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Written for Marigold's Challenge 18. Lots of good stories there; check them out here!
Title: To Climb a Tree
To Climb a Tree
In the case of tree-climbing, it was Pippin who was the key. 'What'll ye do if'n that young imp climbs a tree when in your charge and canna climb doon ag'in?' Ferdi asked me, the Tookish lilt very strong in his voice and his eyes green with mischief. 'Ye've got to be able to scamper up and down ag'in, to show him how it's done, er else ye'll have to fetch a grown-up each time he climbs up and fergits how to climb doon ag'in! And that'll grow tiresome, just see if it don't!'
And so I learnt tree-climbing, for Pippin's sake. I learned how to climb up--easy, that part was, and not to look down, and how to climb down again, feeling my way. And more's the time it has come in handy, with that little squirrel of a cousin of mine. Easy as 'atin' pie, I can hear Ferdi crow in my memory, and had I the luxury of time and quiet I would once again grieve the loss of my carefree cousin.
If only this were so easy...
The roar of the River is loud in my ears as I stare desperately upwards. Berilac's head is all I can see, for he's told the others to keep back from the edge. 'Merry!' he shouts.
'I'm here!' I call back. 'Where else would I be?'
In the River. It's in all our minds, but of course none of us will say so. Not even the Ferry will ply the wild springtide waters of the Brandywine, swollen from the melting of winter snows in the northlands, and spring rains hereabouts.
It is for Pippin's sake that I cling to my precarious perch above the raging waters. We were walking a trail along the high bank, about a mile from Brandy Hall, where the Eastern bank rears high above the waters and the trees hang over. In the summer months, young hobbits crawl out along the overhanging branches and swing, at last falling into the placid waters beneath, and then we swim to the bank and climb upwards, to do it all again. We bring ropes out with us, of course, for the bank is not all that climbable here.
Berilac had stopped short, before we got to the path along the top of the bluff, warned by some instinct, perhaps. He is two years older, and two years more knowledgeable, and more important, his father's an engineer and knows the ways of dirt and banks and diggings and has passed on some of that knowledge to Berilac, though my cousin is only a tween.
But Pippin darted past him, toward the edge. 'Follow the leader!' he cried.
'No!' Berilac shouted, 'It's not safe!' and so of course, I must follow, to haul my young cousin back, only to find the bank crumpling under my feet, and suddenly I am sliding down into the wild River, grabbing at anything and everything, while Pippin stares from only a few feet away. He's the smallest of us, and his weight was not enough to bring down the bank. Or perhaps he loosened it as he crossed. In any event, he remains safely above me, and slightly to my right, and Berilac's head juts out above me to my left, towards the Hall and more solid ground.
I am frozen in place, clinging to tree roots, a precarious perch at best. Every so often a little more of the bank gives way. Who knows how long I'll be safe here?
'Climb up!' Pippin shouts.
'Can't!' I call back, with what little air I can muster. My chest is heaving, and stars dance before my eyes. I cannot recall ever being so frightened in my life. Though I know how to swim, I also know with cold certainty that no swimmer can brave the Brandywine in its current state, and live. How will they rescue me? They cannot bring a boat under me, and with the bank so unstable how will they get a rope to me?
'Climb up!' Pippin insists.
'I'll go for help,' Berilac says, and then his head is gone. I hear a song start up; he has told the other lads, keeping well back, to sing, to keep up my spirits. They'll keep them up, all right, right up until the moment more of the bank gives way and tosses me into the waters. It would be best if Pippin weren't watching when that moment comes.
'Go back!' I say. 'Get back from the edge! Go and sing with the others!'
'Climb up!' Pippin repeats. 'It's not that far!'
'Can't!' I say. The slightest movement on my part sends dirt plummeting into the River. 'Go and sing!' I shout.
'Why?' he says, tilting his head to one side in that Tookish way.
'I love your singing!' I say inanely, for want of anything better.
He gives me an odd look and opens his mouth, then shuts it again. 'I can sing right here!' he says.
'It won't sound the same,' I say. 'Your voice won't blend right, if you're not standing right with them.'
'They're not standing,' he says, eminently logical. 'They're all lying down, so as not to disturb any more of the bank.'
'Get back!' I shout, exasperated, but in the next moment he is grasping one of the overhanging branches and sliding towards me. I hear the cracking of the branch, a shower of dirt lands in my hair and on my face, I close my eyes and bury my head in my arm, not wanting to watch him swept away.
In the next moment I hear his voice in my ear. 'Climb up,' he says again.
I open my eyes, and there he is, next to me, still holding the branch, bent and creaking under his weight.
'Are you daft?' I say.
'Probably,' he answers. 'Climb up, now.'
'I cannot,' I say.
He sighs in exasperation and gives the branch a shake. 'It's as easy as eating pie,' he says, and I hear an echo of Ferdi in his voice. 'Grab the branch and start to climb.'
'It won't hold the two of us,' I say.
He nods. 'You grab the branch, I'll grab the roots...'
'They won't hold you!' I begin, but he cuts me off.
'They've held you so far, and you're twice my size! On three...!' ...and I hear a bit of Frodo in his voice now, Frodo who can snap out a command and make you do what he tells you to do, partly out of surprise because most of the time his manners are so mild. 'One... two...'
And when he reaches "three" I grab at his branch, despite myself, if only to keep the two of us from plunging into the River when he grabs for my roots.
And there I am, hanging onto a tree branch.
'That wasn't so hard,' Pippin says breathlessly. 'Now climb. You remember how to do that, don't you?'
As my chin tilts, he adds, 'Don't look down!' and I automatically look up to meet his eyes, much too serious for a fourteen-year-old, and I wonder when he turned from a heedless child into this nearly-grown-up hobbit.
'Can you climb, now?' he asks. 'Or do we have to wait for Berilac to return with the grown-ups and rope, in which case you'll never live this down, Meriadoc Brandybuck!'
Actually I don't care if I never live this down, just so long as I live. But my hands seem to be frozen on the branches.
The singing stops, and next thing I know Doderic's head is peering over.
'Get back and keep singing!' Pippin shouts. 'We don't need your weight on the bank, and you need the singing practice!' Doderic nods, and his head disappears once more, and the music starts up again, thin and wavering, but gaining in strength as we listen. How long will it be, before the rope comes?
Just then more of the bank gives way, and Pippin grabs desperately at the tree roots. 'I don't know how long this is going to hold,' he says, calm for all the wideness of his eyes. His face has lost all colour and his freckles stand out clearly in contrast.
If I stay here without moving, I'll be safe until the grown-ups come with their rescuing rope. If I do not move, I won't put any more strain on the branch that holds me. If I stay here without moving, Pippin will fall into the River and be swept away, as more of the bank crumbles under our combined weight.
For Pippin's sake, I must climb.
'Right,' I say, and I take one hand from the branch and fasten it higher, pulling my body up. The branch crackles and sways, but it holds me.
'That's the spirit,' Pippin says.
I keep climbing, and he keeps up a stream of encouragement, as if he's the older cousin and I'm the younger. For some reason I don't mind.
At last I reach the top, where I can grab at another branch, and I hold tight while pulling with all my weight to drag my saviour branch down, practically pushing it into Pippin's face.
He takes a deep breath and lunges for the branch, and I cry out, thinking he'll fall... but no, he has it, and soon he's climbing, as limber as a squirrel, until he reaches the top of the bank and my outstretched hand.
'There you have it,' he gasps, and the colour is gradually returning to his cheeks. 'Easy as eating pie.'
The other lads are flat on their bellies, extending their hands to us, and we crawl across the treacherous ground to safety. Just as I grasp Doderic's hand, and Pippin reaches Ilberic's, behind us a great slice of bank breaks off, sliding down into the River, sending water fountaining up. My temporary refuge, and Pippin's, is gone. But no matter. We're on solid ground.
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