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Recaptured!: 100. Dead or Alive
Additional Material: MarigoldG & J. R. R. Tolkien
Gandalf scarcely believed his ears when Pippin screamed at him across the Great Hall. The hobbit was so stricken with grief, added to which his hearing was still so very sensitive that he had covered his ears and he had confined himself to whispers up until now.
The wizard, with Legolas close behind him, raced back to Pippin's side catching his shoulder in alarm. "What is it, Peregrin? What's wrong?"
"Gandalf, Merry breathded! He did! I think he go 'live!" Pippin was rubbing Merry's hand with both of his and looking anxiously from his cousin to the wizard.
Gandalf looked sceptical at first, but the rope had been emanating some kind of power – was it possible? The wizard held his staff out towards Merry's pale face so that it was close to his mouth and, after a heartbeat that seemed to last an eternity, the top began to glow with white light. "He's alive!" Gandalf breathed out, a long sigh. "Thanks be to The Valar."
He bent down over Merry and felt his cheek, which was still cold and lifeless. Then he placed his fingers upon the hobbit's neck and found a flicker of a pulse. Legolas had knelt by Merry and reached out to touch the wound on his chest. His hand came away stained with red. "He is bleeding again, we must bind the injury soon." Legolas touched the sympathetic cut on his own body, "I feel the hurt returning with Merry's life-force. The weapon that made this wound was a Morgul blade, but I do not know if there is a splinter left within."
"Then we need great haste indeed." Gandalf started to gather Merry up, the purple cloak wrapped around him as he was enfolded in the wizard's safe arms. "We must hurry to the Houses of Healing."
"Merry will go be good, won't he Gandalf?" Pippin stood up so that he could keep hold of Merry's hand as he was lifted up, cradled in Gandalf's arms.
"I don't know, Pippin," Gandalf's worried face was not as encouraging as his words, "but it is looking more promising than a moment ago, isn't it? Now let go of Merry for a moment so I can carry him. We must hurry."
Gimli stood before the City gates and surveyed the troops at his command. He saw Prince Imrahil leave the head of his battalion to join with the other lordly knights and leaders to ride toward the Great Gate which now lay in ruin. The dwarf sent Lieutenant Malwyn to greet them and request they join him in council in the outer courtyard of the City.
"Who is in charge here?" Imrahil looked about the yard expecting to see Denethor or Mithrandir. The other leaders stood holding their steeds or remained on horseback, impatient to be off to battle, but also needing to know what strategy, if any, had been planned.
"It is I, Gimli son of Gloin, that now has temporary command of the City troops." the dwarf felt a little out of his depth in such exalted company but, true to his race, would never show it. "The Lord Denethor gave a written warrant for command to Prince Legolas Greenleaf and he is called away and has deputised me in his place." Gimli decided not to report the suicide of Lord Denethor at this time, as it could only cause strife and confusion.
"Well Master Dwarf, Gimli son of Gloin, what are your plans for the engagement?" Forlong the Lord of Lossarnach asked. He took most things in his stride, including a dwarf commanding a City of men, in place of an elf, who had in all likelihood replaced a wizard. "Have you a strategy?"
"The Rohirrim already engage the enemy on the fields of the Pelennor," Gimli waved a hand towards the southeast, and are joined by the Dúnedain. "The Guard of Minas Tirith can hold the City, if the main thrust of the attack is abated on the field. I would ask that you ride to reinforce the field to the south. Many new enemies assail the Riders of Rohan by the hour."
Húrin The Tall leapt back into the saddle, "Very well General Gimli, but have you no news of any kind of victory or is this battle as hopeless as it seems?"
"Indeed, your very Gate is shattered." Imrahil added, "and your leadership seems to be caught in a strange kind of dynasty, without meaning offence to you good sir."
"We manage as well as our fortune allows, Sir Prince," Gimli returned politely, "and as for victories, even now the Lord Aragorn, who could lay claim to the throne of Gondor, fights with his company of the Dúnedain." Gimli looked around at the proud faces of the leaders from the neighbouring realms and added with reverence, "but the greatest blow today, perhaps of the whole battle, has been struck already, and I would doubt any here could equal it."
"Come General Dwarf, are you telling us the minstrels have already their tales of valour, before we even reach the field?" Imrahil was perplexed at the small leader's serious stance.
"Indeed Sir, it would not be in your power to match it, for you are a great knight with manly strength of arm. This blow was struck by a fair lady and a halfling – together they slew the Witch King of Angmar and the halfling, Meriadoc son of Saradoc of The Shire lost his life in the struggle – my companions and I are still in much grief for his loss."
"Was that the rending cry that sundered the Overheaven with it's sound?" Forlong gasped in wonder.
"We believe it was such." Gimli confirmed. "Even as the lady struck the deathblow the halfling battled the demon in his soul and won the fight – with his own sacrifice."
"Then we must hurry as you direct, good General." Imrahil turned to the other leaders. "It will as Master Gimli says, be a difficult feat to match. Let us to battle without delay! There is honour to be won and today is a day for heroes indeed!"
Legolas carried Pippin through the streets balanced against his hip. The hobbit did not protest as, with his sore and bandaged feet, he had not been able to keep pace with the wizard and he did not want to lose sight of Merry. So when the elf had come back for him, after Gandalf had hurried on, anxious to get Meriadoc to the Houses of Healing as quickly as possible, Pippin had gladly held out his arms to be lifted up.
They reached the Houses of Healing where the door was opened by the healer who had sent them away before. "Why do you bring this perian here?" He chided, "This is no place for the departed. He should be taken to the ossuary."
"We were overly hasty!" Gandalf shouldered his way into the building. "This hero of battle lives yet. I suggest you find him the fairest bed your house has left and summon your most skilful leeches to tend to his wounds."
The man stood aside and then ushered the wizard with his burden along a passage and opened the door to a fair room where Merry was gently laid upon the bed. "He is yet very pale and his hands are as ice." The healer had quickly summoned other help before following Gandalf so that he could carry out his own examination of the small patient.
"No I think it is just that hand, his right, the one that struck the blow." Legolas was close behind, still carrying Pippin. "I felt it grow numb even as the sword found its mark."
"Yes, it true." Pippin wriggled out of the elf's arms and tried to scramble up on to the bed to see Merry better. Legolas lifted him up. "I feeled – felted - felt it too. When we – when Merry stabbed the Wraith Lord – it go numbed – numb!"
The healer began to gently loosen Merry's clothing and, taking shears, carefully cut away the shredded tabard and jerkin until he could see the horrific gash diagonally from the hobbit's left shoulder down across to his right hip. Pippin and Gandalf gasped simultaneously and Legolas pressed his hand and arm against his own chest that had bled in unison with the wound and was now seeping blood through the binding once more.
Suddenly the elf let out a shocked cry and chokingly stammered, "I-I f-feel so-something beside the pain! It pulls a shadow across my mind – Merry! I-I… he is sinking into the darkness…"
"Legolas! What you go feelded?" Pippin voice was close to panic. "What happen at Merry?"
Gandalf roughly pushed the healer out of the way and pulled Merry upright, although his head still lolled backwards. He took the hobbit's chin in his large hand and shook his face and then, when that produced no response, he struck his cheek with the flat of his hand and then with the back of his hand in the opposite direction. "Merry!" the wizard growled, "Wake up! Listen to me? Meriadoc Brandybuck wake up now!"
"What you do?" Pippin tried to catch Gandalf's hand to stop him striking Merry again. "Not hit Merry! He's ill – please Gandalf!"
Gandalf dropped Merry back onto the bed and caught hold of Pippin by the shoulders, pushing his face close to the frightened hobbit's. "We have to rouse him, Pippin. You and Legolas!" He turned to the elf who was leaning across the bed breathing raggedly but trying to compose himself. "You both have to find him now!"
"Yes in we heads!" Pippin readily agreed. "Legolas you go do it now?"
Legolas took a deep breath and pulled himself up to face Gandalf, "What must we do?" He was not certain exactly what was going on, although like Pippin he immediately readied himself for whatever was needed, but felt a little guidance would not go amiss.
"I am sorry, my apologies to both of you." Gandalf realised that Pippin and Legolas could not know what he knew. "You remember Pippin what happened to Frodo at Weathertop?"
Pippin nodded, his eyes widening with horror. "Do."
"I fear that Merry has taken a fragment from the Morgul blade and that if he cannot fight the effects in time he will become a wraith." Gandalf waved the healer who was still hovering anxiously, away. "You have to try and find him – his mind – and bring him back to his body or else he will certainly succumb to the Dark Lord's will."
"But can you do nothing Gandalf?" Legolas asked even as he settled down to take Pippin's face in his hands, "To heal him of the wound that is."
"I do not know." Gandalf shook his head, "I must probe the wound to find any splinter that may remain, but what is most important is that you find Merry so that he can fight against the power that will try to possess him, else he will become a wraith – lesser than the Nazgûl, but like them and under their command and torment."
Legolas gazed into Pippin's eyes and together they melded into the ether of their thoughts.
'where go we to find mer?'
'I don't know for certain, little one. Try calling to him."
'merry! merry! come back at i! please to say things at i!'
'Merry, my dear heart… can you hear us? Try to answer wherever you are.'
They waited… a moment… a pulse… a little more… wait…everything was black and empty. An ice cold wind whipped around their feet and the shivers ran all the way through their bodies and chilled their hearts.
'merr-rrryy!' Pippin cried desperately, 'merrrrrryyyyy! come back at i! come back you pip my merrr. '
A small sound, too little to be real, too small to be heard by the casual mind. 'pip?'
'Merry! hear i – please say more at i!'
'not know how… too lost pip…it cold… so cold like ice… can't not come…'
'take hand i mer… feel hand it go pull you back… membrer it feel… touch you…feel it warm… take hand i… please mer…'
'taked it… no gone slip… not be here… you go back pip… can't come i…'
And gradually the last few words had become softer until Merry's voice faded into oblivion. Legolas and Pippin waited for what felt like several eternities until at last they felt Gandalf shaking them into the waking world. "Come back, you must come back now, both of you." Pippin shuddered as he opened his eyes, his body felt chilled to the marrow and even Legolas trembled a little with cold, his cheeks blue and his skin icy to the touch.
Pippin looked at Merry's still comatose figure. "Gandalf we heared he. Merry w-was there and then he wented – went, he couldn't not stay. It c-cold as hundered wintrers in th-there where we lookted - looked. " Pippin's voice was trembling, partly with emotion and partly from the bitter cold that still invaded his whole body.
"That you found him at all is a good sign." Gandalf looked critically at the little hobbit. He was exhausted and almost as pale as Merry. "We will try again later Pippin, but at the moment I doubt you have the strength to call him back. I will do what I can for the wound and try to slow the poison. That may help somewhat."
"…and athelas" Pippin added remembering. "Strider used athelas on Frodo."
"So he did." Gandalf agreed, "I have already asked for some to be brought and even if there is no fragment of the blade, it is a dire injury and will need much skill to repair." Although the wizard was still frantically worried about Merry's condition he wanted to calm Pippin as much as possible as he knew he was Merry's best chance of being brought back from the abyss he was undoubtedly trapped in.
More healers arrived laden with bandages, hot water, towels and healing, scented herbs. The first healer, whose name was Dysgwr, began to gently bathe the wound while another, a woman named Ioreth, cut away the rest of Merry's clothes and made a careful examination of his hurts. There were various bruises and cuts, especially a deep scar across his head which had been cut and reopened again and was now starting to heal over. His right arm and hand were cold like ice and looked slightly withered and grey in colour. Throughout the examination and after, when the hurts were cleansed and bandaged, Pippin stayed at Merry's side, rubbing his cold hand and breathing upon it to try and make it warm, but to no avail. He was constantly moved from side to side by the healers but, after a warning look from Mithrandir, none of them attempted to remove the small knight from the bed.
Eventually, when Merry was clean and bandaged and clad in a large white nightshirt, Gandalf tried to persuade Pippin to have some attention for himself. "There is nothing more anyone can do for the moment, Pippin," he said kindly. "We must watch and wait for the time being. But you should let the healers look at your feet, they are badly burned and you still have a broken foot. Also you must let us examine your ears, is your hearing still causing you pain?"
"But Gandalf – Merry?" It was all the argument the exhausted hobbit could manage for the moment. So Legolas took his hands and pulled him to sit on the end of the big bed, as the wizard shook his head sadly and left the room.
"We'll make you more comfortable Pippin and the healers can see your feet just as well here." said Legolas as he and Dysgwr unwrapped the bandages from the sore feet and began to peel off the grand but stiff armour that Pippin had been weighed down with ever since Denethor had decreed he should wear it and given him his knighthood. The bandages had stuck in places and had to be eased off very gently with warm water and the burns were painful and blistered.
As Legolas removed Pippin's shirt he saw that he too now had the stigmata of Merry's wound across his chest. "Does it hurt Pip?" Legolas whispered, "can you feel it?"
"Can…" Pippin whispered back and he leaned his head forward to rest on the kindly elf's chest, tired and too drained to do much more for the moment. "Feel it hurt, but not feel Merry now." Pippin gave a small sob.
Gandalf returned carrying a cup of milk and a plate with several white cakes. "Peregrin, if you won't sleep at least take a little to eat and drink." The wizard put the cup in Pippin's hand and one of the cakes in the other. Legolas went to take another cake, but Gandalf caught his eye and shook his head slightly without Pippin seeing.
Legolas understood and, once Pippin had eaten the cake, he put his arms around him and rocked him to and fro until the hobbit closed his eyes wearily. Then Legolas laid him gently down on the bed while the healer Dysgwr rebandaged his feet and dressed him in a clean, albeit oversized, shirt. By the time he was reclad in the shirt he was also fast asleep. "What was in the cake?" Legolas asked the wizard.
"A little ground herb they keep for such purpose. Don't worry, it was not opium," Gandalf smiled ironically, "I doubt that would have much effect on Pippin now anyway."
Legolas laid the hobbit down along the foot of the bed that Merry was in and covered him with a quilt. Then he laid himself down upon a cot that had been brought for his use as he too was in dire need of rest.
Gandalf went to see how Éowyn and Faramir fared. The Lady of Rohan was suffering from more than just a broken arm, a malady lay upon her that was as a deep and cold dream which the healers called the Black Shadow, for it came from the Nazgûl and those who were stricken with it fell into a troubled and then silent sleep and so died. But Faramir burned with a fever that would not abate.
King Théoden waited at the side of Éowyn, watching as her broken arm was mended and soothing her hand, trying to warm the cold greyness of her sword arm. He left her only when Gandalf brought him news of Meriadoc's survival and came to see how his swordthain fared. "It is surely a miracle, the like of which I have never witnessed," he gasped as he saw Merry's regular but shallow breathing. "What hope do you carry for his survival?" he asked Gandalf.
"I am not certain, his body lives, but only just." Gandalf felt Merry's cold hand and touched his brow lightly. "His wound is dire. It is from a Morgul blade and I fear there may be a fragment left, but such a cut is often fatal of itself."
"And if a fragment remains?" Théoden asked, "What will happen?"
"He will become a wraith and become enslaved to the Dark Lord." Gandalf saw the old King's face fill with sorrow.
"It grieves me more than I can say that little Merry has survived so many trials and performed such great feats that at the very last he should suffer such a fate." Théoden laid his hand on his faithful swordthain's brow. "Especially as he fell defending his King." Théoden leaned forward and whispered. "Don't give in Merry. Keep fighting – I know you can overcome this."
Gandalf went from one to the other full of care, and so the day passed, while the great battle outside went on with shifting hopes and strange tidings and still Gandalf waited and watched and did not go forth; till at last the red sunset filled all the sky and the light through the windows fell on the grey faces of the sick. Then it seemed to those who stood by that in the glow the faces flushed softly as with health returning but it was only a mockery of hope.
Then Ioreth the healer looking on the fair face of Faramir wept, for all the people loved him and she said, "Alas! If he should die. Would that there were kings in Gondor as there were once upon a time they say! For it is said in old lore 'The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.' and so the rightful king could ever be known."
Gandalf upon hearing this felt a sudden lightening of his spirit, "Men may long remember your words, Ioreth! For there is hope in them. Maybe a king has indeed returned to Gondor or have you not heard the strange tidings that have come to the City?"
Then Gandalf went out in haste and already the fire in the sky was burning out and the smouldering hills were fading, while ash-grey evening crept over the fields.
Once Legolas had slept for several hours he returned to Gimli to share the burden of command that he had left with him and to bring him the tidings both fair and foul of Meriadoc. Gimli was delighted at first to hear that Merry lived. "But you say the Morgul wound may yet take him to the wraith world?" He muttered, "That is perhaps a worst fate than death itself."
Now as the sun went down Aragorn and Éomer and Imrahil drew near the City with their captains and knights and when they came before the Gate Aragorn said, "This City and realm has rested in the charge of the Stewards for many long years and I fear that if I enter it unbidden then doubt and debate may arise which should not be while this war is fought. Men shall pitch my tents upon the field and here I will await the welcome of the Lord of the City."
But Éomer said, "Already you have raised the banner of the Kings and displayed the tokens of Elendil's House. Will you suffer these to be challenged?"
"No," said Aragorn, "But I deem the time unripe and I have no mind for strife except with our enemy and his servants."
"Your words are wise," Prince Imrahil said, "the Lord Denethor is strong willed and proud, but old; and his mood has been strange since his son was stricken down. Yet I would not have you remain like a beggar at the door."
"Not a beggar," said Aragorn, "Say a captain of the Rangers, who are unused to cities and houses of stone."
Then as the three approached the City Gate an Officer of the Guard came forth to meet them. "Lieutenant Commander Malwyn at your service my Lords. Pray whom do you seek?"
"Whosoever has command of your City now, Lieutenant." Imrahil said, "Is the dwarf, Gimli son of Gloin still in control here, or has the elf, Prince Legolas Greenleaf returned?"
Aragorn looked at the Prince in surprise at this question, "Gimli? Legolas? Excuse me gentlemen, Legolas and Gimli are in command of this City?"
"Yes, they both stand in command now, my Lords," Malwyn ushered the Captains forward, "Come I will lead you to them." They made their way through the Gates and by the time the delegation reached Legolas and Gimli the two had been joined by Gandalf.
"Well met Mithrandir," Imrahil was pleased to see a familiar face at last. "Have you taken charge here now?"
"I may provide some assistance to my worthy companions." Gandalf nodded to Gimli and Legolas, "But first I need the service of the Captain of the Dúnedain, for the healing hand of the King is needed and such he is."
Aragorn stepped forward and clapped Legolas and Gimli on the shoulders, "I see our fortunes have moved in a direction that would have been hard to foresee my friends. But there is not the time for travellers' tales yet." He turned to Gandalf, "What is the need that is so urgent you would reveal my heritage?"
"Much has occurred today, but the need we have is for speed. The Lord Denethor gave up all hope and took his own life and now his son, the Lord Faramir is stricken with fever. Also the Lady Éowyn," Gandalf paused and turned to Éomer as he spoke. "She suffers under the Black Shadow. The hands of the rightful King of Gondor may be the only hope they have for recovery."
"I will of course come at once." Aragorn bowed courteously to the other Lords and Knights. "You must forgive me if I take leave of you so soon."
"If you are to provide succour to my fair sister I will of course come too," Éomer said. "I wish also to see how fares my uncle, Théoden King."
"But there is more," Gandalf levelled his gaze at Aragorn, "Meriadoc – he is still alive although we thought him dead – but still he lies grievously ill."
"Merry lives?" Aragorn drew a sharp breath. "Then miracles are still possible in these dark days and hope also lives on."
When Aragorn came to the Houses of Healing, Pippin had woken from his enforced slumber and was sitting beside Merry on the bed, stroking his hair and rubbing his hand, trying to find some reaction in him, but apart from his breathing, there was none.
The uncrowned King went first to Faramir and then Éowyn and last to Merry. He could see that the malady of the wraith lay heavily on all of them and he asked the healer Ioreth for a supply of athelas or kingsfoil and eventually some was found. The leaves bruised in hot water worked their magic in the hands of Aragorn and Faramir awoke and although he would be confined to bedrest for some time to come, was soon out of danger for his life and the fever abated.
Éowyn lay cold and motionless until Aragorn called her back. He crushed the athelas in his hand and when she came to herself he spoke gently with her, then left her in the care of Théoden and Éomer.
Aragorn came to Merry. He saw Pippin's anxious face and took his hand gently but was taken aback as Pippin sniffed and then mumbled, "he not go move Strider and Merry no go come back at I – me."
"When did your voice return Pippin?" Aragorn lifted the hobbit's chin up so he could look into his face. "your hearing too?"
"I think it go back when Merry and Éow killed at the wraith." Pippin was still muddled in his speech, he could not quite remember yet the right words or order and while Legolas and Gandalf understood that, Aragorn was a little surprised at his lack of grammar.
"Why do you talk so strangely?" The ranger asked with a small smile. "Although it is good to hear you again in any vernacular."
"I not mean go talk – to talk like it - this. " Pippin started trying to correct himself. "It how I talk in head I – I mean Mer and I talk at not same – it turns round, sorry." The more Pippin tried to get his speech right, the harder it seemed to get.
"Never mind little one," Aragorn saw that Pippin was rather distressed and did not want him to worry about minor details like his speech patterns. "Let us see what can be done for Merry."
"I am not sure that you will be able to call Merry back as you did the other two." Gandalf pulled the covers back from the halfling and carefully unwrapped the bandages from Merry's chest. "This was inflicted by the Wraith King before Éowyn and Merry defeated him. I fear there may be a sliver of blade left in the wound."
Aragorn looked up at Gandalf with concern and saw his own anxiety reflected in the wizard's eyes. "Has he been conscious at all? Could you tell yet?"
"No." Gandalf glanced at Pippin who was listening carefully, not wanting to miss any information. "We fear his mind is trapped after his conflict with the Witch King." Legolas had explained to Gandalf about the great battle Pippin and Merry had had and how at the last Merry had pushed Pippin away to fall into the abyss with their enemy. "Legolas and Pippin have tried to bring him back and they found him for a moment but he could not return."
"It is important that he does." Aragorn could not shield Pippin from the truth. "I fear to think what torment he is suffering now. But if he does not return to his body, not only will he be lost forever and become a wraith but the Dark Lord will hold him as a slave. The danger to all then increases for he may yet reveal the truth of the Ring."
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