A Leap in the Dark
Betaed by Pipspebble
Disclaimer: The Shire and everything else in Middle Earth belongs to Tolkien. I just get to visit from time to time.
It was pitch black outside the small circle of light coming from the top of Gandalf's staff. The air was still and quiet, disturbed only by the occasional, far off dripping of unseen water and the sounds made by his companions as they shuffled along, placing feet carefully to avoid barely seen obstacles. Even with his eyes closed, Frodo could identify the tiny sounds that betrayed each of them.
From up ahead, he heard the slight clicking noise made by Gandalf's staff as it touched the ground with each stride that he took, although the wizard's soft leather shoes made as little noise on the stone they trod on as did the hobbits' bare feet.
Gimli's presence was announced by the heavy clumping of his sturdy boots and the rhythmic thumping of the great ax he held much like a staff. He seemed to take comfort in having it ready to hand, especially since they'd entered this horrible dwarven tomb (although Frodo would never call it that to Gimli's face).
Directly behind him, Frodo could faintly hear Sam's breath whistling through his nose and smiled, remembering when a tweenaged Sam had got his nose broken in a rather silly brawl with one of the Twofoots living next door to Number 3. He'd had that whistle ever since, but it was exaggerated now by Sam's tight-lipped unhappiness. The lad was frightened, of course, as were they all, but he was also grieving that they'd had to abandon Bill to the wolves and the creature in the water. Nonetheless, he seemed to have resigned himself to the journey, lips pinched together in a grim line as he tried to pretend that everything was fine. So had he done since he was a little lad, Frodo remembered, taking scoldings from his Gaffer in the same way. Frodo had seen that look on his face just about a year ago, when Sam's mother had died in an unexpected accident, and he'd seen the same look when Gandalf had pulled him through the window at Bag End only a few months later. Frodo felt a surge of affection for Sam, who would follow him down a dragon's throat if need be, never saying a word of complaint and plotting all the while on ways to get back out again.
Legolas followed close behind Sam. The elf was harder to hear, but the sounds were there for those who cared to listen. An ever-so-slight rustle of cloth and the occasional clink as one of his bone-handled daggers touched the other as he moved. A whisper of sound as his feet moved across the stone, gliding more than stepping, it sometimes seemed.
Merry and Pippin were nearly as hard to hear as Legolas, save for the odd whisper from one to the other. Both of them were unusually subdued, not surprising in this grim place, but there was no suppressing them entirely, especially Pippin, who seemed to think it was a matter of honor to remain as cheerful as possible in any given circumstance.
The Gondorian soldier, Boromir, walked behind the younger hobbits. Ever since the nearly disastrous attempt to cross Caradhras, he seemed to have made it his job to keep the hobbits, especially those two, under his watchful eye, and for this Frodo was grateful. He strode along with firm, purposeful footsteps, boots smacking against the stone in an oddly comforting way, the tip of his sheathed sword every great now and again pinging against the stone walls.
Finally, there was Aragorn, who was nearly as silent as the hobbits and the elf. His boots, well-crafted of soft leather, made only the slightest susurration on the stones beneath his feet, and Frodo had to strain to hear any sound of his passage, from only a few feet away. Frodo knew Aragorn had little liking for the plan that had brought them to this foul place and worried over what could cause such a doughty warrior and ranger to fear a place so much.
A new sound began to overlay the faint footfalls and soft breaths of his friends, a deep rumbling and churning, coming from ahead. He could feel it through the soles of his feet and in his breastbone, reverberating in time with his heartbeat. It was an ominous sound, one that filled him with a vague sense of dread.
Opening his eyes, he looked ahead to the faint glimmer of Gandalf's staff. The wizard and Gimli had paused, staring ahead at a chasm that crossed their path. Frodo moved up alongside them and looked with some dismay at the gap in the floor. It had to be more than seven feet across, at its narrowest point, with no bottom to be seen when he cautiously peered over the edge.
Frodo had jumped his fair share of streams and ravines as an adventurous hobbit-lad, but that was all a long time ago and the prospect of this jump sent a thrill through him that had nothing to do with being dared by one's friends to make a slightly scary jump across a shallow stream, and everything to do with the prospect of a long fall into blackest night should he come up short. There was nothing for it, however. The jump would have to be accomplished.
Gimli volunteered to go first, getting a long, running start, and flying across the gap with little grace but plenty of power, landing well back from the edge. Gandalf went next, launching himself and landing next to Gimli with less effort than one would expect of someone his age.
It was Frodo's turn next and he refused to think of the possiblities should he fail. Taking a deep breath, he stepped back from the edge, eyed the spot where he wanted to land and ran hard, leaping across the chasm. His heart faltered as he approached the far side but he made it with several inches to spare. Staggering away from the gap, he took a moment to steady himself as the others made their way across.
Sam had that same look of determination on his face as he backed up and took a running leap, landing next to Frodo with a slight thump, but saying nothing, simply turning back to watch the others. Frodo noticed, however, that he was trembling and placed a steadying hand on his shoulder as they watched Legolas easily clear the chasm, seeming to float across and landing lightly on his feet.
Merry and Pippin were next in the marching order and Frodo waited for them, but neither one made a move. They were huddled together, whispering fiercely, although Frodo couldn't hear what was being said. Merry gestured towards the rest of the company, on the far side of the chasm, while Pippin shook his head frantically.
After a moment, Boromir moved up behind them and spoke softly. Merry looked up at the man, but in the dark Frodo could not make out his expression. Finally, with a last look towards Pippin, Merry ran to the edge and jumped over, landing neatly and moving to join Frodo and Sam.
"He won't do it, Frodo," Merry whispered miserably. "He's terrified."
"He will do it, Merry," Frodo soothed, "he has to and he knows it. Just give him a few minutes to work up his courage." Frodo felt no worry that Pippin would fail of courage, his fear lay in another area altogether. He'd seen Pippin limping once or twice in the last few days. Not often and not noticeably, unless one knew him well, which Frodo certainly did. Of the others, not even Aragorn had noticed anything amiss. A holdover from a badly broken leg Pippin had suffered last winter, the injury had healed better than anyone had expected, but as had happened once before, earlier in the year, it was obviously flaring up a bit now and causing him some discomfort. Sam had been mixing up a pain-relieving tea for the lad and it seemed to be helping, as the limp had got no worse and had, indeed, nearly disappeared again. But Frodo knew what Pippin knew, that this gap that was more than twice as wide as Pippin was tall would require strength to cross, and Pippin's leg was not at its strongest right now.
But again, there was nothing for it. Pippin would have to find the strength within himself to accomplish this feat. Nothing any of them could do would be of any help to him in this. Frodo kept his face calm as he looked back across the chasm at his youngest cousin, trying to project that calm across the chasm and will Pippin the courage and strength to make this most difficult leap.
It was darker than the deepest depths of the Great Smials, in here, Pippin mused as he struggled to see the dim shape of Legolas in front of him. The only light was a distant glimmer from Gandalf's staff, which just barely silhouetted the figures in front of Pippin without providing any real illumination. It was warm, too. Far warmer than it seemed these caves should be. Between the dark and the heavy warmth, Pippin was finding it difficult to stay alert, despite the sip of miruvor Gandalf had given each of them several hours ago.
He returned to full alertness when his foot stepped into a slight depression, sending a twinge of pain up his leg. He caught himself limping and forced a more normal pace. Merry noticed and sent him a worried look but didn't say anything, and Pippin was pretty sure no one else had noticed it. His blasted leg! It hadn't caused him any problems in months, until they began this trek. Sam had caught him limping as they crossed Hollin and had started making him a tea to ease the discomfort, and he'd been feeling much better until that scramble at the gate. He'd twisted his knee ever so slightly as they rushed to get in the gate, and that was enough to set it off again. Not enough to slow him down, he determined for perhaps the hundredth time, but enough to be bothersome.
In an attempt to distract himself from the discomfort of his leg, he swiftly bent over and picked up a small stone that fit neatly in the palm of his hand. Catching Merry's attention with a slight cough, he tossed the stone. Merry snatched the missile out of the air and threw it back, shaking his head slightly. With a grin, Pippin tossed the stone again and soon Merry joined in more willingly. They were both bored and anything that made the time pass a little quicker was a welcome diversion.
They had been tossing the stone back and forth for nearly a quarter of an hour when Pippin's attention wavered and the stone bounced against his shoulder and fell to the ground with a rattle. Rubbing his shoulder absently, Pippin listened intently to catch again the strange sound that had diverted his attention from the game. Yes, there it was, a deep, churning noise. He moved closer to Merry, intending to say something, but saw by the look on his cousin's face that Merry had heard it also.
It was only a few minutes later that the entire company came to a halt at the brink of a wide chasm, from which emanated that strange sound. Pippin began to tremble, staring across that great gaping split in the ground. He'd barely made it across the last chasm they'd had to jump, and it had been a good two feet narrower than this one. There was no way he could do this. He shook his head as Merry stepped closer to him.
"No, no, no, Merry. I..I can't," he protested. "I'm sure there's another way around. I'll just find it and meet you on the other side, shall I?"
"Don't be daft," Merry replied calmly. "Of course you can jump this. I've seen you jump farther without half trying."
Pippin continued to shake his head, no longer aware that he was doing so. "You saw, Merry. You know I barely made it across that last one. My leg wobbled just as I was pushing off and I nearly ended up as a little red smudge at the bottom of that chasm. I can't do this."
Merry went pale and bit his lip, looking from Pippin to the chasm and back again. Only then did Pippin realize that most of the others were already on the far side. He could see Frodo staring at him, could practically feel his eldest cousin willing him to stop arguing and come along, but this was not something he could do. He could not hurl himself across that gap, with the certain knowledge in his heart that he would die if he did so.
A large hand settled on his shoulder and he looked up to see Boromir staring down at him in concern.
"Go ahead, Merry," the big man rumbled, "the others are waiting for you."
"You can do this, Pippin," Merry uttered fiercely, "you can!" Without waiting for a response, he turned and ran to the edge of the gap and threw himself across, landing safely and walking over to stand next to Frodo and Sam.
Pippin could see that Merry was speaking with the other hobbits but could not hear what was being said. Biting back a moan of fear, he looked up at Boromir. "You should go next," he said, trying to make his voice as smooth and calm as he could, to disguise his terror, "I'm going to need just a moment more."
Boromir smiled gently and shook his head. "I will wait here with you until you are ready to make the jump, Pippin," he answered.
"Well, it might be a long wait," the hobbit muttered. He became aware of another presence, then. In his panic, he'd forgotten about Aragorn, but the ranger had not disappeared. Joining their small huddle, he knelt down to be at eye level with Pippin, saying nothing, simply offering the reassurance of his presence.
Pippin looked across the chasm at the other members of the Fellowship. It was too dark to make out the expressions on their faces, but they were all staring at him, waiting for him to take his turn. He looked slightly to the left, where Frodo, Sam and Merry had gathered. He knew that if their thoughts could lend wings, he would never need to walk again. It wasn't that simple, though, and they all knew it. Pippin looked at Frodo. The Ringbearer. That's how the Big People thought of him, although to Pippin he was still just good old Cousin Frodo. Just then Gandalf shifted, and through some strange circumstance, a shaft of light fell across Frodo's face, and Pippin could see his expression quite clearly, all of a sudden. Frodo was looking very calm and stern, with a glint in his eye that said more plainly than words, enough is enough.
With a start, Pippin realized that he was endangering the Ringbearer and his mission. Every moment that he stood here on the brink, dithering about something they all knew he was going to have to do anyway, was a delay they could ill afford. He was going to have to jump. There was no other option, save being tossed across by one of the Men, which held even less appeal than attempting the jump on his own.
The certainty of his task did not make him feel any the better. Indeed, he was beginning to find it difficult to catch his breath, but that was of no matter. There was no way he could make it across that chasm and that was of no matter either, well, except to himself, of course. He really didn't want to die, but that was not the issue. He knew without doubt that he must jump, and he must do it now, without further delay.
Moving away from the men, Pippin took several steps back from the edge and turned to face his friends. Keeping his eyes fixed firmly on Frodo and Merry, he took a deep breath, ran as hard as he could to the edge, and launched himself into the air.
It seemed to Pippin that time slowed to a crawl as he sailed across the chasm. Leading up to the jump, his heart had been pounding so hard it seemed near to bursting out of his chest, but now there was only stillness, within and without. He watched as Merry's hand crawled in slow motion to Frodo and clamped on his arm, tension writ across his face. And then time resumed it's normal speed again and Pippin was rushing towards the far edge. Before he knew quite how it had happened he found himself on solid ground again, with two strong sets of arms wrapping around him and supporting him as his knees buckled.
Looking up at his cousins, their faces pale and frightened in the dim light, Pippin broke the tension with a sudden laugh. "My word, you both look as if you'd just lost your best friend. You didn't doubt I'd make it across, did you? Really, I think I should be offended at your utter lack of faith in me."
Merry and Frodo stared in open mouthed amazement at Pippin, each other, and Pippin again. Finally, shaking his head, Merry released his hold on his young cousin, leaving that hobbit to stand or fall on his own two feet. "Come on, Pip," he said with a rather shaky smile, "it's time to go."