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Recaptured!: 54. Blood and Water
"What trick are you up to?" Wormtongue had reached the conclusion that the halfling's appearance of innocence was as deceptive as he himself was – especially this particular specimen. "You have no need to wash – not where you are going."
"My eyes hurt and my leg." Merry lied "I thought the water might soothe them a little and I'm very dirty besides."
"All right." Wormtongue begrudgingly agreed. He did not want undue harm to come to the halfling, not before he had handed it over, but he was very suspicious of its motives all the same. "But I'll be keeping a tight hold on you – so no tricks."
Merry climbed to his feet and Wormtongue tied the long length of rope around Merry's waist and led him forward by that to the water's edge. Merry stooped down, feeling carefully with his hands for the cool rushing stream. "Is it a big river?" he asked in a conversational way.
"No just a little stream." Wormtongue frowned. He couldn't see the trick but he suspected one all the same.
Merry dangled his fingers for a few moments before scooping up some water and sluicing it onto his face and eyes, drinking a little at the same time. Then he sat on the bank and dangled his legs in the fast moving current, lifting his face up to the early morning sun.
'got foots in wet… water go moves fast…'
'Good. Do you know which way it's running?'
'got sun in face… water go right foot… left foot…'
'Are you sure…'
"Is it a big river or just a stream?'
'not big… is 'team… s'team… you sayed…'
'That's very good Merry. Do you know anything else?'
'Éowyn may know the stream, I will ask her. That's very good work Merry. Now try to delay as much as you can."
"Merry is by some trees, sitting with his feet in the water of a stream." Legolas reported to Éowyn. "The sun is in his face, so he is looking East and the water is running right to left."
"Which means South to North then," Éowyn completed. "That sounds to me as though he is on the banks of the Mering Stream on the North side of Firen Wood. They are probably following the Great West Road."
'I have asked him to delay as much as possible." Legolas explained. "How far away are we from that point do you think, My Lady?"
"Half a day's ride if we make haste." Éowyn looked with concern at Legolas. "How does your wound feel now? You do not complain and yet I feel sure it must pain you."
"It is nothing compared to the pain of knowing my little friends are in such dire trouble." Legolas lightened the grim thought with a fond smile. "Yet they do not complain, so how may I?"
"Come then," Éowyn urged Windfola forward. "We will make all haste to at least spare Meriadoc more trouble."
They rode in silence for several miles until Legolas pulled up with a sudden halt, putting his hand to his head. He groaned slightly, rocking forward on to Arod's mane.
"What is it, Legolas?" Éowyn reigned Windfola in and turned back. "Is it one of the halflings?"
"Merry…" Legolas took his hand away from his temple and looked at his fingers. They were stained with blood. "I don't feel him now."
"Hurry up!" Wormtongue pulled on the rope. "We can't sit here all day."
"I'm very hungry," Merry complained. "Aren't you going to feed me at all. You know hobbits, I mean halflings, have to eat several times a day."
"No – I'm not planning on feeding you – you little wretch." Wormtongue tugged on the rope again. "You give me enough trouble without that – you can go without. Now come on!"
Merry was in the middle of surreptitiously tying some reeds together at the water's edge when Wormtongue snapped the rope tight, nearly squashing the breath out of the hobbit. "All right, I'm coming."
He scrambled up backwards from the water's edge, not letting the man see what he had been doing. Merry had already tied knots in the grasses under the tree but he wanted to give Legolas and Éowyn as much help as possible.
Wormtongue went to his horse, leading Merry along by the rope, and mounted the tall beast. "Give me your hands," he demanded, "I need to pull you up."
Merry lifted his hands up and Wormtongue caught hold of the rope that bound the chafed wrists and tried to haul the little hobbit up onto the horse. But Merry was dragging back, making himself a dead-weight and after a while the man realised he could not lift his prisoner up.
"You'll have to go on foot until I find something for you to stand on." Wormtongue snarled angrily. He dismounted and took the rope from Merry's waist and retied it around the rope on the hobbit's wrists "Now get a move on and don't dawdle." The man climbed back onto his steed and fastened the rope around his saddle.
He kicked his horse to a trot making the little hobbit run quite fast to keep up. It was doubly difficult for Merry, as he could not see where he was going and only had the rope for guidance. Several times he stumbled and was dragged along by his wrists, forcing Wormtongue to stop until the little one could scramble back to his feet. The one consolation to this treatment in the hobbit's mind was that it was effectively slowing their progress, giving the followers a better chance to catch up.
But eventually Merry took a bad tumble and was dragged along the ground for several yards. As Wormtongue pulled back hard on the horse's reins, the confused beast shied and then kicked to the rear, catching Merry a blow to the temple. The little hobbit jerked from the impact, but did not cry out, he lay very still, blood pouring from his head.
Smagnu picked Pippin up, holding him at arm's length and shaking his head at the state of the mucky little hobbit. It was just about dawn and Smagnu would have preferred to get some sleep, but he decided that little Pip was too smelly even for him to put up with and he had tolerated some pretty bad stinks in his time.
He set him down again and, leading Pippin along, they went through the dark corridor and, much to Pippin's dismay, through the big mess hall without stopping until they reached an enclosed courtyard, a place the hobbit had not seen before.
Smagnu led Pippin over to a large water butt and unceremoniously picked the struggling hobbit up and dunked him headfirst, clothes and all into the cold, but clean, water, holding him by one foot.
The Uruk submerged his little charge into the water several times, almost like a child dipping a piece of toast into an egg and eventually hauled him out and sat him on the stone flags. Pippin looked a picture of misery. His teeth chattered and his wet curls were starting to freeze in the cold. He hugged his knees, too wet and cold and half drowned to actually move.
Smagnu was quite sorry for having to be so rough, but he found little Pip's hurt expression amusing too. He picked the hobbit up and, shaking some of the wet off him first, tucked him under his arm and pulled his big cloak tightly around him.
Pippin was carried back to the little room again but Smagnu would not let him on the bed until he took all his wet clothes off. Then he was allowed to crawl under the blankets and shivered himself back to warmth. The Uruk fed him a little bread soaked in whisky with sugar sprinkled on the top. Pippin found the addition of the sweetness to the strong liquor made it quite palatable and happily accepted a second helping, making a mental note to steal more sugar next time he was in the store.
Smagnu hung Pippin's wet clothes on the back of a chair, then said something the deaf hobbit could not possibly make out, although the Uruk looked quite happy and patted little Pip's head affectionately.
The Uruk left the room and went in search of food, before his day's sleep and Pippin curled up under the blankets, glad to be relatively clean again and very glad to be warm and dry.
Suddenly he shot up in the bed, the covers still over his head. He fought his way out wondering what had hit him. Looking frantically round the room, Pippin was surprised to find he was all alone, although he was sure someone or something had cracked him across his temple.
Smagnu returned at that moment, a bowl of porridge and bread for little Pip in his hand. He had even managed to find the little one a spoon to eat with and was planning to put some sugar on the food, as Pip seemed to like that.
Catching sight of Pippin, sitting up in the middle of the big bed – his hand clutched to his head, the Uruk nearly dropped the bowl in anger. His little Pip had a bloody bruise across his forehead.
"I'll kill that fugging Grutfley, when I get hold of him." He snarled.
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