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Recaptured!: 53. Promises and Threats
Occasionally they lost the trail altogether and had to retrace their steps and cast about again until they found the right way – it was a slow business.
They found Merry's tied up grasses and found the rock that he told Legolas he had stood on. Every so often Legolas would link to Merry and each time he did he was worried to find that they were still travelling onwards at a good pace, leaving the followers further behind and giving Merry no chance to leave more clues.
"I am sorry to be a burden," Legolas apologised as Éowyn once more dismounted to scour the ground for signs. "If the situation were not so dire I would not have troubled you."
"You are no burden, Legolas," Éowyn looked up at him. "And I would gladly have come to the aid of the halflings no matter what, especially to thwart Wormtongue's evil."
"I apologise again My Lady," Legolas smiled now. "I did not mean to underestimate your valour."
"If Wormtongue reaches Mordor with Merry, he had better stay in the Dark Tower or face my sword." Éowyn had grown very fond of the little hobbits, almost as much as she hated Wormtongue.
"Wait! Merry is calling me." Legolas closed his eyes in concentration.
'we go stopped…'
'Are you getting down from the horse?'
'am down… droppeded…'
'Are you hurt?'
'no – land good i'
‘Do you know where you are? Are there any clues you can give?’
‘hear watrer big…’
‘Does it sound like a waterfall?’
‘not… not big like fall…’
‘How far do you think you rode from the grass knots?’
‘lots… ride… ride… long – not knowed…’
‘Merry try to stay there as long as you can.’
‘try…worm-thing talk me now…’
"Get up! Do you hear me?" Wormtongue shook Merry by his arm. "I won’t tell you again!"
"All right, I am," Merry got half to his feet but stumbled and fell down again. "I hurt my leg when you dropped me," he lied.
"I can’t help that," Wormtongue dragged the hobbit up again. "I need to get some water and I don’t trust you not to get up to something." He had tied a length of rope around the cords on Merry’s wrists and now threw the end over a tree branch in the same way the ruffian had earlier.
"No! Don’t tie me up high… Please, it hurts too much!" Merry was not just worried because the position was uncomfortable, but mainly because he wanted to be able to tie some knots for Legolas and Éowyn to find.
"Be silent you brat!" Wormtongue pulled the rope taut and tied it off around a lower branch, leaving Merry dangling once more, his toes barely touching the ground. "You’re my last chance to win favour with the Lord Sauron – I don’t intend to lose you this time."
"I'm not going to try and run," Merry shouted angrily. "How far do you think I would get?" There was no answer. "Just… just let me down!"
"Are you there? Let me down – or – or I'll hang myself on the rope… then you'll have nothing but a dead body for Sauron."
The lack of response sent a sudden shudder of fear down Merry's spine as it struck him how alone he was, tied up in the middle of nowhere, blind and helpless. Perhaps Wormtongue had just gone off and left him and was never coming back. He remembered being in the cage at the circus and how hopeless he felt, how he gave up and wanted to die. But then Pippin had found him.
'Merry? Are you all right? What happened?'
'Mer… where you goed at?'
'tie hands up high more 'gain…not reach i much floor – ground …'
'poor merr… you go hurted…wormed-thing hurted my merr?'
'you know 'bout worm-thing pip?'
'i heared you sayed legolas things…'
'Merry don't worry, he'll have to untie you before too long. Tell him you need water or something like that."
'not speak i he… not know he goned where…'
'He'll be back and if not, we'll find you – I promise. Take my hand little one.'
'and i go find wormed-thing – so i kill … feel arms i round you…'
'legolas? pippin? felt hand… felt hug… not go scared more…'
'no – it i!'
I do beg your pardon – yes Pippin.'
give pard… in hole i!'
'Is that a good thing or a bad thing?'
'not know… orc put i here… find mith…'
'The orcs have you mining for mithril?'
'got look now…hug 'gain mer…'
'bye pip… got hug …'
'Merry I have to go now too. Be brave.'
'Will… i make some knots you…'
'Do your best…'
"Gaahh!" Merry startled with surprise, feeling a hand on his face. Wormtongue must have crept up on him very quietly, although he was probably preoccupied talking to the others. "Let me down from here!"
"I don't see any good reason why I should." Wormtongue ran his hand over Merry's hair and combed his fingers through the soft curls. "You are so small and helpless, I rather like seeing you like this."
"I'm not all that helpless," Merry retorted pulling his head back to avoid the unpleasant caress. "Just don't touch me."
"Touch you?" Wormtongue put both his hands on the hobbit, one on his back and one on his upper belly, squeezing him in the middle. "There's an enticing thought, a sweet little dainty all trussed up and ready to enjoy." The slimy creature slid his hands inside the front of Merry's britches and fondled him whilst pushing his body up against the hobbit's backside.
Merry froze to stone. "Take your filthy paws off me – Now!" His voice was suddenly very low and serious, not like a hobbit at all. Not pleading, not frightened, but dangerous – filled with a blood chilling sincerity. "And if you ever touch me again, I promise you, it is something you will regret with all your heart – while it remains in your body."
"You – you disgusting little insect." Wormtongue spat as he withdrew his hands. Although he would not confess to it, something about the hobbit's tone of voice had unnerved him. "I could rip your heart out now and give that to Sauron instead."
"That would be preferable to you touching me." Merry was not going to capitulate now. "And if you don't let me down from here you may as well do that, for if I don't die from lack of water, I will hang myself while you sleep."
"I was about to loose you, ungrateful wretch." Wormtongue untied the length of rope, letting it go so that Merry could pull his hands down. "Now sit down there and be quiet." He pushed Merry down to sit by the trunk of the tree. "Here…" He thrust the water bottle into the hobbit's hands. "Drink… and don't talk. I've heard quite enough from you for one night."
Merry drank from the bottle. He did not attempt to make any more conversation with Wormtongue. He had made him a promise and although he did not know how he would ever carry it out he was certain he would. After all a promise is a promise.
"C'm-on little thing. Here Pip come to Grutfley… Come on you stupid bleedin' little mongrel."
Pippin hid under the bed and steadfastly refused to be enticed out.
Smagnu had given him a dose of poppy and left him asleep in his big bed while he went to get orders from the Captain. He had not let Pippin keep any of his ill-gotten poppy bottles, much to the hobbit's annoyance, but he was fairly liberal now with his dosing of the juice, since they now had so much. This was in spite of the fact that the Uruk had sold three bottles already at a handsome profit. Pippin had also been allowed to keep two of the apples he had purloined and his morning dinner of bread and porridge was supplemented with an extra large helping of cheese.
Grutfley was the happy owner of one of the bottles of whisky, half of which was now inside him and the effects were causing him to throw caution to the wind, particularly his previous fears of the little imp. All danger of bewitchment had been forgotten in a whisky-haze of the riches that could be made from the careful manipulation of his partner's strange little asset. Especially when his partner was out of the way.
But Pip was not keen on the idea. Grutfley had roughly wakened him, pulling on the cord around his neck and grabbing a handful of hair to drag the sleepy, drugged little hobbit upright.
Pippin peered blearily at Grutfley and the orc had just as hazily seen two of Pippin wavering before his eyes. The hobbit came to his senses first and had managed to pull the rope from Grutfley's hand and scramble under the bed, pushing himself as close to the wall as he could.
The orc was now peering into the small space and trying to temp the hobbit out with whisky, which Pippin hated in any case, almost as much as he hated the vicious orc.
Groping around Grutfley eventually chanced upon the loose end of the leash and with a triumphant laugh, reeled the little hobbit in, dragging him across the stone tiles and catching him by his britches and hair and standing him up. "Now you mind me! Do as yer told or I promise yer'll get a beating to remember."
Keeping a firm hold on the leash, Grutfley had decided to start the next phase of Pippin's training. He took a small medallion from round his neck and showed it to the hobbit, cuffing him until he paid due attention.
Pippin looked at the medallion. It was very pretty, it had a flowery pattern engraved on it and was shimmering with a silvery golden sheen. It reminded him of something he had seen before. Frodo's mail shirt! That was it – it was mithril!
Grutfley dragged Pippin out of the door, although at first he crouched down refusing to move and hung onto the table leg. The orc kicked him in the ribs and clouted him repeatedly about the head until he was obliged to follow.
They were making slow progress along the dark tunnel, Grutfley staggering from side to side in his drunkenness and Pippin sitting down every so often either because he was rebelling or sometimes simply because he was still too drugged to walk.
Nevertheless they finally reached Grutfley's destination, a tunnel at the very heart of the Dark Tower. It was in fact not much more than a drain and was actually used for that purpose now. It was very narrow and too low for an orc like Grutfley to pass through, but even if they could, the smallest orc could not be persuaded to go in there, for there were rumours of hauntings and monsters in its dark, dank, smelly depths.
However, there were also rumours of treasure, mithril in particular. The story was, that a victim who was being tortured to death in the grimy depths of the tower had produced, as if by magic, a bag of mithril coins and tried to bargain for his life with them. But when the guards had reached out to seize the money he had thrown it at them or some-such and the money had fallen through the air, clinking piece by piece, down the black forbidding tunnel.
A few forays had apparently been made early on to try and retrieve the coins by smaller orcs but none had succeeded, or at least none had come back. Now none would try.
But Grutfley was willing to use the little imp to find some mithril for him – why not?
He caught Pippin by the rope and, showing him the mithril medallion again, shoved him headfirst into the tunnel. The hobbit immediately backed out, more frightened of the black tunnel than he was of Grutfley. "No – get in!" The orc kicked Pippin hard and pushed him into the black space once more. "Get me some fugging gelt!"
Pippin turned and poked his head out again and pointed at the lantern Grutfley was holding. He held his hand out with his head on one side, his way of asking for something. Grutfley considered, he probably had a better chance of actually getting some mithril if the creature could see in there. He handed the light over and then, standing so as to block the escape route, pointed Pippin back into the darkness.
Pippin crawled along the tunnel, looking desperately around to see if he could find anything. He was not sure whether it would satisfy the orc if he found just one mithril medallion, or would that make him greedy for more. Maybe he had just lost one down here and would be happy if he got that back. But there was no sign of anything shiny at all in this nasty smelly place.
Merry was calling him and Legolas. He must be upset. Yes he was, Pippin could feel it. He sat down where he was and put the lamp down beside him. The candle still had some way to go so he wasn't too worried yet.
Merry told him his hands were tied up high. That scumbag – the greasy man that had betrayed them to the wraith, had tied his Merry up and hurt him, then gone off and left him.
Pippin assured Merry that he would kill the man in question as soon as he could. Then gave Merry a big hug. The little hobbit could not think how else to cheer Merry up, so to take his mind off his current situation he told Legolas his latest exploits. He picked the lantern up again and as he did so he spotted something in the distance – something shiny! Giving Merry another quick hug, he set off to investigate.
The tunnel grew even narrower and was now half filled with stinking water, but Pippin carried on, crawling on his knees, one hand on the ground the other holding the lantern, towards the white glow ahead. It grew bigger and bigger as he went towards it, until eventually it spilled out of the rock-face. It was not mithril, it was daylight, and he was outside!
Pippin sat down to consider this:
1. He was outside the dark tower.
2. He was on his own.
3. He was still inside Mordor and did not know how to get out.
4. He had no food.
5. He had no poppy juice.
Two good things and three bad things, especially the last one. Pippin turned to look back at the dark forbidding tunnel, not keen to go back the way he had come. But then he considered what was at the other end. Cross orc – not good. His big Uruk – not so bad. Food – not good food, but food. Poppy juice – a definite advantage, especially as the big one was being more generous with it.
Then Pippin remembered something else, something very important. Merry was on his way. Merry was coming to Barad-dûr! He couldn't escape now – not without Merry. What if Merry was captive and he had got away. That wouldn't do at all.
Resolutely Pippin picked up his lantern and crawled back into the tunnel. He inched his way through the filthy water thinking how bad he was going to smell when he got out.
Suddenly something else caught his eye – something shiny again, but this time it was small and the right shape. Pippin edged his way forward out of the water, which ended at this point, and picked up the tiny coin. It was definitely mithril. He sank his hand below the water and felt about.
He could scarcely believe his eyes – a whole handful of little coins, glistening in the lantern light.
Pippin thought hard again. This was twice in one day and on poppy juice, his brain would rebel soon. Just take a few, leave some here and then they might let you come back for more. This was a good plan he decided.
Carefully the little hobbit tore a piece of material from the tail of his shirt and laid it on some dry ground. Then he put all the coins he had found so far in the centre. Going back to where he had found the first handful, he dredged around until he could find no more, piling each new catch on to the growing heap. There must have been a hundred at least, Pippin thought, although he couldn't be bothered to count them. He took ten and put those in his pocket. Then he found a big rock wrapped it with the remainder of the coins in the cloth and tied it securely. He placed the precious bundle where the water started so it was just submerged then, pleased with his cleverness, set off back along the winding tunnel, still crawling on his knees.
When he finally emerged at the other end Grutfley had fallen asleep and was snoring loudly, the effects of the whisky finally knocking him out. Pippin didn't expect to have to wake his captor up, that wasn't how things were supposed to work. But he was a little nervous about wandering the tunnels on his own, so he kicked Grutfley in the leg and shook the orc's head from side to side.
Grutfley woke with a roar and struck out, knocking Pippin sideways and into the wall. The hobbit climbed to his feet and stood still, waiting for the orc to gather his senses. He grabbed the leash angrily and standing up was about to clip Pippin across the head for his impertinence but stopped short when he saw the little thing holding out his palm with five shiny coins in it.
"What yer got little Pip?" Grutfley reached out and snatched the coins greedily. "Good little Pip, there's a good imp." The orc patted him on the head happily, then wrinkled up his nose in disgust. "Yer stinks something rotten. Better get yer cleaned up before Smagnu gets a whiff of yer."
He pulled on the leash and Pippin trotted happily along this time. When they reached their room again Smagnu had returned and was fuming with Grutfley. "Where the fug've you been with my Pip? Look at the state of him – and the stink? What've you been doing with him? Dunking him in the carsey?"
"No, I took him for a little walk." Grutfley grinned an orcish grin. "A very profitable little walk actually. Look!" He held out his hand with two mithril coins in it – the other three safely stowed in his pocket.
Smagnu snatched the coins in disbelief. "Did you find these little Pip?" He looked wide-eyed in amazement at his apprentice burglar.
Pippin reached in his pocket and found the five coins he had kept for Smagnu and shyly held them out to the big Uruk.
Smagnu knelt down to Pippin's level and held the little hand from underneath, examining the tiny coins in wonder. Pippin took the enormous hand with his other and poured the coins into the Uruk's palm and smiled up at him.
"Why yer little piece of…!" Grutfley spluttered. "Hold out on me, would yer." He lifted a hand to cuff Pippin.
Faster than a blink, a large Uruk fist shot out and knocked Grutfley across the room, slamming him into the far wall. "You touch my little Pip again," he growled dangerously. "I promise – you're dead!"
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