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“An Ill-Considered Action”
“Here, I’ll take that, my lad.” I reach for the sphere Peregrin has retrieved from the dirty waters of the river Isen. The youth is clutching it greedily to his chest and pretending he hasn’t heard me. I prompt him once again, my tone much sharper this time, and Pippin is forced to look up at last. I am certain my expression leaves no room for argument yet he hesitates still, his reluctance to part with it obviously warring with his common sense. At last he offers the smooth, glass-like object to me slowly, with a quiet sigh. I note how his face falls as I swathe it safely in my cloak, and away from inquisitive eyes.
Pippin starts to turn away, but hesitates. A slight tilt of his head makes it appear as if he is listening to something no one else perceives. I admit his actions leave me feeling cold, yet I am unable to sense anything that he might have heard.
I am here.
What is he up to? I’m about to admonish him to rejoin the others when Aragorn does so. I notice Meriadoc casting a look at his young cousin that betrays his own bewilderment. I believe it would be best if I keep a close eye on them both. I know what I carry, and although the hobbits do not, they are curious; curiosity and the youngest of our party are old friends and often comprise a perilous mix.
“Let’s be on our way.” Aragorn leads the way through the murky water towards the dry land far ahead and we follow behind him single file. I know the poor beasts will be as glad as we are to put the damp chill behind, and I give Shadowfax a soothing whisper of commiseration. I feel it in my heart that the wheels of deliberation are turning mightily in the young Took’s head, and as if he has heard my thoughts, Pippin turns and casts a baleful look at me. The grimace is out of place on the youthful face, one that is normally bright with affability. It’s true that this particular halfling’s curiosity sometimes gets the better of him, as I see happening at this moment. But never is he vindictive, as he appears to me now. The thing that I carry has touched his mind, however faintly, and both shall require serious looking after on my part.
Whispers in the dark, I hear them clearly. What is happening? I see nothing out of the ordinary but I tighten my grip on the palantír and ponder the day’s events. I am aware the young Took is still awake, although I believe he has settled down at last and I allow myself a respite. In my mind’s eye I once more see the Stone as it crashes down the stairs from the tower, barely missing my head and coming to a rest in the pool, a dark sphere of crystal with a flaming heart within its depths. I recall my unease when I noticed the hobbit retrieving it. Was it the strange gleam in Pippin’s eyes that had disturbed me so? Or had it been something more?
I’m trying to keep quiet so as not to disturb the others, but the best I seem able to manage is a light doze that never lasts for long. Something tickles at the corner of my mind, like an itch that I can’t reach.
I am here.
A shudder courses through my body and I am fully awake. Something has startled me, calling to me from the darkness, and I peer into the shadows listening so keenly that my effort pains me. There is no answer to my question. I can detect the odd snore and shifting in sleep of my fellow travellers, as well as the occasional call of a night owl. My attention is drawn to Gandalf. He lies across from the fire opposite where I lie close to my cousin for warmth. Merry admonishes me to be quiet, his whisper already fading into a soft snore.
With a start I realise the wizard’s eyes are open. I can spy their gleam reflected in the moonlight. . .and yet I’m certain he slumbers. How odd. His breathing is steady and slow. I have never before seen anyone sleep with eyes wide open and for a moment this peculiarity alone captures my interest. I study him, noting the object he grasps to his side as if in fear it will steal away into the night. The call comes again, light and pleasing, like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings against my eyelids and this time I rise to a sitting position never taking my eyes from Gandalf’s face.
Come. Seek me out. He will not know.
I climb to my feet, creeping, creeping, and cautious not to disturb anyone. For some reason that seems important.
You are restless. There shall be no sleep this night.
As if in a dream, I am drawn to I know not what, but I feel helpless to stop. This. . . voice. . .this voice inside my mind. . .what is it? Where does it come from, what does it want of me? Why do I obey? I smile, but I don’t understand what is pleasing me as carefully, ever so carefully, I creep forward. I am good at stealth. It runs in a hobbit’s bloodline, a skill that has always aided me well.
Come closer. You seek answers to your many questions.
I wish to know the answers to all the questions under the sun! I have always been the curious sort. But there is no harm in that.
No, no harm.
It’s simple curiosity, that’s all. I must look.
Yes, you must. Draw me away from his hands. Do it now.
What hurt can come from such a simple action? I gaze down upon Gandalf’s face, taken aback once more by the half open, yet slumbering, eyes of the wizard, and I hesitate.
Hurry, before he awakens and the opportunity is lost forever!
The voice is anxious now; the harsh edge it has taken on disturbs me, and yet without thinking the matter through I grasp the object that summons me, surprised again by its weight. Gandalf twitches and grunts in his sleep, causing me to tremble in fear.
Quickly! Put something in my place so he will not realise what you have done.
I take the sphere from his hands and rip off the covering, then wrap the cloth around a large stone and lay it by his side. Eager to examine my prize, I steal away after pausing to toss a glance of guilt across my shoulder.
At first the globe is dark, black as jet, with the moonlight gleaming on its surface. I stare at it, fascinated beyond mere words. Then there comes a faint glow and stir in the heart of it, and it holds my eyes, so that now I cannot look away.* Deep inside my mind something calls to me, drawing me in, speaking to me in appalling, murmuring tones. In its depths a fire burns. The flames creep closer, seizing me at last in a shocking embrace, hot beneath my sweaty palms. A drop of perspiration from my brow touches its surface and seems to sizzle and dance as if on a hot stove. My eyes widen in amazement and fear, and I try to draw away, but the thing inside holds me fast.
The piercing cry fills the night and I am awake and on my feet immediately. Thief! My eyes dart about and fall on the prone hobbit and I feel a moment of stark horror; what harm has he brought upon himself? The fool! And yet, I blame myself for not heeding my own feelings of unease he might try just this. The little one is far too good at sneaking about.
“Peregrin Took!” I must find out what mischief he has done.
Oh! the callous voice inside the thing I hold. . .nay, the thing that now holds me – is almost too much to bear. I cry out for help but I am mute; my lips move, and my voice, while silenced, nevertheless rings wildly in my own ears. He is here. He sees me. What am I to do? I am being pulled inward towards the cruel eyes; the force of mocking laughter blankets me like a sodden cloak and I feel defiled. Why didn’t I listen? Oh, why must I insist on seeing that which I’m not meant to? But it’s too late for such recriminations. The pain begins and it grows.
I rush to the halfling and kneel by his side, quickly seeking his temples with my fingertips. What has he already revealed to the dark lord? The sound of frantic movement taking place around me fades away as I enter the youth’s mind and see through his eyes. He is floundering against the onslaught of Sauron’s resolve. The hobbit is speaking; the Stone remains clutched between his hands as if he will never release it.
Who are you?
The voice is no longer kind and curious, instead it rips through me like the pointed tip of the blade I carry at my side. I know I’ve been used, fooled, and I want to scream out in fury but I am held fast in the grip of this nightmarish presence. I set my will against answering and pain lashes my mind in waves, like the whip of the Uruk-Hai.
I am a hobbit.
Laughter, sharp and hideous, and then I am falling, falling, shattering into tiny pieces.
We shall meet again soon.
I sense amusement as if I am nothing but a plaything to be used and cast aside, and then a jolt courses through me, icy hot and deadly. The voice is closer still, and I can feel the hot breath, foul, like a dead thing, and I recoil in horror.
Yes. Very soon. . .Now tell me more.
No, I cannot tell you anything!
With effort I try to center my attention on another place and time. The presence pushes hard against my mind, insistent. I press back, feebly at first, and then a new voice enters my thoughts. Instead of falling, I am caught up; enveloped in gentle arms. A new voice, musical and sweet, and pictures unfold before my eyes. I am there again, with my kin and the others in Lothlorien while the Lady Galadriel bestows her Elven gifts upon us.
“Do not worry, young Peregrin Took. You will find your courage.”
My courage? I consider this while basking in the soothing balm of her voice, a barrier against the rage still eager to consume me. The sight of the Elven woods beckons. I’m not sure if it is with the Lady’s help or my own will, but I concentrate on the lovely surroundings and the evil voice is far away while I stroll amongst the trees. I feel a gentle hand slip into mine and look up with a gasp. The Lady now walks beside me, her tender gaze upon me and she speaks only in my thoughts. I feel my courage growing, just as she has promised. The Lady draws my Elven cloak firmly about my shoulders and I am reminded of my mother when she would tuck me safely into my bed at close of day.
Keep out of sight of unfriendly eyes.
I am humbled by the tender kiss atop my head and—
My eyes fly open to find the wizard holding me, calling to me.
“Peregrin Took! Come back!”
“Gandalf! Forgive me!”
“What did you see, and what did you say?”
“I, I. . .
“Look at me!”
What a nuisance! I frown as the harsh wind awakes me from my uncomfortable sleep. How I can sleep at all upon the back of a great horse travelling faster than the pounding in my heart I can’t understand. Oh! why did I have to look? Merry is right. I always get myself into trouble when I don’t listen to him, but the damage is done. Gandalf knows I’m awake and I’m certain he has more to say to me than he did after rescuing me from the grip of that horrid presence. I know it’s my sudden quiver that prompts him to speak; nevertheless I feign sleep. I don’t want to hear any more of the scolding I received earlier. Please, I’m weary. Leave off for now.
“Peregrin Took! I’m quite aware you’re awake, lad, so please answer me.”
“Yes, Gandalf?” I stifle my sigh of resignation and answer him in a bright tone to conceal my anguish. I deserve it all to myself. Why should anyone else suffer for my foolishness? The touch to my shoulder surprises me. I should almost expect a sharp clout to the side of my head rather than a comforting squeeze. He speaks then, in a soft tone, increasing my shock.
“Talk to me, lad.”
“I don’t know what to say, Gandalf.” I think about how much I would like to retreat from this discussion.
“Tell me of what you suffer.”
“What I suffer?”
“Tell me what your thoughts are. The experience was not an easy one.”
“No.” The quivering in my voice startles me. If ever I’ve heard a thing understated--! “No, it. . .it wasn’t.”
I fall quiet again and feel another nudge against my shoulder. “If it’s all the same to you Gandalf, I’d rather not talk about it any more. At least, not now.”
I smile down at the top of the curly head and come to a decision. “Peregrin?” He looks up at me and the bewildered, wistful expression touches my heart. “I must share something with you.”
“Sometimes things come to pass and we do not realise until later that perhaps they were fated to be. I cannot explain the reasons for what happened, but I feel in my heart that your gaze into the palantír was perhaps a benefit as much as an ill thought out action on your part.”
“What do you mean?”
“Only that your actions may have saved a wizard from a foolish blunder--”
“Foolish. . .you, Gandalf?” I can’t believe what I’m hearing, that he would say such a thing, and to me. . .
“Do not get the wrong idea about what I am saying! You did a perilous and unwise thing, without a doubt. But, had you not, then I may have looked into the Stone myself. . . and that would have been nothing short of disastrous.” I chuckle at the wide eyes and place a reassuring hand on his arm.
“I am pleased you came along as a member of our Fellowship.”
Shadowfax continues flying smoothly along and I lift my eyes in wonder at the wizard’s words of praise.
Written for the Gen-Fic group's January Challenge "Potluck"
* Direct Quote from ROTK
January 26, 2009
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