The wind was brisk and cold here upon the high wall of the cliff where Pippin and Lalaith clung to the cracks and crevices of the mountain, inching ever closer to their goal. The air was cleaner here at least, Lalaith admitted to herself, keeping her eyes fixed upon the cold grey stone in front of her face as the brisk wind caught at her Elven cloak and her hair that she had not braided back.
Neither spoke, but Pippin, climbing the rock above her, was breathing hard. He was nervous, Lalaith sensed, and for his sake, she could not let him see her own fear. Inching upward, she found another jutting crag of rock, and gripped it hard, hoisting herself upward below the young Hobbit. She did not dare to look down. She would not let herself even think of doing that. She only focused upon her next step as she shoved her foot into a ragged crack upon the wall and drew another fraction upward. How much further-,
“Lalaith, here we are!” Pippin whispered fiercely.
She jerked her head upward, surprised to see a clear ledge above her, and the stone pergola that sheltered the stacks of wood and kindling waiting to be set afire.
Pippin grinned down at her, though it was a tense smile, and his eyes flashed over the valley that she knew stretched below her. His face drained of all healthy color then, taking on a decided shade of green as his wide eyes dilated unevenly. He shut his eyes and gulped hard, hugging tightly to the corner of the rock where he was perched.
“Lalaith-,” he muttered his voice hardly his own, and he tettered on his precarious perch for a moment.
Lalaith’s limbs stiffened at this, and suddenly forgetting how high she was, scampered lightly up the wall with the inborn ease of a young Elfling until she balanced upon the cliff at Pippin’s shoulder.
“Pippin, don’t worry,” she urged, clapping one hand upon the shoulder of the dizzy Hobbit, and jostling him until he opened his eyes and gazed into hers, his head still lolling about heavily.
“O-, oooh, Lalaith,” Pippin groaned, his gaze sneeking past her and downward toward the white tower of Ecthelion below them, and to the Pelennor fields that she did not doubt stretched out impossibly far in the valley below, “I’m not sure I can-,”
“Pippin,” she growled “look at me. Look at me!” and the wide eyes of the Hobbit complied.
“Think only of what you must do, not of how high we have climbed. We are not far from our goal. The ledge is just above us-,”
“That’s easy for you to say!” Pippin whined. “You’re an Elf. It is impossible for you to fall!”
Lalaith smiled at this, and shook her head softly before she murmured, “And you will not fall either, Pippin. I will not let you. Now go on.”
The young Hobbit gulped hard at this, and nodded, scrambling up the last few feet of cliffside, and Lalaith watched him go, giving his last furry foot an extra shove as the Hobbit finally reached the stone terrace where the unlit beacon waited. Lalaith slowly followed after the Hobbit who ducked behind the far end of the pyre peeking from beyond the corner at something that was not yet in her sight. She was glad for the sight of level stone, and the unlit pyre, rafts of ragged edged branches lashed together, and stack one upon the other, with mounds of straw shoved in between to give greater ease to the beacon’s lighting. But when the sight of the two young armored guards came into her view, she ducked back down again.
Glancing up into Pippin’s eyes, she saw his understanding. He was small enough that he could stay the more easily hidden. But if she joined him, she might be seen. Yet he needed to climb the pyre to light it, and the rope between them would not allow enough slack. The Hobbit teased the tangled knot of the rope at his waist before he glanced at Lalaith who peered at him over the ledge of rock, and offered her a helpless look and a shrug, indicating rapidly that she untie her end.
Lalaith sighed silently, and wordlessly complied, slipping the knot undone, and unwinding it from her waist. She watched from her perch beneath the edge of the terrace, her eyes peeking over the ledge as Pippin, trailing the rope behind him like a little mouse’s tail, scrambled up the ragged corner of the pyre.
She flinched as Pippin reached the top. She could see, through a narrow space between the far stone pillar and the edge of the pyre the two soldiers together. One was sitting, handing the other a small wooden vessel. Their voices were too soft to hear. If even one of them looked over here now, he would see Pippin-,
Lalaith stifled a sudden gasp in her throat at what seemed a loud snap above her as of a breaking rope, followed by a noisome splash. What was Pippin doing? The sound had seemed to her loud enough to alert the whole valley below them. But the soldiers seemed not to hear.
Another clatter followed by a soft puff, as of a flame igniting, caused a leap of gladness in her heart. Pippin had tossed the lamp into the kindling, and now the pyre was alight! But only a moment later, her cheer was stifled at the sudden flames that licked upward from the peak of the pyre. Pippin was still up there! She saw him now, stumble to the corner of the pyre that was now leaping with flames, and in his hurry, he slipped and tumbled backward, and with a small muffled cry, fell outward into space. Lalaith’s heart in a wild urge to deny the horror of what she was seeing, seemed to stop within her breast.
Downward Pippin seemed to float through the air as time contracted painfully about Lalaith. His face written with a look not of fear but of pleading question caught her eye as he fell past. He was not so afraid as he was simply expectant. He believed she would save him. But in her own fear, could she? Clinging to the cold face of the rock, bound in the bonds of her own crippling anxiety?
In the splintered moments that seemed ages she remembered a time as a child nearing her fortieth year when she had climbed a tree on a dare from Elrohir, and in her aching fear of heights, she had not the courage to let go of the branches within the topmost trees and climb down again. It was not until Elrohir, in his guilt, had led his father and Mithrandir who had come to visit their sheltered valley to the place where the child sat high in the trees that she was able to find the courage to climb down once again. The gentle words of the wizard and her uncle had at last coaxed her down, guiding her all the way as she came until she found herself safe in Elrond’s arms while her uncle gave his son a cold, silent glare over her shivering shoulder as the wizard gave the young Elf lord a stern reprimand. But neither of them were here now. Her uncle was in the distant vale of Imladris, her home that seemed almost a mere memory now, and Gandalf was down in the city.
My child, the power is in you, to defeat this fear. It has always been in you. The life of one of Iluvatar’s dear children rests within your hands. The voice in her mind was calm and steadying, and Lalaith knew, within the core of her being, that her mother’s voice spoke the truth. Her fear was only there by Sauron’s making. And dear Pippin, her ever faithful friend and comforter-, she could not let him be dashed upon the ragged rocks below.
Crushing her fear beneath a cry of determination, Lalaith jammed one fist into a narrowed crevace, and with both feet and her free hand, pushed away from the wall of stone, and swung in a wide arch out into the cold space of air, and caught in her straining fingertips, the frayed end of the rope as it fluttered past.
Her back crashed gracelessly into the wall of ragged stone, and Pippin grunted in discomfort as his weight yanked hard upon the drawn rope around his midsection as her head snapped against the cruel rock, stars flickering before her vision. The little Hobbit’s little body hit the ragged stone cliff below her with a rough thump and he grunted with discomfort and moaned softly as he swung slightly outward into space, his solid Hobbit weight ripping mercilessly through Lalaith’s taut arms. The rope slipped, slithered with a hiss through her clenched fist, and Pippin, falling again, gasped fearfully as Lalaith strained to twine what was left of the rope, around her straining hand, heedless of the numbing ache that the rough hempen blade of the rope lashed across her palm and her now whitened fingers. Her fingertips above her head, jammed in the crack of stone, were cold and numb as well as they carried both her weight, as well as Pippin’s, while her body twisted outward, flailing over empty air. And in this precarious position, her gaze was drawn unwillingly to the valley below her. The silver tower of Ecthelion rose above the highest tier of the city far below her, and beyond that, stretching outward into the mists that had cleared back from Minas Tirith, though they still obscured Osgiliath, were the brown Pelennor fields. Infinitely below her they seemed to fall, and wide into the fog hazed distance they stretched. For a moment, an image flashed in her mind of a wide chasm plunging down into the heart of the earth, edged with cliffs of black cruel stone as flickering waves of undulating heat lapped up at her, a river of cruel boiling lava in the deep distance, seething between the charred cavernous walls.
But then a breath of cool air upon her face seemed to sooth away the wretched memory, and she found herself again hanging upon the cliff face, Pippin’s weight dangling from the rope in one hand her other hand stubbornly clinging to a ragged handhold above her, though the muscles in her hand and fingers burned with the effort.
“Lalaith, it’s alright, hold on,” Pippin called below her, breathless and shaking, but otherwise uninjured. “Here, let me-, ah, there.”
The heavy burden of his weight finally eased, and glancing below her, Lalaith could see that he had kicked himself about until he once again caught hold of the ragged cliff wall with his hands, and his bare little feet. Valar bless the sturdy little Hobbit! He hardly seemed to have had the air knocked out of him.
The weight at last mercifully relieved, Lalaith twisted herself, rolling over the cliff face until her rope twined hand found a jutting projection of stone to grasp onto, and her feet found firm pockets within the rocky cracks upon the wall, mercifully easing the burning pain that had knifed through the muscles of her arms from which her own weight along with that of Pippin’s had hung for so many long agonizing moments. She drew in a ragged breath, and buried her face against the cold rock, finding herself trembling violently now. Her spent adrenaline, coupled with the knowledge that she had barely saved Pippin from a dreadful death, shuddered through her, and she now faced fully the realization of what she had done. She had snatched Pippin out of the very jaws of death itself in spite of her own terror. Never before had she believed she could ever defeat such an overwhelming fear. But somehow, she had.
And as she clung to the cliff face, regaining her breath, the quiet knowledge stole over her heart that one more step had been taken in her defeat of Sauron’s cruelty to her long ago. One more step that would have never been taken had she never left Imladris with Legolas and the rest of the Fellowship.
But she had not fully defeated Sauron. Not yet. For Sauron’s evil still endured, that black binding power that had tried to destroy her so many centuries before. And she had as yet to face him fully. To look into the very eye of the dark lord, and not fear him. She had yet to do this, to face the full of his evil and yet know without question that the power that lived behind her was greater than anything Sauron could ever possess. But that time would come. Of that, she did not doubt.
“Lalaith, you alright?” Pippin called from below her, his voice laced with concern.
Above them, she became aware of the roaring conflagration as the beacon Pippin had set afire grew in might, licking up and around the shelter of its stone roof.
Twisting her head, Lalaith gazed at the white peak of Amon Dîn across the deep brown valley beneath her. And as a distant yellow glow at its peak sparked and grew, licking upward into the somber grey clouds that roiled across the sky, she smiled.
Her smile grew to a full grin, and slowly, her trembling eased, and the ache within her arms. The beacons were lit. The Rohirrim would come, and Legolas with them.
“Lalaith?” Pippin called again, his voice rising in concern.
“I am better now, Pippin.” She called down, almost cheerfully now, glancing over her shoulder. “Come, let’s go back down to Gandalf.”
And with that, the two friends began to make their way steadily and cautiously down the cold, windswept cliff face, back the way they had come.