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Recaptured!: 95. No Escape
Beta and additional material: MarigoldG
"Stand firm! The new day is upon us." Legolas stood high on the ramparts of Minas Tirith and called to the waiting men. They saw that the elf stood tall, proud and fearless and that the great wizard, Mithrandir was standing firmly behind him. On the other side of the elf, a greater wonder, four square, his arms akimbo, was a dwarf, clad in mail and armour of strange design, his face stern, his axe glinting brightly in the morning sun.
"Men of Minas Tirith be ready to hold this City against the Dark." The elven prince entreated them. "The dawn is broken and the light is come, do not let it slip away!"
In the growing daybreak the land beyond the walls could now be discerned. There were great armies of orcs and men of rough visage from distant lands. Mighty battle machines were poised, ready to begin the assault upon the gates and walls of the great City. In the sky above, still circling endlessly round and round were the wraiths.
"Gandalf, can we prevail against this opposition?" Legolas spoke quietly to the wizard. "I know we must try, but it is not an equal battle."
"We must buy time," Gandalf mouthed back. "Keep morale high and, if we may, the wall and gates intact."
Gandalf surveyed the stalwart men of the City guard and then let his gaze stray up to the high tower of Denethor and the wizard wondered how young Pippin was faring. He had bought them authority to help the City and Gandalf wondered if he was now keeping the Lord Steward distracted in some way. Perhaps he should intervene. A red glowing light was visible from within the high tower and the wizard's thoughts fell suddenly upon a frightening realisation. Denethor had a palantír!
"Gandalf, look!" Legolas broke into the wizard's concentration. "A great engine with an iron face approaches the City gates! It is a terrible ram, a mighty giant of the forest drawn by many hideous beasts and guarded by fierce orcs. It may well rend the gates asunder!"
As Pippin and Denethor had clasped their hands about the palantír, both of them had been breathing hard and striving to escape from its ice-cold, blood-red compulsion. Pippin remembered the day, dared by an older lad, he had put his hand on his father's metal plough during the big freeze and his skin had stuck fast. In panic he had pulled away and torn his skin then cut himself on the sharp implement. Merry had found him crying in the barn and bound his handkerchief around the wound and carried him home, telling him not to be upset and that anyone could make such a mistake.
Now he had once more ripped his hands away from an even more terrifying force and this time Merry was not there to help. In fact he, Pippin, had sent their deadly enemy off in pursuit of his cousin. The sliver of thought that had shone through his mind as he had pulled away had been enough for the Witch king and Pippin, in horror, felt him turn his vengeful intent towards Merry.
The hobbit was slumped against the wall where the force of the separation from the palantír had thrown him. He looked up at Denethor and, although Pippin had shut most of his thoughts off, especially the last one of Merry, and was no longer in physical contact with the palantír, he was still aware of the residual echoes from Sauron.
The Dark Lord was emanating pulses of fiery venom towards Denethor and Pippin could feel the power of the force being directed at the Steward. He was unable to identify specific words or pictures as before, but the hobbit now had a different perspective on the communication. He knew it was evil; he knew it was designed to make the noble Steward despair; he knew it was giving the man instructions – what he could not tell, but above all, he knew it was false!
Denethor kept his eyes fixed firmly on the palantír, his mighty will striving to keep control and to turn it where he would, towards the outskirts of Minas Tirith, to find succour and aid for his beleaguered City. The Dark Lord appeared to bend before him, to sway and fall back, gradually allowing him to hold some vestige of light as the dawn rolled over the tower where he struggled and the perian waited.
With the light, his vision focussed on an image and Denethor seemed to be gazing straight through the glass ball and seeing what was on the other side. In the orb Peregrin was slumped against the wall and as he lay there, half propped up against the masonry, suddenly the brickwork was rent from end to end and the halfling fell through the wall to what must be certain death on the cold flags 100 yards below.
But before the small body could be smashed to pieces, a great black cloud of flesh and scales swept across his path and caught him up in jagged talons.
Then Denethor felt the chilling voice of the Dark Lord breathe ice and fire into his mind. 'ALL SHALL PERISH – SAVE THIS LITTLE MORSEL! IT IS A DELICACY I SHALL KEEP FOR ALL TIME UNTIL ITS LIVING FLESH SHALL BE DECAYED BEFORE ITS EYES AND TORN FROM ITS VERY SOUL AND THE EXQUISITE TORTURE OF ITS MIND SHALL CONTINUE BEYOND ALL ETERNITY. SUCH A FATE THIS NAÏVE PAWN OF ISTARI FOOLS HAS EARNED BY DEFIANCE OF THE ONE MASTER! ALL SHALL BURN – BUT IT WILL PERSIST IN DELICIOUS AGONY, ISOLATION AND PAIN WITHOUT REST, WITHOUT LET, WITHOUT PEACE, ENDURING EACH SECOND AS IF IT WERE ONE THOUSAND YEARS, UNTIL TIME ITSELF SHALL END!'
The progress of the mighty ram being rolled up to the City gates reverberated through the walls. Long had it been forging in the dark smithies of Mordor and its hideous head, founded of black steel was shaped in the likeness of a ravening wolf; on it spells of ruin lay. Grond they named it in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. Great beasts drew it, orcs surrounded it and behind walked mountain trolls to wield it.
Legolas himself led a team of archers up onto the towers that stood about the gates and they rained down a wall of arrows upon the orcs, men and trolls that propelled the great engine into the defences of Minas Tirith. All before the walls on either side of the gates the ground was choked with wreck and with bodies of the slain; yet still driven as by a madness, more and more came up.
The drums rolled and rattled and with a vast rush Grond was hurled forward by huge hands. It battered against the gates and a deep boom rumbled through the City like thunder running in the clouds.
At that moment a dread black cloud swooped low over the City gates filling defenders and foes alike with great fear. The hands of men drooped to their sides and no bow sang. Legolas agilely leapt down from the walls and stood firm next to Gandalf, keeping his eyes fixed steadfastly on the trembling gates.
Thrice the Black Captain cried aloud in a dreadful voice, speaking in some forgotten tongue words of power and terror to rend both heart and stone. Thrice the great ram boomed and suddenly upon the last stroke the gates of the City broke. As if stricken by some blasting spell they burst asunder and there was a flash of searing lightning and the doors tumbled in riven fragments to the ground.
The Lord of the Nazgûl flew down to the fallen gates, a great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair as he swooped in under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed and all seemed to fly before his face.
But there, waiting silently, behind the broken gates, stood Gandalf and Legolas. The elf kept his bow trained firmly upon the invader and the wizard lifted his staff and the huge shadow halted. "You cannot enter here!" Gandalf cried.
"Old fool!" the apparition replied. "Old fool! This is my hour do you not know Death when you see it? Death is now upon this City and upon you!"
"Go back! You cannot hold sway in this stronghold of men. For all that you destroy, two more shall come. Leave now and fall back into the nothingness that awaits you. You are for the dead and this place is yet for the living!"
A deathly silence in the midst of the battle fell upon the two great forces of Istari and Dark Lord. Then the morning air was filled with a distant but shrill cry. Horns in dark Mindolluin's sides they echoed, great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.
The Witch king faltered, sniffing with his unseen nose in the blackened air. He turned the head of his steed around and looked all about him. Then, as Gandalf watched in taut anticipation, the hollow cowl turned suddenly to the shining tower where a red glow was still visible.
Suddenly there was a cry of anguish and as Gandalf turned he saw Legolas fall to his knees, his hands clapped tightly about his pointed ears as if in deep agony.
"What is it, Legolas?" He asked urgently. "You must tell me, if you can." Gandalf glanced up to see what the Witch king's reaction had been and was disturbed to see that his foe had reined in his foul steed and was ascending, wheeling and setting course for the source of the horn blasts.
"It's a-an image – very confused." Legolas gasped weakly. "From… I think… from Pippin, although others were there too."
"Which others?" Gandalf shook Legolas's shoulder, realising too late that he should probably have heeded his earlier foreboding and gone to see how Pippin was faring. "Who else was there?"
"D-Denethor, I think it was." Legolas sounded badly shaken. "And others, much evil… from before, I am sure it was the Dark Lord Sauron himself and the Witch king had joined him. Pip-Pippin did not reveal much – he shut his mind. The little one has become very strong, but… but…"
"What? The image? Quickly! What was the image?" Gandalf knew this did not bode well, but he needed to know what had occurred – what Legolas was seeing.
"It was Pippin's thought," Legolas put his hand on his forehead as if he could touch the memory. "He thought of Merry. He could not hold it back and then he saw him sitting on Windfola in front of Éowyn riding towards Minas Tirith with the Rohirrim. The Dark Lord… He… needs, no… He sent, the Witch king to stop them and to take Merry!"
Merry ducked down low on Windfola at Éowyn's shout. She swung her great sword and another orc fell beneath the great grey steed's hooves. As she twisted in the saddle from the opposite direction Merry sensed a movement beneath them and, still crouching low, raised his small buckler to fend off a spear thrust, following through with his own small sword to strike at the assailant eliciting a cry of defeat.
"Good stroke Merry," Éowyn turned back from her own downed opponent to see that the hobbit had struck fast and true. "Our count is rising, we will each equal Éomer yet and together, surpass him."
"How fares Théoden King and the field?" Merry asked. He was trying desperately to hear what was happening on the battlefield, but it was difficult, especially as he concentrated on his immediate surroundings to maintain his defence and attack.
"He rides onward and forward." Éowyn told the hobbit. "He leads the field, but we are close behind. The Eorlingas are pushing forward and defeating all in their path."
"Are we far from the City?" Merry cried above the cacophony of clashing, shouting and thundering hooves.
"It is in sight," Éowyn told him. "But it burns. The flames leap high from within the walls and without."
Merry's heart wrenched within him at this news. Pippin was locked up in that City at the mercy of the thronging armies and battle machines to say nothing of the flames and smoke. In that instant Merry wondered why he could not hear Pippin or Legolas and had not talked in his mind with them for a while. It was normal for them not to make contact all the time as it was distracting whilst pursuing other tasks and speaking to those around you. But Pippin and Legolas had both been silent for a long time. The elf Merry could understand, he was probably involved in important business with Gandalf or even Aragorn, but Pippin?
As Merry mused on this momentarily, a great cry suddenly went up from all around him. Horses were screeching in terror and men cried out, some voices in pain and others in fear and dread. There seemed to be a darkening of spirit that was almost tangible to the blind hobbit, even Éowyn clutched tightly to his shoulder in an unnaturally panic filled grip. "Éowyn! What is it?" He shouted urgently. But even before she could answer, Merry was certain he knew the answer.
The sounds of chaos around him indicated a great melee of horses and men. Some riders, Merry could hear, had been unseated and others were even now being carried away on their panic filled steeds. Suddenly Windfola tipped up and squealed in terror as Éowyn and the hobbit were thrown to the ground. Then the voice that he dreaded, but was certain would come, reverberated through his head.
'HALFLING – YOU CANNOT HIDE! YOUR FUTILE ATTEMPTS TO ESCAPE ME ARE EMPTY AND WITHOUT MEANING! THE OTHER BETRAYED YOU TO ME! THE LORD SAURON WILL TAKE HIM – AND I WILL TAKE YOU.'
As Merry turned his head fearfully up he saw the only thing in Middle Earth that he could see, but that which he dreaded the most.
Denethor clutched his throat, gasping for air. His hands were at least now free of the palantír's hold and the dread voice had left his head, leaving him shaken and weak. The earlier images had been daunting enough, but he had been prepared to believe that these were falsehoods, lies sent to him by the enemy to drive him to despair.
However the last encounter had been different, he had wrested the palantír to his own will and had held sway over the Dark Lord. Then he had seen the truth. All would burn, his City would become ashes, the buildings indistinguishable from the people as all became charred and burnt upon a great pyre that had been Minas Tirith. All except the little halfling.
The Steward looked down at the small figure propped up against the wall, eyeing him with reserved caution, but no sign of fear. And as he looked he felt an overwhelming sense of pity. He could not let the Dark Lord carry out his threat to this little mite. To burn would be a release, compared to the horrors Sauron held in store for the small, innocent halfling. It could not be – he would not let it be.
Denethor stepped forward and caught hold of Pippin's arms and lifted him to his feet. He turned him round and together they stepped towards the door. Pippin stumbled, his foot still painful and his circulation poor from inactivity. The Steward bent to stay his fall and then lifted him off his feet and over his great iron clad shoulder.
Pippin was more than a little surprised at this treatment, but saw no practical way to protest it and instead lay still on the strong shoulder waiting to be put down again.
As Denethor returned to the chamber he saw, to his anger that Faramir had been taken away. "Where is my son?" he roared to the attendant there. "Speak man!"
"He is gone by order of Beregond." The man was trembling, he had tried to dissuade Beregond against his course of action, defying their Lord and taking his only remaining son to the leeches in the House of Healing. "I tried to stop him, Lord, but he would not be gainsayed."
"Very well," Denethor marched angrily passed the man, Pippin still hoisted on his shoulder. "It is too late for him, but I shall not wait to burn."
"I'm sorry my Lord?" The man was very afraid now. He did not understand what was going on, but suspected his master had taken leave of his senses. "…wait to burn, My Lord?"
"We shall all burn, but I by no other's hand." Denethor marched to the end of the hall and opened the great door. "If burn I must, then I shall be the cause of it. Bring me rags and fuel and a torch to Rath Dínen. There I shall perish, no long slow sleep of death embalmed. I will burn as a heathen king before ever a ship sailed hither from the West."
"But Lord," The man dared to question once more. "What of the City? And the halfling – what of he? Mithrandir will ask I have no doubt."
"Mithrandir never served this one aught but ill. I will take him to safety of a kind." Denethor patted Pippin on the back. "He shall burn with me – now fetch the wood and materials – run man! before the City burns us of its own accord."
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