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Recaptured!: 1. A Twist in the Tale
Beta and additional material: MarigoldG
In a divergent timeline, the Riders of Rohan did not kill all the Uruk-Hai. A band of 8, led by Uglúk escaped into Fangorn and took up the pursuit of the hobbits.
In the meantime Merry and Pippin having escaped from their captors during the attack of Éomer and his men, have met Treebeard and, having explained their plight, have accompanied him to Entmoot. The Ents are discussing taking up arms against the renegade wizard Saruman in Isengard.
Pippin found the sound pleasant to listen to at first; but gradually his attention wavered. He yawned.
Treebeard was immediately aware of him. 'Hm, ha, hey, my Pippin!' he said, 'You are a hasty folk, I was forgetting; and anyway it is wearisome listening to a speech you do not understand. You may get down now.' J. R. R. Tolkien
Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took were getting restless. The Entmoot had been in progress for at least 10 hours now and they had exhausted most of the possibilities of the immediate neighbourhood of Fangorn Forest.
"Why does it take so long to talk about Isengard," Pippin yawned. "Saruman will be ruling Middle Earth before we even get there."
"I know Pip, I'm impatient too," Merry flicked a piece of leaf at his cousin, "but there's not much we can do except wait."
"Where is Isengard anyway?" Pippin asked. "You did all that map studying in Rivendell Merry, do you remember anything about it?"
"Isengard is a sort of ring of rocks or hills, I think," said Merry, "with a flat space inside and an island or pillar of rock in the middle, called Orthanc. That's what Treebeard said. Saruman has a tower on it."
"Well that sounds pretty impenetrable, " Pippin had recovered from their recent capture by the orcs and felt ready for more adventure now. "Do you think the Ents will be able to break through it?"
"Who knows?" Merry shrugged, "But whatever they decide they are obviously going to take their time over it."
The two wandered further away from the sound of the Entmoot, along beside a chattering, busy little stream that seemed in stark contrast to the slow and ponderous ents. They slumped down on a grassy bank, Pippin rolling onto his back and then back to his side as his bruises complained. The Uruks had thrown him onto the stones and left him tied and hurt in that painful position for many hours. "Do you think we've seen the last of Uglúk?" Pippin asked.
"Can only hope so, Pip," Merry turned onto his side as well, looking at Pippin with a smile, the gash in the side of his head still a bloody graze, in spite of bathing it with the restorative waters of Fangorn. "But we didn't wait to see the outcome of the battle with the riders, so it's hard to tell."
"No, but we didn't really want to wait around to see who was going to win in case it was the wrong side." Pippin rolled himself over on the grass closer to his cousin, pulling up a couple of blades and sucking them experimentally. "I'm hungry."
"Yes it's hungry work being kidnapped and escaping and even more hungry work sitting and waiting!" Merry sat up again and sniffed the air. "I've run out of lembas and the ent draughts don't really satisfy. Shall we see if we can find anything to scrump in the forest?"
Uglúk also sniffed the air. "Halflings!" he growled "This way! Run! They must not escape us again!" He rallied his depleted band of Uruk-hai on, although there was no need, they would have followed their leader tenaciously no matter what – it was what they were bred for.
The battle with the riders of Rohan had been hard fought but when Uglúk realised they were outnumbered he had fallen back with his followers, the White Handers of Isengard, moving gradually through Grishnakh's ranks of smaller orcs bearing the red eye on their armour. There they had managed to reach the cover of Fangorn Forest, where Uglúk picked up the trail of the escaping hobbits.
Now he sniffed their presence, his senses sharp like those of the distorted elf genes of which he was a depraved scion, indeed those very senses were deliberately heightened by Saruman's corruption of his breed. "They are near." He snarled "We have run a full night and a full day and now they are near."
"I suppose it would be rude to start a fire in Fangorn Forest?" Pippin held up the enormous white fungi he had found. "Only these are such good mushrooms, it would be so much better to roast them."
"I don't think we should." Merry said looking sadly at the large, luscious mushrooms. "Treebeard would not be too pleased if we hurt any of the trees and even if we used some of the dead wood on the ground, I have nothing with which to strike a flame. Do you?"
"No, never mind, we'll eat them raw." Pippin began to munch on a large specimen. "Mmmm! They're very good, even without cooking or perhaps I'm just really hungry."
"Well that's not an unusual situation now is it Pip?" Merry tore a large chunk of flesh from the mushroom his cousin was eating and stuffed it in his mouth. "Oh yes – now that's what I call a mushroom!"
They were well into their third each, when they both suddenly became overwhelmed with fatigue and lay down in the grass once more.
"Eating is exhausting too Pip." Merry decided, still chewing on the remains of the last stalk. "You don't suppose Fangorn mushrooms are the bad kind – you know the sort the Sam warned us we'd steal by mistake one day."
"No Merry, those are…" he paused to yawn hugely, "…those are the sort that stain your fingers and these were…" another yawn, "…were fine – no brown on them at all… quite fine and…" Pippin did not manage to finish the sentence or the mushroom still clutched in his hand; he was snoring before he reached the end of either.
The mushrooms were not poisonous, as Pippin had rightly said. All hobbits knew how to recognise deadly mushrooms by the way they would stain the fingers as they were picked, but, unlike the fungi in the Shire, this species held a certain soporific quality and the hobbits' sleep was solid and dreamless. They no longer heard the drone of the Entmoot or the rush of the little stream by which they slept, or the far off cry of the eagle. They lay in peaceful repose, the best rest they had had for several days while the Isengarders drew nearer and nearer.
Pippin was roughly awoken from his deep sleep by large vicious hands pulling him back into the nightmare he had only too recently escaped from. He tried to cry out but a filthy rag was shoved into his mouth almost choking him. Cords were tied tightly around his wrists and ankles and a band of cloth around his face tied the gag in place so that he could not spit it out. He struggled wildly until Uglúk caught him by his hair and clouted him hard across the back of the head.
Uglúk lifted the small hobbit under the arms and held him up to his own eye level. "You little squeaker, I will pay you out for escaping from me!" He shook Pippin until his brain rattled. "Did you think you could evade the Uruk-Hai? Did you think you could outpace us?"
The fearsome orcs laughed at the sorry looking little halfling still wriggling in Uglúk grasp as Pippin looked frantically round trying to locate Merry. "Looking for your friend?" Uglúk sneered. "Don't worry, we have him safe – no one escapes the fighting Uruk-Hai. Show him, Lugdush."
A large Uruk, that Pippin remembered from before, pushed forward. He was carrying Merry, also bound hand and foot, over his shoulder. His cousin did not move and Pippin could see blood staining the blond curls, the gash on his forehead reopened and bleeding profusely.
"Take him." Uglúk growled as he tossed Pippin to one of the other orcs. "Come we must make good speed. The hunters are behind and our Master awaits his prize."
The Uruk-Hai pounded off through the Forest of Fangorn carrying the two hobbits with them. Pippin fell into an evil black nightmare, terrified and sick at being caught again by these violent, frightening creatures and scared witless at what lay ahead.
Treebeard and the other Ents were still swaying and murmuring in their long discussion, when Bregalad, "the hasty Ent" returned to the Entmoot. Patiently he waited until they were ready to hear him. "I have looked everywhere for the small things – the hobbits – I cannot find them. But I do not think they have wandered off of their own accord."
"What do you think has happened to the little folk?" Treebeard was disturbed by the news, remembering the tales of kidnap and abuse they had already reported to him.
"I believe they were stolen." Bregalad pointed in the direction he had come from. "There is evidence of struggle and many heavy footprints crossing those of the little unshod hobbits."
"Do you think it may have been the burárum who stole them away before?" Treebeard asked. "If so we may guess where they have taken them. To Isengard, to Saruman."
"It would seem so, Fangorn." Bregalad lifted his arms in the Ent equivalent of a shrug. "I did not see but the tracks let towards Isengard. I would not wish to force you to be hasty, but has the Entmoot reached a decision? For it would seem action may be needed sooner than thought."
"It is not quite concluded." Treebeard spread his large hands in front of Quickbeam's face. "But it will be soon. You are right, we must act with more speed and rescue the innocent little ones. I do not know what his plan is, but I fear it is not for the good of ents or other peaceful creatures of Middle Earth. Saruman must be stopped."
Saruman paced the circular throne room of Orthanc. He had watched his sadly depleted band of Uruk-Hai enter Isengard through the lower levels and was now awaiting their arrival. It had taken most of the 100 strong marauding band that he had sent out, but what of that? The remaining few bore two halflings on their backs – the One Ring would surely soon be in his hands.
Uglúk led his warriors through the great doors to the throne room and saluted his master. "Hail Saruman the wise! We are your faithful servants. We slew the great warrior, we slew many of the filthy horseboys, we brought the prisoners – alive and unspoiled."
At this, the two Uruks carrying the hobbits lifted them up for their bonds to be cut and then threw the terrified pair on the floor before the white bearded wizard. They both landed on all fours, as hobbits are wont to do – much like cats when dropped – and then huddled against each other looking fearfully around them.
"Very good, you have done well." Saruman regarded the frightened youngsters with sinister pleasure. "Unbind them and bring them here." He sat down on the Orthanc throne as Uglúk picked Pippin up by his ankle, eliciting a petrified squeak as he drew his razor-sharp dagger and sliced through the cords that bound the hobbit. The great orc then dropped Pippin again and, once more he automatically twisted in mid-air to land on his hands and feet. Several of the Uruks actually pointed and laughed at the agility of the strange little creature. Pippin immediately reached up and pulled off the cloth still holding the filthy rag in his mouth and spat the hateful gag out.
As Uglúk reached out and picked Merry up by the ankle to cut his bonds, one of the other Uruks, Lugdush in fact, picked Pippin up and threw him in the air to watch him twist and land again. Uglúk held Merry up as high as he could and then dropped him, the Uruks laughed raucously as the hobbit landed safely.
Merry managed to scuttle close to Pippin. "What are they laughing at, Pip? Do you know?"
"I've no idea – they just think we're funny," Pippin whispered back, "I don't know why."
Saruman stood up as the Uruks were about to reach out and pick the hobbits up again. "Enough, bring them here. Perhaps you can play with them later, when I have what I need." Saruman took hold of each of the hobbits' arms as they were brought to him by Lugdush. "You don't know why they're laughing, do you?" He smiled although neither of the hobbits felt is was a good smile. They shook their heads. "Such simplicity, you double over like little cats to land on your feet and you don't even know you can.
"Now – which of you carries It?" Saruman tightened his grip, his large hands reaching all the way round the hobbits' narrow upper arms.
Merry and Pippin knew what he wanted, but they looked at him blankly and Pippin shrugged. "What do you want exactly?" He said nervously.
"You should have more fear, little one." Saruman beckoned to Uglúk and passed him Merry to hold and, as he was dragged away, the hobbit pulled frantically, trying to escape the Uruk's grip but was jerked back violently, a large calloused hand over his mouth and a gigantic arm pinning his body to the Uruk's. The wizard turned back to Pippin. "We'll start with you, since you are so honest."
He kept a tight hold on the trembling form as he untied the elven cloak with his other hand. The cloak dropped to the floor and Pippin made as if to pick it up. Saruman's long fingers curled under Pippin's chin lifting his head up as he tutted at him, "Leave it, we have only just begun." He pulled Pippin's scarf loose and shook it out to make sure nothing was concealed in its folds, then dropped it on the cloak.
Pippin's blue coat buttoned at the sleeve and Saruman delicately unfastened the small buttons using his long nails and pulled the coat off, turning it inside out as he did so. He let go of the hobbit who started to back away. The wizard pulled him back and then lifted up his finger at Pippin. "Stay!" Saruman intoned as if Pippin was a disobedient puppy. Pippin turned and looked anxiously at Merry. His cousin nodded, indicating that he should not start a fight with the wizard just yet. Pippin stayed.
The examination of the coat was long and painstaking, but when it eventually revealed nothing more than a broken pipe, a few brightly coloured stones, two small coins and a piece of string threaded through a conker, Saruman dropped it on the pile with the cloak and the scarf. The wizard held up the conker, dangling it on the end of the string. "What's this?" he asked in a disgusted tone.
"It's my conker," Pippin announced quite proudly, "It's a tenner, a real champion."
Saruman was obviously not impressed with this piece of news and threw the "champion" after the coat.
Saruman caught hold of Pippin once more and, dropped the braces of his breeches to dangle as he removed the hobbit's embroidered but now grubby shirt, shook it and dropped it on the growing heap of clothes. He ran his long-taloned fingers over the small trembling body, tracing around bruises and cuts collected over the last few days and during the trip through the mines of Moria.
"Gandalf did not look after you very well." Saruman always liked to criticise the lesser wizard even now he was gone. "Although I'm beginning to see his attraction to the Shire of the Halflings." Pippin's breeches were roughly pulled loose and one of the Uruks lifted him up from the ground so that Saruman could pull them off completely and examine the pockets and seams. Still nothing.
"Give me the other one." Saruman beckoned for Merry to be brought to him. Uglúk lifted him by the scruff of his collar and dropped the struggling form next to his naked cousin. Saruman examined the elven mallorn brooch carefully, then laid it on the table next to Pippin's small treasures. Merry backed away as Saruman reached for the ties of his cloak but the wizard grabbed a handful of blond curls and pulled Merry's head backwards until he looked up into the piercing eyes. "You will be still," he threatened.
The wizard maintained the pressure until Merry finally stopped struggling and stood passively while Saruman stripped him. The cloak, the jacket fell to the floor. The buttons of Merry's waistcoat were ripped off and a second little heap of clothes was left next to Pippin's.
"So, you do not carry It?" Saruman's voice did not rise, but his tone grew darker. "But I daresay you know where it is."
The two hobbits shivered before him, half from cold in their nakedness and half from fear. "We don't know what you want." Pippin lied once more. "But whatever it is, I'm sure we know nothing about…."
"Liar!" Saruman backed-handed Pippin across the face, knocking him to the ground. Merry sank down beside him, putting himself between his cousin and the wizard. "The Ring, don't waste my time, you know well what it is I want. Do not think you can lie to a wizard of my power so that I would not recognise your mendacity. Perhaps that old fool Gandalf was easily deceived. Well I am not!"
"But come now," Saruman grew quiet once more. The cousins looked warily at each other, this seemed more ominous than the temper. "There is no need to be afraid of me." He took Pippin by the hand, lifting him back to his feet. He then held Merry by the arm and pulled the two hobbits to him as he sat down on the throne once more. The Uruks stood in a semi-circle around their Master watching in silent awe to see how he switched from wrath to gentleness in a second.
Saruman stroked Pippin's face with the back of his hand, the hand that had so recently struck the same cheek ran over the darkening bruise it had made there. "You really are a pretty pair." He lifted Merry's face with a hand under the chin and turned it to profile. "Yes a very pretty pair. Perhaps it was not the weed you halflings grow that kept Gandalf so often in the Shire."
Merry abruptly jerked his head away, out of the wizard's grasp and scuttled backwards towards his clothes. Pippin tried to follow, but Saruman caught hold of his arm before he could move far. Merry started to pull on his breeches. "Whatever you take from us, you take," he said as calmly as he could. "But I give you nothing willingly and I will volunteer nothing." With his breeches firmly buttoned Merry felt his dignity and courage restored. He stood four square with his arms akimbo. "But leave my cousin alone, he is not yet even an adult. Would you make war on children?"
"I make no war – war is its own maker." Saruman laughed but kept hold of Pippin. "But you make very bold with me, little one. Don't try my patience over much." The wizard nodded an instruction to Uglúk. "You or your pretty cousin will tell me where the Ring is. Who bears it and where they have gone. This small piece of information is all I need, then I will free you both to go on your way."
"Pip, you know he will not, don't you?" Merry's arms were grabbed by two Uruks. "No matter what, he will just kill us at the end – whether we speak or not."
Pippin looked frantically from Saruman to the Uruks holding Merry. The large orcs lifted Merry face down onto a high table and stood one either side of the little hobbit, each pinning an arm to the table surface so that he could not move and his legs dangled over the side, too short to reach the ground. Uglúk drew the hated whip from his belt and caressed it across Merry's back a few times. Then, at a nod from the wizard, he lashed it across the hobbit's back, eliciting blood and a scream.
Pippin, with tears running down his cheeks, found himself involuntarily counting the blows as they cut across his cousin's back. He felt totally helpless. Saruman lifted Pippin onto his lap, holding him tightly he stroked the hobbit's curls and whispered in his ear. "This is your fault, you can stop this. Just tell me where the Ring is – a small thing to tell and you can stop any more hurt to your friend."
"I can't. I don't know what it is you want!" Pippin wailed, "Please make them stop!"
"Your friend told you not to speak?" Saruman lifted up his hand to pause the whipping. "But I'm sure you do know something. Where did It go? Was It lost? Did someone take It?"
"No, I don't know. I never saw anything. I'm not lying. We didn't do anything." Pippin's excuses tumbled over one another as he frantically tried to think of anything to stop the vicious beating from resuming. Merry was lying very still now and making no sound.
"Tell me, little one." Saruman held Pippin's wrist tightly – too tightly – and twisted his hand backwards until the hobbit cried out with pain. "Tell me everything you know and tell me now!" The wizard dumped Pippin face down on the floor and, putting his foot on the hobbit's arm, jerked his wrist sharply upwards.
There was a sickening sound of breaking bone and Pippin fainted into oblivion.
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