and harder to hold himself together. Already he could feel tears pooling in his eyes and he felt his legs give way beneath him. Sinking to his knees, he wrapped his arms around himself and began to sob quietly, feeling more isolated and scared than he had ever felt.

After what seemed like an age, but was probably no more than a few minutes, he became aware of a strange sound in the greyness. He lifted his head, sniffing, and tried to ignore the insistent dagger-thrust pain running through him. The noise was an odd swishing sound, but it was intermittent, broken up. The breaks between the noises were irregular, some long, some short. Pippin carefully stood and automatically brushed himself off, desperately straining his ears. The sounds were coming nearer, directly towards him.

Pippin gulped down the panic that threatened to envelop him and forced himself to calm, bracing for a possible impact. What happened next completely shocked him.

The dark-hooded, black-barred, hook-beaked form of a peregrine falcon flew out of the all-encompassing mist and neatly landed in front of him. He regarded it cautiously, unsure of its purpose. It was a female by the size. His father had always pointed out peregrines whenever they made one of their rare flights over Tuckborough, mainly because of his son's interest in his namesakes. The females were bigger than the males.

This one was particularly beautiful. Despite the confusion and fear in his pain-befuddled mind, Pippin couldn't help but admire her sharp profile and glossy feathers, the proud way she held her head, training bright yellow-rimmed black eyes on him. Only half-aware of what he was doing, he inclined his head respectfully to her. The falcon spread her impressive wings and dipped them in a salute. Still caught in confusion, Pippin held out his arm. The peregrine instantly fluttered up onto his arm.

Unprepared for the weight, Pippin felt his weak legs quiver again, but stood firm. The falcon tightened the grip of her taloned feet on his arms for balance, trying, it seemed, to avoid spearing him with her vicious talons. She looked him directly in the eye again and he felt warmth, like a friendly caress, touch his mind. Slightly breathless, he stroked her with his free hand. His pain and confusion receded a little as another warm touch caressed his troubled thoughts. "Swift-Wind," the name sprang unbidden to his mind, as did his next words. "Seer-Sign, Soul-Partner, guide me."

Swift-Wind spread her wings and took to the air, shrieking her sharp call. She arced overhead and began to fly into the mist. Even though he couldn't see her, Pippin could instinctively feel where she was and he began to follow her path, running to keep up with her. She led him on through the dense fog and he trusted her to guide him to safety. He sensed her halt and he stopped directly underneath her as she hovered. "Swift-Wind!" he called to her. She replied with a screech. Somehow understanding her, Pippin took another step forwards. And fell into a dark abyss of pain and loss and fear and help me help me help me…

-----

Merry hadn't moved for some time. After the Wraiths had vanished into the night, Aragorn had instantly seen to Frodo, feeling immense relief as the hobbit awoke and began to talk. He directed Sam to help him warm water and prepare poultices to ease the pain of the gaping wound. He had spoken quietly with the gardener, seeing no sense in worrying the others, about the nature of the wound and the situation with the Wraiths. They both spoke gently to Frodo as they tended his wounds, telling him how they found him lying on the ground defenceless with the Ring in his hands. During their ministrations, Frodo had dozed off into a pain-filled sleep. Aragorn directed Sam to keep watch over his master and make sure the fire warmed him.

Then he only noticed Merry. The Brandybuck crouched over Pippin's lifeless form, trying to stem the flow of black blood from a wound almost identical to Frodo's as tears ran down his face. Aragorn, berating himself for his stupidity, had quickly cleaned and bound the wound, his body working automatically after years of healing as his mind raced with questions. What? How? Why? An empathetic experience was something he had little knowledge of. Would the conditions of the two hobbits be the same? Or would Pippin recover without Elrond's aid? Did this mean Pippin was sharing Frodo's pain or suffering entirely his own illness? Which of them would fall into darkness? And when? When?

Merry said nothing. He simply sat with Pippin's head in his lap next to the fire, watching as his precious cousin twitched and moaned in his sleep. Aragorn had no idea where Pippin's mind was, but he sensed that the youngest hobbit wandered lost in the mists of the World between worlds, alone and friendless. Alas, he had seen this before. Sometimes recovery was quick and the victim was soon back to normal. Sometimes they never fully recovered, becoming totally dependent on friends and family to care for them, feed them, clothe them and tend to their bruised soul. But with Pippin's extraordinary mental sensitivity, there was no knowing what might befall him. Despite the short time he'd known the hobbits, Aragorn knew Merry would be totally crushed if his cousin remained lost to him. He sighed and went to check on Frodo.

It was then that Pippin stilled. He stopped moving altogether; there were no more cries of pain or fear. His limbs relaxed and he smiled. Merry, uncomprehending, simply sat and watched his cousin. Pippin lay still for several minutes, then with a cry of "Swift-Wind!" he jerked awake.

Terrified green eyes stared up at Merry, pleading and pain-filled. Merry quickly shifted to allow Pippin to sit up and scramble into his lap. He wrapped his arms around him and soothed his hands along his cousin's back as the youngster settled into his familiar embrace. "Pippin," he breathed into his cousin's shoulder as the Took trembled in his grip. He buried his face into Pippin's jacket, feeling his own limbs begin to shake with relief. "I thought…I thought…Oh Pippin…"

Pippin tightened his hold on Merry, ignoring the slightly lessened pain in his shoulder. Aragorn observed them silently, relieved at Pippin's dramatic awakening. He looked down at Sam, who had torn his eyes from Frodo and seemed to be caught in indecision. The man laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezing in a comforting gesture. "Go to them," he said, kindly.

Sam shot him a look of gratitude as the man settled down next to Frodo. The gardener hurried over to his friends and knelt next to them. Knowing better than to intrude on the cousins, he simply touched each of them in turn, reassuring himself that they were alive and whole. He didn't sit with them for long before returning to Frodo's side. "I think it'd be better if we left 'em, begging your pardon sir," the sturdy hobbit said, blinking back tears. "I ain't never seen 'em this clingy and that's a fact." Aragorn nodded and moved to allow Sam to take the nearest place next to his beloved master.

The man rubbed his eyes wearily. The night's action and consequences had intensified his earlier fears. If they did not get to Rivendell soon, Frodo would completely succumb to the power of his wound despite his immense strength. And then of course there was the mystery of what had happened to Pippin. He hoped that, if they managed their suddenly impossible journey, his foster father would be able to understand what was going on in the youngster's troubled soul. He directed his thoughtful gaze back to the cousins.

Pippin seemed to be calming down. His death-grip on Merry was beginning to loosen. Merry lifted his head from Pippin's shoulder and opened his arms slightly to allow his cousin to shift into a more comfortable position, still in his lap. He squeezed his arms tight around Pippin's thin form again and took a deep breath, releasing it slowly and shakily. "Pippin," he breathed. "Are you…better now?"

Pippin half-nodded, trying to keep his eyes open for his cousin's sake, unwilling to slip into sleep after such a short time reunited with his cousin. He nuzzled his head into Merry's shoulder and breathed in his familiar scent. Suddenly desperate to explain, he reached out to take the edge of Merry's jacket and began to mould it in his hands, an old habit of his. "Merry," he said, his voice slightly hoarse. "Merry, it was like nothing I'd ever experienced before."

Merry, aware of 'Strider' coming towards them, caught the man's eyes and deliberately said, "Tell me, Pip."

Pippin closed his eyes and tried to put into words what had happened. "When the…things came, I could feel…it was like my dream, everything became slower, the air became darker and it was like a marsh, Merry. Sinking into a marsh. When the black shapes came closer, and everyone leapt forwards, I could feel Cousin Frodo put on the Ring, and then," Pippin stopped. His eyes grew wide and his face paled. "Frodo! Is he all right? Where, where is he Mer, what-"

Aragorn spoke. "He is resting, Pippin. He has been grievously wounded, but he is strong. I think he will resist the evil in his wound."

Pippin nodded and continued his narrative. "I felt him put the Ring on his finger, and then…he was me," he opened his eyes looked up into Merry's confused blue orbs. "I don't know how to describe it…It was like we stopped being two and became one…I could feel the Ring on my finger, I was in a different world. The black shapes became tall white figures of tortured kings, as if they had been unveiled. Their faces..." Pippin shuddered and Merry rubbed his back comfortingly.

"Go on, Pip," he said encouragingly. "It's all right now, Strider chased them away." Aragorn nodded, even though Pippin wasn't looking at him.

Pippin took a deep breath and carried on. "I heard myself, I mean Frodo cry out, it was like a magical incantation. There was a horrible scream, like a dying animal, and a great pain in my shoulder." Pippin fingered the bandage on his shoulder. "I was suddenly back in my own body. I looked up and saw Strider jump at the Wraith in front of Frodo, then I blacked out. When I woke up…the place is hard to describe. It was like all the colour had been drained away. There was no life, no smells, nothing. I felt so alone." Pippin clutched tighter at Merry, reassured by his cousin's strong arms.

Merry placed his cheek against the top of Pippin's head, trying to hide the tremor in his voice and he soothed his cousin. "I'm here Pip, you don't need to be scared." Aragorn forced himself not to say anything or attempt to help ease the youngster's fear. It was better for Pippin to be comforted by familiar arms this night.

"I sat there, in swirling fog for ages," Pippin said, regaining his train of thought. "I just sat there, not doing anything. I couldn't do anything. Then I heard what turned out to be wings beating through the mist. A peregrine falcon flew at me and landed near me. Se seemed to have a strange sort of…connection with me" Pippin shook his head. "I don't understand why or how, but she lead me out of the mist and then I was falling…Then I woke up here with you."

Merry's brow furrowed in thought as Pippin awaited his judgement. Aragorn silently got up and went to the mouth of the dell, his own mind humming with the story Pippin had told.

Merry spoke at last, not noticing his departure. "A peregrine? That's odd…" He stroked Pippin's hair, dismissing it for more important thoughts. "Sleep now, Pippin. I've got you" He needn't have said it- Pippin's unusual dream-exhaustion had led the young hobbit to quietly drift off at the end of his narrative. The Took stayed cuddled into Merry, murmuring almost inaudibly in his sleep. Merry only caught one word- "Protecter."


I am really not happy with this chapter. I think it warrants a re-write. Please review and tell me what you think! Thanks!