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Caught Between the Light and Dark  by Budgielover

Chapter Five

"We’ve got to go after them! We can’t let them walk into a trap!" Merry dashed forward and caught Boromir’s hands, forgetful of the soldier’s injuries. Boromir blanched and Merry released him, instantly regretful for the pain he had caused. "I’m sorry, Boromir! I’m sorry! Are you all right?"

"Yes," the man muttered through gritted teeth to the obviously contrite hobbit. "I’m fine, Merry. But we must act quickly."

Merry tugged carefully on Boromir’s arm and led him back to the boulder, where they both slid down its sun-warmed side. Merry leaned back against it and dropped his head into his hands, resting his elbows on his drawn-up knees. "We’ve got to warn Aragorn and Gandalf and the others. And warn Rivendell that the goblins are planning to attack them. How can we do both?"

"We cannot, Merry," Boromir said gently. "We must choose. It is the burden of command. And we must choose our own Fellowship."

"We cannot abandon Rivendell to this fate!" Merry cried, anguished. "Bilbo is there! All those good people … Lord Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir, Lady Arwen … Glorfindel and Lindir and—and everyone! They’re our friends!"

"And keeping the Ring-bearer safe is our duty," Boromir replied. Tears sprang to the hobbit’s eyes. "If you can figure out a way to do both, we shall," Boromir promised softly, regret in his deep voice. "But we cannot place other people—or a town, or even a City," and the man’s voice tightened with grief, "before the single hope of saving all of Middle-earth. Merry, we cannot help the people of Rivendell. We must go after the Ring-bearer and the others of our Fellowship."

Merry’s hands curled into impotent fists and he beat them upon the ground in frustration. There must be a way! There must! Then his hands stilled. "Boromir," Merry murmured, "you told me on the cliff that everyone is afraid of something. Everyone. What are you afraid of?"

Anguish flickered in the soldier’s eyes. He was silent for long moments and Merry began to fear he had overstepped the bounds of their still-tentative friendship. "I am sorry," the hobbit whispered, "I did not mean to cause you pain—"

But Boromir shook his head. "You did not, Meriadoc. I gave you counsel—you have the right to give the same to me. I will answer your question." He took a steadying breath. "I fear failure. Failing in my duty. And the consequences of that failure to my people, and to my world."

Merry took the man’s hand, gently this time. "I too, fear failure. Not just heights." The hobbit smiled depreciatingly. "And I will give in to neither. There is a way, Boromir, if you will trust me."

Merry leaped to his feet and ran to the neatly arranged pile of packs. He unlaced one and dug into it, throwing its contents about. Boromir rose stiffly and followed. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"Gandalf’s pack," Merry panted, tossing aside a silver scarf and other items of clothing. "I thought I smelled some when I was arranging the packs, setting up camp. Ah!" The hobbit was on his hands and knees, half into the wizard’s pack, his head and shoulders enveloped by the material.

Boromir quelled a smile at the picture the halfling made. "Smelled what, Merry?"

The hobbit emerged with several long, slender tubes wrapped in bright paper. Merry’s eyes sparkled. "Fireworks," he breathed.

* * *

Gandalf extinguished the light and the Company stood in total darkness, crowding close to each other. Elven and dwarven eyes might make out some detail but the rest of the Fellowship was blind. Pippin waved a hand in front of his face but saw not even the movement. He waved more frantically and was oddly comforted by a muffled exclamation when he whacked Samwise.

"What do you hear?" whispered Gimli, his usually rough voice as soft as velvet dragged over stone.

"I cannot tell by sound," Legolas murmured, his head still turning from side to side. "I think … metal. Metal on rock. Scraping sounds. Scratching."

"Where?" This from Aragorn.

"Above us," Legolas breathed. "Up in the ceiling. I think there must be … openings or holes up there."

A faint musical chime echoed in the utter dark. Pippin almost squeaked, then fought it down as Aragorn’s hand tightened on his shoulder. The young hobbit realized that he could see, a little. A slender shape was being held before his eyes, blue foxfire dancing along its length. Gandalf had drawn Glamdring. The elven-blade glimmered with blue light, dancing, licking flames of light running along its razor edges like fire. After a moment of fumbling Sam unsheathed Sting, and all saw the same fire dance along its graceful span.

"How far away, and how many?" Aragorn growled softly.

Gandalf shook his head. By the light of the two elven swords, they could see the movement well enough. The wizard’s grey beard and hair glimmered in the darkness and his eyes gleamed. "Close, and very many for the light to be so bright. Hundreds, perhaps. The blades can tell us no more that that."

Pippin was staring fixedly at the glowing swords. "Goblins, like in Bilbo’s stories? Real goblins?"

Aragorn nodded grimly. "Very real, I fear. They are smaller than their orc kin, but more numerous and more vicious. They are cowards—like rats, they attack only in large numbers. Once they taste blood, they are fearless. They are merciless foes, hating all that walks on the face of the earth."

"Maybe they don’t know we’re here," Pippin whispered.

Gandalf shook his head as Legolas unlimbered his bow and strung it. Gimli freed the throwing axes at his belt and tightened his grip on the great battle-axe he carried. All of them could hear the sounds now, slithering and scuffling above them. "They know."

* * *

"I do not think Gandalf would sanction us trying to use his fireworks, Merry," the soldier said apprehensively. "They are dangerous."

Merry turned one of the long, slender tubes over in his hands, quick fingers peeling off the paper wrapped around it. He looked up with a frown. "Which? Wizards or fireworks?"

"Both!" Boromir responded with some asperity. "Do you know how to set them off?" the soldier added apprehensively, regarding the slender tubes with a worried eye.

"I think so," Merry replied slowly. "I have done it before." Seeing the man looking at him with mingled disbelief and horror, Merry elaborated, "The night of Bilbo’s last Birthday Party, before he left the Shire. Pippin and I—um—borrowed one from the supply Gandalf had made in Bilbo’s honor." Merry decided to rush over unimportant details. "You stick it in the ground and light the fuse. Oh, yes, don’t do it in enclosed places. And stand well back." Memory lit Merry’s face with a smile that rather distressed Boromir.

The man resisted the urge to step backwards as the halfling examined a long stick wrapped in silver paper, tugging experimentally on the fuse that issued from one end. "That doesn’t seem too complicated. But would Imladris see them in the daylight?"

"No worries about that, Boromir. Gandalf’s fireworks explode with great, loud bangs that you can hear for leagues. We aren’t that far from Rivendell—Elven ears can’t fail to pick them up. And since Elrond won’t know what they are, he’ll send scouts. They’ll find the cave opening, and see the wall has been broken open." Merry inhaled deeply. "Rivendell will be warned."

The end of the tube pulled off and Merry held it up to one eye, closing the other to squint into the dark interior. "And they explode in colors, and form shapes that move and make noises like hissing spears or chiming bells." Merry’s grin turned fatuous and his eyes gleamed in that alarming manner. "They are altogether wonderful—"

"It is leaking," Boromir observed.

Merry hastily cupped his hand under the tube, halting the flow of dark, strong-smelling granules that trickled from the end. The fuse he had tugged on dangled freely. Merry stared at the black powder and froze.

"Merry?" Boromir asked after several moments, unwilling to interrupt the thoughts dashing through that quicksilver mind but worried by the expression on the hobbit’s face.

When Merry looked up, his eyes were almost glowing. "I know how we can do it, Boromir. Alert Rivendell and warn our people, too."

* * *

"Merry," Boromir murmured. "This is very dangerous."

The hobbit paused in scraping out the last of the dark granules from the fireworks and cast the empty tube away. "Yes," he agreed. "But it will work, Boromir. If we have just a bit of luck. There—it’s done."

The man was sitting on the edge of the cliff, his long legs dangling over the drop. He gave the blankets he was tying together a mighty pull, watching carefully as the fabric grew tight around the small tree at the edge of the cliff. "That is almost the last of our blankets," Merry commented, trying to ease the knot in his stomach by making light of what they were about to do. "You had better not lose these, too."

"I didn’t lose the others," Boromir retorted, long familiar with the use of teasing to mask apprehension. Soldiers routinely sought to raise their spirits through friendly insults and taunts, and his heart warmed as he recognized the hobbit’s effort. "Neither I or the blankets can be blamed for the dwarf’s mail fraying the cloth. Just you be clear in your direction." He pulled again, seemingly satisfied with his work, then began to snake the tied lengths down the sheer wall.

Merry stayed back from the lip, fighting down the faintness that rose in him whenever his gaze wandered off the end of the earth. Very, very carefully, the hobbit handed the man a kerchief-wrapped bundle. "Don’t bump it," Merry warned.

Boromir paused in tying the bundle to his belt and looked up. "Why? Will it explode?"

"I don’t think so," Merry replied hesitantly. "But best not to take chances, isn’t it?" He tried to smile but it came out as a ghastly grimace.

Boromir slid the bundle ‘round to the back of his belt, behind the great horn he carried, tucking in the long fuse that Merry had made by tying all of the lengths into one. Then he checked the knot on the small tree a final time and started to hand himself down the ‘rope.’ Merry heard him gasp, then grunt as his damaged hands flexed. He could not bear not being able to see what was happening. Merry crawled to the edge and peered over. He was instantly assailed with dizziness, and illness rose in his throat. He forced the fear from him and looked down.

Boromir was directly below him, sliding down slowly. He was breathing harshly and the hobbit could see the linen darkening on the bandages. He found if he focused on Boromir’s head—just look at Boromir’s head—he could manage the nausea and not be sick.

Boromir’s boots gained the ledge with a thud. Small puffs of dust rose under his feet, and several small stones shivered loose to tumble away into the abyss. He leaned against the rocky wall for several moments then released the rope. Merry saw him visibly gather himself and straighten. Boromir slid one foot behind him and turned carefully on the narrow lip of crumbling rock.

"Well done! Well done!" Merry called. Boromir grinned up at him, then crouched with his back against the cliff wall and caught up the fallen blankets, tying the ripped end to the length that dangled against the wall.

"Very good, Boromir!" Merry laughed. "You are learning to think like a hobbit!"

Boromir tensed then launched himself over the chasm. He disappeared into the tunnel mouth then Merry heard him grunt as he impacted the hard earth. Boromir rested for a moment in the tunnel’s mouth, hidden from Merry’s view, then Merry saw him appear at the mouth and wave. Merry waved back.

"Good!" Merry called as the soldier leaned out and started looking about. "Left! My left, I mean! More! Right there! Right where the stones are joined at the arch! It won’t fall out, there!" Following Merry’s instructions, Boromir wedged the small bundle in the roots of the scrubby plant that had hidden the entrance, trailing the long fuse down the outside wall. Fresh sap still gleamed where Aragorn’s blade had hacked away the concealing bush.

"Good," Merry murmured to himself, as Boromir was out of hearing. "The tunnel will funnel the sound to Gandalf and the others. And Rivendell can’t fail to hear such a noise." Merry allowed himself a brief, self-congratulatory smile, wishing that Pippin were here to admire his cleverness.

Boromir gave the bundle a last check and waved again. His eyes locked with the man’s, Merry nodded. Boromir drew out his flint and struck it, sheltering the strike with a cupped palm. Merry saw the soldier smile in the brief glare of light, then Boromir leaned out and touched the flame to the long fuse. The man sheltered it for a moment, making certain it was feeding well on the string. "Come on, Boromir!" Merry urged. "Hurry!"

Boromir took a deep breath and leaped back over the gap, landing on the narrow ledge with difficulty. He teetered, flailing at the wall, trying to clamp his hands around something to steady himself. He lurched to the side with a gasp, onto the fissured section, and Merry feared he had lost his balance. A stone broke loose from the cracked shelf, falling into the crevice. Another. Then Boromir threw up his arms in desperation as the stone ledge disintegrated beneath him.

"Boromir!’ Merry cried, his voice gone shrill with terror. Boromir clamped his already bleeding hands around the rope, his face twisting in pain as the rope bit into ravaged skin. Stones tumbled below him, dropping down, bouncing against the sheer wall. Far below him, the largest part of the ledge impacted the canyon floor and shattered into a thousand pieces, sending up a great puff of dust.

"Boromir, the fuse! Hurry!" The man hung in space, face paling as his gaze followed the quickly-burning fuse. The spark he had lit glittered its way towards the bundle, casting off tiny sparkles as it consumed the string. Desperately Boromir unlocked one hand and reached it above the other, groaning in anguish. He began to haul himself up, inch by agonizing inch.

Too slowly. He would never make it. Merry knew this. The fuse was burning too quickly. Desperately, the hobbit cast around. His eyes fell on the little tree that anchored the rope, and he saw with horror that it was giving.

It was being torn out by the roots. It was already tipping—on its far side, roots waved in the air like spidery fingers, seeking the strength of the soil. Before Merry’s horrified eyes, it dipped towards the chasm, and he heard Boromir’s stifled cry.

He had to do something. Merry’s hands locked around the rope, then reason reasserted itself. He could not hope to pull Boromir up by his own strength. His arms still ached dully from holding the man those brief seconds as the rope tore—it would be impossible for him to haul Boromir up to solid ground.

Merry remembered the pouch of sugar in his pocket. "Here, Bill," Merry called, trying to keep the fear from his voice. The pony had been grazing; at Merry’s call he raised his head and looked inquiringly at the hobbit. Merry fished out the little sack and Bill’s ears tilted forward. Soft black nostrils distended. Then the pony was trotting forward eagerly, hoping for a rare second treat of the day.

"Good boy," Merry muttered, catching the bridle. "Here, my lad." Bill followed willingly and stood patiently by the small tree. Merry dropped a handful of white lumps and Bill dipped his head to nose them up, his attention for the moment fixed to the earth.

Merry heard Boromir groan again, and though the sound was closer, it was also weaker. Neither of them had truly rested and Boromir was already hurt. The hobbit desperately wanted to know how far the fuse had burned but he dared not spare a heartbeat to look.

Merry caught up the loose end of the blanket-rope and tied it to the snapple on Bill’s bridle, frantically bunching the cloth to push it through the small ring. "I’m sorry, Bill my lad," Merry whispered. "This is going to hurt."

Then the tree gave entirely, ripping from the earth with the sound of snapping wood. It tangled in the improvised rope, then spun off with the force of a thrown spear. "Merry!" Boromir shouted. "Merry!"

Bill’s head was dragged sideways and he lurched, towed forward by Boromir’s weight. He squealed, then his head came down and his forequarters locked, hooves digging into the rocky soil. "Hold on, Boromir!" Merry cried shrilly. "Hold on!" The pony whinnied shrilly, his soft brown eyes rimmed with white. Merry caught hold of Bill’s rein and hauled him backward. Confused and frightened, Bill followed, muscles bunching as he backed. The top of Boromir’s head appeared over the lip.

The soldier’s eyes widened as he took in the pony and the snapped tree. He loosened one hand to scrabble in the earth, digging his fingers into whatever support he could find. His bloody hand fastened on a rock. He thrust himself over the lip and one knee followed. With a heave, Boromir was on the top and pushing away from the edge.

Merry could not resist. Seeing the man safe, he scrambled to the cliff’s edge and dropped, looking over the edge to the tunnel’s mouth. A heartbeat later a shattering blast of smoke and sound hit him in the face.

* TBC *

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