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Recaptured!: 105. The Last Debate
As soon as Gandalf's eyes opened Pippin scrambled up from the end of the bed and tugged impatiently at the wizard's cloak. "Gandalf!" Pippin shouted. "What go happened? Is Merry go bettrer? What you go do?"
"Peregrin, I would be obliged if you would stop shouting," Gandalf put his hands to his ears and flinched, "You are not the only one with sensitive hearing. And I suggest if you take more time over what you are saying, you might sound more coherent."
"Yes, sorry," Pippin lowered the volume but not the urgency, "but what go happen at – to – you? Is Merry get bettrer - better?"
"He is certainly on the right road at last." Gandalf watched the rise and fall of Merry's chest. "I think he will sleep for a while, but do not worry. Although he is very tired and still quite ill, he has a good chance of recovery now."
Legolas looked down at Merry's white face, "at least he is losing that wraithlike appearance."
"Can we go take these tie bandnage – bandage -off him yet?" Pippin asked anxiously, "and bandnages off his eyes?"
"Not yet," Gandalf stood and soothed Merry's curls, "leave them a little longer. I must go and attend to other matters for a while. But stay with him and take some rest yourselves. When I return, we shall see."
"I too shall leave for a short time." Legolas patted Pippin's hand. "Take care of Merry, while I go and find how the Lady Éowyn fares."
"Oh yes," Pippin suddenly felt very guilty that he was concentrated solely on Merry, "Éow – I mean Mil-lady Éownyn wish her get go bettrer – better from me and Merry too."
"Of course," Legolas laughed lightly at Pippin's natural inclusion of Merry in his wishes. At least he was thinking positively about his cousin's state of health.
Gandalf felt a little guilty at leaving Merry so abruptly, but there were important matters still to discuss with the Captains of the various armies assembled in Minas Tirith. Aragorn, Théoden and Éomer had called a council and Gandalf was to preside. Legolas would come, as soon as he had been to visit Éowyn, and Gimli also was present, together with Prince Imrahil and the sons of Elrond.
As soon as they all were assembled Gandalf stood and addressed them gravely, "My lords, listen to the words of Denethor before he died: 'You may triumph on the fields of the Pelennor for a day, but against the Power that has now arisen there is no victory.' I do not bid you despair, as he did, but to ponder the truth in these words.
"We know from the halfling, Peregrin, that this was what he truly saw in the seeing stones and they do not lie, although what is shown and what is concealed may have been directed by Sauron. Victory cannot be achieved by arms, whether we go to meet him or wait here to endure siege after siege. You have only a choice of evils, and prudence would council siege, as that will surely delay the end as much as it can be delayed."
"Then you would have us retreat to Minas Tirith or Dol Amroth and there sit like children on sand-castles when the tide is flowing?" said Imrahil.
"No!" Gandalf turned to face the Prince, "I do not council prudence. I said victory could not be achieved by arms and I still hope for victory, but not by arms. For into the midst of all these policies comes the Ring of Power, the foundation of Barad-dûr and the hope of Sauron."
Gandalf looked around at the assembled captains, "If Sauron were to regain the Ring his victory will be swift and complete. If it is destroyed, then he will fall and his fall shall be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again."
No one spoke as the wizard continued. "Now Sauron knows all this and he knows that this precious thing which he lost has been found again, but he does not yet know for certain where it is, or so we hope. Therefore he is now in great doubt, for if we have found this thing, there are some among us with strength enough to wield it. That too he knows. For do I not guess rightly, Aragorn, that you have shown yourself to him in the Stone of Orthanc?"
"I did so ere I rode from the Hornburg," Aragorn answered, "I deemed that the time was ripe and that the Stone had come to me for just such a purpose."
"But how is this?" asked Éomer, "all is vain you say, if he has the Ring. Why should he think it not vain to assail us, if we have it?"
"He is not yet sure," said Gandalf, "and indeed it can be used by only one master and he does not yet know which of us that may be. But, from his actions, one thing he does know for certain. That the Ring, for the moment, is carried by a halfling."
Aragorn looked sharply up and caught the eye of both Legolas and Gimli at this statement. "But if he knows that why does he not strike?" Gimli asked.
"I did not say that he knows which halfling," Gandalf pointed out. "He may even be totally unaware of Frodo and Samwise, at least, let us hope so."
"Then does he believe that either Meriadoc or Peregrin carry the Ring?" Théoden voiced the thoughts of the others.
"Doubtless, he does," Gandalf said. "Although he has been close enough to both of them at times and yet failed to find it. Yet I'm sure that in some way he senses that they are significant to the Ring's whereabouts. He also knows that it is more likely to be carried by a halfling, who could not and would not wield it, than by one of the leaders, until such time as that leader wishes to emerge. It would, after all, be a sound strategy and one that I should employ if we did indeed still have the Ring."
"So what are you suggesting we should do?" Aragorn said quietly, "give him more evidence that his speculation is correct?"
"That is exactly what I propose." Gandalf continued, "his Eye is now straining towards us, blind almost to all else that is moving. So we must keep it. Therein lies all our hope. We do not have the Ring, in wisdom or great folly it has been sent away to be destroyed, lest it destroy us. Without it we cannot by force defeat him but we must keep his Eye from his true peril. We can give the Ringbearer his only chance, frail though it be, by this diversion.
"We must push Sauron to his last throw. We must call out his hidden strength, so that he shall empty his land. We must march out to meet him at once. We must make ourselves the bait, though his jaws should close on us. He will take that bait in hope and in greed, for he will believe that in such rashness he sees the pride of the new Ringlord and think he has him in a trap. We must walk open-eyed into that trap."
"But who will he believe the new Ringlord to be?" Imrahil asked. "You Mithrandir? The Lord Aragorn? Surely that will mark whoever is the supposed Ringlord for terrible danger."
"He may surmise it is either one of us, but we shall not be the sole focus of his attention." Gandalf sat in the chair at the head of the table and paused for a moment. "There is a surer way to gain his Eye. We will let him believe we bring the Ringbearer with us to deliver the Ring to the new Ringlord once the battle commences."
"You mean to use Pippin as a decoy!" Legolas jumped angrily from his chair, "How could you? Has he not been through enough?"
"Peace, my friend." Gandalf stood once more to meet the elf's angry onslaught. "I shall not force him, but he is too good a bait to not use." The wizard held up his hand before Legolas could protest again. "You must go with him Legolas, it will be a daunting feat for him, but much depends on Sauron being diverted away from the true Quest. Whatever Pippin has and must endure, I am sure Frodo and Samwise will stand a better chance of success."
Legolas fell silent. It was not for him to make Pippin's decisions, but he was sorely grieved at the thought of putting the hobbit in so much danger again.
"What force can we muster and lead out in one day's time?" Gandalf spoke to the captains now and each gave his reckoning of their numbers.
At length, when all were counted Aragorn spoke, "I judge that we could lead out seven thousands of horse and foot and yet leave the City well defended."
"Surely!" cried Imrahil, "this is the greatest jest in all of history. That we should ride with seven thousands to assail the mountains and the impenetrable gate of the Black Land. With a halfling of the Shire as bait."
"Not the bait, my Lord." Gandalf replied. "We, the seven thousand, are the bait. He is merely the decoy."
"But how do you propose that Sauron will know of this halfling?" Imrahil asked. "One so small will hardly draw the attention of the mighty Dark Lord. Why it will be a wonder if he be seen at all in such a throng."
"Sauron's Eye reaches far," Gandalf said calmly, "his Nazgûl, even without their Captain, still fly above and keep watchfulness on all we do." The wizard sighed a little, he was dreading having to do this. "But that is not all, Pippin shall ride to the battle between the Lord Aragorn and me."
"But surely," Théoden protested, "a halfling cannot ride a horse, and how will he be visible or keep up with you, mounted on a small pony?"
"He shall ride a horse," Gandalf stated, "if he agrees, although I do not think Pippin will swerve from duty. He shall ride alone upon my steed and I know that Shadowfax is skilled enough to not let him fall unless he should be struck down."
Théoden stood by Merry's bed and watched the halfling breathing raggedly. A healer sat beside him and spooned small drops of water into the hobbit's mouth, much of the liquid escaping from his lips to be mopped up by the cloth in the healer's other hand.
Pippin slept along the foot of the bed, there was plenty of room for both hobbits in the human sized bed, but to sleep alongside of Merry might have jostled him. Legolas had returned to the room and rested now on a couch against the far wall, but he had spoken no word to Pippin of Gandalf's proposal.
"Is it necessary for him still to be bound?" The King asked with concern. "He looks very peaceful now."
"Mithrandir bade us to keep him tied until he returned and deemed it safe to release him." Dysgwr explained. "I would not keep him so otherwise."
"Do you think he will wake soon?" Théoden enquired softly, "I think that before long I must leave to the great battle and I would have wished to say goodbye."
"I'm not sure the halfling would be fit to receive such courtesies," Dysgwr continued spooning and mopping the water, "he was sorely disturbed when last awake."
Pippin suddenly moaned a little in his sleep and clutched a hand to his chest. At the same time the elf's eyes sprang open and he sat up, breathing raggedly, also pressing on his chest as if in deep pain. He staggered over to the bed before the healer could help or stop him and reached out to touch the perian at Meriadoc's feet. "Pippin? Are you hurting badly?" he breathed.
Pippin sat up now, his eyes squeezed shut and in obvious pain. "Yes Legolas. It go hurt at you too?"
"It does." Legolas smiled into the now open eyes of the little one. "That's a good sign."
Merry stirred and pulled against the bonds, his head moving from side to side. "Merry?" Pippin scrambled up the bed, inserting himself between the healer and his patient. "I stay good by you all time Merry."
"Merry?" Legolas touched the hobbit's cheek. "Gandalf told us you trod a long road together to find yourself."
Gandalf entered the room again, first going to Merry and touching him lightly upon the hand and smiling when he found it warm. "Merry are you awake?"
"He moved a little," Dysgwr told the wizard, "but he has not uttered any sound, so I think not."
"We thought he go awake," Pippin rubbed at his chest, "when we start feeled he hurting."
"Yes," Gandalf agreed, "It is good for you to feel his pain, it means he has chosen the right path."
"But why not he go waked up?" Pippin persisted. "He get bettrer – I mean well – soon."
"You must be patient Pippin," Gandalf said gently. "He is much better than he was, but remember how long it took Frodo to recover from such an injury."
"Do!" Pippin's mouth dropped and his face fell in dreadful disappointment. "Oh my Merr. You stay go sleep make you bettrer." His language tended to get very confused the more stressed the hobbit was. "Bit more longrer we got go be waited now."
"Don't worry Pippin," Gandalf gave an encouraging smile. "Your hearing took quite a while to settle down and your speech is still somewhat wobbly."
"Gandalf! My talking is being – is getting – bettrer and bettrer all the time." Pippin stated indignantly.
"Yes Pippin, just as Merry will." Gandalf pointed out diplomatically.
Gandalf patted Pippin's shoulder then spoke with the King. “Will you be joining the battle Théoden? The Mark waits upon your return, or will you bid Éomer lead in your stead?”
"This could well be the last battle for Middle Earth, Mithrandir." Théoden stood to face the wizard. “I am weary but I would not put such a burden upon my nephew at this time.”
"Éomer is able to lead, I am certain of it and your men trust him." Gandalf assured him. "I urge you to give him command of the Mark now."
"Are you saying that I am too old and battle-worn to lead? " Théoden lifted his hand to stop the reply. "Perhaps you are right Gandalf, I am."
"But there is an important service to fulfil here," Gandalf said quietly, nodding towards Merry and Pippin. "I am loath to separate them again, but you know what must be done."
"Éomer shall lead and I will wait here at the Healing House with Éowyn and Meriadoc." Théoden stroked Merry’s hair from his sweat-soaked face, "A poor substitute I make but…" The King trailed off, remembering that Pippin did not yet know of Gandalf's plans for him. "I shall go now and consult with Éomer. There is much to discuss. Rest well little one, I shall return in a while to find you even more recovered."
"Now Peregrin," Gandalf turned to the halfling who had been shooed back to the end of the bed by Dysgwr, "Aragorn and I need to speak to you."
"What I done?" Pippin looked up at the wizard worriedly, "I'm sorry, Gandalf."
"You haven't done anything," Gandalf frowned a little, "that I know of anyway. Why do you think you have?"
"You go call I Peregrin." Pippin remembered from former brushes with Gandalf that, the longer his name got, the worse trouble he was in – 'Master Peregrin Took!' usually being about as bad as it got.
"I'm sorry," Gandalf smiled, remembering his own tendency to snap at Pippin. He still regretted calling him 'a fool of a Took' in Moria. They had all been tense but it was not really Pippin's fault they were discovered and he was certainly no fool – aggravating at times – but not a fool. "Pippin, we need to talk to you, Aragorn is waiting for us."
"But Merry?" Pippin looked dismayed. "I not can't leave he."
"Master Dysgwr will take care of Merry," Gandalf offered his hand to help Pippin down from the bed. "Come along now. Legolas will come too."
Pippin reluctantly took the proffered hand and climbed down. He stood a little shakily as his feet were still sore from the burns and the original break, but shook his head at the offer of more help and walked resolutely at Gandalf's side. Legolas followed on behind them.
Smagnu left very careful instructions with Grutfley that he circle their battalion round and keep a careful eye out for interlopers, especially hungry looking interlopers. It was a long climb up to the top of the wall and, as he climbed, he realised that he was probably one of only fifty captains being summoned to this particular pre-battle strategy meeting. Obviously, the captain slave driver Grutfley had killed and whose place he had taken, was quite high ranking.
He hoped no one would challenge his right to be in command of his battalion and that the previous Uruk did not have any friends in high places. At least now, thanks to Sniggin, he knew the battalion number was 141 – laughingly known as 'one for one' which under its last regime was appropriate as their captain only ever had his own interests in mind and so the rest followed suit. But Smagnu had changed that aspect of rule, as he looked out for all the small orcs under his command and made sure they looked out for each other.
Once they reached the summit of the perimeter the fifty captains formed into ranks before their Commander-in-Chief, who stood on a higher part of the wall where all could see and hear him. "The Master, Lord Sauron commands that we wait now in readiness for the assault that will come from the West. Armies will be massing to invade our land and, when the Black Gate is opened, we shall go out to meet and destroy them." Most of the Uruk captains raised their fists in the air and roared their approval at this; including Smagnu, some responses just come automatically.
"Your battalions must be ready at all times. This division will occupy the centre rank of the assault." The Commander pointed out into the battle plain beyond the wall. "On command your companies will surge through the gates in the ordered ranks that you will now be given. You will kill all in your path! You will not turn back! You will win victory for the glory of the Lord Sauron!" Again the Uruks gave their salute and roar.
Smagnu looked carefully around, even as he was cheering, ascertaining the lay of the land. Before him, on the other side of the Black Gate was an open plain set in between two pincer shaped hills of blasted stone and earth that had been piled up in years of labour. Before the plain lay, like a moat, a great mire of reeking mud and stinking pools, it was a grim view.
Further on along the wall and on the outcrops beneath, Smagnu could see similar groups to this one, also being given battle instructions. To one side of the great gate he could see a whole squadron of mountain trolls and in the far distance, at the rear of the army, were great battle machines, which would be harnessed to the massive beasts of burden that were alongside of them. It was an impressive sight.
"You – what is your battalion?" Smagnu broke from his surveillance, realising he was being addressed. "And what is your name? I don't recognise you."
"Smagnu, Sir, battalion one-four-one." The Uruk did not embellish and had decided for good or ill to give his right name.
"Right Captain Smagnu," The Uruk Commander looked him up and down, "I've bin hearin' reports of the one-four-one."
"I heared as how you an' yer Corporal offed the rightful Captain and took his place."
"Sir!" Smagnu was thinking that perhaps he should be looking round for means of a hasty exit, but for now he looked the Commander straight in the eye and showed no hesitation and certainly no fear.
"I also bin hearin' as how yer don't use the whip an' bin treatin' youse orcs with a kid glove."
"Sir!" The intelligence network in this camp was obviously far better than Smagnu had realised. "Theys ain't gonna be up fer much if'n theys whipped an' half starved. Gotta get 'em to fight an' all." Smagnu replied quickly thinking on his feet.
"Smart lad!" The Commander slapped Smagnu on the back. "Wish more fuggin' Uruks in this stinkin' army had that much sense."
"Er, Right Sir!" Smagnu breathed out.
"Since yer seems to have a glimmer of brain," The Commander looked evilly round at the other captains. "Yer gets to lead yer battalion in a prime spot. Yer can be the special escort for them mountain trolls. When the gate opens, you gets your orcs all around them and take out anythin' small that tries to get 'em from underneath. All right?"
"Yessir!" Smagnu was not sure that this sounded like a prime spot, but now was probably not the time to complain.
"An' one thing more Captain." The Commander took a small insignia and pinned it to Smagnu's jerkin. "Yer gets a promotion fer that position. Two pips."
"Yessir!" Smagnu looked at the shiny metal pips and, although he did not know the word for it, he began to realise what irony was.
"Pippin," Gandalf was careful not to call him 'Peregrin' this time. "There is something that we need you to do."
Pippin felt very small seated on the large velvet padded chair. His feet did not touch the floor and he suddenly had an overwhelming desire for some hobbit sized furniture again. He quickly pushed the thought away as, under the circumstances, it seemed rather whimsical and frivolous.
He looked up wide-eyed at the tense faces of the big folk who were all focussed on him. Aragorn, Éomer, Gandalf and Legolas were seated around a large polished table and he sat at the far end on a chair that he had had to be lifted on to and still his elbows barely reached the tabletop. "What is?" He asked with trepidation. Pippin could think of very little he could offer in the way of service at the moment.
"We need to perpetrate a deception." Gandalf began.
"What's that?" Pippin interrupted immediately. "You mean tell big lie?"
"Um yes." Gandalf smiled at Pippin's straightforward interpretation. "Tell a very big lie – to the Dark Lord Sauron."
"I not think he listen at I, not now." Pippin said earnestly, "not now the wraith go dead."
"I'm not so sure about that." Gandalf said, "but it is not just in your mind speak. We need you to be a decoy for Frodo and Sam."
"Do?" Pippin was even more wide-eyed now. "How I do?"
"We want you to ride at the head of the army, between Aragorn and me." Gandalf could see that Pippin's jaw had dropped in astonishment and resisted the urge to tell him to stop catching flies. He really needed Pippin to act in a grown up fashion and admonishing him like a child would not help. "Sauron will be made to believe that you are the Ringbearer and that you are carrying the Ring to pass to Aragorn or me once the battle commences."
Pippin closed his mouth, drew a breath and then looked around the table. "How would I ride horse? Think I fall off, lessen you tied me on."
Gandalf was glad that Pippin had not just accepted or refused and was obviously thinking it through carefully. "You would ride on Shadowfax. You have travelled vast distances with him and he knows you well enough. He will not let you fall."
"I go ride Shadowfax on I own?" Pippin smiled at this. "That be go too much splendid I Gandalf." He quickly adjusted his expression as he could see the others watching him intently and this was not actually intended as a treat for him. "I think can do… go try… do I best – my best. "
"I will come with you too, Pippin," Legolas smiled encouragingly, "I will do all I can to protect you from harm."
"Thank you, Legolas… but… " Pippin did not want to sound ungrateful. He looked down at his feet swinging to and fro. "What about Merry? Who go stay at he and I not there?"
"Legolas has to come Pippin." Gandalf explained. "I am not sure, but I believe we can still use the mind speak to attract the attention of Sauron and it will be easier if Legolas is with us."
"But Merry need…" Pippin broke off. He realised he was being selfish, Merry would not put himself before the Quest and Frodo and Sam needed his help too.
"Merry is in good hands." Gandalf said gently, "I know it is difficult for you to leave him at such a time, but I also know that you understand how important this is."
"My uncle, King Théoden has agreed to stay behind," Éomer said. "He will watch over both my sister and Meriadoc and should Merry wake, he will let him know where you have gone and why."
"Not make he worry me." Pippin exclaimed, but then thought for a moment. "No, he got know, it bettrer – best - he know I gone go in the war."
"Are you sure Pippin, you want to do this?" Aragorn asked him gently. "It is much to ask and not without danger."
"Ask much of Frodo and Sam." Pippin pointed out. "Ask same I… not different – no difference. "
"The difference is Pippin," Gandalf stood up from the table and came to the hobbit, bending down to his level as he spoke. "Frodo and Sam are hiding from Sauron, we want you to show yourself to him as much as possible in order to keep his Eye turned away from them."
"Gandalf, it go be easirer – no easy..." Pippin clenched his teeth and fists in frustration, why would the words not come out right?
The wizard could see that he was making a supreme effort to talk properly. He obviously wanted to say something important and did not want it marred by his muddled, childish speech. "Say it slowly Pippin, take your time, we understand."
Pippin started again, "I could just go say I not a-fraid of Ssau-ron and you go think, I funny, fool of Took! But it not true. I very frighten." The little hobbit drew a deep breath, "But not only is for the Quest and the war – is for Frodo and Sam and Merry and the Shire and all my friends – is for every thing and every one I love. Course I do – will do it."
"Pippin," Gandalf said, his hand on the hobbit's shoulder, "I always knew you'd grow up to be a brave and fearless warrior one day. I just wasn't expecting it quite this soon or in quite this way, but it gladdens my heart nonetheless."
Additional Material taken from: J R R Tolkien
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