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Recaptured!: 62. Beyond Help
Smagnu snarled crossly at the Quartermaster. "I need two of those cakes. Not for me they're for a special prisoner."
"Well you can only get one." The Quartermaster was adamant. "You had two pieces of chocolate yesterday. Don't you know there's a war on?"
"Well give me an orange as well then." Smagnu negotiated. "You've got plenty to spare."
"All right you can have a small orange." The Quartermaster crossed it off the ration sheet and put it next to the small cauldron of hot potatoes, onions and carrots and then wrapped the single cake in a piece of paper. Two small loaves were added, together with a wax mould filled with honey.
Smagnu collected the feast up and set off with Grutfley for the dungeon.
"I dunno why yer make such a fuss 'bout one bleedin' cake," complained the smaller orc. "I think you're going a bit too soft of late. You got plenty there for 'em."
"I just wanted them to have something good." Smagnu felt a bit defensive about the two Pips. He didn't really understand it himself, but tonight in particular he had a very bad feeling about taking new little Pip up to be questioned. While he was in the dungeon or in the mess hall he could protect him, but he had no defence against the Wraiths, especially against Number One.
When they opened the door to the cell, little Pip was across the room like an arrow, holding Smagnu's hand and looking to see what was in the pot. The second helping of bread and cheese and apple, together with the ale and chocolate, had long since been demolished.
Grutfley had procured a bowl and spoon for each of them and ladled them a good helping of the meatless stew. Pippin was glad to find there was no flesh in it, he did not really trust orc meat. Merry had to be helped with the spoon and bowl at first but soon got the hang of what to do. There was a long silent period of concentrated eating.
Once the bread and honey had been eaten and the orange and cake put to one side for later, Smagnu took Merry by the hand. "Come along new little Pip," he said with his heart quickening a beat, fearful for the little creature. "I have to take you up now."
Merry stood up obediently and waited a beat. "Is little Pip coming too?" There was a sudden note of fear in his heart too, mostly at the thought of leaving his friend behind.
"No." Smagnu suddenly realised something. "and you mustn't tell anyone about him. Do you understand? No one knows he's here, if you mention him we could all be in big trouble."
"Oh!" Merry was very confused now. "I-I'll remember," was all he could think of to say.
Smagnu started to lead Merry out of the cell and, of course Pip jumped up to follow too, grabbing Smagnu's other hand. "No little Pip," he led him back to the cot and sat him down. "You have to stay here."
Grutfley was waiting at the cell door with the key in the lock and, as Smagnu led Merry through the door, Pippin once more tried to follow. Grutfley picked him up and put him back in the cell and had to hold him there as he shut the door, pushing him further back so that he could close the last chink and turn the key.
Smagnu peered back through the grille and sighed deeply to see the little one throw himself at the door, sinking down against it to the floor, his fists clenched against the solid metal and his shoulders heaving in obvious grief.
The big Uruk lifted Merry up and carried him, as it was quicker and easier than trying to guide the blind creature through the labyrinth of stairs and corridors. He felt the tremor of fear in the little one's body, his hand clutching tightly to the black cloak the Uruk always wore.
As they entered the chamber of the Lord of the Nazgûl, Smagnu felt the small being gasp in terror and wrap his arm around his neck, burying his face in his broad, solid chest as if seeking safety there.
'SET IT DOWN' he was ordered. 'WAIT OUTSIDE.'
Smagnu had promised to stay with new little Pip, but to defy this Master? "It is very afraid," he ventured, "it may be calmer if I stay with it.'
'VERY WELL' this was a sneer. 'AN URUK-HAI WITH A CALMING INFLUENCE – THIS MAY BE ENTERTAINING. SET IT DOWN BEFORE ME.'
Smagnu put new little Pip down on the ground with difficulty, as he would not let go of the Uruk's neck and then once his arm was unwrapped, he clung to the black cloak. Smagnu let him keep hold and moved as far back from the halfling as he could
'TELL ME HALFLING' The Wraith looked more terrifying than Merry remembered from his journey. Deathly white and skeletal with long bony fingers that jabbed at him. 'THE RING? YOU WERE ONE OF THE PARTY THAT BORE IT FROM THE SHIRE – IS THAT NOT SO?'
"I-I don't know a-any of th-these th-th-th-things." Merry bit his tongue to try and calm himself and control the stutter that had appeared. "I c-can't rem-m-member-ber any-anyth…"
'YOU ARE A HALFLING?'
'DO YOU KNOW NOTHING?'
"I-I th-think m-my name… name i-is P-Pip."
'I-I re-member y-you b-bro-brought me h-here, S-sir."
'I CANNOT TROUBLE QUESTIONING YOU – I SHALL TOUCH YOUR MIND AND FIND WHAT IS THERE.'
The Wraith reached forward to Merry who sank lower to the ground, cringing away from the Nazgûl Lord on all fours. But he took the hobbit up and Merry felt all the will he had left leave him, even his grasp on Smagnu's cloak was lost. The Witch king clutched him once more to his frozen soul, his black mind eating into the innocent little thoughts and scouring every part of his existence.
Merry cried out in pain as his head began to ache from the ruthless intervention into his defunct memory. This time the Nazgûl Lord was determined, it had dallied with these useless creatures for too long and his Master wanted results. He would have what was here and then dispose of this maggot once and for all. But there was still nothing. No recall, no memory of a journey and no recollection of the Ring.
The first halfling had been useless, because it's mind was chaotic or because it knew nothing and now this one. It had known something, the Wraith could tell, but the mind had been purged, wiped clean, there was nothing there now.
Except – wait. Something recent! What was that? It was in a cell, in the dungeon, here in Barad-dûr and there was another! The same as him, it even had the same name. The other one had been with him just a few moments ago, before he was brought up here.
The Wraith threw the halfling to the floor in anger and turned to the Uruk. 'WHAT IS THIS OTHER ONE THAT YOU KEEP WITH IT?'
Smagnu's eyes opened wide with fear, "I-I it, must be…"
'IS THE OTHER ONE IN THE DUNGEON?'
Smagnu could not see a way out of this, he had to confess and betray his little Pips. But it would serve no purpose to deny it. They would find little Pip in any case. "Yes, Master, we found it and put it in the dungeon."
'WHY WAS I NOT TOLD?'
"Grutfley found the other one and I thought he must've told someone." Smagnu was thinking faster than an orc usually would need to. "…'spect he thought I'd told the Captain since I'm the Corporal."
The Wraith brushed him aside without malice or even interest. It was an orc, there to serve, nothing more. The Uruk would have no reason to conceal the other one from him, nor would it dare. It was merely stupid.
Picking Merry up from the floor where he lay frozen in terror, the Nazgûl Lord made his way down to the dungeon, with Smagnu close at his heels.
The little hobbit was stricken with fear, which was emphasised by his vision of the Wraith. It was all he could ever see and now it filled his whole world, promising endless torment and misery.
They reached the dungeon door where Pippin still lay with his head against the cold metal, waiting, but hardly daring to hope, for Merry to come back. As the door opened Pippin could see his Merry held at arm's length by the scruff of his neck by the gaunt empty cloak of the Wraith.
He backed away on his hands and backside, scrabbling to escape the ghostly apparition. Its reach was long and it caught hold of the little hobbit by his hair and pulled him up to stand. Then Pip was lifted too by the scruff of his collar.
'NOW I HAVE YOU BOTH. NOW I WILL HAVE THAT WHICH YOU TRY TO CONCEAL.'
"Nooooo! Please not Pip! Noooo!" Merry screamed in anguish. As he saw his little cousin lifted up by the Wraith, memories swamped him like a broken damn. He saw Pippin's face, filled with terror. Then he remembered everything, the Quest, the Ring, Frodo and Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, King Théoden, Éowyn and Éomer, even poor brave Boromir. He remembered Saruman and the horrors of Orthanc and Treebeard and the time at Edoras and Wormtongue and the kidnapping. But most of all he remembered Pippin!
Poor little Pippin and all the suffering he had been through and the last time Merry had seen him was when the Wraith had lifted him up and carried him away. Now he was reaching his arms out to Merry. Somehow he must know that Merry could see him?
Merry heard Pip crying, screaming out to him. Where? It was in his head! The Wraith must hear him too.
'merr… aaaiiiieee!' hiccuping sobs were followed by a retching sound and Pippin was violently sick.
'YOU SHALL DIE – BUT FIRST KNOW MY WRATH!'
The Nazgûl Lord clutched both the tiny hobbits to his black soul, the hollow void of the creature paralysing them both with agony and dread. Pippin was retching again but it was empty and painful. They were both pressed to the solid wall of the creature's bosom, their faces crushed up against something that seared through them like a blade that sliced fierce pain, too quickly, too brutally.
As they left the cell Merry tried to reach out and touch Pippin, to take his hand. An invisible iron shield seemed to slam shut between them. The Nazgûl Lord screeched in protest and triumph, forbidding them to touch, they were not to draw any comfort from each other.
'YOU ARE MINE NOW – YOU WILL NOT MOVE OR SPEAK OR THINK UNLESS I PERMIT IT!'
They were beyond fear and past terror and remembered nothing of the journey to the high tower of Barad-dûr, but neither of them would ever forget being placed at the feet of the Dark Lord. The little hobbits were on their hands and knees and both kept their faces to the ground, sick with panic.
'HOW DID THIS ESCAPE THE ORCS?' Sauron reached forward and touched Pippin's head. The tiny hobbit felt the malice seep from the Dark Lord. 'IT DOES NOT APPEAR TO BE OF ANY PURPOSE.' Then to Pippin's horror he was lifted up by the Wraith and held out towards the black void. He could not perceive any form or incarnate being, but felt as if he were about to be cast into the fires of Mount Doom itself. A great fiery eye flashed into his heart such as he had seen in the palantír, only now it was real, it was here. Pippin felt his bladder empty – death was a second away.
Merry had lifted his head up at the call and could see Pippin. He staggered up onto his feet, lunging towards his beloved cousin.
'YOU WOULD DEFY ME?'
Merry was lifted up again by the Wraith and pushed forward into what seemed like a roaring furnace. His whole body was on fire now, as if a terrible destructive force had taken over his whole being. He knew this was his end.
Sauron took hold of both the halflings' minds, but such was his might and power, they were half crushed at the first encounter, within seconds both were unconscious.
'I CANNOT QUESTION THESE INSECTS.' Sauron addressed the Wraith. 'TAKE THEM BACK AND INTERROGATE THEM BY YOUR OWN MEANS AND WHEN YOU HAVE FINISHED, MAKE SURE THIS TIME THEY ARE DEAD.'
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