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Recaptured!: 73. Catching Up
Pippin kept his eyes open and managed to screw his head around so that he could see where they were going. From the sheer and jagged mountain faces that stood before them, emerged the form of a great tower. It stood up in three great tiers from a shelf in the mountain wall, its back to a great cliff from which it jutted out in pointed bastions, one above the other, diminishing as they rose, with sheer sides. As they approached the frowning walls Pippin could make out the great tower gate.
The horses were pulled up in front of the closed entrance and Pippin shuddered with a sense of horror as he gazed upon two great carved figures seated upon thrones. Each had three joined bodies and three heads facing outward and inward across the gateway. They seemed immovable and yet they were aware: some dreadful spirit of evil vigilance abode in them. They knew an enemy and who could or could not pass.
The one-eared orc lifted up his fist at the gate and slowly the monstrous doors creaked open, allowing them to go through and as they did Merry could hear a great clamour and noise from wherever they were going.
The hobbits were lifted off the horses by One Ear and set on the ground. Pippin sidled over to Merry so that he could touch him and let him know he was all right. The orc took the food bag from the horse and slung it around his neck and shoulder. He obviously did not trust his companion, who was left to mind the animals, although One Ear would probably have kept those with him if he could.
"You just stay here and keep them horses safe till I gets back." He snarled at the other. "If'n you're lucky I'll give yer a share of the booty from these two. They have to be worth something or Smagnu wouldn't have been lugging 'em here."
He then picked up Pippin and slung him across his shoulder, ignoring his struggles, and took Merry by the scruff, making him walk sharply along, dragging him when he stumbled.
"Hoi there." An orc voice. "What are you about?"
"I needs to see the Commander of this tower, Cirith Ungol ain't it?" One Ear paused before the challenging sentry. "Got some of these spies for 'im."
"Well you'd best take 'em up there." The orc indicated the winding steps of the tower. "Give 'em straight to Cap'n Gorbag, he's my boss."
"Right." One Ear started off. "Whass the going rate for these 'ere. Is there a good reward?"
"I couldn't tell you." The sentry was not in the habit of capturing spies. "Gorbag's not likely to give you owt! There's Cap'n Shagrat up there an' all. But he's from Lúgburz. Heard he was looking for spies like this uns."
"I'll see who wants 'em the most then." One Ear turned Merry to the stairs again and they began the long climb.
Smagnu was in a deep sleep when his partner woke him. Grutfley had managed to scrounge some rations for them both and refill his water bottle which he had kept around his neck, the Uruk's had been lost with his horse.
"Here best try and eat summat." Grutfley squatted down next to the wounded Uruk. "Need to get some strength back."
"Water - you got some water first." Smagnu was having trouble focussing. "Don't think I can sit up yet."
"Here then." Grutfley rested the great creature on his arm and leant him forward, putting the water bottle to his mouth so he could drink. "Dunno 'bout sit, you should be dead by rights."
"Thought I was when I woke up." Smagnu admitted. "Then I saw your ugly face."
"If hadn't been for me you would be." Grutfley pointed out. "I pulled those arrows out good and I patched you up." The orc did not admit he had never done that before. Usually if another orc gets an arrow in him he either pulls it out himself or dies. "Lucky for you they was most in your chain mail, didn't go too deep see."
Smagnu's attire was slightly better than average orc issue. He had obtained a chain mail vest with the mithril coins along with the new cloak, money well spent it would now seem. Although the arrows had penetrated, the wounds had not been deep.
"Where'd you get that anyway?" Grutfley handed him some bread and meat. "That ain't standard issue."
"I got my ways." Smagnu managed a half grin. "It was the coins Little Pip gave me." He admitted. Then fell quiet as he thought about what might happen to the halflings now, without his protection.
"I gotta feeling they're be all right." Grutfley could tell what he was thinking. "They seem to've got a bit o' magick about 'em. It's us I'm more worrit about."
"So, they are both hurt but alive, but may not talk to you for fear of the Wraith hearing them." Éowyn recapped the situation. They had just made a small camp and having shot and cooked their meal were deciding which way to travel in search of the hobbits.
"They can talk to me briefly." Legolas watched the flames of their small campfire dance and flicker, "but not to give directions because all that is said can also be heard by the Wraith."
"Can you not also hear the Nazgûl?" Éowyn was tending to the horses as she spoke, rubbing Windfola down with a straw wisp she had made. "I thought mind links worked both ways."
"It's a new experience." Legolas shook his head. "I have not heard any thoughts from the Nazgûl unless I am speaking with the hobbits and he directs a threat at us. Perhaps it is he who controls who hears what."
"Where do you think they will go?" Éowyn was anxious to get on the road again and needed a sense of purpose; she craved action, although she appreciated the need for careful planning. "Can you guess?"
"Merry told me a while ago that the orc was going to take them to…" Legolas paused as he searched his memory, "he pronounced it 'kir-ung tow-rer'."
"Kir-ung towrer? That sounds very, very strange." Éowyn stopped working on Windfola and turned to the elf. "It sounds like something a child would say, especially tow-rer. What do you think it means?"
"Oh that part is simply 'tower'." Legolas laughed at her puzzlement, then realised that he needed to explain. "I'm sorry, I have grown accustomed to the way the hobbits speak in my head. It does sound quite childlike, even though they are adults."
"Why is that?" Éowyn started work now on Arod. "Is it a game they play?"
"No it is like a different language to them." Legolas smiled at the thought. "Mind speaking is a particular way of moving your thoughts around. The hobbits tend to jumble lots of things up in their heads at once, it's part of what makes them so playful and so emotional. But it also means mind speaking is a difficult language for them. I tend to think in Sindarin, while the hobbits' natural tongue is Westron, but thoughts have a language that's all their own."
"Do you have trouble understanding them in that case?" Éowyn was fascinated now and came to stand by the elf, watching as he prodded at the fire.
"Sometimes, although they understand each other well enough." Legolas explained. "They have trouble with words longer than one syllable, but they are quite ingenious in finding their way round them, and they tend to put things in the wrong order. But I've got used to it now."
"I wonder what kir-ung tow-rer could be then." Éowyn pondered. "A tower in Mordor?" She suddenly realised what Merry had been saying. "He must mean Cirith Ungol! We should go there."
"I had not heard the name before." Legolas jumped to his feet and began to douse the small fire. "Do you know where it is?"
"I do." Éowyn was pleased to be seeing some action at last. "It is on the borders of Mordor, almost opposite to Minas Tirith, but the other side of the Anduin."
"Then that is our path." Legolas collected his bow. "Let us hope that is where the little ones are still headed and that we are in time."
By the time One Ear had reached the top of the winding steps of Cirith Ungol he was carrying both hobbits. Merry had had great difficulty negotiating the steep stairs and after many stumbles and trips, the orc had lost patience and picked him up and slung him over his other shoulder.
Pippin had reached out and caught hold of Merry's hand behind the orc's back, longing desperately to speak to him, but more terrified than ever now of being discovered by the Chief Nazgûl.
"Wassat you got there then?" Merry heard a gruff orc voice challenge. "Who you a'wanting?"
"Got some spies for the highest bidder, seems like." Merry blanched at the thought of being for sale. Memories of Wormtongue and Spandif raced through his head.
"You'd best see the boss then." The voice seemed to Merry to turn away. "Cap'n Gorbag! There's a Lúgburz soldier here with some more of those spies." The voice turned back. "Take 'em in there."
They moved on and then Merry felt his hand ripped from Pippin's as he was dumped on the ground. He climbed to his feet again and stood as straight as he could, his unseeing eyes wide open, his hand accidentally but automatically catching hold of the big Uruk's coat to steady himself.
"So who are you then?" A rough, snarling voice asked, Merry wondered which of them was being addressed.
"No good asking that one anything. It don't hear or speak." That was One Ear. "And the other 'un's as bad. It's completely blind,"
"Not much of spies then are they?" There was the usual raucous orc laughter that accompanied this obvious witticism. The rough voice asked, "You searched 'em?"
"Err yeah a bit." One Ear admitted.
"What'd you get off 'em?" A new voice. Harsh, cold and brutal sounding.
"Not much." One Ear prevaricated.
"But something." The cold voice.
"Er no, just a few pence. Nothing much." Merry realised from the tone that their captor had almost certainly helped himself to Pippin's little hoard of mithril, probably when he had taken Grutfley's knife.
"P'raps they got the same as the other one." That was the rough voice again. Other one! Merry listened even more intently now, what other one? "Did you strip 'em?"
"If there's any strippin' of 'em to be done, it's me's gonna do it." The cold voice.
"What so's you can just keep all the booty again." The rough voice was getting angry now. "Where's the shirt you had off that other one? Eh! You got it in your own personal lock up ain't yer?"
"What are you suggesting?" The cold voice. "I'm sending it to Lúgburz as per orders, thass all!"
"Sending it to your own pocket, s'more like." The angry voice had moved nearer. "Give us that one here, I'll see what it's got." Merry was seized by iron fingers digging into his arm as he was pulled across the floor. He felt Pippin grab onto his other hand and, rather than let go, was dragged with him.
"No you don't, Gorbag." The other voice sounded angry now too. "You and you! Get them little rats back!"
Merry was grabbed again by other fists, he lost Pippin in the struggle, as two varying factions started a contest of hobbit tug-of-war. There was a cacophony of shouting and swords began to clash. Merry was flung against a wall and he scrambled along the edge on all fours as far away from the fighting sounds as he could, wondering desperately if he dared risk a mental shout to Pippin.
"Gerroff you bastard!" That was the big Uruk who had brought them. "They're my bloody prisoners anyway - you dungbag! Yeeeoow!"
As the frightening crashes and curses of fighting continued Merry felt two little hands creep into his and hold on fast. Pippin pulled him along firmly, both keeping close to the wall, creeping away from the angry voices. They stopped and Pippin ducked Merry's head down and pushed him forward, then followed him and held him fast, making certain his cousin did not move. Merry tentatively lifted his bound hands above his head and felt a close little roof. They must be under a table - no, it was too low, a wide bench then.
They both sat very still, their bodies pressed close to one another, unable to hug because of their bound wrists. They kept hold of each other's hands and Pippin pressed his face into Merry's shoulder, peeping up every so often to watch the angry and ferocious violence splaying around the large courtyard.
Each time Pippin dared to lift his head up to watch the fighting he saw something horrendous. The orcs were hacking each other to pieces, and the court was becoming choked up with dead orcs, or their severed and scattered heads and limbs. The carnage was sickening and Pippin gagged several times. He had felt sick during the ride and on the journey up the stairs, now the sight and stench of torn orc bodies was threatening to make him vomit.
Merry felt his cousin's distress and from the noises could guess what he was seeing. He held Pippin's hands and when his face was on his shoulder rocked him very slightly, kissing his curly head reassuringly every so often.
How long the fight went on for neither of the hobbits remembered later, nor would they recall how long they crouched beneath the stone bench in the shadows, melting into the darkness as only hobbits can.
As they hid there, even though the fighting had stopped and all the orcs lay still and silent, they were both too frightened to move. Eventually weariness overcame first Pippin and he nestled into Merry's side, using his cousin as a pillow and fell asleep and, not long after, Merry's head drooped down and he slept too.
The sound that awoke Merry was strangely familiar, but he could not catch it. It had ended before he knew what it was, he only realised that the sound made him sad and happy all at once.
He shook Pippin gently, much as he was loath to wake him, but they needed to move and he was helpless without Pip's sight on such unfamiliar territory. Also he was anxious to know if any of the orcs were still alive and perhaps searching for them.
Pippin stirred and sat up, yawning hugely as if coming round from a good night's sleep, instead of a short nap under a bench in an orc filled tower. Or rather a tower filled with dead orcs, so it seemed.
Pippin crawled tentatively out and looked around and finally threw up the contents of his stomach. That dealt with, he took a few deep breaths, then a better look. All the orcs were either dead or dying, many with severed limbs or even heads and so it was with One Ear. His head lay slightly apart from his great body, the lifeless hand still clutching his sword.
Touching Merry lightly on his head to let him know he was to wait, Pippin steeled himself and stuck out his chin, trying to imitate Merry at his most determined and strode over the remains of One Ear's body. Not looking at the contorted grimace on the detached head or the gruesome neck still seeping blood, Pippin rummaged around in the Uruk's clothing until he had repossessed his mithril coins and Grutfley's knife. Lastly, rather than pull it over the hideous neck, Pippin used the knife to cut the food bag free and took that as well.
Merry held the knife still as Pippin sawed his bonds against it, then he cut Merry free. As the last piece of rope fell away Pippin threw his arms tightly round Merry and Merry drew him in. They stood for at least a minute, both drained and relieved, but still afraid and not sure what to do next.
Merry decided to risk a word.
'we do now?'
'all orcs go dead?'
Then suddenly Merry heard a sound.
'pip! i hear'ed some… come near…'
Pippin pulled Merry into the shadows by the door and waited. A small silhouetted figure came through the door and, not noticing the two hobbits, began looting through the dead bodies. It was very dark now and Pippin could barely make the form out.
'what is pip?'
'think small orc…'
'we get it?'
'yeah! it not big… i get leg… you gotted knife… get top…'
'i holded hand you… then i pushes you right place…'
'count i one… and two… and three… go… then we goed…'
'put knife up… be ready…'
Merry adjusted the knife, holding it above his head, ready to strike down on their victim.
'one… two … three… GO!'
Both the hobbits pounced, adrenaline pumping, Pippin pushing Merry down onto the surprised victim, who turned just as the pair launched themselves. Pippin made contact first though, grabbing the feet and pulling the figure off balance, allowing Merry to push it on down to the ground, one hand finding the throat and the other striking downwards with the deadly knife.
Pippin's mental scream impacted on his cousin in a split second and Merry's knife swerved to the side, colliding with the stone flags and sending out red sparks.
'what happ… pip?'
'hobb't foots! hobb't foots!'
'who is hobb't foots?'
Pippin scrambled over Merry's back and looked down at their intended victim that Merry was still holding by the throat.
'Sam! is Sam!'
"Geroff you filthy…!"
"Sam! Sam! It's us. It's Merry and Pippin!"
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