A Diamond In The Storm

1.Long Cleeve In Winter

February 21, 1427

The swirling blankness of the blizzard surrounded him, the biting wind and icy kiss of the snow stinging even past every layer of warm clothes on his body. The haze was dimming to black at the edges of his vision and he knew he was probably going to freeze to death in the next hour unless he happened on some shelter from the cold. He clung tightly to his pony’s back in the vain hope she would go on longer than he could, perhaps even long enough to save his life. A sudden burst of wind shook him and muscles cramped by continuous shivering failed to move to regain his balance. He hit the ground hard, half-sinking into the snow, stiff fingers still gripping the pony’s reins. Head forced down close to his, she wuffled warm air against his face, melting the snowflakes that settled on his cheeks.

“Sorry, old girl,” Pippin murmured, closing his eyes.

It seemed to him that howling voices came winging on the wind as he sank into his final sleep, and he smiled at the last illusions his mind had conjured to start his frozen limbs into action. Darkness fell.


Voices teased at his consciousness, the words flitting lightly across his mind.

“Is he alive?”

“Just barely… He’s gone down deep.”

“We’ve got to get him warm. There’s a supply cache nearby.”

“That’s going to be tight quarters.”

“The tighter the better. What about the mare?”

“I’ll ride her out and come back when things clear.”

“It’s too thick! You’ll loose your way!”

“The day hasn’t dawned yet this wolf could get lost on the Moor! Just keep him alive till then.”

Pippin felt himself lifted across his pony’s back. His eyes slid open and he glimpsed for a moment gray-green eyes close to his face.

“Hang on just a while longer, just a little while,” a soft voice murmured into the darkness as he blacked out again.


The weight against his chest compressed his breathing, though not as much as he’d expected when the troll had fallen on him.

“Damn troll’s getting lighter…” he muttered, weakly shoving at the warm body in the darkness.

“What’s he saying?”

“I don’t know, something about a troll. He must be delirious.”

The weight shifted and small hands pressed against his face.

“He’s not fevered…” the soft voice murmured.

“Maybe he’s crazy. It would explain why he was wandering through a blizzard.”

A small breath of icy air brushed past him and he shivered. The weight pressed down against him again and the warmth was well worth the discomfort.

“Strange, I didn’t think it snowed this far south…” he said, dizzily falling back to sleep.


The sharp pains lancing through his extremities tore him fully from the warm haze of his dream-filled doze. The sensation that had begun as a scattered pinprick sting had blossomed into dagger-point agony. Writhing against the warm bodies that lay about and over him, it felt like his fingers and toes were on fire.

“Make it stop,” he whimpered, and gentle hands clasped his own together against his chest.

“It’s alright,” the soft voice, a woman’s, said in the dark. “This is good actually. It means the blood has gone back, and the feeling with it. With a little luck you’ll keep all your fingers and toes.”

“Luck indeed!” a low growl came from his left. “Real luck would have seen him clear of that storm, and me warm in my own bed.”

“And you’d be complaining of the lack of company then,” replied a younger male voice to his right. A wordless grunt was the other’s only answer.

They had each snaked a strong arm beneath his head and neck, the older of the two supporting half of his weight against his chest, keeping most of Pippin’s shivering body from the cold ground.

“Pay them no mind,” the woman said, helping him to sit up. She pressed a leather cup to his lips. “Here, drink this.” The water, warmed between their bodies, slid sweetly down his parched throat, and a little of the dizziness that had come with movement passed. The pain ground on, spreading its fiery waves under his skin, hardly more bearable for the good portent it signaled.

“Thank you,” he murmured, “but a spot of brandy would do wonders to dull the ache…”

“And kill you off quickly too,” she replied, pushing him back down into the nest of cloaks and blankets the others had arranged to shield him from the icy rock below. “Besides,” she added, laying across his body once more, “All I need now is to be trapped in a four by six supply cache with three drunken idiots for the next six hours.”

The soft fur that lined her cloak brushed against his cheek as she settled her head on his chest and her hood fell forward to cover her hair. The storm outside raged on.


Some sound on the edge of consciousness tugged him insistently towards wakefulness. The wind still howled about above their heads, but there was a distinctly eerie note in its echoing wail. It came again, noticeably closer and clearer, the yipping call of a wolf pack on the hunt. Pippin scrambled to his knees, dislodging his sleeping companions from the tight pile they had formed around him.

“Wolves!” he cried, before crashing to the ground, having knocked his head hard against the low ceiling of their shelter.

“Well, of course they’re wolves,” his female rescuer grumbled, fingers searching his scalp for whatever damage he’d done himself by standing so precipitously. “But not the kind as will eat you. Can’t you tell the difference?” He barely heard her past the ringing in his ears. “Are you all right, or have you dashed yourself silly?” she asked, annoyance coloring her concern.

“M’alright… That hurts!” he said, wincing as she pressed closed the small gash on the crown of his head.

“Good! Be still while we get things set to leave,” she ordered.

As the others shifted about, gathering cloaks and satchels, Pippin sat very still, eyes closed and dizzy head in his hands, trying to stay out of their way without moving an inch. The space was tight indeed, and the three northern hobbits bumped and jostled each other, tossing good-natured insults at each other as they worked.

Before long, the sound of hooves and footsteps were heard outside and a wedge of blinding light blazed into the tiny space. Pippin caught a momentary glimpse of his gray-cloaked companions. The dark-haired hobbit to his left nodded briefly in greeting and the round-faced youngster at his side grinned back at him from under a thatch of wild brassy curls, but the woman knelt between Pippin and the open door and he could only see her slim shadow against the light, head haloed in fiery red. A large shadow blocked the entryway for a moment as a newcomer crawled in and the door was closed again.

“So I hear you’re still alive, stranger! None too worse for being left at my sister’s tender mercies I hope,” his voice boomed into the confines of the supply cache. A warm bundle was dropped into Pippin’s lap, which unfolded into a fur-lined cloak and, by the strangest of mercies, boots. He quickly set about slipping into the strange but welcome footwear and outer garments as the others spoke unconcernedly around him.

“Is he well enough to move then?”

“Well, he dashed his head on the roof just now.”

“Now then, my friend,” the loud-voiced hobbit said, plucking Pippin’s sleeve to get his attention. “Do you still know the wheres and whats of the world or are you daft?”

“I’ve heard tell I was daft before I ever hit my head, but I’m not entirely sure where I am, actually.”

“Where do you think you are?”

“I was on my way to Long Cleeve.”

“You’re a tad off the road. What ever possessed you to wander across the Moor?”

“I… I was in a hurry, I thought to cut straight across rather than wind about for two days on the road.”

“Not daft, but crazy then. You southerners never learn,” his questioner said with a laugh. He clasped Pippin’s hand with calloused fingers and gave it a firm shake. “Erangrim Took, at your service. Welcome to the North Farthing.”

“Peregrin Took, at your kind mercy, cousin,” Pippin replied.

“Well, now, that explains a lot,” the woman muttered under her breath as she brushed past her brother to crawl out of the cave.

“Why do I get the feeling I should have just played dumb?” Pippin wondered aloud, not altogether pleased that some rumors and tales about him had reached even this far north. His task would be far more difficult to accomplish if he had to combat the sum total of his misspent youth to gain the aid he sought.

The hobbits around him laughed and pushed him towards the open door. A stinging wind skirled through a high blue sky and swept full force across the flattened expanse of the moor. Six shaggy ponies waited nearby, and Pippin was helped onto one, bundled between Erangrim’s burly arms.

“Blast it all, you southerners are getting big!” he snarled, realizing he couldn’t see past his charge. “You’ll have to ride behind and try not to fall off this time.”

“I can ride on my own, you know,” Pippin said, dragging himself up and settling as comfortably as he could behind his cousin’s broad back.

“Not without my sister’s say so, lad, and she’s unlikely to give it right now.”

“How long until we reach Long Cleeve?” Pippin asked, feeling too keenly the cold breath of the wind.

“Two hours. I’ll make them as short as I can.”

Staring around at the stamping ponies that waited on their riders, Pippin suddenly remembered his equine companion with a stab of guilt.

“My mare… Is she…?”

“Warm and safe, along with all your gear.”

“Thank you, she’s a good lass, I’d hate to lose her.”

“Aye, she took a little convincing to leave you, but she plowed on through like a trouper. You breed them strong south of the Road.”

“Oh, she’s foreign born. Straight off the plains of Rohan.”

The hobbit in front of him grunted in surprise, ending the conversation as the little troupe kneed their mounts into the teeth of the wind.

Coming up on Long Cleeve in the hard grip of a winter snow was a potentially deadly experience. The rolling flatland of the high moor was interrupted by a long gash, sawn deep into the surrounding land by some ancient waterway that had long since changed its course. The settlement wound from between the edges of the rent it was named for to the narrow valley of two adjoining hills. From the moor, the precipitous plunge into that sheltered space was invisible until the very last second, and at a gallop, Pippin was sure the unwary would easily fall to their death. The few humps of rock that lay upon the edge, barely distinguishable beneath the snow, where likely the only markers the locals needed to remember the danger. Turning west along the widening gap, he saw the lights of many homes dug into the cliff-like walls and the gentler slopes of the hills. Outbuildings and barns lay under deep snow yet untouched by the residents, though a few youngsters chased each other nearby. Coming down the long shoulder of the southern hill, Erangrim took them east again, deep into the cleft to a large red door, set into the northern wall. Several huge, double shuttered windows, painted the same flaming crimson hue, flanked the entrance in careful ranks to either side. Solid oak and heavy drapes parted to admit them, ponies and all, into a large circular space whose walls were dotted with many doors. Their mounts were immediately led away and the riders quickly ushered past brilliant red curtains into a blazing warm chamber, filled with light and noise. A great babble of calls and welcomes fused around them as the returning hobbits were stripped of their outwear and pushed to the low benches by the fireplace.

The red-haired lass that had thus far taken charge of him set to doing the same for Pippin, after shedding her cloak and boots by the door.

“Well, now, Diamond, you’ve caught yourself a tall one this time,” said a round little woman who, by her tone and her gray-green gaze, was like as not her mother. “Come, lad, before she takes ill herself fussing over you.”

“Mother! I’m not fussing…”

“Tut tut! You sit yourself down, and try to remember you’re a lady, for all you run with the pack like a common flit.”

Pippin watched, hiding his amusement, as the fiery lass seethed on the bench across from him, and the others in the room snickered into their cups at what appeared to be a long-standing argument between them.

“Now, Mara, be kind. Lets get the poor lad thawed before you sell him off at market,” said a broad-shouldered hobbit, whose ginger-gray curls hinted at a fox-red past. He crouched before Pippin where he shivered in his steaming clothes and examined his hands and feet. “You must forgive my wife. After four biddable daughters and three adoring sons, Diamond puts her at wits end. Well, you look none the worse for wear, my friend. Erangrim told me you had the foresight to cover your feet before they froze; not every hobbit would have had that thought.”

“It isn’t the first snow storm I’ve seen, though it moved rather faster than I expected.”

“Well, you’re lucky they found you at all. Welcome to Long Cleeve and to my house. My name is Angrim Took, and I hope you’ve brought a song or two with you out of the storm,” the older hobbit said with a short bow.

Pippin rose to bow unsteadily to his host, feeling the eyes of every hobbit in the room fixed on his and Angrim’s faces. “Peregrin Took, at your service. In truth, the pleasure is all mine.”

A short breath of silence crackled between them as the older hobbit looked him up and down with narrowed eyes.

“Well met, nephew,” he finally said with a smile. “Let’s get you warmed up.”

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