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Recaptured!: 106. Battle Plans
"Merry!" Pippin whispered urgently. "You go waken now?" There was no response. Pippin waited a moment, listened to the regular breathing and, out of habit, put his hand on Merry's chest so that he could feel the steady rise and fall as well. "Merry?" At last his cousin moved a little, pulling slightly against the restraints still round his wrists, but his eyes stayed closed.
'mer? you go be in there?'
Pippin tried to find Merry's mind. He felt the gentle pulse of his cousin's being, but it was asleep. There was a great weariness on him; Pippin could feel it. He could tell that Merry was safe and well, but also that he needed to sleep his ills away and the slumber he was cushioned in was deep and sound.
'mer? you not go wake yet - do you?' Pippin could not resist one last try.
"Peregrin!" The voice made him jump guiltily, "Were you trying to mindspeak to Merry?"
"Depends." Pippin turned slowly round on the bed and looked warily up at Gandalf.
"Depends on what exactly?" Gandalf asked a little more softly. He saw that he had made Pippin startle almost out of his skin and he did not want him to get upset. Not now, not with what lay ahead for him.
"If you gone go shouted at I." Pippin stumbled awkwardly over the words, caught in the act of what he had just been told not to do.
"Now Pippin!" Gandalf sank down on the edge of the bed. "I know it's hard for you, but Merry isn't going to wake up for a long while yet." He caught the look of panic on the hobbit's face. "I'm sure he'll be all right eventually. Now that his own spirit is back in his body, I was able to send him into a healing sleep, he may be unconscious for several days."
"I not get say good byes at he?" Pippin turned back to Merry and stroked his still face once more. Then looked back to Gandalf. "You could take off he the tied things though."
"Yes," Gandalf agreed, "I'm sure it's quite safe to do that." The wizard eased Merry's right hand toward the bond so as to more easily release him and then deftly untied the restraining bandage. He repeated the exercise with the left wrist and then gently tucked Merry's hands under the bedcovers. "But Pippin, remember what we talked about, that you must not try to mindspeak with Merry."
"Do know," Pippin looked mournful, "Just wanted to go see if he go good."
"You can come back just before it's time to leave." Gandalf stood up and gently steered Pippin by his shoulders towards the edge of the bed. "But for now you have to come and get ready."
Dysgwr came back to the room at that moment and eyed Pippin suspiciously. "You haven't given him any more poppy paste, have you?" The healer did not really approve of the fact that Pippin appeared to have his own personal supply. "You know the distillation of the poppy seed is quite dangerous?"
"Do know." Pippin said for the second time. It seemed that everyone today wanted to tell him what he should and should not do. "Not gived it to Merry, I not want go hurt he."
"Good. Now if you'll excuse me," Dysgwr moved his head, indicating that Pippin was in his way.
The hobbit scrambled off the bed and, heaving his shoulders in a sigh, started to leave with Gandalf, but then ran back to his cousin, pushing past the slightly irritated healer who had started to feed Merry water again. "I got your flute Merry!" Pippin had just remembered that it had been given to him when they took Merry's ragged and bloody clothes off. "I got our mithril pennies too." Pippin pulled the hoard of treasure from his pocket and stashed it, with the flute, in the bed alongside his cousin. "You bested go keep these now, case I not go come back at you."
Dysgwr had been about to comment once more on Pippin's behaviour but, as his mouth opened to complain, he suddenly saw the sincerity and sorrow mingled in the halfling's eyes as he realised he may never return to see his beloved cousin again. "Don't worry, Master Peregrin," Dysgwr smiled down at him. "I'll put them safely by and be sure he gets them when he is well again."
"Sam, remember what Gandalf said about the Ring? Frodo's voice was not much more than a croak and he took a careful drink from their ever-diminishing supply of water, just enough to fill a large thimble. "How it would attract all things evil to me?" He carefully swilled the precious liquid around his mouth before swallowing it.
Sam scratched his head a little and said nothing. The two hobbits had stopped during the middle of the day to take a rest and were crouched beneath a jutting rock, which offered some protection, but little comfort.
"Sam there's something else." Frodo rubbed his grubby hand across his weary brow, wishing that they could have spared some water with which to clean themselves. "It speaks to me - all the time. As we get nearer to Mount Doom, it's calling to me, trying to make me put it on or to turn back. I don't know if I can ignore it much longer."
"I know, Mr Frodo." Samwise crawled over to put his hand comfortingly on the trembling shoulder. "I didn't want to say before, but I hear it now as well. It calls to me too."
"What does it say?" Frodo looked up at Sam, automatically clutching the Ring in his hand as though his devoted servant were about to seize it from him.
"Terrible things," Sam admitted. "I'd rather not say. It's not what you need to hear right now, believe me Mr Frodo."
"Sam, I do need to know." Frodo relaxed his grip of the Ring and let his shoulders slump a little so that Sam could feel him calming once more. "We must not hide from each other now - not now that we are so close to the end."
"But they are not real, Mr Frodo." Sam sat down close to Frodo; as close as he dared knowing how changeable his master could be with the effects of his dreadful burden. "It's not what I am thinking, the words are false, I know that."
"But what do they tell you to do?" Frodo persisted. "Do they tell you to take the Ring and claim it for your own?"
"No Mr. Frodo," Sam actually laughed a little. "It knows I would not do that. It's a clever magic that It possesses. It whispers to me that you are not strong and that I should help you and end your suffering. Then it tells me that you are plotting to kill me and push me into the volcano; that I should seize the Ring to save you from yourself. Things of that nature." Sam added in a matter of fact tone, "Nothing I'd believe though, of course."
"Oh is that all?" Frodo smiled wanly at Sam. He had tried to inject a little irony into his comment but the jest was lacking in feeling. "Sam do you think all the voices are bad? Do you think they all come from the Ring?"
"Well the ones I hear do." Sam frowned a little, not too sure what Frodo was suggesting. "But they are growing more powerful, that's for certain. Do you hear something else then?"
"I'm not sure, Sam, but..." Frodo paused as if he were reaching for an elusive thought, something that flitted about his brain but would not stay still long enough for him to capture it. "... do you remember when I felt that great sorrow and I thought it had come from Pippin?"
"Aye I do, Mr Frodo," Sam shook his head sadly, "You thought that he had lost Mr Merry, that he was dead. But you can't know that's true, it might just be your thinking on them too much." Sam did not want Frodo to fret about such matters - not now, when they were so close and his master was already weighed down with care.
"It's just that..." Frodo paused again, reaching into his thoughts. "...there have been other feelings. You remember that Merry and Pippin had somehow worked out a way of talking to each other, in their heads?"
"Pretty odd that was too, I must say." Sam had not really fathomed at the time exactly what was going on with his master's cousins. "Mr Merry said it was something Mr Legolas had taught them, so I would think it was some kind of elven magic."
"Well sometimes, I think when Pip has been upset, I can hear him - in my head." Frodo looked at Sam intently. "Does that make any sense Sam, or do you think I'm going completely mad?"
"Is it just Pip?" Sam's jaw had dropped a little, but he covered up his look of surprise before Frodo had noticed. "Or do you hear Mr Merry as well?"
"No just Pip." Frodo said sadly. "I've never heard Merry's voice in my head, only Pippin. He calls to Merry as if he were desperately trying to make him listen, or to come back from somewhere. It's as though my feeling was right and he had lost him, but he is trying to call him back." Frodo paused for breath. This was the longest speech Sam had heard from him for several days now. "I do faintly hear another, I think it may be Legolas. He too calls to Merry and then tells Pip to come away. I don't know. It's probably my imagination. I'm sorry Sam, I just feel as though I'm losing my mind."
"Do you ever try to answer?" Sam asked simply. It seemed obvious to him, but perhaps it was a daft suggestion, otherwise Mr Frodo would have done it.
"Why no Sam." Frodo looked at him with a small smile. "Dear Sam, you always think of the most sensible things. It had not occurred to me to do that."
"Well, I'm not saying as it will work. But perhaps Mr Pippin needs to tell you something." Sam reasoned. "After all we know that he and Mr Merry were talking in their heads like the elves can, so it's not like it isn't possible. Maybe if you think hard and try to talk back next time, you'll find out if it really is Mr Pippin."
"I will Sam." Frodo patted his sensible little gardener on the arm. "I will."
"What it is, these?" Pippin was getting ready for the journey to the Black Gate. Gandalf had insisted he wear his armour again and, much to Pippin's disappointment, even his helmet had been discovered and laid out for him. The source of his enquiry now though were the strange little knitted mittens that had no thumbs in them.
"Oh Pippin, you know what they are." Legolas knew when the hobbit was being deliberately obtuse. "You've seen the others put them on before."
"Is go on tops of foots." Pippin tried to poke all his toes through the round opening, but kept getting at least one caught up in the edge. "Is stocks? Yes?"
"Um yes," Gimli agreed, "Well they're called stockings or socks, actually."
"What I sayed..." Pippin carried on trying to wiggle his feet inside the awkward garment, "stocks!"
Legolas held up two different sized pieces of footwear. "Which do you think will fit him Gimli? The shoes or the boots?"
"I'd try the boots," the dwarf picked up the partner of the one Legolas was holding, "the shoes seem a little flimsy."
"Not knowed why I gotted wear anythings on my foots anyway," Pippin stood up with one foot finally inserted into the front end of a sock, still leaving a trail of unfilled sock in front of his toes. He walked over to inspect the boots and promptly stepped on the dangling sock and fell over. He looked up at his two friends accusingly, "can't even walk with stocks on."
"Come now Pippin," Gimli bent down and pulled the sock on properly, then helped him up again. "Your feet have been badly hurt and the boots will give them some protection from more damage."
Pippin sat in a chair while Legolas and Gimli, between them wrestled the other sock onto the reluctant hobbit, followed by the boots. Pippin then slid down and stood in the boots, which reached up past his knees, and was totally unable to walk or even move. He eventually managed to lift one foot, but it stomped straight back down again with a thump. "How do you go walk in these much heavy things?" he asked with a bemused smile.
"Perhaps they are a little too long young hobbit?" Gimli suggested. "Maybe the shoes after all?"
Pippin was seated once more and the boots were replaced by the shoes, but they were too tight and pinched his tender feet and were quickly rejected too. "I not got wear these stocks either." Pippin pulled the clumsy things off and dropped them on the floor. "I gotted badnages on my foots, that go be enough," he declared.
By the time Gandalf and Aragorn arrived, Pippin was fully clad in his chain mail, black surcoat, winged helmet and no boots. The wizard provided a buckler and the smallest pair of gauntlets he could find. These had been made for a child and were actually a good fit. "The orc blade that you had would not be suitable to use with this armour and I have no sword for you Pippin, but I hope you will have no need of one."
"No Gandalf, he must have a weapon of some kind." Legolas frowned and then unfastened the sheath and long dagger from his own belt and knelt to fasten it around the hobbit's waist, "This is not a sword Pippin, but it should serve you as well."
"But Legolas!" Pippin began to protest. "It is your knife, I couldn't..."
The elf took both Pippin's hands in his and kissed them gently. "It is an elven blade and wrought with much skill and is very precious to me." Legolas smiled at his beloved hobbit. "But not so precious to me as you are Pippin, dear heart." Pippin nestled his head against Legolas's shoulder in thanks.
Gandalf smiled at the elf's generosity. "That is well done, Legolas. Now Pippin, is there anything else that you need? Are you ready to leave?"
"Um, thinking, I need..." Pippin looked hopefully up from Legolas to the wizard and sidelong at Aragorn, "...need some poppy more."
Aragorn had apparently been deep in conversation with Gimli, but this comment gained his full attention. "Pippin, I don't think that would be worthy accessory for a knight of Gondor to carry."
"You go carry it Strider." Pippin pointed out with faultless logic. "That where I meet it first times."
"I know, and I do regret giving it to you now." Aragorn suffered much guilt over Pippin's obvious addiction to the drug. "Had I known you would become so... umm... attached to opium I would not have fed it to you in the first place."
"Opi-num? Is that what it do be go called?" Pippin had never heard the real name before and had always referred to the narcotic as poppy. "That not sound as sweet as poppy. Poppy got nice red sounded name."
"Pippin, it is not sweet at all." Aragorn explained patiently for what seemed like the thousandth time. "A little, when it is needed, is most effective, but opium is a dangerous narcotic and it worries me that you use it like sugar in tea."
"Is good when I go hurting too." Pippin looked mournfully up at the ranger. "I do go need and need now - for my foots," he added quickly.
"You also need a clear head, Pippin," Gandalf pointed out. "It is not a hobbit picnic we are embarking on. This mission is very important," the wizard knelt down to the hobbit's eye level and took his hand. "And you are a very important part of it, Pippin, you want to do your best, don't you?"
"Yes, of course do." Pippin agreed, nodding his head, "not want be worry about hurted foots!"
Gandalf sighed and looked up at the other members of the Fellowship, who were all trying to conceal their amusement at Pippin's ability to out-manoeuvre both Gandalf and Aragorn with his own brand of logic. "All right," the wizard conceded, turning back to Pippin, "we'll find you some. Now are you ready, otherwise?"
Pippin pulled off the uncomfortable helm and nodded again, "I ready, but got say bye at Merry again, you promsis I Gandalf."
"Yes and you shall," Gandalf eased himself back to an upright position. "First I have to talk to you and Legolas about what you should do."
"Guarding the fugging mountain trolls!" Grutfley growled in the back of his throat. "that's a stinking suicide mission if ever I heard one!"
"Well we all gotta be somewhere in the battle." Smagnu pointed out, "at least this way the enemy are going to keep away from us."
"Yeah! An' we're jus' as likely get stepped on by the things we's supposed to be guarding." Grutfley moaned. "Those lumbering great bullocks are so stupid they don't know which bloody side they's on anyhow!"
"We ain't so sure of that ourselves." Smagnu reminded his partner. "Praps, if'n we thinks about it real hard, we can see as how to turn this to our good."
Smagnu and Grutfley fell silent and sat, crouched over their small campfire, each locked in deep thought, a condition that was fairly untenable for orcs as a rule, although Grutfley had done his share of conniving and planning in the past, being somewhat smaller and therefore needing to be more devious to get what he wanted.
The smaller orcs of their battalion milled about, eight of them forming a semi-circle around the two commanders, waiting for orders or any indication that they could be of use to their strangely beneficent leaders.
At length Sniggin pushed through the circle with Bloggin close behind, a small animal skin bottle clutched in his paws. "We bin an got yer a bit o drink, sirs." Sniggin held out two tin cups, while Bloggin filled them from the skin, then handed them to the orcs. "Is there owt elses we's can be getting' yer sirs?"
Grutfley quaffed the strong liquor, "Arrrhhh - thass a good drop o stuff - where'd yer half-inch that from?"
"We stoled him from the General's stock, they's got a whole hogshead there." Sniggin looked very pleased with himself. "You want me 'n Bloggin ter get some more?"
"No, you twos done well." Smagnu held out his cup for a refill. "But don't go drawin' unwarranted attention to yerselfs."
"Yer both looks so fustigated 'n all." Sniggin said quietly. "We's wanted to get yer summat."
"Well what we're really in need of right now is a plan with some cunning and craft that'll stop us all getting killt." Smagnu said without much hope of response. "We gotta march in front of those great mountain trolls and stop nothin' gettin' at 'em, but that don't look so good for our lot." The Uruk sighed in mental defeat.
"As I was sayin' to Smag," Grutfley added, taking another swig of whiskey, "We're just as like as not to get squashed or trod on ourselves as anythin' else."
"What 'bout we get behind 'em then?" Bloggin spoke shyly, looking carefully down at his feet. "So's they don't go tread on us, like?"
Grutfley furrowed his brow and looked to see the Uruk's reaction. His mental wheels ground a little more slowly than his partner's, but suddenly Smagnu could see the logic in the little orc's suggestion. "Bloggin - it is Bloggin, init?" The small orc nodded. "I think you may have something there."
"So do you remember all of that?" Legolas and Pippin walked slowly back to Merry's room in the Houses of Healing. Pippin limped along, favouring his foot that was broken, although Legolas was unsure if it was genuine pain or a way of reinforcing his need for opium. The reflected want in his own belly told him the latter.
"Yes," Pippin said decisively. "We must not talk at Merry or at Éow-nyn..."
"Éowyn." Legolas corrected gently.
"What I sayed," Pippin continued. "but we got talk at each other in our heads, not about the Ring but where we are and where we is going."
"And that you are on Shadowfax, the great white horse at the head of the army." Legolas reminded him. "Also that you are the halfling that was pursued by the Witch King, one of the twain that Saruman..."
'legolas?' The hobbit lurched into mindspeak, the world of everyday words suddenly seeming too much to cope with.
'that lot big talk for i make at you in head...'
'I know Pippin, dear heart, but we have to try. Why are you..."
'i start not go 'membrer how do we go talks at you in we head...'
"Surely not Pippin." Legolas laughed out loud. "You sound as eloquent as ever."
"Legolas!" Pippin said sternly. "Don't tease me. I not elly-quent."
"No," Legolas agreed as he pushed open the door to Merry's room.
The little chamber was already fairly crowded. Éowyn was there with Théoden and Gandalf, all hoping that the poorly hobbit would wake up before his cousin had to leave for the battle.
Merry, however, appeared to be still sleeping, but at least he was slumbering peacefully, his left arm thrown up over his head and his right, still cold to the touch, tucked into the covers. The bandages on his wound had just been changed and Dysgwr had even brushed his fair curls neatly.
Pippin was lifted up onto the bed by Legolas and the others drew a discreet distance away from the two hobbits. "Has he shown any signs of waking?" Legolas asked, "I think Pippin would be much happier if he could at least talk to Merry before we leave."
"No," Gandalf said quietly, "I did actually try to rouse him, but without too much effort. He really needs to wake naturally. I am sure though he will recover now."
"What do you think Pippin is most anxious about?" Éowyn asked her former travelling companion. "He should feel safe enough riding with you."
"He will not be on Arod with me," Legolas explained. "Gandalf has decided he will ride on Shadowfax alone."
"Oh! That alone must be daunting for one so small." Éowyn looked over at the perian who, in spite of the armour, still appeared very diminutive. She remembered the first time she had been sat up on a horse at the age of six. How far away the ground had seemed and Pippin was not much bigger than she had been then. "Does he have to do that?"
"I think in fact he is quite looking forward to riding the chief of the Mearas." Legolas smiled at the thought. "I suspect he is more worried about everyone looking at him - that and not being able to say a proper goodbye to Merry."
"Of course, I know how close they are." Éowyn frowned a little as she turned to Gandalf, "but you, Mithrandir, which steed will bear you to the battle?"
"I shall no doubt find a worthy animal from the ranks of the Rohirrim." Gandalf replied. "Sadly, many men are fallen and their horses returned, from these I shall pick a mount."
"Éomer tells me that Windfola, my own stallion, returned to the battalion." Éowyn curtsied courteously to the wizard. "I pray you to take him. Would that I were able to ride to the battle myself, but I am forbidden by all, including my uncle, brother and the worthy healers of this house. It would gladden my heart to know at least that I can perform some small service."
"Milady Éowyn," Gandalf bowed in return and then gently took her hand. "Your gallantry could barely be surpassed by any warrior in this conflict. Already you have earned your place in the ballads." Éowyn appeared about to protest, but Gandalf carried on quickly. "I accept your kind offer and would be proud to ride upon the steed of a valorous shield-maiden. Thank you." He kissed the back of her hand lightly.
"Merry." Pippin whispered the name, half hoping he would awaken so that he could at least see him one last time. Pippin did not even know if Merry had regained his sight properly yet. The other half of him wished that Merry would stay asleep. At least then Merry would suffer no sorrow at their parting and he would not have to explain why he had to do this thing. Why he had to leave his dearest cousin and friend, just when he had been through so much, and go off again into terrible danger. Pippin could almost imagine Merry's distraught face at the prospect. As it was, he lay quietly, breathing steadily, a half smile playing about his lips.
"What you dreaming about Merry?" Pippin stroked his hand down the side of Merry's face and wrapped his finger around one of the tidy curls, pulling it out of place and letting it spring back. "You go dream about me, Merr? Hope you do, because you making nice smile." He added conspiratorially, "I got go do war thing now with Gandalf and Legolas and Strider and Gimli," he leaned forward to whisper into the pointed little ear. "Gandalf letting I ride Shadowfax, all by myself."
Merry scrunched up his nose and licked his lips, but still showed no signs of waking. "Come along Pippin," Gandalf came over, holding out the winged helm. "You must say goodbye now, it's time to leave."
"Do I got to wear that, Gandalf?" Pippin found the metal helmet a terrible encumbrance and took it off at every opportunity. "I could carry it and put it on when someone's looking."
"Pippin, my dear hobbit," Gandalf laughed, "I assure you there will be people looking at you all the time. Of course you must wear the full uniform. Now say goodbye to Merry and come along."
Pippin kissed Merry's sleeping face one more time and started to climb down from the bed, but before he reached the ground Dysgwr arrived at the bedside. He helped Pippin down and then remembered something. "I found this old piece of rope around your cousin's waist when I removed his clothing. Do you think he wants it? Or should I throw it away?"
"Our rope!" Pippin had almost forgotten to check the whereabouts of the elven rope. "That is go be very special at Merry and me." He took hold of the grey silken strands and placed the rope in Merry's cold right hand. "There, you hold that Merr, keep you go safe while I not here."
"I don't think that is such a good idea," Dysgwr protested. "He might get that caught round his neck and damage himself."
"Oh no!" Pippin reassured the healer, "It's a special magnic rope, it will take care of my Merry same as you do - well, not same as, but it look after him good."
Dysgwr frowned sceptically at the earnest face before him, then glanced back at his small patient. The rope had somehow curled itself around Merry's hand and wrist. The healer leaned forward to unwind it but, as he touched the pale white skin, he almost jumped with surprise. Merry's icy hand and arm had begun to thaw and was now quite warm to the touch.
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