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Recaptured!: 101. Tales and Toil
Beta and Additional Material: Marigold
'Merry, my dear heart… can you hear us? Try to answer wherever you are.'
He knew they wanted him, but it was too far and the snow was too deep. He could not push his way through the suffocating drift.
'merr-rrryy!' It was Pippin's voice of course, 'merrrrrryyyyy! come back at i! come back you pip my merrr.' But how could he answer? He did not want them to come in here, Pippin would not be able to withstand the mind wrenching cold and he could not bear the thought of him suffering so.
But in spite of himself, something within him compelled a response. He had not meant to answer, it was not planned, but the name slipped from his mind like a dewdrop from a petal or a leaf from a tree, it was as natural as taking a breath and so it whispered through the empty void that separated them, 'pip?'
'Merry! hear i – please say more at i!'
Pippin's voice had grown excited at his tiny response. He should have known, should have been more cautious. He knew Pippin would follow him just as night follows day. How could he not? He would have done the same. But it was too dangerous. Too fraught with terror, he could not let Pippin come with him in here. He had to send him back.
'not know how… too lost pip…it cold… so cold like ice… can't not come…'
He had not expected Pippin to agree at once, he had expected Pippin's defiance, his anger, his stubborn refusal.
'take hand i mer… feel hand it go pull you back… membrer it feel… touch you…feel it warm… take hand i… please mer…'
What he got was Pippin's unconditional love – it was too much to bear. His soul clenched and his heart broke. He faltered… he reached…
'taked it… no gone slip… not be here…
No! He would be strong.
you go back pip… can't come i…'
He felt the thrum of Pippin recede. There was a slight echo of dear Legolas and then they both were gone.
He turned back to his labour, his legs were carved from solid rock and each step was a torment. His back carried a mighty burden that weighed more than they had ever asked poor Bill the pony to bear, he could barely move for the size of it. His stomach growled and knotted with the pain of hunger. He lifted his hand to his chest and whimpered with the agony of the wound that wasted his lifeblood and watched with horror as it stained the snow around him to a garish crimson. The cold had frozen his curls so that they might snap and he was sure his face had turned blue as it had on Caradhras, but he could not turn back. The nightmare that lay all about him would consume him if he remained still.
But of all this torment the greatest pain he felt was the sudden absence of Pippin. He had sent him away because he must, but why did it have to hurt so much? His heart could no longer ache and cry within him – it was numb, broken and dead.
"Pippin I know you are still unwell," Gandalf looked kindly down at the hobbit, "and you are frightened for Merry, but I need to know exactly what went on between you and Denethor. Do you think you can tell it all?"
Pippin looked from Aragorn to Gandalf in dismay. He was so frantically worried about Merry that, in spite of the traumatic events that had taken place in the high tower, he had almost put them to the back of his mind. Now he realised that many important things had transpired that he really did need to tell the wizard about. "Go try I will."
Gandalf decided to take Pippin to another room, away from Merry as his sickly cousin's presence would be too distracting for the younger hobbit to concentrate on the details of his story. The wizard also summoned Legolas to come, as Gandalf knew Pippin found him a calming influence and the elf needed also to know what had happened and with him came Lieutenant Malwyn. The Warden of the Houses of Healing came to discover any information that might help with the treatment of his patients. Also Théoden and Prince Imrahil as leaders of the allies of Gondor, together with Aragorn joined the meeting.
Pippin sat uncomfortably in an oversized chair in the centre the large room allotted for their council and waited until Gandalf had explained who he was and how he had come to be with Denethor shortly before and during the Steward's untimely demise. "Now Peregrin," The wizard turned to him, "are you able to recount what happened?"
"Yes think can tell it I," Pippin stumbled over his speech. "Not always get words right for talking loud yet sorry."
"Peregrin was without hearing and speech until very recently," Gandalf explained briefly for those who did not know. "His newly restored faculties are still a little shaky." The wizard looked down and smiled kindly at Pippin. "Don't worry Peregrin, do your best we will be patient."
"First I ate meal at Den-ay-tor," Pippin began shakily.
"The Lord Denethor…" Gandalf corrected gently.
"Yes, Lord Denethor, " the hobbit managed on the second attempt. "He taked - took I to room other at end of hall. We goed up stairs and he keeped - kept room lockted - locked. " Pippin looked around cautiously to see if everyone was following him. He knew the words sounded odd, he just could not quite get them right yet.
"Wented we inside it and I knewed – knew what there it was." Pippin glanced nervously at Gandalf. "It glass ball for look in it."
"The palantír," explained the wizard. "Pippin why did you not call to Legolas when you knew what it was?"
Gandalf did not sound angry, but Pippin knew that he should have resisted the call of the magical globe. He thought for a moment. "Not know – but I had taked – taken some… it was bad but I hurted and I needed it…"
Aragorn looked suspiciously at the hobbit whose eyes were steadfastly fixed to the floor. "Opium? Was that it? Pippin?"
Pippin nodded and mumbled an affirmative. "But Lord Denethor nodded good at I to take it and I might have takened – taken a bit much too."
"Where for pity's sake did you get it?" Aragorn stepped forward and lifted Pippin's chin up so that he looked him in the eye. "Who gave it to you?"
"I gave it to him!" Legolas knew that Pippin would not betray him, but he also knew that Aragorn would insist on knowing, especially as it was he that had introduced the hobbit to the narcotic in the first place. "He was in dire need and I reasoned that he understood enough by now not to abuse its use."
"…and I suspect you felt a need to touch the palantír as well." Gandalf added. He knew only too well that the seeing stones had a compulsion all their own.
"Did." Pippin agreed, "more than the poppy really it was."
"But why did Lord Denethor take you to the seeing stone?" Théoden asked. He could not imagine what the Steward's reasoning could be. The other leaders pressed for an explanation too, until Pippin was in danger of becoming overwhelmed by the rising hubbub.
"Peace." Gandalf rose and stooped down to Pippin's eye level. "Just tell us in your own words what happened, Peregrin, don't try to hide anything. No one is angry at anything you did."
Gandalf stood up and moved to one side, still keeping a protective hand on the hobbit's shoulder. Pippin looked nervously round and continued. "He wanted I show at him Boromir and… how he did fall… it was… very… sad at he and at I too… for I see it all again too. I could not talked at he and tell him what happended happened and so I think he want see it heself, himself. "
"But you had told him already through me, Pippin." Legolas reminded him. "He knew what had happened."
"Know he did, but it was anothrer another thing I think. He knowed knew that I been in glass ball before and he be go look at it much times he before this times."
"You mean the Lord Denethor had looked into the palantír on many occasions?" The Warden exclaimed, not too sure if he had understood the perian correctly. "Then the rumours were true!"
"What rumours were these?" asked Prince Imrahil growing more confused at the strange tale.
"That the Lord Denethor was losing his mind." The Warden explained. "It had long been rumoured that he battled nightly with some enemy, possibly the Dark Lord himself, in the dark tower. Strange lights were seen in the topmost chamber many times and when he emerged, it is said, he looked worn and broken."
"He may well have encountered Sauron himself," agreed Gandalf. "We know for certain that he had a palantír, so it is reasonable to assume that was the case. Pippin what do you know of this?"
"There was anothrer – another in palantír." Pippin's voice became almost inaudible. "He see I when I tell story of Boromir."
"Go on." Gandalf encouraged. "Don't hurry and leave nothing out."
"It not like to talk with Legolas." Pippin continued. "It show pictures most time not words. We both seeded - saw pictures in palantír of what happened and I am seeing Merry and me and other one looked so I made Merry got no face." Pippin drew a deep breath. "I show Lord Denethor whole all of what happened and other one still look and look. But then I finish and Lord hit I hard across face, but I know it is not he that did the hit."
"Who was it, little one?" asked Théoden concerned and worried now for the danger Pippin had been in. "Who hit you?"
"Was it Sauron?" Aragorn snapped at the hobbit in a flash of panic.
"Yes, it he." Pippin looked fearfully at the ranger. But Gandalf shook his head slightly at Aragorn as he realised he was about to panic the hobbit. Aragorn reined in his expression and smiled weakly at Pippin giving him the confidence to continue. "He and Wraith Lord both. But I make them blind at I," he added quickly.
"How did you do that Pippin?" Gandalf was torn between surprise and scepticism. But he remembered that Legolas had reported such an event and had told him how strong Pippin had grown.
"I make wall in head." Pippin announced. "Not let thoughts go out at they. Then Lord Denethor get too bad and think it all gone dead. He seeing City fall and burn and burn, not think that anything can help he or City evrer – ever. So I try make him see it not all lost but I make careful not to show he things so secret, but I make little mistrake."
"What Pippin? What did you show him?" Gandalf's eyes had grown wide now. "You did not show him Frodo did you?"
"Not." Pippin agreed. "Not even think it, but try tell him help is to come and then thinked about riders come. I think he see and I think he see…" Pippin's voice grew so quiet that the assembled company could not hear the last few words.
"Pippin?" Legolas knelt beside him and gently took his hand. "It was Merry, wasn't it? Remember I could share your thoughts, I saw it too."
"Think I showed Merry. Sorry not mean to do, but he go be in my mind all time and then…"
"Pippin, dear heart," Legolas whispered, "I know what you did, then and later. You have no need to reproach yourself, you were very strong and very brave."
But Pippin still felt guilty at what he saw as a betrayal, "…not mean to do… sorry, sorry…Mer…my fault it all be bad at you…"
Pippin knew better than to cry now in such austere company, but he was coming close. Gandalf decided it was time to move on. "What happened after that Pippin? Can you remember how you got to Rath Dínen?"
Pippin held up his hands that were still a little raw from the ordeal. "I make my hands go off from palantír and I felled down on by the wall. It pulled like I was stuck on ice." He explained. "But Lord Denethor he still go on palantír and can feel he see things from Dark Lord, make him very black and I am know it not true, but he, Lord Denethor think is true."
Pippin's statement caused much surprise and cross discussion again until Gandalf quieted them. "Do you mean Pippin that you could still feel the thoughts of Denethor and the Dark Lord, even after your hands left the palantír?"
"Yes." Pippin nodded emphatically, "I was near and it was a big? No it a loud echo. I knew that Sauron making Lord Denethor think all is losted – lost. Make him not want do any fight. But I not go able tell him wrong any more – I not know how and not go want tell Dark Lord wrong thing."
"You did right Pippin." Gandalf patted his shoulder. "Go on."
"Then Lord Denethor looked at I – at me and was most sad and I felted he decided to do something most not good, but I not knowed what. But he picked me up and carried me forth. I could not stop he."
"Then he carried you to Rath Dínen," Gandalf supplied. "Legolas felt your anguish and it was he who sent me to find you."
"Yes he taked I to the place of bodies and set a bonfire with wood and oil." Pippin shuddered at the memory. "I was tried to call at Legolas when I seeded what he was to do, but it was then that I heared Mer called at I."
"Then you left your surroundings to join him?" Legolas remembered the anguish they both had felt at Merry's plight. "I expect like me, you only have a vague recollection of what was happening around you."
"Is true," Pippin agreed. "I not know what happen until… until…" He broke off, his head slumped down with sorrow as he remembered the outcome of the battle that followed.
"I don't quite understand," The Warden furrowed his brow. "Where did the perian go?"
"He became locked in a battle of the mind with the Witch King." Gandalf explained. "There is no time for a full description now. Suffice to say that he and his cousin, with Legolas and Éowyn, fought bravely and triumphed in the end, although what the final outcome may be we have yet to see."
The wizard patted Pippin's back. "That will suffice for now Pippin. Your story has filled many gaps for me and I think now I have a better picture of what occurred." He turned to the leaders assembled there, "I think it is clear, gentlemen, that the enemy moved among us and was able to pervert the leader of this City into a dire course of action. But all is not lost. I believe that, thanks to Peregrin, he learned nothing of the main thrust of our strategy and now it is up to us to ensure that continues."
Merry trudged on through the snow and the ice. He could feel the tears freezing on his face as he waded through the impossible never-ending drifts, longing for just a moment's respite, to be able to rest for a second, but he could not stop. He knew that if he did the avalanche would come and cover him again and he would have to claw his way out and this time there would be no help. No strong Boromir to lift him up out of the snow, no Gandalf to give him warming miruvor or start a fire, no Legolas to scout the way ahead and, worst of all, no Pippin to snuggle up to and raise his spirits with a quip or lively joke.
He had heard his voice before, Pippin's voice, calling to him to come back and dear Legolas too. But how could he? Merry knew he was dead and lost. Never again would he see his friends or the Shire. He had made his choice and he had chosen oblivion.
He did not regret it. It was the only thing he could have done, the only way to be sure the Witch King did not survive. Pippin had wanted to come with him, still wanted to come to him now. But Merry knew that he would be condemning his cousin to the same fate as he. They would be together, but together in turmoil, unable to touch and only able to witness and feel each other's pain and distress. No it was better that Pippin lived and returned to the Shire. To see his darling Pip suffer would only increase his own pain and turmoil.
Knowing that he had made that choice heartened Merry for a moment. The thought that Pippin would live and eventually be happy lifted a little of the weight from his back. He pushed his body forward through the snow, every sinew aching. It was hard to tell where the most pain came from, the wound in his chest or the numbness of his frozen limbs, perhaps even the oppressive burden on his back. He grit his teeth and took another step forward and started to sing a little – half in his mind and half out loud: "…to the bottle I go… my heart … my woe… wind may blow… many miles to go…"
Suddenly Merry felt a blessed lightening from his back. It was as though someone had taken the terrible burden from his bowed over frame and was now helping him up, lifting him out of the drift to sit atop of the snow. A great arm came around him, pulling a cloak over his poor frozen body, rubbing a little at his hands and feet to warm them.
Merry began to quiver with cold. Something he had been unable to do before, he had been so chilled even his automatic responses had been nullified. Now there was a large protective arm around him and he could feel heat coming from the bigger body and leeching into his own. He began to cry, sobs wracking his frame, as a kind hand soothed his rapidly thawing curls and whispered kindly words in his ear. "There, there, Merry, don't cry, you're all right now – I've got you, I'll take care of you."
Merry choked back a sob, scarcely daring to believe who was holding him and warming him. He nestled in the protective arms and tried to wipe his tears away. "Is it really you?" he whispered.
"Yes little one. I could not stand by and see you suffer so. You can sleep now. I won't let anything hurt you. I promise."
Merry's eyes fluttered closed as his body became increasingly warmer. The howling gale had diminished and he slept, wrapped tightly inside the warm woollen cloak, safe in the arms of his friend Boromir.
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