Chapter 2: A Broken Stone

Pippin stood beside his simmering stew, stirring idly and cursing his luck. Why did the Fellowship have to stumble upon mysterious ruins when it was his night to cook? Everyone except Gandalf had gone off exploring. Even Sam had left, and Sam always volunteered to help with supper regardless of whether it was his turn. Gandalf was sitting out among the trees, breathing pipe-smoke and thinking, leaving Pippin all alone with the stewpot.

Pippin scooped out a spoonful of sliced carrots and let them drop back to the bubbling surface. Plop, plop, plop went the chunks as they fell, echoing his mood. Pippin was not angry with the rest of the company for going, but at the moment he was keenly aware of how unfair life could be. Knowing that Gandalf would accompany him to the ruins after the meal was small consolation. The others would have made all the exciting discoveries by then!

Despite Frodo's guess that there wouldn't be any treasure, Pippin hoped there was something in the place other than dust and spiders. Cooking alone had given him ample of time for woolgathering and his imagination had come up with some intriguing possibilities. The underground halls were surely very grand if Dwarves had made them - nothing like smials, Pippin was sure. He imagined vast, columned rooms with walls of doorways, each portal leading into more rooms of mystery and wonder. Inside one he might find cobwebbed bookshelves filled with crumbling scrolls and leather-bound tomes, perhaps written in languages he'd never heard of. In another there would be suits of armor and strange weapons on display. Yet another would be lined with iron-bound chests. In his mind's eye, Pippin could easily see himself pushing open one of the lids to reveal a sparkling sea of gold and jewels….

A bubble burst in the stewpot and splattered Pippin's hand with hot liquid. He hissed and jerked away, bringing his hand to his lips to soothe the injured skin. That's what you get for daydreaming, he thought irritably. Fortunately, the burns appeared to be small, and Pippin resolved to soak them in the stream at the first opportunity. He gave the pot a careful stir with his undamaged hand and wondered - again - when the others would return. Pippin felt sure that the Fellowship's hour was nearly up. The setting sun was streaking the sky behind Caradhras' bulk with red and gold, and the stew was ready, too. Any hobbit worth his salt knew how long it took to make a stew.

The odor of pipe-weed and the clack of a wooden staff against stone announced Gandalf's return to the fire. "My, but that smells good, Peregrin," he said. "Is it finished?"

"Yes," said Pippin. "I suppose it might not be accounted much back in the Shire, but I think it will be tasty enough for a meal in the middle of nowhere."

"It will be just the thing," said Gandalf. He sat down on a large rock, stretched his back, and exhaled wearily. "Camp-food is better after a long day's march than any delicacy."

Pippin felt a little less grouchy upon hearing this. Every hobbit liked to have his cooking praised.

"What is keeping Aragorn?" Gandalf mused. "His hour is up, and I am famished."

Pippin shook his head. "I've been listening for voices, but I haven't heard any."

"Well, let us give them a few minutes more," said the wizard. "But if they take too long, I will not wait on them to eat, and to Mordor with good manners."

Gandalf sat down to wait. Pippin fetched some water from the stream, soaked a piece of cloth, and tended to his hand. After ten minutes Gandalf declared himself too hungry to delay any longer, and he and Pippin dished out generous plates of stew for themselves. They engaged in idle conversation and ate slowly, expecting the return of seven companions at any moment. But the sky turned to magenta, and then to violet, and still the Fellowship did not appear.

Gandalf's irritation was clear. "Call them, would you?" he said, putting down his empty plate with a sharp clink.

"Are you sure?" said Pippin. "If anyone else is in there, they'll hear."

"I am sure," said Gandalf. "They have been gone for well over an hour, and it is not like Aragorn to be so tardy. Don't worry overmuch yet," he added quickly, seeing the look on Pippin's face. "They should be on their way back, at least."

Pippin walked to the stone doorframe and leaned into the dim interior. "Everyone! Supper is ready!" His voice echoed through the unseen rooms. He waited for a moment, and when he heard no answering call, he shouted again. "Come on, you lot! Supper!"

More echoes followed by more silence.

Gandalf frowned. "Give it a moment. The echoes may be confusing them."

Pippin threw the wizard a disbelieving look. Gimli had said that the tunnels could be extensive, but surely Aragorn would have kept the group within calling distance; Pippin had never known the Ranger to be careless. Gandalf grimaced in acknowledgement of Pippin's disagreement but said nothing.

Pippin waited for a long minute before trying again. This time he shouted as loudly as he could manage in case the party really had gone to the edge of hearing. The reverberations of his voice mocked him as they faded away into silence. Pippin was confused and afraid. Had something happened to the others? Had the Fellowship been hoping for a rescue while he and Gandalf sat there waiting?

Gandalf's face had grown very long. He joined Pippin at the door, leaned in, and bellowed, "Strider! Answer me at once!"


Pippin's pulse fluttered in his breast. "Why don't they answer?" he wondered, wrapping his hand around Gandalf's gnarled staff.

Gandalf glowered at the door.

"They shouldn't have gotten so far away that they couldn't hear us calling for them," Pippin continued. "They ought to have more sense than that."

"Ought to, indeed," Gandalf muttered darkly.

"Gandalf, I'm worried."

The wizard looked down at Pippin. "I think we have little choice but to go and look for them. Let go of my staff, if you please; I have need of it." Pippin complied, and the wizard began poking among the nearby pile of travelers' packs. "If they have simply passed out of earshot, then I will flay them all," he said. "I hope that is the case. But if it is not, we may need supplies. You gather food and water while I find Aragorn's herbs."

Concern lent speed to Pippin's hands, and before Gandalf found the medicines he had managed to stuff his knapsack full of provisions and hobble the pony. This being done, Pippin and Gandalf swiftly fashioned a torch and tucked the remaining supply of Boromir's oiled cloth into Pippin's satchel. Without speaking they lit the brand, shouldered their burdens, covered the stewpot, and smothered the campfire. The sudden reduction in light made the twilight seem deeper. Pippin held his torch out before him to illuminate the ground, and he and Gandalf carefully picked out their path until they stood before the ancient door. It yawned before them, dark, silent, and still. Like the door of a crypt, Pippin thought. He was glad that Gandalf was by his side as he walked through it. It was remarkable how quickly the ruins had turned from a source of fascination to a threat.

They had not gone three paces into the stone room before a soft light began shining from the end of Gandalf's staff. Pippin looked up at it in wonder and Gandalf smiled down at him. Pippin smiled back. Having a wizard with him was a great comfort indeed.

Pippin quickly saw that it would not be difficult to track the Fellowship. Though three doorways led out of the empty room, the floor was very dusty, and the group had left footprints everywhere they stepped. They had walked all around the chamber, examining it, and eventually they had chosen a single path out. The dust in two of the three doorways was undisturbed.

Pippin and Gandalf silently followed the footprints, passing through the middle door and a corridor into a second room that looked much like the first, only larger. This was followed by another corridor, and another room, and another and another. Pippin looked around curiously as they went, but he felt no desire to linger; what had earlier seemed a grand place to explore now made his skin crawl. Besides, the rooms were completely empty. There were no chests of treasure, no suits of armor, no shelves of books, and not a stick of furniture. It seemed as if there were eyes watching him from the shadowed corners of the rooms and the warm air made him feel clammy. He wanted nothing more than to find the others quickly and get back out under the open sky.

Pippin and Gandalf did not shout for the Fellowship as they went along; they only spoke to one another occasionally and kept their voices low. Down they went through square rooms with vaulted ceilings, around angular stairwells and passages, all of them decorated with carvings. The Fellowship seemed to have chosen a single path and held to it. Though there were often multiple doorways in the chambers, the footprints only ever led out through a single one. Aragorn had clearly held to the middle way whenever possible.

Room after room passed by and Pippin began to wonder how far they were going to have to walk. Was it possible that the others really had lost track of time and distance and wandered off? He turned his head, gazing around the vast chamber he stood in. Suddenly he froze and jerked his eyes forward again. What was that?

Gandalf stopped walking. "Peregrin?" he asked softly.

Pippin stared hard into the darkness for a moment, considering. He shook his head. "It's nothing. For a moment I thought I saw… but it's gone now."

"Saw what?"

Pippin opened his mouth to reply, but just then a flash of gold glinted off the wall in the next corridor. Excited as he was, he did not forget to whisper, not in such an oppressive place. The looming walls seemed to forbid speech. "There it is again! There's a light up ahead!"

Gandalf dimmed his staff and peered into the gloom. The golden flicker came again. Like far-off torchlight, thought Pippin, clutching his own brand tightly.

"Yes," Gandalf whispered, his eyes wide and intent. "Yes, you are right." He held a finger to his lips to signal for silence. Pippin nodded his understanding. Listening might tell them whether friends or foes awaited them at the end of the hall.

Pippin stood very still, trying not to breathe. He listened as hard as he could, straining to hear speech, footsteps, or anything at all besides his own heartbeat. After a minute or two Gandalf looked at Pippin questioningly, but Pippin only shook his head.

Gandalf let out a long breath. "Your ears are sharper than mine," he whispered. "If something was moving nearby, you would have heard it. But we must be cautious; just because all is still does not mean we are safe. You must leave your torch here lest its light give warning of our approach." His staff's light diminished until it went out completely.

Pippin wanted nothing less than to let go of his torch, but he saw the necessity of doing so. He could not stop his heart from beating a little faster as he propped it in a corner.

"Come – take my hand," said Gandalf. "We'll know what lies at the end of this hall soon enough."

Pippin reached up and let the wizard's gnarled fingers close around his smaller hand. Together they stepped into the dark of the corridor. There was just enough light for them to make out a wall some distance ahead where the hall curved in a new direction. With no light of their own they could not see what lay before their feet, and they took each step forward with great caution. Gandalf held up his staff so it would not knock against the floor.

The faint light grew as they crept on, and Pippin's sense of dread grew with every step. His pulse was racing by the time they finally rounded the corner. Now he could see an arched doorway some twenty feet away, its stone edges heavily worked with severe designs. The room beyond was lit from within by a dim, flickering glow. Pippin realized that this was the first arched door he had seen since entering those deserted halls, but he quickly pushed the thought aside. Architectural oddities were inconsequential next to whatever awaited them at the end of the passage.

They paused to listen again. Once more Gandalf looked to Pippin, and once more Pippin shook his head. Gandalf's lips thinned. He squeezed Pippin's hand, not noticing Pippin's wince at the pressure on his small burns. Gandalf raised his staff before him as he stepped forward. Pippin was unaware of his free hand straying to the hilt of his leaf-shaped dagger.

And then, when they were still several paces from the end of the corridor, Pippin saw that there was a dark shape lying on the floor of the lighted room. An instant later he realized what it was and he let out a gasp of terror. Merry! His eyes were closed and there was blood on his face. And beyond him there were more shapes – more bodies on the ground! Now that he knew what he was looking at, Pippin could clearly distinguish the rest of the missing Fellowship.

Gandalf fairly leapt into the doorway, pulling Pippin with him. A brilliant light burst from his staff and illuminated the entire chamber. The sudden brightness was so intense that Pippin threw up his arm to shield his eyes. For a moment Gandalf's staff shone like a star come down to Middle-earth; then, swiftly, the light dimmed to what it had been before. Afterimages of the flare drifted before Pippin's eyes, but he scarcely noticed them. His attention was wholly on the crumpled figures before him.

Pippin lunged toward the Fellowship, but Gandalf's hand closed around his arm. "No, Pippin! Don't touch them!"

Pippin struggled against the wizard's grip. "Merry!" he cried, feeling the sting of gathering tears. "Merry, wake up! Frodo! Sam! Strider!"

"Pippin, stop! You must not touch them! You must not enter that room!"

Pippin looked up at the wizard. "Why, Gandalf?" he demanded. "Why? What if they're hurt? What if they're dead?" He whirled again, his eyes on Merry, and tried to twist away from Gandalf. "I can't see them breathing! Let me go!"

"Stop! Stop and listen, Peregrin Took!" Gandalf ordered, seizing Pippin's shoulder and spinning him around. The roughness in his voice and eyes shocked Pippin into silence. For a moment they stared at each other while the air grew thick with tension; but then the thunder faded from Gandalf's brow and his grip loosened. "Forgive me," he said quietly. "Did I hurt you?"

Pippin shook his head.

"Good," said Gandalf, his expression softening. Pippin thought he seemed relieved. "Good. I had to stop you. We dare not set foot in that chamber until we know what felled our companions."

"Are they alive?" Pippin pleaded, not caring that his voice cracked with emotion.

"They are," Gandalf replied.

"How can you tell? I can't tell!"

"Watch them for a moment, and you will see that they breathe," said Gandalf, turning Pippin around.

Pippin gazed at Merry, who lay nearest to the doorway. His throat was tight with hope and dread. Gandalf stood behind him, one hand still carefully closed around Pippin's right arm, guarding against the possibility that Pippin's heart might override his head again. Pippin felt the stirrings of panic when he saw no movement, but Gandalf murmured to him to watch, and he calmed slightly, trusting that Gandalf would not lie to him. After what seemed an eternity, Pippin saw Merry's shoulder move. His cousin had breathed in… and out again. He let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and the tears that had been gathering in his eyes spilled free.

"There, now," said Gandalf, in a tone far more kindly than Pippin usually heard from him.

Pippin sniffed hard and scrubbed at his cheeks. They had to puzzle out what to do now, and tears would not solve anything. "Thank you," he said huskily. "I'm glad you were right."

"So am I, Pippin." Pippin looked up at Gandalf with red, wet eyes and was surprised to see a soft expression on the wizard's face. Knowing that Gandalf was truly concerned for the others made him feel a little better.

"I sense that they live in the same way I sense your own vitality, Pippin," Gandalf continued. "They do not have the stillness of the dead – the absence of their souls, Saruman would have said." Pippin felt Gandalf stiffen when he mentioned the White Wizard. "But enough of that; it is neither here nor there. Our companions live, but something is wrong. It is as if they are not wholly present."

Pippin silently agreed. Something was wrong. There was an eeriness in the way they all lay so still, alive yet unresponsive to the shouting and light that had filled the chamber just moments before. "They look like they're sleeping," he said.

"Yes, they do," Gandalf agreed pensively. "As if they are sleeping very, very deeply."

"Can you wake them up?"

Gandalf surveyed the fallen Fellowship, considering, and stretched out a wrinkled hand toward Frodo. Pippin's eyes flickered between his cousin and Gandalf, who glowered commandingly. Many long moments passed before Gandalf dropped his arm and exhaled slowly. "I cannot," he said. "His spirit does not respond to my call."

Pippin shivered.

"This is a riddle," Gandalf muttered, "and I think the clues are in this room. At least, I hope that they are."

"What clues?" said Pippin.

"Hmm. You have missed them because your eyes are full of your friends. Look around again and tell me what you see."

"You mean something besides the dome overhead, I suppose," said Pippin. "I haven't seen anything else like it down here." He cast his eyes around the chamber. "The walls are curved too, and they were straight everywhere else, but I don't see as that matters…." He trailed off abruptly. "A stone column!" he exclaimed. It seemed to stand in the very center of the chamber. How could he have missed seeing that? It had four flat sides and tapered slightly between the floor and its top – like a candle, but considerably thicker and larger. A shallow, curved bowl rested at its apex. Then Pippin's eyes traveled to the floor. "And there's something broken, too. It's… stone? Pottery? I can't tell – it's too dusty."

"Good!" said Gandalf. "What else?"

"I suppose it used to sit on that column," Pippin mused. "The pieces are thickest near its base." His eyes roved among the bodies of the Fellowship. "Do you think they might have fallen on some of them? They were standing right in the middle of them, and…. Good gracious!" Pippin took a step backwards and bumped into Gandalf. There were three skeletons in the corner.

"Dwarves," Gandalf said solemnly. "They have been dead for a very long time. Their presence is all the more reason for us not to go in. Whatever felled our company probably killed them, too."

"But they've been dead for decades at the very least! How can we know what killed them? There's nothing left of them but bones and crumbling cloth."

"There is a bit more left of them than that. They still have their weapons." Gandalf pointed at the bodies. "And look how that one lies there, on its side, with its hand resting near the skull. Meriadoc lies in nearly the same position."

Pippin flinched, thinking of Merry wasting away, an eternal companion for the skeletons behind the plinth.

"As if they just collapsed where they stood," Gandalf mused. "And the dwarves never drew their axes. They were not fighting."

Pippin looked at the skeletons. The wizard was right; the dwarves' axes were still secured to the metal links of rotted leather belts. Pippin's eyes swung to the Fellowship. Not a one among them had drawn their weapons, either.

Despite his impatience to be doing something, Pippin tried to apply his mind to Gandalf's riddle. Not only were swords, knives and axes still sheathed, but the only injuries to be seen were head wounds, and those seemed to have been inflicted by falling to the floor. The more he thought about it, the more he wondered if Gandalf was right – if they hadn't just crumpled like puppets with their strings cut. But it made no sense! How could such a thing have happened?

Gandalf was thumbing the hilt of his sword and muttering to himself. "Oddly shaped. Very oddly shaped. It could be that. But why would I find one here? And how was it broken?"

"What's oddly shaped?" asked Pippin.

Gandalf gave a start and looked down at the hobbit. "What? Oh – the pieces on the floor. Some of them have a curved edge. See that one there, and there?"

Pippin nodded. "You think you know what this thing was before it broke."

"I have a guess," the wizard rumbled darkly, "but I do not like it, and if I am correct, then we dare not touch the pieces to be sure."

Pippin eyed the shattered object. "You think that's what did this to them?"

"This room is unlike any other room in these halls; it is special, and it must have had a special purpose. We saw almost nothing until we came here, where we found our entire party unconscious along with three dead dwarves and a broken object. Unless this place is cursed – and I do not think it is – then that object is almost certainly the key to all this." Gandalf's eyes narrowed. "Yes, it truly might be that. I have never heard of one being damaged before, yet I can believe it might have this effect if it were broken. Moving the pieces could prove me right… yet I would rather be sure…."

Pippin was listening attentively, for Gandalf seldom thought out loud, and never in front of him; but then Gandalf shifted his staff and Pippin forgot all about what the wizard was saying. A glint had caught his eye when the light moved, and it had come from something in Gimli's hand. Pippin squinted, trying to decide what it was. It looked like a chunk of black glass. He had never seen anything like it in Gimli's possession before.

"Gandalf," Pippin interrupted excitedly, "Gimli is holding something. I think it's a piece of that broken thing."

The wizard trailed off and peered at Gimli. His eyebrows rose as he gazed at the object in the dwarf's hand.

"It looks like glass," said Pippin.

"It is not glass," Gandalf said softly. "It is crystal. Well spotted, Pippin! I am certain of what this thing is now." He lifted his staff off the floor and its light flared brighter. "Watch closely. You are about to see how our Fellowship was ensnared."

A grimy shard scraped across the floor and soared into the air. Another rose from where it lay near Frodo. Still another wriggled out from beneath the corner of Legolas's cloak. Then bits of glass were rising everywhere, floating up to mix with those that hovered in the air. Pippin watched, mouth agape, as the shards arranged themselves like the pieces of a puzzle. Then Gandalf waved one hand, the dust fell away, and the pieces slid together to form a dark, glossy sphere. Yet it was not quite whole; Pippin could see that a few pieces were missing from the surface. As he watched, a dark fire kindled itself within the sphere. Its light reflected off the faces of each individual shard and spiderwebbed the whole object with red, jagged lines. Pippin had the vague notion that the thing was somehow alive. The light waxed and waned gently, like the intake and exhalation of breath.

"You are possibly the first hobbit to ever lay eyes on one of these," Gandalf said.

"What is it?" Pippin breathed.

"It is a palantír."

"What's a palantír?"

"It is a seeing-stone of elder days. Very few were made, and the knowledge of their making was lost long ago. Through them one can see other people, other places – and other minds, under the right conditions."

"But this one's broken," said Pippin.

"Yes," said Gandalf, "and that is why our companions lie senseless."

"I don't understand."

"The palantíri are activated by touch, Peregrin, and our friends touched the shards. Though broken, this sphere remains an object of great power; yet because it is broken, it cannot function as it was meant to." The wizard's brows drew down. "I have never heard of a shattered palantír before. I do not know where the other Stones may be found or how this one came to be in this place. Yet here one is, along with the proof that touching its pieces produces a devastating effect. Our companions are alive, but they are unconscious – so much so that they will not wake naturally. And if they do not wake, they will eventually die for want of food and water. I expect that is what happened to the dwarves."

Pippin felt as though his middle had become a ball of ice. "And you can't wake them up?"

"No. I have already tried."

"But… maybe that's because you didn't get all the pieces. Some are missing." Pippin looked back at the Fellowship. "Look! Gimli still has his."

"I know," said Gandalf. "So does Frodo." Pippin looked up quizzically. Gandalf gestured to Frodo and flared the light of his staff again. Pippin turned his eyes to Frodo and saw the light glint off of something in his cousin's hand. He hadn't realized that Frodo was holding a piece, too.

"Did they all touch the pieces?" Pippin wondered aloud. "Did you get some of them? Maybe if they're not touching them anymore…."

"I could not move the shards that our companions are touching," said Gandalf. "But perhaps some of them might have dropped anything they picked up. I will try again. If we are lucky…." He trailed off as he stretched out a hand toward Strider.

Whatever commands Gandalf was issuing were still beyond Pippin's senses. Pippin waited, hopeful, but no matter how far Gandalf's brows drew down or how commandingly he glared, Strider did not stir. Gandalf muttered to himself and turned his attention to each of the others in turn. None of them so much as twitched.

Gandalf lowered his arm. "It was worth a try," he said. His stern expression had melted into weariness. "There are many pieces unaccounted for. I think our companions may have fallen upon them."

Pippin was feeling distinctly sick with worry by now. "What do we do, Gandalf? What do we do if we can't touch them and your magic doesn't work?"

"Perhaps we should say that that magic did not work. There may be other ways to wake them. I have thought of one possibility, but it would be risky to try."

"Well, we have to try something!" said Pippin, throwing his arms wide. "They'll all die if we don't! And we'd never finish our Quest, either," he added reluctantly, knowing that this had to be considered even if it was not foremost in his heart. "Tell me your idea."

Gandalf paused before replying; he seemed to be choosing his words carefully. "The palantíri touch the mind, Pippin, and our companions are in thrall to this one. This palantír has pulled them far from the waking world. They are healthy and whole – bodies, minds, and spirits – yet I cannot reach them. It is impossible to say exactly what has happened, but I think they are imprisoned within their own heads, and I doubt that they are aware of it. I suppose you could call it dreaming." Gandalf thumbed his beard. "If I could take away the pieces they are touching, perhaps they would be able to hear me, but I cannot move them; I think they must let them go of their own free will."

"But if they're trapped in their own minds, how can they do that?" asked Pippin.

"They can if we spring the trap," said Gandalf. "The only way I can think to do this is to… well, to converse with them in thought. And this is what you must do."

Pippin stared at Gandalf. "How… how is that even possible? I can't do that. No hobbit can. Maybe you could, but that's because you're Gandalf." A horrible thought suddenly came to him. Could a wizard read minds? Had Gandalf been looking at Pippin's thoughts ever since leaving Rivendell? Pippin did not like this notion at all. He had thought so many things he had chosen not to say. His own head should be a place where he was alone! What would Gandalf think of him if he knew everything that went on there?

Something of Pippin's anxiety must have shown on his face. "Be easy," Gandalf said hastily. "I have not prying into your mind."

"But you can do it?"

"It is not what you think, and we do not have time for me to explain it to you. But if I did attempt to touch your thoughts, you would know it. Does that make you feel better?"

Pippin threw up his hands. "Oh, I… it doesn't matter what I think. You're right; there's no time for that now, and even if there was, I suppose I'd never really understand a wizard. I just don't see how I can look at anyone's mind, especially if you can't."

"This was all caused by touching the broken palantír," said Gandalf. "If you touch it, you will fall to it, too. But here is the difference between you and our companions." He held up one gnarled finger. "I can place a spell of protection on you first. If all works as I plan, you will 'dream' as the others do, but you will know that you are dreaming, and you should be able to wake yourself at will."

"If all works as you plan?" Pippin stammered, instantly regretting his choice of words. Gandalf never took kindly to those who doubted his abilities.

But to Pippin's surprise, the wizard did not seem to take offense. "A palantír is nothing to toy with whether it is broken or whole," he admitted. "There is always a chance that something is in play here that I cannot see. Yet we are not feeling blindly in the dark; I have some knowledge of the palantíri, and even more knowledge of the mortal mind and my own gifts. I think my logic is sound."

"But wouldn't you be a better choice to go than me? Your magic wouldn't protect you?"

Gandalf shook his head. "If something were to go amiss and you could not wake yourself, the spell of protection should enable me to call you back. I cannot do that if I am with you, or if I go alone." He looked keenly at Pippin. "I cannot command you to do this. The best-laid plans often go awry, and a mistake here could cost you your life. If you think we should take the Ring and go on, I will not think less of you."

Pippin's head snapped up. "Take the Ring? Take the Ring and leave them all here to die?"

Gandalf looked at Frodo's still form. The weathered planes of his face hardened, but Pippin thought his eyes grew sadder. "This Fellowship exists for one purpose: to bring the Ring to Mordor and destroy it. If one of us falls, the other eight will go on; if eight of us fall, one will go on. If we fail, Middle-earth will be plunged into a darkness from which it will never recover. We must give that more weight than the fates of our companions, however much we love them."

"You think we have a chance if we try," Pippin said softly. He didn't mean it for a question, but Gandalf answered him.

"Yes, I do."

"Then we have to try. I can't leave them here without doing that."

"I cannot be certain that this will work," Gandalf said gravely. "You could be trapped just as the others are."

Fear quivered in the pit of Pippin's stomach, but he knew he could not abandon Merry to this – or the others, for that matter. "If I am, then you will be the one of us who goes on. What do I have to do?"

Gandalf smiled. "Few are they who appreciate the worth of Hobbits. I already think much of your race, Peregrin, but you raise it still further in my estimation."

Pippin flushed and dropped his eyes. He was not at all used to praise from Gandalf.

"You must take each person one at a time," said the wizard. "The order must be chosen carefully." His eyes roamed over the company, considering.

Pippin's gaze followed the wizard's. He hoped Gandalf had a hobbit in mind for the first – preferably Merry. Pippin knew Merry almost as well as he knew himself. He hardly knew what he was getting himself into, but surely things would go better if he could try with Merry instead of a Man, Dwarf, or Elf. Were the dreams of Big Folk like hobbit dreams at all?

"Merry first," said Gandalf.

"Really?" Pippin exclaimed, profoundly relieved.

"Indeed," said Gandalf. "You are more familiar with him than anyone else here, except perhaps Frodo. That may make things easier for you. Best to find your feet under the most favorable conditions."

Pippin beamed at Gandalf, delighted with the wizard's reasoning - and with his own. It was heartening to know that Gandalf agreed with him. "And after that?" he asked.

"I will think on it while you collect Merry," said Gandalf. He waved his hand, and the palantír sank to the floor and collapsed into pieces, its inner light extinguished. Gandalf pointed to Merry. "Lie down close to your cousin, but be careful not to touch him, and be especially careful of where you step. Your way should be quite clear - every untouched shard should be gathered in that pile - but extra caution will not go amiss. Compose your mind while I prepare myself. I will have more to say to you in a moment."

Pippin complied, stepping over the threshold and slowly making his way to Merry's side. He knew Merry would not stir at his approach, but his cousin's perfect stillness was no less disquieting for it. When he was only two feet away, he sat down, removed his cloak, and folded it up. A soft murmuring from Gandalf turned his head. The wizard was standing in the doorway, eyes closed, both hands gripping his staff. His lips moved as he muttered words that Pippin could not understand.

Pippin placed the folded cloak on the ground and carefully stretched himself out flat, using the garment as a pillow. Gandalf was still talking to himself, so Pippin stared up at the thickly carved ceiling and tried to do as the wizard had asked. He felt keenly conscious of the others in the room – both the living and the dead. Calm eluded him. How could he compose himself when he was about to step into the complete unknown? He could scarcely wrap his mind around what was going to happen. He didn't even know what he had to do yet.

"It is done," said Gandalf.

"What?" said Pippin, surprised. "Are you talking about your spell? I don't feel any different."

Gandalf smiled wryly. "Not all magic is accompanied by flashes of light."

Pippin exhaled slowly and looked back up at the ceiling. He felt unable to return the smile. "If you say so, Gandalf; I wouldn't know. Well, what did you want to tell me?"

"When I give the word, take Merry's hand. Then take up a shard of the palantír; I will bring one to you. When you pick it up, you should succumb quickly."

"What will it feel like?"

"I do not know," said Gandalf, "but when two people touch a palantír it enables them to speak mind to mind; I think it will be the same for a broken one. You will be touching both Merry and the palantír. That should join you together."

Pippin nodded.

"There is something else, Pippin, and this is very important. If we are right about this and you find yourself in a dream, the things you see may be very strange indeed – as strange as any dream you have ever had. And because this palantír is broken, it may be that are companions' thoughts have been twisted. Their dreams may tend toward nightmare."

Pippin nodded again, not trusting his voice. This was becoming quite frightening, but he wasn't about to change his mind.

"I hardly know what advice to give you," Gandalf said apologetically. "All I can tell you is to remember your goal: find Merry and make him understand that he is dreaming. If he does not become aware of this fact, I do not think he will regain consciousness. I cannot tell you how to accomplish this. You must trust to your own judgment and do the best that you can. Use what you know about him to your advantage. Use what you know to convince him." Gandalf paused and looked Pippin over carefully. "Are you ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," Pippin replied, his voice cracking.

"Then take Merry's hand, and open your other palm."

Pippin turned his head toward Merry; then he reached out and took up his cousin's hand. It was limp but warm. Wait for me, Merry, he thought. I'm coming. Without looking back, he opened the fingers of his other hand, leaving his palm pointing toward the ceiling. He did not want to see the piece of black glass floating toward him.

"I will see you soon," said Gandalf. "Both of you."

Pippin felt something cool touch his empty hand and the light winked out.