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32
Ascending the Pass with Pony

Written for the LOTR Community "Animal Friends" challenge. For LindaHoyland, SugarAnnie, theArc5, Bodkin, Tracey_Claybon, Dawn_Felagund, and Jeannette for their birthdays.


~~~

Ascending the Pass with Pony


No matter how calm it had been down in the circle of trees where they’d camped in Hollin, as they ascended the pass the wind blew to hound them, twisting and turning amongst the rising cliffs and boulders, now coming at them from one side and next from the rear. Boromir knew that Aragorn was concerned for their safety, but was doggedly convinced that this was yet the safer path to take to reach the eastern side of the Misty Mountains. What must the other path neither the Pretender nor the Wizard will name openly be like? he wondered.

He sneezed, smelling the snow coming on the moving air. He was glad he’d insisted they each carry what wood they could as they ascended. If the Wizard was correct that it would take at least two marches to reach the top they would most likely need all they’d brought with them and more ere they were out into the valley of the Anduin.

A cold wind whipped around the corner, driving them backward. Determined, the Fellowship pushed on, Sam and Bill walking just before Boromir. The Man was amazed at the surefootedness displayed by the pony, and found himself glad that it was with them, as by walking between the pony’s flank and the mountainside he found himself spared much of the energy of the gale that now assaulted them.

“I wish I had Bill’s hairy hide,” he heard Merry saying to his younger cousin. “This wind keeps blowing my cloak open at the most inopportune times!”

“But Bill has nothing else to shelter him save for what he carries,” answered Pippin.

They were coming to a place where there was an open drop to their right when they heard a dull rumble ahead of them, just around a curve in the mountain to their left.

“An avalanche!” Aragorn called back down the line. “Wait here while Gandalf and I go ahead to assess the path!”

Legolas, who’d been walking as rear guard, came forward, slipping easily past the others and Bill as he joined the Ranger and the Wizard. “I can see more easily in the darkness,” he said as he went forward, and in minutes the three of them, Man, Wizard, and Elf, were out of sight.

It was growing colder by the moment, and it seemed colder still now that they stood unmoving, exposed from both behind and on their right to the searching wind. Boromir’s pack had been chafing at his left shoulder, so he carefully shrugged out of it, intending to adjust the strap so that it rode properly upon his back while he had time to do so.

“I wonder how far up we are?” Pippin said, and the Man was surprised to realize the young Hobbit stood now by his side. So many times the quiet of Hobbit footsteps had taken Boromir unawares. What scouts such individuals would make, as small, quiet, and unobtrusive as they were.

“We’re not that far up into the mountains as yet,” he advised the Hobbit. “Perhaps we might have climbed two thousand feet or better by now, but no further. We have yet far to go to reach the crest of the pass, I fear, and the snow will be falling ere we get anywhere so high.”

“Really?” Pippin responded, and he danced over toward the curb of the path to look down.

“Pippin!” Boromir called, fearful for the young creature’s danger, and he dropped the pack and went forward to catch at the Hobbit’s shoulder to draw him back. Once he had Pippin pushed up against Bill’s side the Man turned to look down on him. “You have no experience in traveling in mountains, or you would know that the rocks, particularly along the edges of paths such as this, are often so weathered they could give way at any time.” Without thinking he took a half step backwards so as to more clearly see what he could of Pippin’s face. “You don’t wish to find yourself sliding off the path without warning should the edge of the path start to slip----”

But at that moment he found that the danger he’d been intent upon impressing upon Pippin had overtaken him instead. That last movement of his foot had caused a good foot or better of the outer edge of the path to break away and begin to slide downwards, and it was all he could do to stay upright as the rocky ground below him crumbled away beneath his boots. He remembered at last he ought to throw himself forward and was grateful that the wind aided in this maneuver, but he’d slid so far by then his hands were some five feet below the level of the path even as the slide came to a halt against a lower shelf. Shaking, he turned as best he might to assess his danger, and realized he had but a few inches against which the toes of his boots held him—for the moment at least; and beyond that was a sheer drop of several hundred feet. If this narrow ledge gave way, too, it was unlikely he would survive the further fall.

“Boromir!” he heard from above. He wasn’t certain which Hobbit it was who called his name, but suspected it was more than one. He was only glad that the wind kept him pressed against the slope against which he half stood, half lay.

Then he heard Frodo’s voice clearly ordering, “No, Pippin—he’s right. Stay back!”

“But if it’s dangerous for me----”

“I, at least, know what I’m doing. I’ll lie down, and if Gimli will hold my ankles, staying well back, it should be as safe as possible. I need to see if he’s all right.”

“I’m here!” Boromir called up as Frodo’s pale face peered down at him. “So far I’m safe enough. Does someone have a rope about them?”

“Rope! I knew as we’d need rope!” he could hear Sam exclaim.

Frodo looked back over his shoulder at his gardener. “You don’t have any, Sam?”

“String I’ve got, and even a pair of scissors, but no rope. I was a right ninnyhammer not to of brought some, Mr. Frodo, sir. All we have about us as I know of is Bill’s lead rope, and there’s but six feet of that as far as I can tell.”

Frodo looked down again, gauging the distance to Boromir’s arms. “I doubt that’s long enough to reach him and still leave us with enough to draw him upwards,” he advised the others. He called down to the Man, “Can you stand upright?”

Boromir swallowed, shaking his head. “No. The ledge against which I’ve stopped is too narrow, and I don’t know if it would support my weight were I to stand upright even if it were broad enough for me to do so.”

The Ringbearer nodded his head in understanding. He examined the face of the slope as well as he could. “I can see a few places I could use to climb down to you, but am uncertain what good it would do. Perhaps we ought to let things remain as they are until Aragorn, Gandalf, and Legolas return. They might see a solution I cannot.”

The soldier felt his stomach roil at the thought of having to be rescued by Aragorn, and then felt a shift under his left foot. “I dare not wait that long,” he whispered. “The rock beneath me is almost ready to slide yet again.”

After a few moments he remembered the contents of his pack. “I know of something that could help me,” he said. “In my pack, nearly at the top, is a bundle wrapped in oiled cloth. It contains iron spikes intended to be used in climbing rock faces, both the spikes and the special hammer to be used in driving the spikes into the wall. If you could lower that bundle to me….”

Frodo gave another critical look down and shook his head. “Once we have the rope wrapped about it, there’s not enough length to get it near your hands, I fear. But, if I could bring it down to you....”

Their eyes met in the gloom, and Boromir realized he had little choice.

“You’d best let me do it,” he could hear Pippin saying.

“Nonsense!” objected Merry. “You’re shaking like a leaf, and would not be able to sustain the climb. I’ll do it!”

But Frodo had rolled into a sitting position. “No, Merry—for all the Took blood in your veins, you simply don’t have the skill or experience either Pippin or I have at climbing, and I know well enough you don’t have that much of a head for heights. As for Sam—he’d go stiff with fear and would most likely fall and in doing so sweep Boromir off that ledge as he went by. No, it has to be me. Merry, can you find that bundle for me? And, Sam, best see if you can get that rope about Bill in such a fashion that he can help draw Boromir the rest of the way up once we get him high enough to grab the lead rope. That I know you can do best.”

“Yessir, Master.”

“Are these them do you think, Frodo?” Merry’s voice sounded uncertain.

Boromir could hear the clink of metal grow clearer as Frodo unfastened the bundle to check. “It has to be them. Boromir, does the hammer have a spike of its own on the reverse side from the head?”

Feeling relief, the Gondorian answered, “Yes, that is the climbing hammer. Can you fasten the bundle sufficiently to bring it down to me without the danger of losing the spikes?”

“That should be no problem.” There were a few moments of incomprehensible speech amongst the four Hobbits and the Dwarf, but at last he heard Frodo say, “I’ll hold onto the rope for the first few toeholds, and then climb free from there. Sam, use that string of yours to tie the packet to my chest—I’ll need my hands free, after all. There, that should do it.” He gave a last call down the face of the drop, “I’m coming down now, and should arrive just to your right.”

“Good enough! The ledge to my left feels as if it were in danger of giving way, also.”

The Man heard the quick intake of breath before Frodo said, “All right, then. I am turning around now. Merry, give me the rope to hold. Sam, don’t allow Bill to come any closer to the edge than that. Now, I’m starting.”

Peering up into the darkening night, Boromir could just see a pair of bare feet seeking a place of purchase before it appeared one found just enough of a crack or small ledge to allow Frodo to place his weight upon it. Then the other foot was questing for a similar advantage….

It took almost a quarter of a mark for Frodo to make his way down the steep slope until his chest was even with the Man’s head. He smiled to see that Boromir had not slipped any further downwards. “Let me stand beside you, and I can perhaps place the first spike for you. Once you feel it is able to hold you safely you should know a good deal of relief.”

In moments Frodo stood to Boromir’s right. On examining the situation regarding the Man’s feet he sighed in relief. “It’s the scree from the slide that’s slipping out from under you now, Boromir. The ledge itself appears quite stable.” He was unfastening the packet and drew out a spike and the hammer. “Now, what do I look for so as to place the spike properly, and how far should I hammer it in?”

Soon Boromir was able to climb up on the first spike, stabilizing himself with a grip on a second one, and he was directing Frodo where to place the next spike, then the one after. In a short time he was up far enough to reach the rope that had been lowered to him.

“You have that?” Sam called down. “Got it wrapped proper about your arm?”

“I am ready!” Boromir answered.

“Good enough, then. Come on, Bill. Come on, back this-away, and we’ll haul him up, slow but steady. There, that’s the lad, Bill. Keep it up. Another step, and another one. One or two more….”

Soon the Man was standing once more on the path, feeling solid, stable earth and stone beneath him, and then Frodo had scrambled up after him. “I couldn’t get all of the spikes out again, but have six of the ten. Is that all right?” the Hobbit asked.

“All right? I bless you, Master Frodo Baggins!” Boromir gabbled, almost sick with relief. “We often must leave most of our spikes behind us when we must climb rock faces. But I could not have done it without you, you and dear, stalwart Bill here!”

He clapped Frodo upon his shoulder, then threw his arms about the pony’s neck. “I have heard of how helpful of a beast you have proved in the past, Master Bill, and no longer do I question your strength or stamina. May the blessings of all of good will rain down upon you, good creature. Thank you!”

He could swear that the pony was smiling with pride at him.

He donned his pack again, glad he’d drawn the climbing pack out of his saddlebags to bring with him when he left Tharbad for the further journey north. Of all his survival gear this was one package he’d considered leaving behind, and yet had he done so he was certain he’d not have survived the night. Between the realization it was the one piece of gear he’d thought probably he could have done without that, along with Frodo’s skill and courage and Bill’s strength, had allowed him to continue on with the quest, he felt so much relief that he was able to greet the return of Aragorn with Gandalf and Legolas with aplomb.

“The road before us needed but little enough clearing,” the Ranger was saying. “But we will have to watch for further falls of rocks as we go forward.”

“Rocks and snow,” Gimli grunted as the first flakes of the latter began landing on their shoulders.

Gandalf nodded. “Yes, the snow has caught up with us at last. Let us go on then, friends.”

Boromir shepherded Merry and Pippin ahead of him, with Bill sheltering the two younger Hobbits as well as his legs as they traveled onwards. How glad he was that Elrond had allowed the pony to travel with them along this road!

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