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Recaptured!: 108. Getting There
"Wake up Merry, come along, say something to me to show you're awake." King Théoden was sitting by the sick hobbit's bed keeping constant vigil, much to the dismay of Dysgwr. The healer was not used to having such exalted visitors in his patients' rooms. "Your Liege lord commands it." The King whispered into the hobbit's ear, knowing that if Merry could hear, that would produce a reaction.
"Pippin, Pip, where are you?" Merry murmured more asleep than awake. After the King had delivered Gandalf's message that he must not mindspeak with Pippin, Merry had dozed off again and, although he would not communicate in his sleep, there was a danger he might do so whilst half way betwixt waking and sleeping.
"Uncle, you must take some rest." Éowyn set down the bowl of porridge she had brought for Merry in hope of finding him awake and using the pretext to persuade her aged guardian to relinquish his watch. "I will take care of Meriadoc."
"I fear that he will try to communicate with Peregrin as he awakens." Théoden had promised Gandalf that he would not allow that to happen. The wizard had explained that if Pippin were to communicate with anyone other than Legolas during their journey to the Black Gate, then Sauron would be drawn away from them and perhaps cast about in other places, searching for the Ring and its bearer. The Dark Lord knew now that the bearer was a halfling, however, Gandalf was certain that He did not know which one. "Sauron has to believe that Pippin carries the Ring and no other." Théoden finished.
"Perhaps if we unbind Merry's eyes it will be easier to see if he sleeps or wakes." Éowyn suggested.
"He was blinded by the light the last time we attempted that," Dysgwr explained. "We must wait at least until he is awake and the room is darkened."
"I am awake," Merry struggled to sit up again, until the pain in his chest drove him back down into the pillows. "I don't think I called Pip in my mind, I just thought he was still here."
"Very well," Dysgwr eased Merry to a sitting position whilst Éowyn placed pillows behind him. "Shall we try again to remove the bandages?"
"Hmm, I- I think..." Merry realised he was desperately searching him mind for a reason not to test his sight. "I think I'm a little nervous about..." he trailed off, trying to identify what he was nervous about.
"You're worried that your vision might not have returned?" Théoden gently prompted, "and while your eyes are covered there is always the possibility you will be able to see. But Merry, you have to be brave now I think and find out for certain."
Merry nodded his head, grateful that the King had vocalised exactly what he was afraid of, "Yes I know, may I try again now?"
"Of course." Dysgwr drew the heavy curtains to shut out the light and lit a single candle. He carefully unwrapped the bandage that held the two pads in place over the halfling's eyes.
Merry reached up and pulled the pads away and rubbed at his still shut eyes tentatively. He squinted them together, one hand pressed tightly over each eye. Slowly he dared to let his right hand, as it was aching from his injury, drop down and flickered his right eyelid open.
He let go of a tight gasp and exhaled as he realised he had been holding in his breath with tension. Dimly before him the hobbit could see a beautiful elven maiden, with long, golden hair and ethereal features. "A Elbereth!" Merry blurted in surprise, then, as the fair elf came forward smiling sweetly at him, he dropped his left hand and opened that eye too. "Forgive me Milady!" Merry breathed in awe at the faerie maid before him, "I thought I was dreaming to see so fair an elf at my bedside."
The golden haired elf, gave a small tinkling laugh and reached forward with both hands to smooth the fair curls off the hobbit's brow and cup his face, before placing a tender kiss on each of his eyelids. "Why Merry surely, you know me without your eyes, may you not recognise me with them?" She laughed once more with happiness that her comrade in arms was now able at last to see. "Merry - it's me!"
"Éowyn..." Merry's eyes grew wide with wonder. "I - I never imagined... that is... Éowyn - you are so beautiful that I thought you were Elbereth Herself!"
"Up you go," Gandalf lifted Pippin up onto Shadowfax and the hobbit grasped anxiously onto the great steed's flowing mane. "There's no need to cling on so tightly Pippin." Gandalf frowned at the hobbit, "He will not let you fall and you'll annoy him by pulling at him so."
"Sorry Gandalf. Sorry Shadowfax." Pippin let go of the handfuls of hair and placed his hands carefully on either side of the horse's warm muscular neck. "I go be bit scared of long way is down."
"It's just the same as when you rode him with me," Gandalf smiled, remembering how nervous he could make the hobbit at times. "Except I'm not there, so you've got more room to wriggle about."
"and more rooms to get off too quickerly!" Pippin muttered more to himself than the wizard.
"You're quite safe Pippin," Legolas reassured him. "The Lord of the Mearas would not let you fall."
"I do be good, Legolas," Pippin tentatively reached up to push the uncomfortable helmet further back on his head. It tended to slip down over his eyes from time to time and was most unwieldy. "I just want see where we goeding - goering - going!"
Legolas smiled and leapt upon Arod, joining Gimli who was already astride and nodded to Gandalf who was now seated on Windfola. Shadowfax stepped proudly forward, making Pippin anxiously clutch to his mane once more, and, at a nod from Gandalf, the great horse, with his small burden, took his place between Aragorn and Gandalf at the head of the great army.
At last the trumpets rang and the lead battalion began to move. Troop by troop and company by company, they wheeled and moved off eastward across the Pelennor.
Legolas rode just behind Pippin and between the sons of Elrond. He waited until the hobbit seemed to be more settled and confident that his seat was not so precarious as he'd feared after all before beginning their agreed tactics.
"How do you fare?'
'i go good now'
'I trust your burden does not trouble you over much?'
'it go be much heavrier legolas...'
'Can you manage to carry it halfling?'
'I would gladly shoulder this burden for a league or two, to give you respite.'
'...not burdren - i not got give you!'
'I merely offered...'
'i go keep It till King take - not say me more!'
Pippin risked turning a little in his high perch to smile at Legolas. He realised the elf knew his tone was play-acting, that was what he had told the hobbit to say. But still Pippin found it difficult to use such a tone to his dear friend.
The great army journeyed on and, as the sun moved across the sky, Pippin grew weary and his hobbit stomach began to protest at the lack of attention it was receiving. Hobbits, being small, needed to eat little but often and marching with humans and indeed elves, Pippin found neither race seemed to understand this. Legolas started a short dialogue every so often and Pippin was beginning to find this tiring too.
'Do you tire?'
'Hmm...' Legolas paused. Pippin was not supposed to say this. 'Why do you tire? Does your burden overcome you?'
'not! i just be more and more hungrery!'
'Patience Pippin, I'm sure we'll eat soon.'
'i not can't stinkering wait more!'
"Pippin!" Legolas said it loud enough for Gandalf, Aragorn and everyone else around him to hear. "Where did you learn such language?"
The hobbit turned around and looked plaintively at Legolas, "Sorry Legolas, my belly teached it to I!"
"Ah, the hobbit is hungry," Gandalf smiled over at Aragorn, "that seems to be a valid reason for halting a seven thousand strong army."
"Indeed, my little friend," Aragorn's features had been understandably grim during the journey so far, but now a small quirk lightened his face, "I will send for the buglers at once to send out the cry that the hobbit hungers and all must wait."
"Strider!" Pippin admonished, although his face had turned bright red, "is you go tease at I?"
"Yes, but we will take some rest now, Pippin," Aragorn lifted his hand to signal to the heralds that the vanguard and all in its wake would set up encampment for the night. "We passed Osgiliath at noon and I would have stopped here in any event."
Gradually the great army halted and all set about the business of feeding and sleeping, both themselves and their mounts. Pippin was lifted down by Legolas and stood in the midst of the busy camp feeling and looking most bewildered. The elf had gone to find grazing for Arod and had taken Shadowfax, Windfola and Hasufel with him. Gandalf and Aragorn were directing sentries and other matters and Gimli...
"What's wrong young hobbit?" Gimli dropped a heavy hand on Pippin's shoulder, making him start with surprise. "You look a little lost."
"Feel big lot lost, Gimli." Pippin admitted. "I not been in warbattle before, what I got to do now?"
"It's very much the same as when we were on the Quest," Gimli explained kindly, "you have to eat and sleep and be ready for the morrow."
"That would normally be the case," Aragorn's voice made both the dwarf and the hobbit turn around in surprise. "But in Pippin's case, I'm afraid we have a lot of work to do."
"Work!" Pippin's jaw dropped in dismay. "Do I have to be go get wood or go make cook things?"
"No, Pippin," Aragorn was not sure which was more touching, Pippin's muddled speech or his muddled thinking that he would have to do the cooking. He stooped down to reach the hobbit's eye level and took his small hands in his comparatively large ones, "I need to know if you have attracted Sauron at all, but I think, from what Legolas says, you have not."
"Don't not think we do." Pippin agreed. "He not come be in we heads at all."
"Then I want to try something else, but Pippin," Aragorn held the little one firmly with his steely gaze, "it's going to be quite dangerous for both of us. I want you to join me as I confront Him, Sauron that is, in the palantír."
"Arrrcchhh! Sam! Sam!" Frodo slumped face down in the grey ash, his hands clutching frantically at his neck. Samwise was five feet away but reached his master in two heartbeats. Careful not to actually touch the Ring, he lifted Frodo by his shoulders and eased his head into his lap. Frodo clasped the Ring in his hand and lifted it up towards his face, rubbing It against his pale cheek. "It's trying to make me put It on, Sam," he breathed.
"What does it say Mr Frodo?" Sam had heard the Ring calling to him more frequently of late, the same litany, over and over 'take the Ring Samwise, save your Frodo, take Me for your own and save him' Sam had not even mentioned this to his master, Frodo had enough to worry about.
"It wants me to claim It," Frodo's voice was cracked and hard to hear. Both he and Samwise were suffering severely from water deprivation and speaking was becoming increasingly difficult. "It says I can make everything right with Its power. Bring back Gandalf, make Merry and Pippin whole again, even save Boromir and restore his life. Then It would take us all home and we would live happily for ever in the Shire."
"It's lying, Mr Frodo?" Sam licked his lips to try and find some moisture to help him speak. "I know It's a powerful thing and all, but would It really do all that for us?"
"When It talks to me, all those things seem real." Sam felt Frodo quiver with the pain of the thought. "Everything is so bad here and the Ring tells me it can all be made right again if I would just put It on - It says things about you Sam, that you could marry Rosie Cotton and be the Mayor."
"Well that settles it Mr Frodo," Sam snorted in amazement, "It must be a'lying - neither of those things will ever happen, that's for sure."
"If you say so, Sam," Frodo smiled a little as he rested back in Sam's arms, "but just now, when It hurt me so much, It was screaming, but not at me and I don't think at you either Sam."
"Who was It talking to then?" Sam looked nervously about, "Could it be that Gollum sneaking back up on us?"
"No it was... something in my head." Frodo rubbed his eyes as if trying to remember a recent dream, "there was a sad little voice again, just like Pippin complaining when he's hungry and wants to stop. That's who the Ring was calling to I think."
"It's just getting more and more frantic the nearer we gets." Sam gently smoothed Frodo's hair from out of his eyes, "We mustn't believe what It promises either of us."
"What does It say to you now, Sam?" Frodo accepted the mouthful of water as Sam lifted the bottle to his lips. "I know It talked to you before, does It say the same?"
"It promises me everything I wants, just like It does to you," Sam did not really want to elaborate with any detail. "Although It's getting harder to ignore, because It knows just what I want."
"What's that, Sam?" Frodo was becoming more relaxed now as Sam held him in his arms. He closed his eyes as if he would sleep. "What does the Ring promise you?"
"Promises me that I can save you," Sam muttered the words quietly through his parched lips. "Says that if I was to take It and claim It, I could take you home and you would be well and free."
Frodo's eyes shot open again at Sam's mention of claiming the Ring. He grasped It to his chest and struggled to sit up again. "We have to move on Sam," he gasped with new resolve. "Before It finds what It is looking for."
"What might that be Mr Frodo?" Sam realised that he had upset his master with talk of claiming the Ring, even though Frodo knew he would not try to take It from him.
"Someone to believe It's treacherous lies!" Frodo almost snarled the words as he shook off Sam's arms and pushed himself to his feet.
Sam stood quickly and reached out to steady his master, who almost lost his balance. Frodo was weak and barely able to stand, but even the slightest conflict over the Ring would fire his adrenaline. "Don't take on Mr Frodo," Sam whispered lightly. "I'm not about to even touch It, you know I wouldn't."
"I know Sam," Frodo leant back on the strong arm of his servant. "I'm just afraid for us both - that we might not be able to do this."
"We'll do it Mr Frodo, don't you worry." Sam collected up the small pack and the water bottle that they still had left between them. "I won't let you down, Sir, trust me."
"Oh Sam!" Frodo gave a small wan smile. "I know you'll stay with me to the end. I wish in a way that you wouldn't..." Frodo held up a hand to stop the protest he could see was coming, "...but you promised Gandalf, I know and I would not expect you to break a promise."
"That's right!" Sam said firmly, taking Frodo's arm to help him start back on the long and weary road to Mount Doom.
"There's still something I don't understand though Sam," Frodo frowned again remembering the sad voice that had sounded so like his young cousin. "Do you think the Ring was calling out to the little voice in my head? Do you think It's trying to reach out to Pippin? And if It is, what happens if the Ring finds him?"
"Are all the people of Rohan so fair?" Merry looked with wonder from Théoden to Éowyn, "Begging your pardon, my Lord, but I did not imagine that you looked so."
"Really?" The King laughed lightly at the hobbit's wide eyes, "What had you thought I would look like?"
"I don't know," Merry suddenly realised that he had not properly visualised his new friends at all, thinking them to be dark like the Westrons and not fair as the elves of Lórien. "I was sure you had a beard, like Aragorn, but I thought it would be the same colour."
"Well I hope the sight of me does not displease you, young Meriadoc." Théoden smiled at Éowyn. "Although I am not so fair as my niece that you would think me an elf."
"Not with your whiskers my Lord," Merry still gazed with unquenched wonder upon the two humans before him. Both had become so well known to him and yet this was the first he had looked up them. "Elves do not grow hair on their faces - nor do hobbits."
"So do elves also sport hairy feet and run unshod?" Théoden asked with amusement.
"Oh no, they do not have such good feet as hobbits." Merry announced proudly, "nor do they smoke pipeweed or eat as many meals a day."
"They do however live a very long time, as will this hobbit if he proves to be a good patient." Éowyn brought the bowl of porridge over to Merry. "It's your favourite time Merry, time to eat."
"Then I shall take my leave." Théoden gave way to his niece and, after kissing Merry on the brow, promised to return later. The healer, Dysgwr opened the door for the illustrious visitor and followed him out of the bedchamber, leaving Merry in Éowyn's capable hands.
"Porridge?" Merry looked sadly at the unexciting repast. "Pip and I had that in Barad-dûr."
"Plain fare for sick hobbits, you'll have to hurry and get well if you want something more delicious," Éowyn smiled, settling herself down to feed the invalid. "Did you have it with sugar in Barad-dûr?"
"Oh yes, Mr Smagnu knew we liked sugar." Merry sighed, "Éowyn, where's Pip now?"
"I'm not sure exactly, Merry my dear," Éowyn lifted him up a little straighter in the bed. "Come now, I shall feed you as I did in Edoras, do you recall?"
"Could I look out of the window first?" Merry looked askance at the size of the room and the bed that he occupied, always so big in this strange world and somehow, now that he could see it, the large furniture seemed even more daunting. "Could you just show me which way Pip went, so that I could look?"
"Merry, you really are not well enough to be out of bed you know." Éowyn brushed his curls to one side with her hand, a nice hand, small like a hobbit's hand, not big and powerful like the men healers or the other humans he had become used to, small, like Pip's hand.
Merry had not meant to cry, but he felt the tears spring unbidden to his eyes. "I- I know, I'm sorry, I j-just... miss him... I wanted to see him so much, just once and now... now..."
"Oh Merry, I'm sorry." Éowyn felt her own eyes prick with emotion. "Of course, you can look out of the window, if that is what your heart desires. Hold around my neck." Éowyn placed the bowl on a table and bent down to lift Merry up into her arms.
But even as she bore the small creature up, his trusting arms wrapped firmly about her neck, she felt the little weight being lifted away from her grasp. "Please Milady, allow me to carry the halfling." The strong arms held Merry tightly and turned him around to rest his injured body against a broad chest. "Where would you go to Merry?" Faramir whispered.
"The window." Merry hiccupped back a sob and drew a deep breath to compose himself once more. "I want to see where Pippin went."
Éowyn walked ahead of Faramir and his burden and drew back the heavy curtains, letting in the dim light. Faramir stood Merry on the table that was beneath the window and he and Éowyn held his hands on either side as he was very wobbly. "That is the Pelennor field, Merry." Faramir pointed to the distant plain. "That is where the army assembled before they left, with Pippin at its very head."
"That is also where you and I fought with the Witch King, Merry." Éowyn squeezed his hand as she recalled the little one's bravery in the face of adversity. "We thought you had died, no one thought you would recover, but you have."
"But if Pippin doesn't come back," Merry turned to look at Éowyn in dismay. "It will all have been for nothing."
"No, that's not true, Merry." Faramir said, making the hobbit turn towards him. "See what a miracle you are. You fought the Witch King and survived and now you can even see again. With endurance like that, there is good hope for Pippin."
"And whatever Pippin manages to do, it will not be in vain," Éowyn said softly, "he is doing his duty to his King and the peoples of Middle Earth, that of itself cannot be for nothing."
"I know," Merry sighed as Faramir lifted him down again. "I'm just being selfish, I wanted Pippin so much when I awoke and he was gone again. I am just frightened for him, he's so little and I'm supposed to take care of him. I promised my father and his father a long time ago." Merry's mind raced back to the chocolate incident and he thought of the pledge he had made then to set a good example for Pippin and to always look after him.*
Faramir carried the hobbit back to the big bed and laid him carefully back against the pillows. Éowyn smiled her thanks and took up the porridge dish to feed Merry, now that he had looked his fill.
"If you need no other service of me I shall bid you good day, Milady; Meriadoc." Faramir bent a courteous little bow and backed out of the chamber, albeit rather reluctantly.
"I would not detain you if you have other matters to attend to, My Lord." Éowyn did not turn her head as she spoke, intent upon spooning the rather cooled porridge into her patient. "But I am grateful for your assistance."
"Then may I call on you soon?" Faramir enquired. "Perhaps when Merry is well enough he would like a walk in the gardens?" Faramir looked pleadingly at Merry while Éowyn still had her back to him.
"That would be very nice." Merry agreed, nodding at Faramir helpfully.
"Then I shall call on you tomorrow?" Faramir waited a little for a positive response, but all he received was another nod from Merry. "Tomorrow then?"
As the young Steward of the City left the chamber, Merry caught Éowyn with a questioning look. He held up his hand to prevent another spoonful of porridge passing his lips, "Who was that?" he asked in a low tone.
"Why Lord Faramir of course!" Éowyn suddenly realised that it was not always obvious to Merry who everybody was. "Did you not recognise his voice?"
"I had forgotten," Merry admitted, "It is easier to recognise a face than a voice I think."
"So what did you think?" Éowyn tinkled her little laugh again. "Does he meet your expectations?"
"I'm not sure," Merry gave a pretend frown. "But I got the strong feeling that he was more interested in you than in me!"
*A Partnership in Villainy
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