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Recaptured!: 55. Dead or Alive
Merry continued to lie face down and very still. Wormtongue let his horse wander as there was nothing to tie it to and knelt down beside the motionless little figure and turned him over into his lap. He felt first for a pulse in Merry's neck and then listened to his breathing. Both were regular and steady, making the man let out the breath he had been holding. He shook the hobbit and patted his cheeks, "Wake up, open your eyes. Stop playing dead. I know you can hear me!"
Merry remained limp and unresponsive, like a rag doll in the man's arms. "You keep this up and I'll leave you here, on your own – in the middle of the wild. Then what will you do?"
Wormtongue himself did not know what to do at the moment. He was tempted to leave Merry and ride off to Mordor without the hobbit, since he could not lift him up on the horse. He could hide him somewhere nearby, tied up so he could not escape, and then guide the wraith to where he was. The trouble with this plan was, what if the halfling died in the meantime? Perhaps the Dark Lord would not be too pleased with a dead halfling.
On the other hand perhaps he would recover soon and maybe he could try again to haul him up onto the horse. Either way, Wormtongue decided he should wait and see whether the brat was going to be all right or if he was wasting his time.
Wormtongue dragged the little body to the side of the road. He took his water bottle and dampened a kerchief with which to bathe the wound. Once the blood was cleaned away and the bleeding was stemmed, he bound a cloth tightly round Merry's head to act as a bandage.
The pressure and movement caused the hobbit to stir a little and he lifted his still bound hands up to try and push the rough ministrations away, "No don't – you're hurting me!" Merry mumbled, not quite awake, "stop it!"
"Hold still, you brat!" Wormtongue finished tying off the temporary bandage and let Merry's head slump to the grass as the man stood up, dusting his hands against his cloak in case they had any blood on them. "Now you're awake you can get to your feet." He pulled Merry by his upper arm but the hobbit was too disorientated to co-operate and Wormtongue gave up, leaving the little hobbit to sink back into unconsciousness.
He was seriously considering his first plan now, although where he would hide the halfling would be problematic as they were on an open plain with no cover in sight.
Then two things Wormtongue did not expect happened, one after the other!
Two riders came into view, heading towards him. They were about a mile away but would be upon him in about ten minutes. If they saw him with the injured halfling they might ask awkward questions, or they may even have come in search of the kidnapped bratling.
He would have to think of a valid reason for him being there. He had found him, just come across him and was trying to help the injured little one. Of course the halfling would deny that, but he was in no fit state to say anything at the moment.
Alternatively, he could just ride off now, make his escape while he could. The riders would be bound to stop and see the halfling, which would give him the chance to get completely away, although that would mean losing his asset.
Before Wormtongue could act on any of these possibilities the second unexpected thing occurred.
A darkness covered the sun and his horse reared and whinnied in terror before bolting across the open plain. The approaching riders were not unaffected either as their horses shied and turned away from the encroaching blackness that was swamping the daylight and casting a terrible shadow across the land beneath.
The Nazgûl bore down on the place that Wormtongue stood, the man now holding his little prisoner under the arms, the hobbit still unconscious and slumped.
"Here is the other, that your Master seeks!" Wormtongue cried to the Wraith. "He should know that it is the tribute of Grima Wormtongue so that that He may know of my fealty and that I should be rewarded in due course."
"He has no need of your tribute, Worm!" the Wraith hissed at him. "Is this one dead? That is all that he desires!"
"No, he lives yet." Wormtongue did not think this was going too well. "If He uses it with the other, surely they will yield the information – the location of the Ring."
"The other is dead." The wraith sneered icily. "It was useless, He threw it to the orcs. He desires only the death of this one."
Wormtongue glanced nervously behind him. The two riders had regained control of their steeds and were headed towards them at a good speed. "Will you take it to Sauron? He may wish to choose the manner of its death at least."
"Is it free of that filthy wizard and his trappings?" The Wraith had been burned by Merry before, when he wore Gandalf's cloak about his shoulders.
"Yes, there is no mark or cloth of the wizard about it now," Wormtongue held Merry out towards the creature. "He is clean of that influence now."
"I will take it." The Wraith relented. "My Lord Sauron may find more use for this than He did for the first." The Wraith rose up from his black winged steed that was as filthy and steaming with stench as a sewage pit. The sharp gauntlet covered hands reached out and took Merry from Wormtongue's grasp and clutched him to his wasted ethereal body.
Merry, emerging from his stupour, felt the icy grasp and at the same time the coldness seemed to grasp his very soul. His sightless eyes opened and he looked up into the pitiless frozen gaze of the Witch King.
When Legolas first felt Merry's mind black out, his immediate thought was that he had lost him, that the little hobbit was dead, so all encompassing was the sudden loss of Merry's pain. But then the elf realised that he was only unconscious. He could still sense Merry's life force, a soft pleasant thrum against the back of his own awareness, just as he constantly felt Pippin now. He wondered if the hobbits could feel him in return, he was sure they could feel each other.
'legolas – where merr goes?'
'I don't know, he's hurt, but he's all right, little one, don't worry.'
'can feeling him – not go dead – got big hurted much!'
'He's banged his head and has been knocked unconscious. Did it hurt you too?'
'did – got big blood on i'
'So did I. It probably absorbed some of the injury for Merry though. So that's a good thing.'
'is…but orcs thinks i go do fight!'
'merr go good soon?'
'I'm sure he will, don't worry.'
'legolas i got tell you –i goed in hole founded mith! founded out!'
'Found out what, little one?'
'no - out! go out – not in!'
'You found a way out?'
'But you went back.'
'All right Pippin, you had better tell me later. I have to talk to Éowyn now and look for Merry.'
'find merr… then i tolded you'
'Be good, little one.'
The elf lifted his head up again and saw Éowyn patiently watching and waiting. "Pippin?" she asked, "or is Merry recovered?"
"Pippin." Legolas cleaned his bloody fingers with a cloth. "I had to see if he was all right and if Merry's injury had affected him as well."
"I find that so strange," Éowyn confessed. "that you should suffer the stigmata of the halfling's injuries."
"I also find it a unique situation." Legolas confessed. "It is the first time such a bonding has happened to me, but my link with the halflings does not seem to be diminishing. I feel Merry still, he is unconscious now."
"That means that they will have stopped travelling." Éowyn reined Windfola around to the pursuit. "We may have a good chance to overtake them now."
"Indeed, let us make good speed." Legolas smiled, his mood lifting at the thought of catching up to their quarry, and the two took off along the straight road, hoping that the kidnapper had kept to that path for ease of travel.
They rode hard for some time gradually moving out onto a flat plain. Legolas scanned the distance with his far-seeing eyes. "There! Ahead about a mile, I see something. It is a man and a horse, he is dismounted and the horse is wandering loose."
"That must surely be them." Éowyn urged Windfola on to greater speed. "Can you see Merry with him?"
"No, but he is probably on the ground which is… No! Something else… something fell approaches." Legolas pulled up and Éowyn followed suit, taking her cue from the elf.
"Surely what ever it is we can master?" Éowyn drew her sword and made as if to charge.
"No it is the dark shadow! Look, have a care to your steed!"
Even as Legolas spoke Arod and Windfola shied away from their paths as a blackness swept down upon the plain. As they fought to calm their horses, the winged beast swept down over the open countryside, blackening all before it and casting fear and doubt into minds of men and beasts alike.
"Courage Arod, courage little mellon." Legolas whispered, soothing the panicked creature. Although he felt a coldness clutch at his own heart even as he spoke. "Come we must go forward."
Éowyn had regained control of Windfola and was now urging her forward, but the animal, whilst calm, would not move towards the darkness.
"The horses will not approach." Legolas called to Éowyn. "But we must reach Wormtongue before he can surrender Merry."
But as the two dismounted and ran forward they saw to their horror the Nazgûl rise up, seated upon the foul winged beast and in it's deathly grasp it held the limp form of the little hobbit. Legolas suddenly felt a stab of horror as Merry awoke, as if a cold knife had plunged into his heart. He drew a breath and held it, steadying his mind, not wanting the wraith to feel him, but wanting to stay with Merry.
"He is lost." Éowyn shook her head in anger and despair. "For now, but I will pursue that beast to the end of time. That filthy carrion, preying on the innocent – he is mine!"
Legolas looked at the woman in admiration. It was a vow and he knew she was in deadly earnest. Éowyn would not rest until she had conquered the Witch King.
Smagnu gave little Pip the bowl of food and the hobbit ate hungrily, especially as the porridge now had sugar sprinkled on it and he had a spoon to eat with.
Legolas had talked to him as soon as Merry's hurt had made him go quiet and Pippin was satisfied for the moment that his Merr would recover soon. The pain from the blow on Merry's head subsided quickly, although Pippin's forehead was still bloodied and bruised.
Grutfley shuffled into the room and Smagnu at once went to him and grabbed hold of his arm, not in a friendly way, Pippin could tell. He pointed at the hobbit and Pippin could see that an argument was going on, presumably about him.
Smagnu dragged Grutfley over to the bed and lifted Pippin's face up by his chin. This interrupted the hobbit's eating and he suddenly realised that Smagnu was angry with his partner because he thought he had hit him, drawing the blood on his head.
Although Pippin did not care for Grutfley at all and did not really care if he came to a bad end, he thought it would be better if the orc were punished for a real crime, of which no doubt there were plenty.
Pippin caught hold of Smagnu's arm to attract his attention and pointed at Grutfley shaking his head, then pointed at his wound and shook his head.
The Uruk paused in his ranting, what was little Pip trying to tell him? That Grutfley had not hit him? Then how had he come by the bruise? Pippin could tell that was what Smagnu wanted to know, but he had no mime to describe what had happened.
Then suddenly Merry awoke. Pippin dropped the bowl on the floor with a loud clatter. He clutched his arms tightly around him as if in a spasm and looked up at Smagnu with pain-filled eyes.
The Uruk dropped his hold on Grutfley and turned to little Pip. The hobbit climbed into his arms, hiding beneath the black cloak, trembling and shaking.
"What is it little Pip?" Smagnu could tell the little thing was crying and distressed. "I'll not let anyone hurt you."
Pippin knew, without hearing the words that the Uruk would protect him, but he also knew that Smagnu's safekeeping would not be of any use soon.
The Wraith had Merry, it was bringing him to Barad-dûr and it knew that Pippin was still alive.
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