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Recaptured!: 81. Perilous Paths
Beta and Additional Material (especially the geography): Marigold
Pippin, in spite of his pain and poppy deprivation, was also frantically aware that without his eyes Merry had no chance of getting them on their next stage of the journey. He had pulled out Frodo's little map again and, although he wasn't too good at map reading, thought he could work out where they were and the next part looked very bad.
Merry was still munching on his bread, so Pippin reached out and touched him on his nose. It was Pip's way of telling Merry to wait where he was. Then on all fours, to save his poor foot, Pippin crawled across the open area to peer down the short straight flight of stairs at the other side. He realised with a sinking heart that this must be the beginning of the Winding Stair, incredibly long, and cut snakelike across the mountain.
Pippin slowly crawled back over to Merry and sank his head down for a moment on his cousin's lap. Merry silently stroked his hair, feeling Pip's anxiety and only too aware of his pain.
Eventually Merry felt Pip take a deep sighing breath and lifting his head up reached inside Merry's cloak to unwind the elven rope. Making sure one end was firmly tied around Merry's waist, he secured the other end around his own middle. It was time for some brief instructions.
'i go littlel pull at ropes you stay – not go move.'
'i give littlel pull, pull at ropes you go move.'
'…pull one time is stops… pull two time is go?'
'…one is stop… two is go…'
'… undred stand pip…'
'you not knowed which… pull or pull, pull… you go stop… pull, pull at i…'
'… we go starts 'gain then…'
'… you go pull, pull, pull… we starts 'gain…'
'…prassis?… what is mer?'
'… littlel try first…'
'… oh prassisses!'
'… i sayed that…'
The hobbits both crawled on their hands and knees across the open space with Pippin leading the way, practising their new code for stop, start or I-didn't-understand-start-again. By the time they had reached the top of the stairs they had it perfected.
'…one thing is more pip…'
'…go fall… you or me… got shout in head…'
'…will… when not go want to…'
Screwing their pain and courage up into a tight little knot that they somehow shared between them the hobbits set off.
Once Legolas and Éowyn accepted his offer of assistance Faramir called over several of his men, among them Mablung and Damrod and issued swift instructions. "We have a special mission, a rescue party, and the Lady Éowyn and Prince Legolas," Mablung and Damrod bowed to each respectfully in turn, "will be accompanying us. They will need suitable clothing. Please see to it."
As Damrod assembled the handful of men that his Captain had specified would be accompanying him on this new mission, Mablung fetched similar hoods and cloaks to their own for the Elf and the Lady that would allow them to blend into the surroundings, while several others prepared the horses for their Captain's specially selected patrol.
Faramir took Legolas and the Lady Éowyn to one side. "Do you have specific details of the route your friends will take?"
"We are not certain, but it would seem likely that they are using the same road that their kinsmen took to go into Mordor." Legolas confided. He had heard enough mentions of frodosam now in the minds of the halflings to convince him that they had met up with their cousin and his companion and were now using their route to escape. Also that Frodo and Samwise were still bent on the Quest and not taken by the enemy.
"Indeed, Frodo described to me the little he knew of the path." Faramir noticed a quick exchange of glances between Éowyn and Legolas at the mention of Frodo's name for the first time. "I have always known of the existence of the road leading from Minas Morgul to the high pass where stands the tower of Cirith Ungol, but Frodo told me of his guide, Gollum's secret path through the mountains and that was the first I knew of its existence."
"Gollum!" Legolas had not heard that name since the Council of Elrond, when he himself had come to bring news of the creature's escape from the elves of Mirkwood. "You say Frodo was being guided by Gollum?"
"I did not trust the miserable thing myself." Faramir agreed. "But the halfling seemed to feel it was his only chance of finding a passage into the Land of Shadow. He seemed confident he could manage him."
"You seem troubled by this news," Éowyn looked from one to the other. "Why does that name bode ill to you both?"
"He is a treacherous creature and there is not the time now to tell his history." Legolas explained. "Suffice to say he is not the travelling companion I would choose."
"Then you fear for Frodo's safety?" Faramir asked. He was truly concerned, not just for the welfare of the two halflings he had met, but also for the outcome of the Quest on which he knew so much depended.
"I have reason to believe that they have reached the borders of Mordor and are still safely bound on their mission." Legolas stated mysteriously. "But that means it is more vital than ever that Merry and Pippin do not fall into the hands of the Enemy."
"I do not fully understand the reasons," Faramir said, "But I accept what you say. I think the road that Frodo took will be our best chance of finding them."
"Yes, I am sure my little ones," Legolas brought a smile to Éowyn's face with the natural way he now described the two halflings as 'his'. "My little ones would not hesitate to cast themselves to their deaths from the steep mountain path that you describe Captain, in order to avoid capture."
"I do not doubt their valour," Faramir was already impressed with his first encounter with the race of halflings. "Frodo and Samwise were most valiant."
"Merry and Pippin have already offered to make such a sacrifice willingly." Legolas remembered with a shudder their attempted suicide in the Dark Tower. "It was only through lucky chance that they did not succeed in killing themselves."
"They seem a most remarkable race," Faramir nodded as if Legolas's words only confirmed his belief. "Their stature belies their size and strength I am sure."
The party of 10, along with Legolas and Éowyn, set out as soon as they could. Although Legolas could still feel the ache of Pippin's foot, which he happily accepted knowing that the pain he absorbed would mean a little less for the halfling, he did not want to make mind contact with them to tell them of the rescue attempt. It was only too possible that the Wraith Lord would be alerted and would sent more orc troops to ambush them.
Faramir was sure the exact location of the beginnings of the path had to be near Minas Morgul itself and so it was decided to make for that point with all possible speed. He immediately sent two men on ahead to scout out the lie of the land, and look for enemies on the move. In this way he hoped to locate the beginnings of the path more quickly, as there was little time to spare.
"How quickly do you think the halflings will be able to descend in their condition?" Faramir called to Éowyn and Legolas.
Legolas knew from the pain in his own foot that the two hobbits were suffering greatly, and felt guilty that he, and not they, was spared the anguish of walking, but was thankful that the horses would quickly get them near enough to the beginnings of the path, where they would then leave them in the care of those that had scouted ahead, and continue on foot. "It is hard to tell." The elf replied. "But I think they would be moving quite slowly." Legolas hoped they knew that he would not give up, and would find a way to help them, and that they would be expecting the unexpected.
"Where are we making for first?" Éowyn asked Faramir, "Minas Morgul?"
There was some surprise among Faramir’s men that the Lady would be among their group, but the Elf seemed to have no doubts of her strength of arms and secretly Faramir found that he preferred her being under his watchful eye rather than leaving her behind. "Yes Milady. From there we cross the valley and make our way up through the gap by a stream and then we start to ascend the mountain on foot."
"I will be ready." Éowyn responded. "Especially to cleave those that threaten further harm to the little ones."
Faramir had no doubts that if he had tried to leave Éowyn behind that she would simply have managed to secure a horse and follow after them. She had made a vow to help Legolas rescue these two, and would not be denied. Here indeed was a rare woman, beautiful, and with the heart and stout courage of a warrior. Faramir had never been in love and was not sure how he would feel if he were. But this felt very close.
The party journeyed on in silence until they finally reached the forward scouts. "We have seen what we believe to be a band of orcs ascending through this passage just before we reached it," the first man reported to his Captain.
"They were moving swiftly up the narrow mountain pass. It is quite treacherous I believe," the second added. "The orcs moved in single file, although very swiftly."
"Very well," Faramir let the scouts take his horse and Legolas, Éowyn and the rest of the men dismounted and tied their steeds so they could be tended to by the two men. "We must start at once." He ordered his men. "Take as little as you can, weapons and a small amount of waybread and water."
The group soon started off with Faramir leading the way, followed by Éowyn and Legolas and Mablung bringing up the rear. The path soon grew narrow and the fall to the side grew sheer and precipitous.
"Aiiy!" Legolas suddenly stopped, bringing Éowyn and those behind to a standstill also.
Faramir turned to see what was wrong. Éowyn reached out and touched his shoulder. "The halflings?" she whispered.
"I saw… no it was only the briefest second. But…" Legolas seemed reluctant to continue.
"Legolas?" Faramir frowned in concern.
"Merry, it was Merry. He has fallen over the side of the cliff!"
"This is just a pile of dung!"
"Don't fugging complain Nograt, yer could be up at Udûn, this 'ere's a cushy number."
"Yeah an' what ifn we misses 'em? What's it we're supposed to be baggin'? 'alflin's? I ain't never even see'd one afore."
"Well it's just like number one's orders, they's like elves only 'alf the size and theys ain't got no shoes- jus' big hairy feet oh an' curly hair, stead of straight.
"Yeah an we ain't gotta kill 'em, just catch 'em." The big orc called Nograt was none too pleased with his current assignment. "You brung a net, Lurgo? 'Cause that's what we probably need."
Lurgo harrumphed in answer. He was sick of the complaining in this small platoon of orcs he had command of. You would have thought they'd be satisfied not to be in the ranks with the other beaten down foot soldiers, but all the score of orcs in this exclusive little band ever did was moan. Perhaps it would be better to just use the whip and shut them up.
"Just keep yer eyes peeled and make sure theys don't get past us nohow," he warned Nograt, "and make sure the others knows that too. Now get on with it. I'm gonna take a kip, fug knows when I'll get another chance."
"Yeah right Chief." Nograt sullenly agreed. He didn't see why Sergeant Lurgo should get to have a snooze when all of them had had to lug themselves up that crooked path and round the narrow ledge in the mountainside. It was a wonder more of them hadn't fallen off, as it was they'd lost two clumsy footed Uruks, their bodies cannoning straight down onto the rocks below.
Now the company faced a long wait – for what? "Two bleedin' little maggots who weren't to be killed nor nothing just 'cause Number One wants 'em," Nograt grumbled to the orc next to him, "an' he could've most likely picked 'em off hisself if he hadn't wanted to go give all the other poor sods in the battle lines grief, like they didn't have enough already."
"Never mind Nograt," the smaller orc next to him shrugged. "Praps somefink else'll come by. Number One says 'ow we can have anyfing else we finds."
"Yeah!" agreed Nograt, "le'ss 'ope eh!"
'Mer! No!!! aiiieeee!!'
Pippin's broken foot had caught against a jagged rock and in his disoriented pain-filled state he jolted backwards.
Merry had been coming forward a little quickly, gaining confidence as they went on. The pain jolted him at the same time as it hit Pippin. The foot was already painful enough but the extra jab of agony made him lurch forward.
They collided; Pip moving suddenly back and Merry suddenly forward. Pippin fell flat on the rocky ground and Merry put out his hand to the ground to gain stability, but he was now off course, he'd lost Pippin when he flattened, and flailed to the side putting his hand down hard as he slipped and fell too.
There was nothing there.
As Merry missed with his hand, the rest of his body tumbled after and he fell from the ledge into the yawning chasm below.
"Pip!" Merry screamed inside and out loud… 'pip!'
'Mer! No!!! aiiieeee!!'
Pippin managed to grab a sharp piece of rock as Merry fell, just before the jarring jolt came, as he reached the end of the rope. Pippin felt for a second that he was going to be pulled down too, but somehow he managed to keep himself firmly on the ledge. Making his body as flat as he could he so as to not fall over, he peered tentatively over the side to confirm what he already felt.
His mind jolted as hard as the rope had and, for the briefest moment, less than half a second, the image he saw reverberated through the three mind sharers, until Pippin quickly clamped down on the sight, blotting it out of the minds of the other two. He did not want Merry to see the terrifying drop that he was hanging over.
Merry was dangling on the end of the rope, turning slowly round, as he could not gain any kind of purchase against the side of the mountain. Pippin's view of him had only flashed into his mind for the briefest second and the hobbit bit his lip a little and tried not to think of what was below him.
Pippin caught hold of the rope with both hands and his heart sank once more as he tried to pull on it but he was not strong enough to even move Merry a single inch. In the meantime Merry had managed to catch hold of the rope himself and was wondering if he could climb back up it.
'i knowed pip'
'can't pull at you! what i go do?'
'can hold tight? i go climbs up'
But try as he might Merry could not manage to pull himself up the rope. Then he managed a couple of hand-over-hand tugs and slipped again, almost jerking Pippin over the side once more.
'mer… wait… best not to'
But having said that Pippin could not think what he should do. His mind raced, the adrenaline pumping through him once more and dulling the pain and poppy craving a little, helping him to think. But nothing was coming. Merry was alive and so was he, but they could not move in either direction. 'Oh Elbereth! Elbereth help me! Help me!' The thought suddenly came unbidden to Pippin's mind and he found himself frantically mouthing the words over and over. 'I have reached an hour of great need; please Elbereth! Elbereth help me, I beg of you, help me!'
A voice of reason seemed to flow over him in answer to his frantic prayer. 'Move back little one, loop the rope around the solid rock behind you and move back.' It was not Legolas in his head, it was someone else, someone powerful and kindly. He thought suddenly of Galadriel and then the elven rope that had come from Lothlórien. Then he understood what he must do.
There was a large rock just behind him. If he moved backwards, past the rock it would act as a fulcrum for the rope. Pippin did not actually understand the words, but he saw a clear picture in his head of how it would work. He sat down and gradually a bit at a time he moved backwards, throwing all his remaining strength and body weight against the rope. As he inched slowly behind the rock, the rope pivoted up and painfully, little by little, he moved further and further away from the rock until he finally saw Merry's curly head appear over the side of the path.
Merry felt forwards until he found the flat surface and scrambled back on to solid ground once more. As soon as Pippin saw that he was safe, he crawled quickly over to Merry and buried his face in his cousin's chest, sobbing with relief and delayed terror.
'Thank you, thank you, thank you.' His silent thanksgiving sped back to the help giver and as Pippin lifted his face up again he looked at the rope that had saved his beloved cousin's life. It was glowing with a silvery sheen.
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