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Turnabout  by Ariel

Chapter 2 -

While Samwise Gamgee could see the sense in Mr. Frodo's command, he wasn't about to twiddle his thumbs while his master and Mr. Merry were in peril.  The square where the tower had fallen was still deserted, but the sounds of hammers and stonemasonry that they had been following had ceased, and shouts were coming from the direction whence the man, Belegond, had dashed off.  Sam scanned the deserted homes encircling the square.  Even if he couldn't move stone, there were other things he could do.

Several of the buildings looked as if they had been abandoned long before the evacuation order had come, but a large, white-stoned mansion with carven pillars seemed in better condition than its neighbors.  Sam made for it, and was momentarily stymied when the door proved to be locked.  Grumbling about the strange ways of those in foreign parts, he took up a boulder and smashed his way through.  There were things his master and Mr. Merry would need; surely the owners of this house would understand and forgive him his destructive entry.

Blankets were the first order of business.  Sam found them after scaling the broad, stone stairs that rose through the center of the house.  Spare water- skins and bandages were in a kitchen that opened onto a walled garden.  He drew water to fill the skins from the fountain that bubbled merrily at its heart.

"Now, if I could find a bit o’ rope!" he mused, hefting his burdens and pondering where in the unfamiliar dwelling such a utilitarian item might be found.  A hobbit hole would have a shed or barn that housed the tools and gardening implements, rope and satchels and other odds and ends, but this elegant dwelling didn't seem to have a place for such crude necessities.  His eye caught sight of a set of tall drapes and, more importantly, the thick, silken drapery cord that peeked out beside it.  He nodded.  That would serve most handily.  He dropped his burdens and began dismantling the drapery. 

 

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When Sam returned to the square, Belegond had arrived with Gimli and a small host of dust-covered, aproned men.  They were fanning out around the remains of the crumpled tower and calling to each other as they examined the pile of stone.  All that was left standing of the house in which his master and Mr. Merry were trapped was the back wall and chimney shaft.  Sam shuddered in fear but pushed his concerns aside.  Help was there and he knew that his friends could have no better or more concerned rescuer than Gimli, Gloin's son. 

"Where were they, Master Samwise?" the dwarf called, urgently waving him closer.

"In that there chimney, sir.  I've called to them and they've both answered me, but they're trapped, seemingly.  Mr. Frodo told me even my weight on those rocks was fit to make the pile shift, but unless you've called for Mr. Legolas to come help, I'm the lightest one here.  You'd be better off putting me up there than one o’ these men."

The dwarf raised a finger and smiled grimly.  "Ah, not so hasty, master hobbit.  This is the sort of work my folk can really get their teeth into.  I've got a tool that will enable us to reach right over those rocks without disturbing them.  If those lads can be reached, we'll save them."

Into the square rumbled a team of four horses pulling what looked to Sam's eye like a great wooden tree.  It had a large upright stem, bound with steel and capped with a dome of metal and a vertical pin.  Laid across its top and seated on the pin was another reinforced beam.  From one end of the crosswise beam hung a wooden box and from the other, a hook.  Sam stepped back instinctively when the contraption drew nearer.  It was enormous and looked none-too-savoury despite the reassuringly confident nod Gimli gave him.

"It'll do the trick, Master Gamgee.  Don't you worry.  I've sent a fellow up to let Aragorn know what's happened and to send healers on in case they're needed.  I'll not fail either of my companions, I swear to you."

"Master Gimli!" came a shout from the direction of the crane's arm.  It had been positioned over the chimney and a young Gondorian builder was seated on the very end, looking down into the opening.  Gimli waved, indicating he had heard, and came to the edge of the rubble.  It appeared the news was less than good.

"There's stone blocking the way, sir," the man said.  "Brick and mortar, too, and some bit of metal that seems to be holding the lot up.  Worse is that the flue is too narrow for us to reach down into to clear it by hand!  Any tool we try and put into that hole will jar the lot loose onto the Pheriannath inside!"  He shook his head.  "We've got to try coming at them from the side, my lord, from the hearth opening.  It's too dangerous from above."

Gimli’s brows bristled as he scowled.  "Do it, then," he grumbled and pulled off his leather jerkin and the shirt of mail that lay beneath it.  "We have no time to lose and a job ahead of us."  He turned to Sam, who was unbuttoning his own waistcoat in preparation to help.  "Aye, lad, now we'll need your lightness and strength.  I'm sure that heap’ll hold you and probably a few other lads as well; so up you go and start handing down rock.  Carefully now!"

Sam needed no further urging.  He scrambled up and over the mound to the buried chimney.

"Hold tight, Mr. Frodo!  Mr. Gimli is here and he's brought a great crew of men with him.  He'll have you out in no time, sir.  Never you fear."

"As quick as you can, Sam," came the muffled voice of his master in return.  "Merry's got a torn leg and a fair bump on his head.  I'd rather see him tended sooner than later, if it's all the same."

Sam's throat tightened in fear and he hefted a first chunk of stone into the waiting hands of the Gondorian brigade behind him.  The young soldier who had been their guide was first in line and passed the stone to the men behind him.  Sam gave him a brief, decisive nod before turning back to the imprisoning heap and bending to the task.  "Right.  We'll get you out if we have to move this whole mound!" 

 

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"Merry-lad, can you hear me?"

Frodo could feel his cousin's chilly skin against his forearm and it frightened him.  Merry had grown very still and the pulse that Frodo could feel through his fingertips was developing a fainter, more rapid rhythm.  He was still bleeding, despite the bandage.  Even without a healer’s training, Frodo knew that his cousin was in dire trouble.

"Hurry, Sam…" he whispered as he tucked Merry's head protectively under his chin. 

He had worked so hard to protect those he loved.  First, on his way out of the Shire, then at Amon Hen, he had tried to leave them all behind.  But he had not managed it, either time.  Neither the one who went with him into torment, nor those he left by the river had escaped their trials unscathed.  But those sacrifices he could almost accept - they had been for a reason: to help achieve a victory that none would ever have thought possible.  This accident had no purpose.  A mistaken turn, a chance fall of rock; there was no greater meaning in any of this, though the peril was no less for that. 

And more painful yet was the fact that, this time Frodo had to stand by, helpless, and watch his little cousin succumb.  Merry's responses had become more and more sluggish till, at last, Frodo could scarcely rouse him at all.  He hugged him closer, his heart pounding in terror and frustration.  This must have been how it had felt for his kin to watch him fighting for his life in Rivendell.  They had not yet truly understood the nature of the quest, though neither had he at that time, and his brush with death must have seemed nearly as purposeless.  He had appreciated their compassion and concern at the time, but it had never struck him how much they must have suffered.  If it were within his power, he would never make them endure such again.

His eyes itched from the grit and so he closed them as he waited.  He was too agitated to rest and his mind filled with sights and sounds that flitted past his consciousness too rapidly to register.  Some were images of his past and some, pictures of events he had only heard told.  Though he could not discern at first if it were a memory or a vision new come to him, Frodo suddenly saw Merry clearly in his mind's eye: a grown hobbit with a sun-browned face and wisdom in his blue eyes, but many years older than the hobbit Frodo now held.  He was standing in a field of corn*, a crop that would have waved over the heads of most hobbits, though it came only to Merry's chin.  The stalks, swaying under a summer sun, were just turning bright gold and a smile of easy contentment was on Merry’s face.  He was happy. 

But as Frodo held to the image, that contentment was touched with sadness.  Merry looked up; his eyes glistened though he did not weep.  It was as if his thought dwelt on the sweet memory of a time long past, or on a treasure that had long ago been lost to him. 

The sight filled Frodo with a strange and bittersweet joy, and though he did not understand where it had come from, he somehow knew the vision was a true one.  Merry would not die in this trap of stone.  His cousin would someday stand in that field and would look up, his thought touched with regret and love.  Frodo had seen it.  He firmed his resolve and lifted his head.

"Sam!" he called.  "We can't wait any longer!  Merry's condition is growing worse.  It will take hours for you to clear that rock and he needs to get out of here now.  We need to try the flue."

"Sir!" came Sam's muffled voice.  Frodo could hear the clatter of stones as his friend approached him across the rubble.  "That chimney's still blocked.  If we start trying to clear it, we just might drop the lot onto the both of you!"

"Then drop it!" shouted Frodo sternly.  "We have no time!  I'll take a few more bruises if it means Merry's life."

There was silence for a moment, but only a moment.  Sam's voice shouted for Gimli and moved off as the dwarf answered him.  Frodo shifted himself to more of a sitting position, situating Merry's body under the sloping side of the firebox, as far as he could from being directly under the chase.  Much of Merry's sizable frame was still within range of the debris falling from the chimney and the only place remaining for Frodo to sit was directly under it, but there was nothing else to be done.

"We've got a plan, Mr. Frodo!" Sam called, this time from the chimney opening above them.  "There's gap enough left to get a rope and bit of wood down.  If’n you shore up the chimney with the boards, you ought to be able to widen that space enough to squeeze through.  Then tie the end of the rope to Mr. Merry and yourself and we'll pull you up."  Sam paused.  "That wood ought to prop those stones long enough.  I hope." he finished worriedly. 

"Good work, Sam," Frodo assured him.  "It'll do the trick and I promise I'll take care not to bring the roof down on us."

"I'd appreciate that, sir," said Sam.

Frodo smiled grimly and stood up into the chaseway.  There was a panel of mortar that had broken free from the walls and was jammed crossways in the channel.  The bricks and stone that made up the largest portion of the blockage rested on it, though a large hunk of granite was jammed above and across.  Frodo hoped that if anything gave way, it would be the mortar.  Bricks falling onto him would hurt, but that slab of granite would kill them both. 

"Frodo?"  Another voice called from above.  From the clear, musical tone, the hobbit could tell it was Legolas.  "I'm afraid this isn't hithlain, but I hope it will serve you well."  Slowly a tawny tassel appeared, dancing skillfully through the opening that remained in the blocked chimney.  Above it was attached a bundle of thin planks.  With a wry grin, Frodo reached up and slowly slid the wood through the narrow opening.

"My dear Legolas, do you always keep such elegant equipment on hand for emergencies?"

Frodo didn't need to see the smile to know how it had flitted across the Wood Elf's familiar face. 

"You will have to credit Master Samwise for the stylish rope, my friend.  I am merely the arm that wields it."

Frodo untied the planking and set to jamming the boards under the mortar panel.  A brick or two was jarred loose by his actions, but Frodo dodged them somehow and then began taking stones and brick carefully off of the blockage to increase the size of the opening. 

"Be careful, master!" cried Sam as a slide of bricks fell noisily to the hearth. 

Frodo spat out dust and blinked at the suddenly increased sunlight that trickled down into the space.

"I think we can get through that if we're careful," he said.  "I'm sending up Merry first.  He's bleeding badly, and hasn’t spoken in ever so long.  Is there a healer on hand?"

Legolas' voice, firmer and more serious now, answered him.  "Aragorn is here with physicians from the King's house.  He was distraught when he heard of the accident and would see no lesser healer tend you."

"Then the sooner we remove from this trap, the sooner he will be comforted."  Frodo bent to his cousin to work the rope under his arms.

Merry had not only gained height, but bulk as well.  He groaned faintly as Frodo struggled to turn him over, but remained unconscious.  Frodo had to maneuver him with his own strength alone.  At last, the older hobbit had the golden cord tied securely around Merry's chest. He leaned back against the opposite wall, exhausted.

"Frodo?" asked Legolas.

"Yes?  The rope is on Merry.  Give me a moment and I will guide him up."

"Gladly I will, friend," the Elf answered quietly.

Frodo was thankful of that moment and for the unobtrusive concern of the one who allowed it, but he could spare only the time it took to catch his breath.  At last at his signal, Legolas, with Sam helping, began to draw up on the rope.  The Wood Elf had run the line over the arm of the crane that still hovered over the chimney, and now guided the withdrawal with care and skill.  Between Frodo below and Legolas and Sam above, Merry was brought safely through the passage with only a minor disturbance of the blockage.

Once Merry had emerged into the sunlight, Sam was shocked to see through the dust and soot how pale his friend was.  Legolas cradled the tall hobbit against his chest as he undid the rope and his refined face became grim.  Merry lay limp and unresponding.

"His skin is cold, Samwise," said Legolas, "and his heart beats quick and faint.  I must get him to Aragorn quickly."  The Elf tossed the end of the drapery cord towards Sam and lifted the other hobbit in his arms.  Merry's head lolled limply, and Sam's heart lurched into his throat.  "Take care of your master!" ordered Legolas and dashed towards the square with his burden.

Sam nodded and began to feed the rope back down the chimney.  Tears burned his eyes and he dashed them away so that he could see the opening below.  Mr. Merry had answered him cheerfully not half an hour before.  How could he have got in such a bad way in that short time? 

"We… we have Mr. Merry all set, Mr. Frodo," Sam called, hoping his voice did not betray his concern.  "Strider'll have him to rights in no time, if I know him.  Now all that’s left is to get you up safe too.  If you’ll just tie that rope around you nice and tight we’ll pull you up."

Sam felt the rope taken and let down enough slack so that his master could fasten it securely.  He moved so that the sunlight shone down the chase and was rewarded with a glimpse of Frodo looking up into the light.

The sun caught his eyes and lit them like gems in the dust.  Sam had a sudden impression of a fragile butterfly caught in a cage of stone and his heart lurched almost as fearfully as it had done for Mr. Merry.  Though his dear master had come through trials the like of which would have killed the stoutest-hearted hobbit, there were still times when he seemed as delicate as a cup fashioned from fine porcelain; fragile and too fine for everyday.  He seemed to possess that quality that made you stop and stare at Elves, but in a hobbit it seemed somehow rarer; precious, in point of fact.  Not even dear Mr. Bilbo had seemed so otherworldly.

"Are you tied on, Mr. Frodo?"

"Yes, just.  Pull slowly, to begin," Frodo answered. 

Sam pulled the rope taut, but with it draped over the square arm of the crane, he could not get it to slip easily.  He needed a pulley, or another body to help him, and without one or the other it was clear he was not going to bring Frodo all the way to the top. 

"Just tie off your end of the rope and I'll hold here, Sam.  Wait for Legolas to return.  You're not yet strong enough to pull me up." 

"Beg pardon?" wheezed Sam, not understanding his master's meaning.

"We're both still weak, Sam.  From our ordeal.  I expect it will be months before either of us is in top form again.  Don't use yourself up."

Seeing nothing to tie onto, Sam drew the rope under him and sat down on it instead.  Unfortunately, he couldn't see Frodo from that vantage.  "Where are you, sir?" he asked.

"Just below that boulder.  It looks to be poised here by a hair's breadth.  I wonder it didn't fall earlier!  Merry and I were in much more danger than we realized."

"Beg pardon, Mr. Frodo, but I’d've been just as happy not knowing that."

"Ah…  Yes."  Frodo was silent for a moment.  "My apologies." 

Sam blushed but promptly grinned.  “No need, master, though I’ll take them happily enough after we’ve got you free.  And here's Mr. Legolas come back."

Sam had been about to ask after Merry when there was a sudden sickening sound from the chimney: a crack, the squeal of stone, followed by Frodo's shout of alarm.  Legolas leapt forward, as fast as only an Elf could move, grasping the rope just as a plume of dust rose up the chimney.  Sam flew to his feet and leaned over the edge, shouting Frodo's name.  There was no reply.  Legolas jumped onto the crane's arm and, with a mighty heave, pulled the remaining hobbit swiftly to the surface.  Frodo, dust-covered and motionless, emerged from the darkness and Sam cried out in shock and dismay to see the bright blood across his brow. 

"NO!"

TBC



* The term ‘corn’ here is used in the British vernacular, referring to a crop of wheat or barley.





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