Pippin's Bane

by Varda

‘What’s that?’ cried Gandalf.
‘Nothing!’ said Pippin. ‘I mean, I just threw a stone down the well....’
‘Fool of a Took!’ growled Gandalf. ‘Throw yourself in next time, and rid us of your stupidity! Now be quiet!’

Pippin sat miserably in the dark, wishing he was back in the Shire. He felt foolish, and thought everyone else was thinking the same. And Gandalf was angry at him. Oh why was he such a fool! Merry took pity on him.
‘Stop worrying, Pippin. Gandalf will forgive you. It was probably nothing...’

But even then, to their sharp hobbit ears, came a sound as of a tiny hammer; tap tap tap....deep in the vaults of the mountain.

Just a little stone, thrown by a little hand. But it was enough to wake the spirit of fire and shadow.

Down the well the stone came, clipping the rough sides and singing off the sheer walls. Down, down, down, to the bottomless depths. Once the dwarves kept water here but the molten heart of the mountain had long since shrivelled up all streams, and what were left He dried up with the furnace of His breath.

The little pebble, round and speckled with mica, embedded itself in the dust on the floor of the well. Woken from his long sleep the Balrog took it up and held it on his sable palm. What was that smell? It was the West wind across green fields, it was new-cut hay and sunlight flickering on the summer shallows of a river. It was the scent of the little ones who came to live on the land when He and the other great ones were done with their devastation.

The Balrog looked up. Far overhead a tiny crescent marked the opening of the well. And beyond that, all around, the mountain, a mighty weight of stone, entombing the creature known to the orcs only as Ghash, Fire.

The Balrog closed his shadowy hand on the stone. It seemed to tremble, and then to yield its shape and dissolve, become molten, and opening his palm the Balrog saw now only a circle of molten rock, glowing gold in the darkness. The scent of woods and streams was gone, only the smell of burning was left.

Down the endless tunnel of night the Balrog exhaled a breath hot as a furnace and from openings high and low eyes peered. Yellow, amber and green, flickering, disappearing, reappearing, approaching at a run; Ghash was summoning them...a drum, dull and heavy as lead began to thump time as the orcs clattered their weapons and ran from pit to pit unloosing the chains of trolls and goblins. Soon a chorus of shrieks echoed along the tunnel and the horde, glittering in the luminescence of their own putrefaction, like a swarm of black-carapaced insects, flowed up the gangways to the upper halls of the great realm of the Dwarrowdelf.

The Balrog raised his arms, and a gloom deeper than even the depths of Moria spread out from them. He was shadow upon shadow. Entombed! Forever entombed! He who had walked free and in power in the Elder days. Now buried for ever in this underworld...

Far above, on the slopes of the mountains, dawn fair and fretted with gold marched onwards from the East, and a wind sang across the snows. Never would Ghash see it; he was entombed for ever.

Deep below the mirrored halls of Khazad-dum slept the Dwarf Kings of old. In great burial chambers, their ceilings vaulted and arched and their walls pillared with all the skill in hewing stone that the Dwarves had in the elder days. Ghash had broken the great stone sarcophagi, one by one, to reveal the skeletal kings, their mithril crowns slipped down over their hollow eyes sockets, their battle axes laid by their sides. On the empty ribcages hung chain mail shirts, dull with rust, and on their bony hands were rings, with gems, amethysts and garnets, gleaming through the spiderwebs. Maces, threaded with gold and iron, glistened in the dust. Ghash scattered it all, into the waiting claws of the yammering orcs. Why should he allow them to sleep in peace, when he was no better than those dead bones, buried forever in a glittering necropolis?
Only he was not dead!

He recalled the smell of fields carried in by some little one from that far world forbidden to him forever. They would learn what it meant to wake the Balrog, and taunt him with their freedom.

From eyries far above in the vaulted ceilings of Khazad-dum came suddenly a great squeaking horde of bats. Disturbed by the torches of the intruders they hurled themselves at the wall of dark which was the Balrog. Ghash laughed. Children of the night! Soon you can settle on fresh blood....

Although he was running as fast as he could Pippin’s blood was chilled and his teeth chattered. Merry had his cloak held fast in his hand as if afraid he would simply fall down in fright. Neither of them looked back.
'Oh why did I throw that silly stone down the well?' thought Pippin dismally.
'It is all my fault...'

They had fled the burial chamber of Balin and were now traversing the Great Hall of the Dwarrowdelf. But no longer did they have time to gaze in awe at the vast columns, like a forest of stone, reaching to the shadows of the vaulted ceiling, or the reliefs engraved around their sides, each stone trunk as thick as the greatest oak in the forest. Now the stone friezes jumped and flickered wildly in the light of their torches as they fled.

They did not flee the orcs they left strewn in death around Balin’s tomb. Nor the Troll who had pinned Frodo to the jagged rock with his rune-engraved dwarf lance. They had shaken them all off or destroyed them, and Frodo was ahead of Pippin, with Sam’s careful and caring arm around him to help him on. What they fled they could not even see, although Pippin had seen it in Legolas’s eyes, as the Elf turned and looked back down the long hall. Legolas afraid! Pippin had never believed he would see such a thing, but it was deeper even than fear; the Elf’s whole being seemed eclipsed, like stars blotted out by a great winged beast.

A footfall like an earthquake shook the hall, then another, and another, and Pippin’s teeth rattled in his head. The thing was gaining on them with horrible speed. As yet only a shadow in the darkness, but clothed with an incandescent robe of sparks. Gandalf turned and looked back,and Pippin saw reflected in his eyes a great fiery shape, but could not himself look back for fear.

‘On! On! ‘ shouted Gandalf, almost out of breath. ‘The Bridge is near!’

At the end of the Great Hall there was an arched cavern. The vaults far above were carved with the geometric patterns so beloved of the dwarves of Khazad-Dum. Fantastical beasts snarled out into the void as if to guard the great kingdom of the dwarves from enemies; but all the time the enemy slept far below in the galleries of their own mines, waiting to be woken by their endless greed and lust for mithril.

Flanked now by hordes of orcs, leprous grey and yellow-eyed or black and clad in iron mail, the Balrog raced down the hall after his prey. Where was the little one who had woken him from his slumber? He would dry up his blood, scorch him into ashes. The Balrog gained the archway and rising up touched the roof with his head, and from the chasm below a sudden fire leapt up and seemed to catch his shadowy form like a forest fire catching the branches of a pine and all at once Ghash burst into flame, his shadowy outline revealed now in blinding light, a cape of flame across his great shoulders, wings of smoke stretching out on either side, and a great mane of fire streaming out behind him.

The orcs skittered nervously aside, their bows lowered, hardly daring to burn their eyes on the sight of the Balrog. Ahead the band of intruders was streaming across the Bridge of Khazad-dum; he had no time to waste; drawing his sword of pure flame and raising his many-tongued whip of fire, he advanced to the Bridge when a white flash blinded him and he paused…

‘What is it?’ said Pippin dazedly. He had tripped and fallen on the steps leading up from the narrow bridge. He was still dizzy from running across the thin stone archway, great gulfs of fire and darkness on either side. Now he paused as he got to his feet, and for once no-one urged him on, because they were all rooted to the ground, as he was, watching this evil from the ancient world advance on Gandalf, alone on the bridge.

The Balrog saw the sword, and the staff, but not hesitating, led on by pent-up and age-old hatred he bore down on the figure on the stone bridge. What did it matter if this was a figure of light and power? Revenge and hatred were stronger than wisdom...

The Balrog opened its fiery maw and a wave of heat swept over the Wizard. From where he was Pippin could hear Gandalf shout words, like a spell, but could not make them out. Then the Balrog raised its sword of flame and brought it down on the blue-glowing blade of Glamdring. A great flash seared Pippin’s vision. When he looked again the Wizard was speaking, and the Balrog seemed to hesitate then with a roar which sent billows of smoke rolling through the cavern he advanced on the grey figure of the Wizard. Gandalf, leaning forward, struck the slender bridge with his staff and instantly a great crack opened up, and suddenly the whole centre arch of the bridge shifted then lurched and then plunged suddenly straight down into the abyss. The Balrog pitched forward and with an unearthly wail he was cast down, his great wings and tail coiling and uncoiling like a snake cast off a cliff. Gandalf threw up his hands and turned away but as he did so the great whip of fire lashed up from the chasm and wrapped itself around his ankles. He was thrown to his knees and clutching vainly at the broken lip of the bridge he was dragged down into the abyss with his foe.

Pippin could not help himself; he had to look down. He saw the Balrog reaching out to rend the wizard, and Gandalf burned and striving to cast him off. Far, far they fell, down into the shadow and the hungry fires, and all the time Pippin saw them struggle to defeat each other....

Legolas came to himself first and picked Pippin up and carried him up the steps. Behind came Aragorn, orc arrows whining angrily past his head, tears running down his face. Boromir went ahead, to fight a way out if need be. But Pippin could only stumble after, unable to even draw his sword. Then suddenly he was out, out in the open air. He fell down and lay where he fell. He looked up; above was a fresh blue sky, washed by a cold West wind. From the lower slopes came the sweet scent of sun-warmed grass...