Pippin's War

by Varda

'I'm hungry'

Pippin lapsed back into silence. No-one was talking, no-one felt like it. All around them the bottomless dark of Moria stretched, shapes of caverns and arches looming up out of the blackness to glisten slightly in the faint light of their torches.

Behind Pippin sat Aragorn and Boromir together on a rocky ledge, smoking. Above them sat Gandalf, trying to think out what way to go. They had been there for over an hour. Aragorn's face showed exasperation. He gave a grumpy snort and Boromir looked at him in surprise, then grinned. 'Those two seem to have made it up' thought Pippin to himself. He had noticed the growing friendship of the two men, bridging the gulf Boromir had opened between them by his hasty and offensive words at the Council of Elrond. Boromir had watched Aragorn, noticing his unwearying vigilance and care on the long trail from Rivendell. And they were so much alike. Even sitting together they seemed to Pippin like cousins or foster brothers, the same fair faces and grey eyes of the race of Numenor, only Aragorn was weatherbeaten and careworn. On the march there always seemed to be an invisible thread linking Aragorn and Frodo, and Boromir watched them both closely, seeming to envy Aragorn Frodo's trust. Pippin was not the wisest of folk, but he had sharp eyes, and he had seen that.

But right now he saw nothing at all. He gazed unhappily at the ground, not only hungry but dismally thirsty. Water was rationed, and Pippin was dreaming of the pool at Bywater. But worse than the thirst was the fear. Pippin was terrified. He could not even admit to Merry how afraid he was. The picnic had ended in Moria. Till then it had almost been a hobbit walking holiday. But the endless, soundless dark of Moria crushed his spirit. And there was the sudden panic-stricken manner of their entrance; rushing inside, with the pillars being ripped down behind them, like being locked in a tomb.

Pippin was ashamed of himself. Usually so nimble, he found himself stumbling and tripping. Once he lost his footing as they climbed up a sheer ascent of steps, and slid back down on a startled and annoyed Merry. There were many fissures and cracks in the path, and once a great gap yawned of several strides. Everyone jumped over but Pippin. He froze and could not bring himself to make the leap. He knew he could do it but his legs just would not obey. As everyone waited, he felt Legolas take his hand 'Hold onto me, Pippin, we'll jump together..' and so they did, Pippin quite sure the Elf would not let him fall. Then he noticed that Legolas too quailed under the dark. Pippin overheard him say to Aragorn 'Elves do not walk in the dark earth..' like Pippin, he longed for clean air and sky and sunlight. 'Ah!'said Gandalf 'It's that way!'

'He's remembered' said Merry to Pippin, and they all scrambled to their feet. Merry hurried forward but Pippin hung back and went on with Aragorn and Boromir. They descended into what seemed annother long dark chamber, but at that moment Gandalf said 'Let's risk a little more light'

>From the crystal wedged into the head of his staff Gandalf sent out an aura of cold light, and the company saw that they were not in a chamber but a vast hall. Far above them the light was faint by the time it reached a great vaulted stone roof and in every direction stretched away rows of pillars, vast as tree trunks, colonnades marching into the inky blackness. All silent and ghostly, only the echo of their voices and footsteps to be heard. 'Behold the great realm and city of the Dwarrowdelf!' said Gandalf.

Despite himself Pippin stared in awe. 'Well, that's an eye-opener and no mistake!' said Sam, and Pippin looked in surprise at the usually stolid and unimaginative gardener, who was standing tranfixed with wonder, looking upwards.

Gimli gazed around, and up at the vast columns, too overcome to speak. All during the passage through Moria the dwarf had been their solid untiring guide, stamping along the pathways looking from side to side, alone unabashed by the dark and the looming archways and dizzy stairwells. To him, this was home.

Suddenly Gimli gave a cry, and set off at a run, away from the party. Gandalf called after him, and they all looked round in surprise. But Gimli did not heed them; he had seen a brightly lit doorway, littered with broken arms and rusted weapons and armour. And skeletons, lying where they had fallen, in a great battle. The company laid hands on the hilts of their swords; this was not the first evidence they had found in Moria of ancient battles. But Gimli paid no attention; he ran through the broken wooden doors into a great stone chamber. In the middle of it was a sarcophagus, lit by a beam of light deflected along a shaft from the mountainside far above by dwarvish skill. Seeing the runes on its surface, Gimli knelt down and wept.

The others followed Gimli in. Sam tripped over a skeleton, Pippin looked around with dread. 'Here lies Balin, son of Fundin, Lord of Moria' Gandalf read out. 'it is as I feared'. As Gandalf translated the runes, Gimli grieved, and the company stood in silence listening. Legolas looked around uneasily; a tomb chamber full of dead dwarves filled him with horror. Boromir looked at the weapons scattered around with a soldier's eye; it had all the appearance of a last stand.

Then Gandalf spied a book, clutched in the bony hand of a skeleton slumped against the tomb, grinning at the company in death. Perhaps this will tell us what happened, Gandalf thought to himself and leaned down to pick it up. Then he paused and turning to Pippin handed him his hat and staff. Pippin took them and stood well back from skeleton and book. The wizard took the book and opening it blew off the dust and found the last entry, and began to read.

Pippin wasn't listening. He looked around at the chamber, the litter of a fierce battle, the skeletons. Right beside him one sat perched on the rim of a well. Pippin wondered how long it had been there. The empty eye sockets gazed at him and the fallen jaw grinned at him, all grey and glistening with fine cobwebs like gossamer. Right in the middle of the thing's chest was a long black orc arrow. Its feathers were all bound about by enterprising spiders, and looked like thistledown, soft and downy. It reminded Pippin of summer fields in the Shire. He wondered what it felt like to the touch. He forgot where he was. He held the hat and staff in his left hand and reached out with his right and took the feathers in his finger and thumb, and squeezed them.

It was as if he had activated some hidden mechanism; the arrow rotated slightly under his touch and the whole skeleton jerked and the head, still encased in its helmet, hopped off and spun into the well. It hit the side with a metallic crash then richoueted off the other wall, and continued on down the well hitting first one side then the other. As Pippin stood back, appalled, the whole armour-clad skeleton keeled over and followed the head down the shaft, trailing a heavy chain and finally, a metal shod bucket, all clashing and clanging for what seemed like an endless age.

Pippin turned and faced the company in horror; fear stood in every face. The sound was magnified by the narrow stone space of the well, till it reached deafening proportions, and it seemed to go on forever. The entire mine echoed with it. With an effort Pippin looked at Gandalf. Never had he looked so angry. In fact, never had he looked angry at all, compared to this. But he said nothing, until the last echo at last died away. Then, for a long moment there was the most total silence, broken only by the low flaring hum of the torch in Aragorn's hand. Gandalf slammed shut the book in his hand. He advanced on Pippin, who wanted to step back but had nowhere to go. Shame overwhelmed even his fear. Behind Gandalf Sam was looking at him in horror, Frodo with a pained look, and Merry had turned away.

'Fool of a Took!' shouted Gandalf, seizing the hat and staff from his hand. 'Throw yourself in next time, and rid us of your stupidity...' he turned his back on Pippin, who hung his head in shame and disbelief. What had come over him? He could not meet the gaze of Aragorn or Legolas. They sighed with relief after the tension but suddenly to their ears came the unmistakable sound of knocking....deep in the well, or all around, echoing on every side. It grew louder, and became the sound of drums. They had been found.

Everything happened very fast then. Legolas and Boromir and Aragorn ran to fortify the door. Gandalf put the hobbits behind him and drew his sword Glamdring and waited for the onslaught. >From outside came a thunder of mailed feet and screams of anticipation. Pippin had never heard voices like that, and his blood ran cold. The door, old and rotten and frail, was split and splintered from outside by heavy axe blows rained down with fury. The thought struck Pippin that they were trying to get in to kill him. He could not believe it, kill him! Everyone loved him, how could this be happening?

He looked at Frodo beside him. His face was pale and he had drawn Sting and it glowed with a blue light. Merry likewise had drawn his sword and he could hear Sam behind him draw his. He drew his own, the short red-engraved sword he had taken from the barrow-wight's hoard. The cold feel of the handle steadied him. Into his mind came a vivid image of Boromir showing him how to hold the sword. He had taken off his gauntlet and laid his hand over the hobbit's. 'Like this' he said, and Pippin noticed his hand was calloused from handling a sword but the fingers were long and fine, unlike Aragorn's scarred, weatherbeaten hand. Then the door burst in pieces and he looked up to see orcs pour into the chamber.

Aragorn and Boromir and Legolas stood in front of him, but in a few seconds orcs were everywhere and the hobbbits found themselves striking out at them to ward off their swords. Pippin tried not to be transfixed by the sight of them; crouching and with leprously white skins, moving with great speed and armed with short broad swords. Some wore black armour, with helmets surmounted by spines like some great black fish. Others were bareheaded and Pippin could see their lizard eyes and yellow tusks and wiry black hair tied up in a topknot. But hardly had Pippin got in a few parries when the door frame suddenly fell in with a crash and he looked up at a great cave troll.

Bilbo's stories about the trolls all came back to Pippin but this was too terrifying ever to be in a tale. As the troll wielded its great club Merry and Pippin grabbed Frodo and ran to the back of the chamber with him to hide, leaving the warriors to deal with the beast as best they could.

Legolas and Gimli attacked it, but merely enraged it. Legolas shot it with an arrow but it replied by wielding its lead chain like a great whip to lash at the Elf, and as Legolas fell back, it seemed to sniff the air with its great blunt snout and Pippin thought, in the chaos, it is looking for something. Could it be Frodo? Pippin felt sure he was right, as it came on unerringly to where they had hidden Frodo behind a pillar. Merry and he looked up and suddenly the creature filled the space above them with its club raised, and they threw themselves out of the way. The club descended, shattering stone and arch and pillar. When Pippin could see again, the Troll had pinned Frodo against the wall with a long lance picked up from the debris on the chamber floor.

'Oh no!' shouted Merry, and threw himself on the Troll, getting onto the creature's shoulder. Pippin followed. They struck at the hard calloused surface of its hide, but the blades glanced off. The creature felt the blows and reaching up snatched Merry and threw him down. Pippin hung onto his iron collar and struck at his neck. Below he saw Legolas standing in front of the creature, drawing his bow and aiming up at the troll. For a terrible moment Pippin thought the Elf would miss the troll and hit him. He struck again at the hard hide of the creature's neck. Not hurt, but annoyed, as if by the sting of a gnat, the troll raised its head and bellowed. As it did so Legolas loosed his arrow. Pippin felt rather than saw the shaft strike. The troll reeled slightly. For Pippin it was like being on a boat about to keel over. He could see the others watching with swords at the ready, no orcs left in the chamber alive. Then the troll suddenly plunged forward taking Pippin with him. The stone floor of the chamber rushed up to meet him and everything went black.

'Pippin! Pippin!'
Someone was shaking him. Slowly Pippin opened his eyes. Merry was bending over him, holding him by the arm.
'Are you all right?'

Pippin blinked and sat up. He looked around. The burial chamber was suddenly quiet, and everything came back to him, the fight with the orcs, the troll, the skeleton down the well. All around were dead orcs, and in the midst of the chamber, sprawling almost over the whole floor, was the great bulk of the dead troll, even more huge in death, still twitching and shuddering. Pippin stared at it. He was bruised and aching from the fall. He put a hand to the back of his head and felt a bump. But his mind had cleared.
'Frodo!' he said, seizing Merry's hand.
'Where's Frodo?' the last thing Pippin could remember before the troll came crashing down with him was Frodo pinned against the chamber wall by a long black spear. Merry, who was not much less dazed than Pippin, looked around and they saw Aragorn and Sam scramble across the battle-strewn floor of the room to where Frodo was.

'Help me up!' Said Pippin and Merry gave him his hand and they stumbled over to where Frodo lay face down alongside the lance the troll had speared him with. Aragorn was beside him on his knees but seemed reluctant to touch him. Pippin heard him say to himself 'Oh no!'
Then gently he put his hand on Frodo's arm and turned him over. To his surprise Frodo coughed and sat up. Aragorn sat back staring at him in amazement. Sam, who had been hanging back ran forward and put his hand on the spot where the troll had thrust the spear, as if not believing.
'I'm all right' said Frodo. 'I'm not hurt'.
He was winded and bruised but alert. Aragorn stared at him 'That spear would have skewered a wild boar!'
Frodo pulled aside his shirt, already torn by the tip of the spear and into the gloom of the back of the chamber rays of light, like moonbeams, shone out. It was a mithril shirt, catching what light there was, but also seeming to give out light of its own.

'Mithril!' said Gimli. The company crowded around to look. Gandalf had a knowing smile. 'This is the mithril coat that Bilbo spoke of' he said.
'I have never heard tell of one so fair!'
exclaimed Gimli. Gandalf looked at Frodo, caught between relief and embarrassment. 'There is more to this hobbit than meets the eye!'.

'I love old Bilbo more than anything now!' thought Pippin. But they had no time to wonder, as reaching their ears at that moment came wild cries and the run of mailed orc feet. Gandalf stood up. He looked up as if listening, then said urgently 'To the bridge of Khazad-Dum!' and he set off towards the door of the chamber, in pieces after the attack. The others ran to keep up with him. Out into the great vaulted hall, Gandalf's staff giving out fitful and uncertain light, making the pillars and columns grow and waver and shadows come alive all along the walls.

But, as he ran alongside Merry, Pippin thought that those shadows were indeed moving on their own. Then to his horror he realised that they were, that all around, advancing from every corner of the hall, were ranks and squads of orcs, moving at a scuttling run that covered the ground as quickly as their own desperate pace. In front Frodo was struggling to keep up, he was bruised and breathless from the force of the troll's thrust. Sam put his arms around him but then Aragorn went to pick him up.
'I'm all right!' he heard Frodo shout 'put me down!' Pippin smiled to himself, good old Frodo!

Gandalf looked back only once to see if they were following, then set a pace that belied his grey beard. Behind him Boromir ran almost as fast, his black cloak streaming out behind him, sword drawn. Then Legolas, Gimli, the hobbits and Aragorn bringing up the rear. Aragorn looked back; in the gloom he could see rank up opon rank of orcs, a nightmare vision of inhuman hordes of the deepest caves. Hearing a scratching and scuffling he looked up and saw orcs pouring out of fissures in the vaulted ceiling like giant cockroaches. Keeping Frodo in front of him, he looked away and ran on.

Now they were hares to be hunted. The cavernous hall stretched out before them and on every side orcs raced to cut them off. Ahead lay the end of the hall and an arched door out to the stairway to the East gate. But long before they reached it orcs swarmed in front of them and cut them off. Gandalf halted and the others ran into him. The orcs closed up and round and formed a dense circle about them.

Now as far as they could see were orcs. There was no hope of escape. The orcs were low and crouching and they could easily see over their heads to many more coming up behind. Knowing their quarry was trapped they jeered and shook their short broad black swords and clashed their triangular black shields. Pippin, wedged between Boromir and Merry, still had his sword in his hand, but what good could it possibly do? An orc opposite him, with sickly white face, glowing reptile eyes and long narrow yellow tusks snarled at him, him in particular, holding out its sharp hooked blade as if claiming Pippin as his prey. Pippin tried to swallow but his throat was dry and his mouth full of grit. Gandalf gave a shout and Gimli raised his axe in warning but the orcs merely yammered back in gleeful anticipation. 'It's over!' thought Pippin.

Then a sound like a roll of thunder echoed through the vast hall. The orcs' chant of victory died away. Again the great murmur and thunder. The orcs fell back slightly, looking at each other and yammering this time in trepidation and doubt. Gimli gave a shout, but the orcs were suddenly unaware of the company. A third time the great rumbling roar, like some great beast, and this time the orcs broke and ran, dashing off into the shadows with cries of fear.

Pippin watched them astounded. Only a second before he had steeled himself for the end, now suddenly they were delivered. He looked up at Gandalf but instead of showing relief the wizard was leaning on his staff with his eyes closed and brows knit, as if in pain. Boromir and Aragorn also were looking behind them, and Legolas had put down his drawn bow and was gazing into the distance with eyes suddenly dark and full of fear.
'What is this new devilry?' Asked Boromir. At the end of the hall, along the colonnade, a glow was advancing, like fire under a door, long shafts of deep red light. The thunderous roar was advancing too. Gandalf inclined his head, as if all his worst fears had been realise.

'A Balrog. A demon of the ancient world' Pippin looked up at them. He had never seen Legolas show terror but now the Elf was rooted to the spot with fear. Aragorn looked from one of them to the other, not understanding. Then Gandalf just said 'Run!' and started away from them like a greyhound and they scrambled to follow him. Behind them the roar and light gained speed and direction, as if pursuing them.

At the Eastern end of the hall a ruined doorway let onto a steep flight of steps. Boromir led the way down them, running with all his speed, holding the torch. At the end of the steps was a ledge then a sheer drop into an immeasurable chasm. Boromir tried to stop, but was going too fast. The torch flew out of his hand and plummeted down, down into the endless fires raging at the bottom of the gulf. As he teetered forward with a cry Legolas, as if freed from the Balrog's spell by his voice, flung his arms around the man and threw himself backwards, taking Boromir with him. The man fell heavily on the slender Elf, but twisted away and put out his hand to lift Legolas up. After them came the four hobbits, who halted at the brink, looking open-mouthed at the dizzying depths. Never had Pippin even in a dream imagined such a fall, such a height. As they stared, Gandalf came halting down the steps. Even Pippin could see Gandalf was in some trouble. He gasped for breath, leaning on his staff. Aragorn passed him then seeing him pause stepped back and put his hand on the wizard's arm. 'Lead them on, Aragorn!' Aragorn stared at Gandalf, not understanding. Gandalf pushed his hand away and shouted at him; 'Swords are no more use here!'

Pippin felt rather than heard Frodo gasp beside him, and saw the look of pain and puzzlement on Aragorn's face. But Gandalf had no time for hurt feelings; he brushed past Aragorn and pointed out into the gulf 'The bridge is near!'

Far off to their right the great gulf was crossed by a bridge, a single elegant arched span. Gimli raised his head as if sniffing the air.
'It is an ancient defence of my people! the enemy can only cross it in single file. The chasm is of a depth immeasurable!'

To reach the bridge they had to descend a great stepped pier, broader than the slender bridge but steep and with gaps and broken stone stairs. Behind them like the drums of the orcs, was the steady beat of great footsteps and the glow, always growing. The whole doorway shook and hails of grit and small stones fell from the ceiling away up in the darkness. With this to hasten them on, the company hurried down the steps until they came to a gap. Legolas jumped over it easily. Turning he motioned to Gandalf to jump next. But the pounding behind them distracted the wizard, who turned to look back. 'Gandalf!' shouted Legolas, and as if awakened Gandalf jumped and landed beside him. Pippin was wondering who was next when suddenly an angry whine cut the air and a black orc shaft struck the steps and flew off into the depths. Gandalf looked up into the darkness and as he did so another shaft hit the stair at Pippin's foot. Aragorn and Legolas drew their bows and as they did so they became aware of the orc achers on the ledges and arches of the cavern. They were crouching and taking aim, with the company an easy and undefended target exposed on the steps. But the orcs paid for their boldness as first one then another fell to Legolas's keen aim; transixed by Elf arrows they plunged off their vantage points into the bottomless depths of Moria.

Having bought a few moments the Company hurried to get across the gap; without warning Boromir seized Merry and Pippin under each arm and jumped, firmly holding the hobbits around the waist. Pippin cried out in spite of himself but Boromir landed safely. Pippin got tangled up in his long black cloak and freed himself just in time to see Gimli hauled up onto the step by the beard and Legolas apologise to him. Then they all turned to watch Aragorn and Frodo jump, but whether the steps had been weakened by the weight of the company suddenly the flight they were standing on, of about six or eight steps shuddered and cracked and fell away into the depths.

Aragorn felt it go at the last moment and seizing Frodo threw him up the steps to safety. He barely then had time to pull himself onto the solid stone. Frodo hung onto Aragorn's cloak, and Aragorn hung onto the step, stil clutching his bow. On the other side of the gap the rest of the company watched in horror. Beside him Pippin heard Sam murmur in despair, his eyes fixed on Frodo. Boromir pulled him and Merry to his side to shield them from the orc archers.

For what seemed an age they stared at each other, unable to do anything. Beyond the doorway the Balrog continued to advance, destroying doorways, pillars and columns, ever nearer. At one of its monstrous footfalls a great stone arch from high above cracked loose and fell onto the stepped stairway and broke a wide gap in it, far above where Frodo and Aragorn were standing, but at once it began to waver and reel like a live thing. Aragorn clutched Frodo to him and Frodo felt the whole world shake under him. He was able to do nothing but cling to Aragorn. The swaying continued until Aragorn put his hand on his shoulder and pushed him away from him.
'Lean forward, Frodo!' his voice was shaking. Frodo looked and saw the others gazing up fearfully at him, but coming closer. The stairs were swaying towards them. When they were not too far away Aragorn pushed him forward and he jumped the narrowed gap and Legolas caught him. Aragorn landed beside him and they fled down the stairs before the rest collapsed.

Now safety seemed near, and they ran like the wind, ignoring bruises and hurts. Gandalf was not leading the way now; they could see the slender bridge ahead, gleaming white in the dark like a thread of hope. He hung back to the rear, watching behind with drawn sword and raised staff. Pippin ran along with Merry. His bruises slowed him down as Merry's did him, but Legolas kept with them and held out a hand to steady or support them when they staggered. At last they reached the bridge.

Aragorn went across first, beckoning the hobbits after him. Frodo and Sam crossed next and then Pippin and Merry. Pippin felt the polished marble surface beneath his bare feet as smooth and shiny as ice. From below came up a hot breath like from an open furnace door, up from the fires of Khazad-dum. When he got to the end he looked back. Boromir and Legolas were just across, and Gimli was hurrying up the steps to the outer door. All they lacked was Gandalf. Suddenly Frodo gave a piercing cry; Gandalf had appeared on the other side, but only to advance halfway across the bridge then stop. From his vantage point on the steps to the door Pippin saw a great blackness detach it from the greater darkness and advance onto the narrow bridge, then the whole figure towering up almost to the roof of Moria, spread its great arms and burst into flames. Flight, even movement was impossible. Pippin stared in horror and amazement at the fiery eyes and flaring nostrils, pits of fire, and the wide gaping mouth of red burning heat. The creature's outline was dim and uncertain wreathed in its own vapour, but it held a sword of fire in one hand and in the other a fiery whip, and spread out around it were great shadowy wings, hidden in black smoke.

Gandalf stood midway across the bridge and seeing him the Balrog also stopped. It roared at him, opened its jaws and Pippin could feel the hot blast from its maw. It raised its sword and brought it down on Glamdring. The flash from the impact blinded Pippin for a second. All the time Gandalf was lit by a cold white aura from his staff, which he kept raised in front of the enemy.

The creature seemed to pause. It raised its whip and flailed the air but did not strike Gandalf; it seemed afraid. Gandalf was shouting something at it, like spells or incantations, but Pippin was too far away to hear it properly. Then he suddenly raised his staff and Glamdring and brought them both down on the narrow bridge with a crack. Even Pippin could hear what Gandalf cried; 'You shall not pass..'

For long seconds the two faced each other, Gandalf's aura wavering and fading. Then with a deafening crack the bridge suddenly gave way and the half on which the Balrog was standing plunged downwards to the fire, with the creature as if fixed to it, flailing and streaming great plumes of fire and smoke. Pippin could hear a roar, as if from the depths of a great cavern, and down into the abyss went the Balrog.

For some moments all was silent. The company were still transfixed, watching. Gandalf heaved a breath, as if exhausted, and without looking down after the monster turned around. As he did so a tongue of fire streaked past him and curled about and lashed him from head to toe. Knocked off balance he fell with a cry and his staff and Glamdring spun off into the chasm. By great effort he clutched the edge of the ruined bridge, but around his ankle was latched the fiery whip, pulling him down.

The hobbits gave a cry and started back down. Frodo ran past Pippin and Merry and down the stairs and onto the bridge. But Boromir was there and saw Frodo coming out of the corner of his eye. Reaching out he seized Frodo with both arms and held him fast. Frodo struggled, his fingers digging into Boromir's chain shirt. But Boromir held him fast, too horrified himself to speak as Gandalf with great effort hauled himself up onto the bridge, looked at them for one long last moment and gasped 'Fly, fools, fly!'

Then the pull of the Balrog was too much and he let go his hold and fell straight down into the chasm.

Aragorn ran back, his face blank with horror, but Frodo began to scream Gandalf's name over and over again and Boromir resolved to get him out of the place as quickly as possible and he carried the hobbit up the steps, pausing to call Aragorn's name, begging him to follow. Rooted to the stairs Pippin found himself bundled out of the way by Legolas and hauled up the remaining flight of steps to the Dimril Door.

Back on the bridge, Aragorn advanced almost to the edge, staring into the abyss as if trying to see into it, or see the future. All was lost, all was in disarray now. What would he do without Gandalf? How would he lead without his guidance? Arrows were winging past but he hardly noticed. On the other side of the gulf orcs were ranging and drawing their bows, shrieking with glee to have such a target, a tall Man not caring who saw or shot at him. Another shaft sailed past and as if woken from a trance Aragorn stumbled backwards and turned to the steps. Even then he could not go on out, but stopped and gazed still into the darkness which had swallowed up his friend and teacher. As if inside his head he heard the words Gandalf had last said to him; 'lead them on, Aragorn...' A shaft aimed at his head came on unerringly. Ducking to avoid it Aragorn took one last look and ran up the steps after Boromir to the Dimril Door.

They spilled out into the blinding sunlight, reflected on the dazzlingly white limestone pavement. After the dark of Moria there was this pitiless bleached bone whiteness of smooth rock.

But Pippin hardly noticed what was around him. He ran out of the great arched door and as far as his legs would still carry him then fell or threw himself down on the ground. Merry fell on top of him. Curling up tightly on his side Pippin began to weep, deep bitter sobs, gripping the handle of his sword, not seeing or hearing anything, not even Merry who took him in his arms and held him, looking out over the valley through his own tears.

In Pippin's mind then was Gandalf's last word to him, 'fool', and he thought his heart would break. It was all his fault! Elrond was right, he should never have come. He wished with all his being that he had fallen instead of Gandalf. Merry squeezed his shoulder and whispered to him but he could not be consoled.

A few feet away Boromir restrained Gimli from going back inside, speaking kindly words to the dwarf. Legolas, still besmirched with smoke from the chasm, looked down at the ground but the fresh air so much longed for brought no joy. His spirit was crushed by Mithrandir''s fall, great counsellor so revered by the Elves. He stared dumbly at the weeping hobbits and his mind was altogether dark and without hope.

Aragorn came out, stopped and drawing out his sword wiped the black orc blood from it. He had grieved inside and now his eyes were cold. 'Legolas!' he called. The Elf looked over. 'Get them up!'

'For pity's sake!' said Boromir, turning round and gesturing to the stricken hobbits and dwarf. Beside Aragorn Sam sat with his head in his hands weeping. Aragorn faced Boromir.
'By nightfall these hills will be swarming with orcs!' Boromir stared at him. Exhausted himself, with a cut on his cheek and shaken by Gandalf's death, he could see Aragorn's resolve; to get them all to safety, to lead in Gandalf's stead. Boromir lowered his eyes and did not protest any more.

'Legolas, get them up!'
The Elf approached Merry and Pippin and took Merry's arm.
'Come, Merry' he said gently, but Merry indicated Pippin, still insensible of what was going on. 'Come, Pippin, take my hand' Pippin sat up and took the Elf's hand and let himself be pulled to his feet. He saw through his tears Aragorn raise Sam up then turn and look around as if searching for someone.

'Frodo! Frodo...'