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Memory...2 continued

Pippin settled himself in his favourite chair with a half-pint beside him. 'Where had I got to?' he asked, more to gather his thoughts than because he didn't remember. How could he ever forget that day?

'"Fool of a Took" Gandalf called me. Fool I called myself. But that was only the beginning. There were orcs still there, in Moria. Thousands of them. Of course we didn't know it at the time, but The Dark Lord had been building his forces there, creating an army. None of us, not even Gandalf, realized then how close ahead of us war was.

'So when the body went racketing down into the depths, that made them realize we were there. They soon sent a dozen or so orcs and a cave troll. I've told you all about that fight before, but more like it was a great adventure. Really, though, it was very frightening. Boromir had taught us, or more like tried to teach us, how to use our swords, but it's a different thing with great ugly orcs baring their yellow fangs and screaming as they run at you. Even though we won that fight, or rather the big people did, we didn't have much hope of getting away after that.

'Gandalf led us toward the Bridge of Khazad-Dum, but the orcs soon followed. We had to run across a great hall with many pillars in it, and the orcs came out of holes in the ceiling, the walls, even the floor, scuttling like cockroaches promised a great feast. They were screaming in fury and delight and had us surrounded before we got half way across the hall. There we were, thousands of orcs all around us, every one of them screeching and baring its fangs in the anticipation of whatever they had planned for us. I didn't think we were going to get out of there, though I still hoped Gandalf would throw some magic at them.

He paused and took a long pull at his glass, his eyes dark with a faraway look of sorrow. 'What do I regret? That dratted skeleton that I touched was the cause of all of this. It burns still in my heart, that moment of thoughtless action - just a touch, it was. For what was to come next is hard to tell. At the far end of the hall we became aware of a sound as of rushing wind and roaring flame, and we could see a glow, as if fire could walk and was coming toward us. The orcs themselves seemed afraid of this new devilry, as Boromir called it. As it came closer, the orcs scattered and fled back to their filthy holes, screeching now with fear. As Bilbo once said, we were out of the frying pan and into the fire. Gandalf and Legolas knew what it was. A Balrog, a demon of the ancient world.' Pippin shuddered at the unwelcome memory. ' "This is beyond your strength," says Gandalf. "Run!" he tells us.

'We ran with our hearts in our mouths. My legs never felt shorter than on that run. We little ones had a hard time keeping up, but the fire roaring behind us spurred us on. We reached long winding stone stairs, stairs leading down several levels toward the bridge and the East Door. Strider led the way, then Legolas leaped in front of him. Gandalf stayed at the back. My heart was in my mouth but I had no time to think. Not then, anyway. We came to a great gap and had trouble getting us all across.' Pippin looked at Faramir, who was searching his face with shadowed eyes, feeling his father's pain. He raised his glass to his lips but lowered it again, forgetting to drink.

'Somehow we all got across.' He brushed his hand wearily across his eyes. 'No matter how we ran, that fiery creature followed. The flames grew larger and we could feel the heat as it came closer behind. The whole of Moria was filled with a sound like thunder, rain and wind altogether, and the incessant booming of the drums, and I could not hear if any spoke. I could not hear myself crying, but I knew I was. When we reached the bridge at last, the creature - I wish not to say its name - was so close behind us that not one of us hesitated to run full speed across the narrow causeway of stone. I reached the other side, finally beginning to have hope we might get to the door, but when we all gathered on that side, the creature was on the bridge and Gandalf had stopped to face it.

'My heart stopped, I am sure, while I watched Gandalf battle this demon. Everything happened so quickly I do not remember all, though Merry and I did later talk about it. I know that Gandalf wrapped himself in a white light that stayed the Balrog's sword and he called words that caused the bridge to break.

'For a moment we rejoiced, but even as Gandalf turned away from the abyss into which the evil was falling, its whip lashed upward and twisted around his legs.' Faramir leaned forward and took the glass from Pippin's hand as his grip loosened. He put his hand on his knee.

'Gandalf fell. He looked at us once. "Fly, you fools," he cried at us before the whip pulled him down.' Pippin closed his eyes and seemed not ready to continue for several minutes. 'Fly you fools. Even then he thought first of us and still managed to be rude!' Pippin smiled for the first time. Then his smile faded. 'That was the worst moment of all. The very worst moment.

'I could hear Frodo screaming over the Doom, Doom, Doom of the drums that were still beating as we all ran up the last stairs into the blinding white of daylight. We stumbled outside safe but destroyed. I know not how long we wept, each in his own way, until at last Aragorn stirred us to move on toward the shelter of Lothlorien.

'Yes, that is of all things the one I most regret. I lost more than Gandalf that day. I lost my assurance that all would end well, my innocence, you might say. But not one member of the Fellowship from that day until this ever uttered a word of blame to me. I've had to do that for myself.