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Recaptured!: 87. News Fair and Foul
"Messengers of the Rohirrim, Sir." The rider and his companion reined in their steeds. "We seek the Commander of this company."
"Advance and be recognised." The guard could already see that the two riders wore the white horse of Rohan, but he had to follow protocol. The enemy was now massing in great numbers and the company would soon be withdrawing to the city.
The first rider dismounted and came slowly forward, leading his sweating horse. "We bring news, both fair and foul, to Gondor and are headed for the city of Minas Tirith. I am Drâmym and my companion is Ŭnomer."
The men were led to the camp centre where Faramir was directing the readying of his company to move on with due haste. The elf, the lady and the two hobbits stood incongruously in the midst of the activity, waiting for Faramir to finish directing his men.
Legolas, Éowyn, Merry and Pippin were also ready to leave, Pippin dressed in his freshly laundered clothes, including the sponged clean jacket, with his store of mithril carefully stowed in the inside pocket. Legolas had fashioned him a little crutch from a piece of wood and he found he could now move about quite efficiently with it.
Merry wore a neat shirt that Éowyn had remade from a larger version, together with his cleaned up jerkin, with his flute tucked neatly in the pocket, and washed breeches. Faramir had given him his own short cloak to keep. Éowyn had also given Merry back his sword and buckler that she had carefully retrieved after his encounter with Wormtongue and he again wore these with pride.
Pippin had carefully measured out the elven rope and cut it in half again, winding one half about his cousin's middle and the other about his own. Then putting Merry's hand on his, he touched it to his cousin's shoulder, to his own shoulder and then clasped their hands to his heart.
Faramir turned at last to the four companions, "Will you journey with us back to Minas Tirith?" He looked hopefully at Éowyn.
"I think Pippin should travel that way certainly." Legolas looked at the injured hobbit. "He needs some rest and further care for his damaged foot at least, to say nothing of his other hurts."
"But what of you Meriadoc," Faramir asked, "You too need some care and attention I would think."
"Possibly," Merry actually felt very much better since they had slept, eaten, washed and donned clean clothes. "But my path must divert from Pippin's now, for the time being at least."
"Where will you go?" Faramir did not have time for the response as, at that moment, two strangers bearing the device of Rohan were escorted to him. They bowed respectfully to Faramir and then recognised Éowyn.
"My Lady, it is gratifying to find you well." Drâmym said. "Théoden King and your brother Éomer were concerned for your safety."
Éowyn just smiled and turned to Faramir, "May I present Drâmym and Ŭnomer, messengers of my uncle King Théoden."
"Oh!" Merry gasped a little noise. He and Pippin had been standing behind the others and the men had not noticed him at first. But now they turned to the hobbits in surprise.
"Master Merry!" Drâmym exclaimed, "You will never cease to amaze me! You are to be found in the most unlikely places!"
"How are you faring, little one?" Ŭnomer added, "You do seem to have got into a scrape again. I warrant you have yet another tale worth telling!"
Merry reached up and touched the bandage still adorning his head. "Oh that's nothing!" he shrugged with a smile on his lips. "Pippin has been doing the most heroic things of late."
"This halfling is quite the hero himself!" Drâmym was smiling a wide grin now as he turned to Faramir. "Master Meriadoc saved my life, for which I owe him a debt for ever. Nevertheless I am surprised, but delighted, to find him here."
"He saved your life?" Faramir could understand in spite of his injuries Pippin being able to fight, but Merry was blind. "How did he accomplish this brave deed?"
"He was with me when we were attacked by orcs," Drâmym explained. "He pulled the arrow from my back and bandaged me and kept me warm."
"Indeed," Legolas added, "Merry was quite the hero." The elf had seen the hobbit's face cloud over at the memory of his unhappy encounter with Spandif and was sure Merry did not want to talk about it further.
"What news of the Rohirrim do you bring?" Éowyn too could see that the subject needed to be changed.
"The Riders are heading towards Gondor to aid the Lord Denethor in the forthcoming struggle." Drâmym announced. "But we discovered the body of Hirgon and one other, at least we believe it was Hirgon, his head was hewn off, although his hand still clutched the Red Arrow."
"It would seem by the signs that they were fleeing westward when they fell." Ŭnomer added "We believe they found the enemy already on the out-wall, or assailing it, when they returned – and that would be one night ago, if they used fresh horses from the posts, as is their wont. They could not reach the City and turned back."
"Therefore King Théoden bade us to bring the news to the Lord Denethor of our riding to Gondor's defence." Drâmym continued. "He would not have the Lord Steward despair of our coming."
"Very well," Faramir weighed this news carefully. "I thank you for bringing these tidings with due speed, especially with the peril that is upon us all. We are now returning to Minas Tirith if we are able and you are welcome to join us. However, should you choose to return straight way to your King and kinsmen, we shall willingly bear your glad news to Gondor."
"How far are the Rohirrim now would you think?" Éowyn knew beyond doubt where her path lay. "How many days ride?"
"Ten leagues Milady." Drâmym said, "a day's swift ride perhaps."
"Then I shall go to join my uncle and brother and kin." Éowyn smiled at Faramir. Was it possible that he looked disappointed? "Will you come with me, Meriadoc?"
"I should be honoured Milady." Merry turned towards her voice and bowed slightly. "I once offered to lay my sword at the feet of Théoden King and he said he would gladly accept it. Perhaps I may have the chance now to do so in battle."
"We too shall accompany you, Lady Éowyn," Ŭnomer also bowed slightly, "If you will permit."
"Then Pippin and I should go to Minas Tirith with Captain Faramir and his company," Legolas put his hands on Pippin's shoulders. "But Merry are you sure you should go with Éowyn to a battle? That is a very perilous path for one without sight, be he man or hobbit."
"I know, Legolas." Merry sighed, "But Pip and I must take different roads, we all agreed and where else should I go? It seems there is no safe haven now."
"Do not fear, dear Legolas." Éowyn took the elf's hand in both of hers, not noticing the slight frown this elicited from Faramir, "Merry and I shall take care of each other."
The road to Minas Tirith was in fact no less perilous. The troops of Sauron were massing by the hour and Faramir's company would have been decimated had they tried to make a stand against them. The best they could manage was to move swiftly Southwards back towards the City fighting a rear guard action.
Legolas rode near the front with Pippin perched on Arod before him. The company rode swiftly and Pippin clung to the horse's mane, desperately afraid he might fall. As they reached the Pelennor, Faramir was rallying his men to the Causeway Forts; but he was ten times outnumbered.
Along the way the company encountered many wains filled with families who were seeking refuge within the city walls. Faramir ushered these ahead and decided to make a stand as the slow moving train of people gained distance from the approaching hordes.
Even as his men had retreated so the enemy increased behind them and, as they stood firm, the fighting grew in intensity. Many arrows rained down upon the men and refugees alike. But a wall of swords and shields held a thin but firm line between the on-rush of the hostiles and the retreating Gondorians.
Legolas now stayed close to Faramir, riding in the Captain's wake, his bow ready and frequently used to down attackers from across the line. Pippin hung frantically to Arod, wondering how Legolas could stay seated whilst firing his bow with both hands.
Suddenly the land grew darker and a great shadow passed overhead. Looking up, the beleaguered Gondorians saw a terrible sight. Four wraiths circled above them, casting those below into despair and fear.
The company was swiftly falling into disarray as panic swept through the lines. Faramir rode along the perimeter of the stand his men had made, only to find gaps appearing as their hearts and minds failed in despair or fear. "Courage men of Gondor!" he rallied and many felt new strength grow at his cry and stood fast once again.
Pippin gazed up at the four Nazgûl wheeling above them and felt a tremor of fear run through his body. He wondered where the Wraith-king was and whether he would care about the pursuit of Merry and him any more now that full blown war was upon them. Suddenly he knew the answer.
'HALFLING! YOU FLEE FROM ME – HALT! LET THE ELF SET YOU DOWN AND PERHAPS I WILL SPARE THESE DELUDED MAGGOTS THAT FLY BEFORE MY LEGIONS!'
'Pay no heed, Pippin.' Legolas was obviously listening too. 'He will spare no one.'
'not chase i more!' Pippin's words were braver than he really felt. 'not got i no thing at you!'
'THE RING!' The Wraith-king hissed sibilantly through his head. 'I WILL HAVE IT FROM YOU IF I HAVE TO RIP THE FLESH FROM YOUR BONES TO FIND IT.'
'not got!' Pippin stated simply.
'Hush now!' Legolas warned. 'Hush Pippin.'
'ssshhh pip!' Merry warned from wherever he was.
'yes it i… ssshhh now...'
Pippin understood the warning. If he allowed his unfettered mind to enter into debate with the Wraith-King he might well disclose things he should not. It was safer to stay silent.
'YOU CANNOT ESCAPE FROM ME FOREVER! I SEE YOU AND HEAR YOU NOW! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FIGHT ME AGAIN HALFLING. ELF! PLACE IT ON THE GROUND!'
Legolas looked at Pippin and put his arm protectively around the hobbit's chest pulling him close. Pippin looked up at him questioningly, the elf smiled and shook his head. But still he urged Arod forward, now flying to the head of the vanguard. Pippin kept his eyes fixed fearfully on the sky above.
As they raced towards the City the great gates were now in sight and Legolas whispered to Arod words in Elvish which made the noble creature throw his head up and plunge forward with renewed vigour. All around them the enemy began to grow as the line was breached and grim warriors drove forwards, hacking and chopping with little skill but devastatingly enough to cut a swathe through Faramir's Company.
All at once a terrible shriek rent the air and all who heard it were cowed and afraid, including the enemy ranks themselves. The four Nazgûl flew apart as they made way for another – their Black Captain.
The Witch-King swooped down amongst the fighting and all those that came within his reach, fell or fled in terror. The monstrous steed on which he rode tore at those that lay prone before it, be they man or beast. The empty cowl cast its deathly shadow on all that looked upon it now, its power grown with the war and the strength of Sauron.
The retreat became a rout. Already men were breaking away, flying wild and witless here and there, flinging away their weapons, crying out in fear, falling to the ground.
And then a trumpet rang out from the Citadel, and Denethor at last released his sortie. Drawn up within the shadow of the Gate and under the looming walls outside they had waited for his signal: all the mounted men that were left in the City. Now they sprang forward, formed, quickened to a gallop, and charged with a great shout.
Like thunder they broke upon the enemy on either flank of the retreat, but one rider outran them all, swift as the wind in the grass; Shadowfax bore him, shining, unveiled once more, a light starting from his upraised hand.
Legolas urged Arod on towards Gandalf, knowing that Pippin would be safe from the Wraith Lord under his protection. But as he drew near the Nazgûl came to rest just before his path, the foul bird on which he rode, rising up in stench and filth, flapping its monstrous wings in triumph.
Arod took fright and reared up in terror, casting both Pippin and Legolas to the ground in his panic, he bolted away towards the City Gates.
Pippin, struggled to his feet and drew his small sword with his left hand, his little crutch still tucked under his right arm.
Legolas lay unmoving on the ground, knocked senseless by the fall, his head seeping blood from a cut on the brow, which was already bruised. His bow was still clutched tightly in his hand, although his arrows lay scattered about the ground, having fallen from the quiver as he fell from Arod. Pippin frantically dropped his crutch and sword and scrambled on all fours to reach the prone form.
The Witch-King rose from his dread steed and advanced upon the elf and hobbit, reaching out to Pippin, almost enticingly, although the terrible presence filled him with unspeakable dread.
Pippin fixed his gaze firmly on Gandalf who shone out across the plain, the staff in his hand blazing a brilliant white.
As he crouched in front of Legolas's body the hobbit suddenly heard something. The elven rope was humming to him again, 'unbind me… unbind me…' it whispered. Just as before, on the mountainside, Pippin knew what he had to do. Quickly he untied the rope from about his waist, noticing how it was shining again, he took the rope firmly in his hand and looped it into a large noose.
Pippin looked all about him and saw the horrifying turmoil of the battlefield. Bodies and weapons littered the area for as far as he could see and fires were blazing all about the City walls. Before him was the dreaded Wraith-Lord, towering above him, seeming to mock him, preparing to bend and scoop him up once more. To his right he was still aware of a brilliant white light moving swiftly towards him and the stricken elf. But as he turned slightly to the left, he saw the brave Captain, the one he had saved from the orc, the one who had kissed his hand and said things he could not hear.
But before the light or the Captain could reach him, the Wraith-Lord reached forward and seized the hobbit casting him up upon his foul steed.
'STAY HALFING!' The Witch-King commanded him as he continued forward to finish off the elf.
Pippin, was very afraid but kept his wits about him, although his hand seemed to be guided by something outside of himself and he tossed the noose up high, over the head of the beast he was seated on.
The creature let out a deafening shriek as the rope burned into its neck, sending up a stench of scorched flesh that reminded Pippin of Shelob's last moments. As it screamed, the unspeakable creature, writhing in agony, bucked and tossed, sending Pippin spinning to the ground.
The Witch-King whirled away from Legolas without delivering his intended blow and turned to snatch Pippin up again, only to be assailed by a foolhardy mortal.
Faramir stood before the hobbit and lifted his sword, but to no avail. The black cloak flew wide, casting fear and shadow into the heart of the brave Captain. The Wraith-Lord turned upon the human to throw him aside, but there was no need. The onslaught of the enemy had increased and the air was thick with arrows and missiles. A black dart from an orc sling pierced Faramir's neck and he clutched to the wound collapsing almost at once from its deathly poison.
Now Pippin stood between the man and the elf and the still writhing beast before him, with the elven rope burned irrevocably into its scaly neck. He was about to close his eyes before being recaptured by the Witch-King. After everything Merry and he had endured, after they had striven so hard to escape, it was a bitter blow to finally be swept up again so easily by this relentless monster. He looked sadly at Legolas, lying unconscious and helpless and at the Captain, so still and lifeless, also at the mercy of the Wraith and so stepped forward, if only to try and spare them a deathblow.
As if it were suddenly a new sunrise, a brilliant dawn, white light broke across the shadow. "Get back! By The Valar you shall not take this one!"
Pippin could not hear the words, but through the light he could see Gandalf. He was aglow with a radiance that was blinding; the light seemed to emanate from his staff but engulfed the wizard and everything about him. Suddenly the aura enfolded Pippin too and he looked down to see his hands and feet glowing and that the incandescence had spread to Legolas and the Captain as they lay on the ground.
Pippin thought he heard the Witch-King snarl in his head, although he could not be sure. But the Wraith retreated from the blinding light, remounting his beleaguered steed and kicking it until it rose into the air.
The enemy too started to fall back, fearful of the powerful Istari, his shining brilliance as terrifying as the Nazgûls' black shadow.
Pippin fell to the ground beside Legolas, placing his head on the elf's chest, listening for a heartbeat, tears now streaming down his cheeks and dampening his friend's tunic.
Two gentle but firm hands rested on his shoulders, turning him round, elderly, crooked fingers softly touching his cheek. Gandalf smiled down at him and put his arm around the little hobbit's back, pulling him into a brief but kindly hug. Then he was lifted up onto Shadowfax and sat patiently while the wizard examined the stricken elf and then the brave Captain.
Quickly he bound Legolas's head about with the elf's own sash, then carefully, so as not to jostle the injury, lifted him up to lie across Shadowfax in front of Pippin. The hobbit, with difficulty, held him in place, although Gandalf knew the horse would not let either of them fall.
The enemy having fallen back, a small battalion of Faramir's men approached and Gandalf bade them take up their Captain and bear him into the City as the poison in the dart had not yet taken hold, although Faramir was pale and unconscious, his breathing laboured and painful.
As the sad party passed through the gates of Minas Tirith people in the waiting crowds wept to see Captain Faramir so stricken, although there were welcoming cries of "Mithrandir!" as the wizard led his great steed through the streets and looks of surprise and wonder as people saw the horse's burden – what appeared to be a sorely wounded elf and a small boy.
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