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I am beyond fatigue, though the desire to sleep is still relentless. I am haunted. What has happened to me, near me, beyond me, has made my head spin. And so I quit thinking. The bloody sky would have turned my sturdy blood to ice, but I stood with Legolas, Aragorn, supernatural Northmen, and they yet still breathed.
They are not Dwarves. But I still breathe, as well. What I wouldn’t have given for any of my kinsmen to be here. We would have made short work of these wretched, mindless workers of Sauron…
I shake my head, and before reshouldering my axe, I give it a quick looking-over. Its notched surface is very much the worse for wear, and if my heart were not residing in the heels of my boots, I would have looked for my transient elf-friend and made some comment about it versus the seeming war-proofing of his bow, which never seems to bear a scourge.
But with every heavy step, my lids drooping despite every Dwarvish insult that I can self-inflict, my spirits sink lower. This is no time for jibes.
I must find Peregrin.
He had stood at my side. This halfling, even a child to the eyes of the other Hobbits, had stood at my side. He had stood straight, clad in the livery of Gondor, even though it didn’t suit him. Not in the least. I know that he was proud of it, as only a youngling can exude enthusiasm for clothes that are far too large, or heavy, and still insist that they fit perfectly…
I am stumbling. I stand for a moment, and look at the carnage that surrounds me. Better to stop than to fall. Beyond exhaustion, I throw my axe over my shoulder so that the once-bright head of the blades are sunk into the ground. Then I lean on the handle.
With weary eyes, I gaze around the field. Dúnedain wander, looking with disconcertingly clear eyes to Aragorn. Youths of Rohan, clustered together, hiding the retching that goes on when one has never smelled death, much less breathed it in and out over hours… Southrons, Easterlings, begging for their lives, a most disagreeable scene.
And Pippin. Where is he? Discovered once already beyond hope. Twice would be absurd. But I cannot leave these desolate plains without him.
I have an unspoken obligation to the other hobbit whose eyes looked straight through me, Merry, his older cousin. He would never forgive me for returning without Pippin’s body, no matter the condition. It is a gruesome task.
Grunting, I look down at my familiar weapon, the wood still warm in my hands. Usually this would fill me with renewed vigour, but now I am tired. I tug my axe out of the earth. It seems rather unwilling to leave the ground, despite the blood that seeps into it, both ruby-red and precious, and foul and dark.
This is idle thought. I am of the Khazâd. I did not defend Balin’s tomb only to wander aimlessly on this plain…
Smaug’s breath - it’s Legolas. There is no Orc-contest between us now; only his blasted, insistent eyes raking over me. I know he means well, but I wish to do this alone.
‘Must be. I’m carrying an axe, aren’t I, Elf?’ I reply.
He stands close enough to touch, and yet I feel as distant from him as anyone I have ever known.
He raises an eyebrow, then makes to move closer, questioning. I tighten my hands around my axe-hilt.
Wait - those keen eyes are good for something.
‘Have you seen Pippin?’ I ask, my bass voice barely carrying over the combination of cheers, mournful cries, and dying guttural groans; a grand chaotic nightmare. And Dwarves do not dream often, whether pleasant or no.
He shakes his head, and I think I see sadness there in his turquoise-blue eyes. Mourning, even, but with him, it is impossible to tell. Who could know? He is older than some rocks I polished in my childhood. I hate feeling like such a youth next to him.
Resigned, I nod at him, but my pride forces me to look him straight in the eyes before turning away.
Now I’m aggravated.
‘Yes, Legolas? I have things to do.’ I’ve turned and am moving away. What filth. And yet, what precious bodies are interspersed here. Dwarves are not philosophers, and I am among the least-known of my kind, but this deed… I cannot help it, but I feel as though I am walking through an ugly, closed-in tunnel, looking for the one diamond that will shine if only I can raise some light, to see it, then bring it up to the day. This ground is strewn with fair folk who should not be here. It is abominable, worse even than at Helm’s Deep. Such young faces. Pale skin of marble, swarthy dark onyx, hair of gold. Gold is everywhere. How glad I am that my hair is like that of deep garnets. It would blend in with the blood.
A hand is on my shoulder. ‘I will look with you, if you do not mind the company.’
Of course I mind. This is my burden. But I am too tired to argue.
‘Harrumph,’ is what I say.
The Elf understands. I will never, ever, in all of my long years, figure this mind-knowledge out.
I shake my head. It is hopeless.
With a knowledge of me that makes my beard stand on end, he takes back his hand, and without further words, strides away. At last. Alone again. I take a deep breath, cough, then scan the landscape. There is a rather large pile of carcasses to my left. To my right, there is the initial front line where so many went down… I decide to walk in that direction. I pass a group of men from the coast of Ithilien; at least, that’s where it appears that they came from. Their skin is olive, peridot-coloured, and their faces are just as green. I don’t even try to make eye contact anymore. We are all adrift - pebbles caught in a great tide, stunned to find ourselves on another shore. I have no words of wisdom to share.
I need to find Pippin.
Who will I have to tell these tales to? My kin have fought in worse battles, and yet I have no son or daughter to return to, and even if I did, would they believe me? My mind is caught in a whirlpool of self-centered thought, now wondering about names of my future son, should I be so fortunate to find another who would not shun me ---
--- then I see the foot.
I am not emotional by nature, and I am surprised when tears prickle my eyes. My kind has been abused, taken advantage of, my mother only a tune that I hear on the verge of sleep, and this quest, from beginning to end, an absolute farce.
But I know a hobbit foot when I see one. It mocks me, the hairy toes barely visible underneath the hulking body of a troll. Somehow, until this very moment, I had still believed that I would find him, maybe with some battle-wounds, but his youthful energy keeping him alive, asking about the time of the next meal. I do not wish to think of how light a burden he will be to return to Minas Tirith.
I steel myself. Raising weights I can do, and so I shall raise this monstrosity. I am not stupid, however.
‘Legolas!’ I yell, in case he can hear me.
Nothing changes. No surprise, so I unshoulder my axe, and carefully take in the size of the dead troll which has unjustly crushed this halfling who was so dear to me. I know that I can heave the heavy creature off, I just need some leverage. As I turn to look at what tools are available to me, surprisingly I find myself seeing some greenapple from some part of Gondor, looking expectant.
‘You needed some help?’ the sapling asks, freckles and a red smear of blood blazing against his very pale skin.
I wish I could turn a friendly face, but this miserable act is one of the last I will do for one who managed to burrow his way into my heart, and even common courtesy has left me.
‘Yes. Oaths bind me to this dead halfling. If you care to assist me in hauling off the burden of the foul troll which killed him, I will not stop you.’
Even as I speak I know how stony I must seem, such harsh words, and yet they are the same ones which will allow me to escape this scene, these lands, until I can mourn properly. What I do to mark the passing of this hobbit will remain my own knowledge.
‘I shall help as well, if a third is needed.’
I should have known that he would reappear.
Without speaking, the three of us, Dwarf, Elf, and youth of some nearby southern land shove in ensemble and the massive carcase rolls away, leaving Peregrin’s body there on the ground. All I can do is stand, and stare.
Until I am brought to my knees. Dead, surely dead. He has never looked so small, so frail. What madness was this, that he should have come to such a valiant, yet so untimely end, his war-clothes all but unrecognisable, covered in black troll-blood? I look to his chest, grimacing at what must be many broken ribs under his tunic, still hoping to see a rise and fall of breath, but I see naught. Gently, I lean over him, and raise first his left arm and then his right, crossing them above his abdomen.
‘What is a child doing here?’ the youth asks, incredulously.
Legolas replies, but I do not listen. My mind is sluggish. How best to carry him back? There are many wounded who will need careful handling on their return to the stone city, and while Pippin is dead, still would I cradle him in my arms if I could find no pallet to bear him back honourably. Covered in filth of battle, he is a black diamond, his brave visage undimmed by death.
I want to rage against this atrocity. Instead, I stand and look up at Legolas. He turns his gaze to Pippin, bows his head, and incants something under his breath in his Elf-language. I want to tear out every hair in my beard. If only my axe had been nearby, I would happily have taken it to this troll’s neck.
‘He moved his head!’
I turn from looking at Legolas to the youth, who I hadn’t realised was still standing at my side.
‘What?’ I ask gruffly.
‘His head moved.’
Legolas is at Pippin’s side in an instant, a hand at his neck, his fingers pressed tenderly to the skin.
What? Am I a fool? He is not breathing. He cannot be alive.
Bright blue eyes find mine, shining. ‘There is a pulse. Almost too faint to feel. Gimli, we must get him from this field!’
For a moment I am transfixed, unbelieving.
‘Gimli, get a pallet! His ribs are crushed, but he yet lives!’
And then I run.
I only look in from the doorway, and see that Merry, as always, is by his side. Pippin has borne up exceedingly well, recuperating faster than even the Master Healers of this realm would have believed possible.
I turn from the room and walk toward my lodging, enjoying the feeling of solid stone under my feet.
‘His recovery is swift!’ The cheerful voice is behind me.
I wheel around, unaware that I had been followed. It could only have been Legolas, whose feet make no sound.
I nod, suddenly overwhelmed by the reality of it all, and find that I cannot speak.
He looks keenly at me, and in a rare gesture of intimacy, he extends his hand to my shoulder.
Surprising myself, I clasp mine on top.
‘Had you not seen him, he would surely not have lived,’ he says quietly. ‘And even my Elvish eyes were unable to do so.’
My emotions are churning, but I am still not ready to reveal such to anyone, even this comrade in arms.
‘We are all truly in your debt.’
I nod brusquely, then pat his hand. ‘If there’s one thing this Dwarf has learned on this long journey, it is that I know now the look of a hobbit's foot.’
The next to last line includes a direct quotation from Return of the King, “The Field of Cormallen.”
I have taken a bit of artistic license as well; In the same paragraph, Gimli indicates that he heaved the troll off of Pippin by himself. For dramatic purposes (not that I don’t believe he couldn’t have done it by himself!), I have given him some assistance.
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