With a creak and a bang the window shutter came loose and slammed against
the casement of the Green Dragon. A gust of cold snowy wind blew in and swirled
round the drinking hobbits.
‘Ere! Shut that winder!’ roared an old saw, removing his pipe from between his few remaining teeth for the first time that evening. A loud murmur of agreement rose and was directed at Fredegar Bolger, sitting under the now open window, nose in ale, wondering at all the fuss.
‘Close the shutter, Fatty!’ said Pippin but seeing no sign of movement he stood up and reached across his plump friend to secure the catch.
‘The ways’ll be deep tonight!’ said another old hand, and the innkeeper nodded with a worried look on his face, hoping that reckless young hobbit did not break the window catch.
Pippin stood up and kneeling on the ledge reached out. All he could see was blackness, with snowflakes rushing out of it to sting his eyes. This WAS a snowstorm and a half, worse than any he could remember! But he thought with excitement how many people he could surprise with the accuracy of his snowballs the next day and chuckled to himself.
He could not reach the catch. As the crowd within began to grumble even louder he strained out into the night and the wind began to bite into his hand and through his shirt into his arm. It was bitterly cold. His arm, and then his hand grew numb. He groped for the catch but it swung back and forth out of his reach, as if it had a will of its own. A great weariness was creeping over him…
‘Pippin! Pippin!’ someone shouted.
‘I’m doing my best, I nearly have it...’
‘Pip! Wake up, you must wake up!’
Pippin opened his eyes with a start; he was not in the Green Dragon; he was on a ledge hundreds of feet above a rocky chasm. All around him were mountains and above him towered a great peak, triangular and cruelly sharp. Snow torn from its summit by the gale trailed away across the dark sky. It was Caradhras. He was on the path below its peak, and he had almost fallen asleep with cold.
‘You must not fall asleep!’ said Merry. Pippin looked at his friend and saw his face was blue with cold and his eyes drooping as well. Merry’s hands were stiff and he held onto Pippin with a weak grip. Ice clung to his hair.
‘I’m cold, Merry’ said Pippin, and it was the only words he could manage, but he was more than cold; ice seemed to have penetrated to his very marrow and his blood was frozen. He desperately wanted to sleep, and could not move.
Up ahead he could just see through the whirling flakes Gandalf’s staff, its tip glowing with blue fire as the Wizard burned his way forward through the snow. Something ran past lightly and Pippin realised it was Legolas, borne on the surface of the snow in his light boots. He stopped ahead of Gandalf and craned out into the void. Pippin could only hear the wind howling, but Legolas turned to Gandalf and Aragorn and said;’
‘There is a foul voice on the air...’
‘It’s Saruman!’ shouted Gandalf.
Despite all his efforts, Pippin’s eyelids drooped. A great warmth spread over him, his face glowed. He was in the parlour in Crickhollow, the night before they left the Shire. He had just had a hot bath and was standing in front of a blazing fire. Fatty Bolger was standing in front of him, slightly taller and in the firelight his round fat face was doubtful.
‘You!’ and he poked Pippin in the chest with his podgy finger.’Are not the stuff of which heroes are made!’
For all their friendship Pippin felt hurt, but he hid it well. He laughed and asked;
‘Just what are heroes made of?’
‘Oh Pip, wake up!’
Pippin shook himself awake and the icy cold embraced him once again. This time Boromir was next to Merry, holding Pippin up out of the snow. His hand was warm, even in this freezing cold, and he held the hobbit close to him as if to warm him. Pippin felt the hilt of his great sword grate on his ribs.
‘Your legs are too short, Peregrine’ he said with a grim laugh.
‘I’ll keep you out of the snow..’
Hiked up above the soft white drifts Pippin did not feel as cold, but thought dismally what a burden he was....
‘The younger one at least I do not think should go..’ said Elrond to Gandalf.
‘Well then you’ll have to send me home tied up in a sack!’ Pippin had said bravely. But now he was not so sure. Orcs he had expected, Black Riders even. But this numbing icy cold, they had not told him about this. Home, in a nice warm sack...
‘Ninnyhammer!’ Pippin thought to himself ‘You came along for good or bad, fair weather or foul. Stop complaining or they will think Elrond was right!’
‘Pip?’ asked Boromir.
‘I’m not falling asleep!’ cried Pippin in a voice quavering with cold.
‘I’m just thinking....’
But he did not finish his sentence. Suddenly a crack of lightning split the sky and lit up the sheer sides and jagged ridges of Caradhras with its blinding blue light. A great sliver of rock, bigger than the hill at Bag End, was flung out into the void from the top of the mountain. More slivers and chunks followed, arcing into the air then slowly, inexorably descending towards them.
At their head Gandalf was standing on the edge of the precipice, his staff extended towards the sky, invoking his power to counter Saruman. Aware of the noise but intent on his words he did not see the mass of stone and snow hurtling towards him. Legolas reached out and pulled him in just before the avalanche struck….
One moment Pippin was telling Boromir he was not falling asleep, then the world went white and wet and bitterly cold. His breath was stopped by a soft cold blanket of snow over his mouth. He began to suffocate….
‘What happened to Peregrine Took?’
‘He went off on some fool errantry with that mad wizard Gandalf’
‘He went to the wars?’
‘No, he was buried in snow somewhere, smothered I believe....’
A strong arm pulled Pippin to the surface and he gulped in great breaths of air. His lungs hurt with the icy air and his head swam. Boromir was holding him up. Beside him Merry was also gasping desperately, too spent to offer Pippin any comfort. Ahead Aragorn had dug out Frodo and Sam, who was angrily brushing the snow from his clothes. Sam was more hardy than the two younger hobbits, being used to working in the elements. From far below the howling of the wind was now swelled by the howling of wolves. Pippin whispered to Sam, low so that Boromir could not hear;
‘Sam, I’m scared...’
Sam looked with pity on the frightened, freezing young hobbit and said;
‘Now Mr Pippin, don’t you worry. Old Gandalf is not a dinner for wolves, and neither are we....’
Just then something was passed back by Aragorn and Boromir put a flask to Pippin’s lips. A fiery liquid was poured down his throat and a feeling of warmth spread through his body and limbs.
‘Miruvor!’ shouted Gandalf.
‘It is the cordial of Imladris, given to us by Elrond. One swallow will keep out the cold.’
Pippin felt less cold, but the drowsiness returned. Boromir looked at his frozen, pinched face and burst out;
‘Gandalf, we can’t go on! The hobbits will die...’
The wind seemed to die down and his voice to hang in the air.
‘Let us take the West road to my city, or the Gap of Rohan…’
‘The Gap of Rohan takes us too close to Isengard’ interrupted Aragorn, his face betraying something close to desperation.
‘Let us go through the Mines of Moria’ said Gimli, his beard stiff with ice.
Gandalf looked from face to face, already aware of what must be done.
‘Let the Ringbearer decide..’ he said slowly.
Frodo’s mind was on nothing but staying warm, and staying alive. He had been dragged from the snowdrift by Aragorn and now was catching his breath, the Ring taking on the cold from the air about it and lying against his chest like a poisoned icicle. He looked at his cousins. They were trying so hard to be warriors, but they could not fight Caradhras. Even Gandalf could not do that. Merry was blue and his face was like death, and Pippin was already fading into sleep. Whatever might betide them in the Mines he could not stay here and watch his friends die of cold.
‘We will go through the Mines....’
Pippin had been half hoping that they would decide to return to Rivendell, with its firelit halls and hot dinners. His body ached with cold and tiredness. But perhaps it was some quality of the Miruvor, but when Frodo spoke he was strangely relieved. He had dreaded the idea that they might turn back on his account. Imagine what Bilbo would have said?
‘Back already, young Peregrine? What kind of a journey was that?’ Or worse still, Elrond, proved right. And then what? Sit and wait till the Black Riders, or worse came to beseige Rivendell and capture them? Boromir was bending over him speaking.
‘We’re going back down the mountain, Pippin. Can you walk?’
‘Yes!’ said Pippin, as cheerfully as he could.
‘Of course I can walk! It’s only snow...’
‘Ere, you fat little fool! Get out of my seat!’
Startled, Fredegar looked up. Looming over him as he sat in the window nook was one of those newcomers, big, almost man-sized creatures with evil features that had swarmed into the Shire in the last few months. This one had a massively thick neck and a round slightly pointed head, like a turnip, covered with coarse black hair. Fredegar stared at him; he was used to their insolence when they met on the roads of the Shire, but to be put out of his favourite seat in the inn! Over the creature’s shoulder he could see the innkeeper gesturing to Fredegar not to make trouble. Thinking of his crocks, thought Fredegar with irritation.
Hobbits are slow, and Fredegar slower than most. As he pondered what to do the creature raised his hand and quick as lightning gave the plump young hobbit a box on the ear that sent him sprawling across the floor. The other hobbits in the Green Dragon huddled over their tankards. No-one tried to stop the stranger, or assist Fredegar to his feet.
There were three of the outlanders, and they dissolved into harsh laughter at the fallen hobbit. Fredegar got to his feet, brushed the dust from his jacket and breeches and without catching the innkeeper’s eye he marched out of the tavern.
Outside a snow squall was clearing away to the West and stars, bright and cold as diamonds covered the velvet black sky. Fredegar looked up at them and regret and shame smote his heart. He thought of Pippin, setting off into darkness and danger that night at Crickhollow. A burst of loud hoarse laughter and the breaking of an ale pot carried out from the inn. He spoke softly to himself;
‘Not such a tomfool errand after all, was it, Pip?’