1. Feasting and Idling
While Pippin was toasting bread and happily setting out foodstuffs, his chattering, lilting voice promising the best meal the three trackers had known since Lórien, Aragorn drew Merry aside gently and crouched down before him.
“Let me look at your forehead, Merry,” he said.
Merry brushed a hand over the wound absently. “All right,” he agreed, “but it doesn’t bother me at all. Can you even still see it?”
Aragorn held Merry’s curls back with one hand and softly touched the wound with the other. “Yes, I fear it will scar,” he said. “The wound is shut, though, and the swelling and bruising nearly gone. I am surprised, given the obvious depth of the wound and size of the mark.”
“The orcs put something on it, though I dare not imagine what,” Merry said. “It burned like fire, but it didn’t bleed after that. I think perhaps, too, that these Entdraughts Treebeard has provided have been good for us. All of the bruises seem to be healing quickly, and do not bother me as one might think they would.”
Aragorn frowned, moving his hands to let Merry’s hair fall back over his forehead. “Where else are you injured?” he inquired, running his hands along Merry’s shoulders and arms to ascertain his condition. In reply, Merry silently turned his legs out one after the other to show the fading welts on his calves and ankles from the whip, then held out his hands. Marks and bruises from the binding ropes were visible around his wrists, and it was clear from their condition that they had been bound tightly enough to make them bleed.
Aragorn’s face was remorseful as he examined the hobbit’s legs and wrists, and Merry softly said, “It’s not your fault. I am all right, truly.”
“I would this never had come to pass,” Aragorn murmured, “good end or no.” He held a wrist in each hand and gently stroked the marks, as if he could erase them with his fingertips. Then he sighed and let them go.
“They heal nicely and will not bother you,” he said. “I suspect you are right about the Entdraughts, and I am all the more grateful to Fangorn. I did not hope to find the both of you in such good health after the number of days you spent in that foul company.” He paused, and lowered his voice. The two of them were in a corner, and at the table, Pippin still chattered and clattered dishes about, Gimli and Legolas attentive to him.
“Are you injured elsewhere, Merry, either of you? Did they . . . attack you in any other way?” he asked seriously, eyes locked to Merry’s.
Merry shifted uneasily. “They did not touch me, no. We were to be brought to Saruman unspoiled, their leader said, and our clothing was not to be rummaged. Saruman wanted to make sure the Ring was not discovered by any of his troops, I imagine.” He hesitated, and dropped his eyes. “I have not asked Pippin, but I think he was not touched. I have watched for . . . signs of it and seen none. But I was unconscious for some time, a day at least, I think, and I know not what they may have done with him during that time.”
Aragorn nodded, and ducked his head to try and meet Merry’s eyes. “Are you certain they did nothing with you while you were unconscious? Have you any discomfort?” he asked.
Merry shook his head no. “None,” he said, “and as I can’t imagine they would have been gentle, I am not concerned that any such things went on. With me.” He jutted his jaw out tensely, then said, “Pip was very . . . clingy at the Ent houses. Especially at night -- he would not go to sleep without me beside him, and woke immediately if I left for any reason.”
“I will look at his hurts, and speak of this to him as well,” Aragorn reassured the hobbit. “Will he understand what I am asking him?”
“I don’t know,” Merry said honestly. “I mean, he is young, but not so young. He knows . . . how everything works. But with lads and lasses. I don’t know if he would understand, if he would know that it can be . . . like that.”
“All right,” Aragorn said softly. “Is he injured elsewhere, do you know?”
Merry nodded. “There are some whip welts on his legs and ankles, worse than mine, and one on his back. He let that brooch fall, but not without cost. I have looked at them, though, and cleaned them, and they seem to be healing well enough. There are some scratches on his shoulders from when he was picked up, but they do not seem to trouble him.”
Aragorn stood and clasped Merry’s shoulder. “I’ll look at them, as well,” he said, then turned to the table and surveyed the spread. “What, no cheese?” he asked.
“Oh, there is cheese,” Pippin assured him, turning back toward the storeroom. “I’ll just fetch some . . .” His voice trailed off as he disappeared, and Aragorn quietly followed him. He found the tween-ager muttering to himself and picking through supplies.
“I know there was some more, I thought it was right here,” Pippin muttered, then popped upright with a triumphant, “Aha!” a round of cheese in one hand.
“Thank you,” Aragorn said. Pippin jumped a little and turned, but then grinned and bowed as he presented his prize.
“Certainly,” Pippin said, and began to move back toward the outer room.
“Wait just a moment, if you would, Pippin,” Aragorn said. “I wanted to check you for injuries. And do not protest on grounds that your stomach needs filling, as I know you have barely had time to digest your last meal yet.”
“I have been hungry for long enough,” Pippin said, but his tone was good-natured. “I am only trying to make up for lost time.” He let Aragorn manhandle him out of his cloak and coat without objection, saying, “Did Merry fuss about the welts? He wants to look at them every other hour, and then he’s checking them while I’m trying to sleep and waking me up.”
Aragorn chuckled. “Well, I hope to only look at them once, for Merry says they are healing. Here, let us see,” and he turned Pippin and pushed the back of his shirt up. He was silent as he first checked the scratch marks, then as his fingers traced the long welt, his face dark with anger and grief. As if he could sense this, Pippin softly said, “Oi, I am all right. It itches more than it hurts now.”
Aragorn let the shirt fall back down. “Yes, it is nearly healed. Merry thinks the Entdraughts have helped the two of you recover, and I am inclined to agree with him.” He bent to roll up Pippin’s pant legs, uncovering his calves. There was one bad welt across the back of both calves, clearly made by a single snap of the whip, and another bad one near Pippin’s right ankle, where it appeared the whip had caught him around the ankle and yanked. The ankle mark was deeper, but even it was healing nicely. Other, fainter marks also were visible, but were clearly not troubling the hobbit.
Satisfied, Aragorn righted Pippin’s pants and turned him back around. He took the hobbit’s wrists in his hands, but the marks from the ropes were faint, not nearly so severe as Merry’s.
Still gently holding Pippin’s wrists, Aragorn met his eyes. “Pippin, did any of the orcs hurt or abuse you in any other way? Are you injured elsewhere, or in any distress? It is important that you tell me if it is so.”
Pippin’s gaze was calm and unwavering, and he did not speak for a moment as he considered Aragorn’s inquiry. “They did not rape me, if that is what you are asking,” he said baldly.
Aragorn managed not to show surprise at Pippin’s frank answer. “Good,” he said. “I am glad of it. There are other ways to abuse prisoners, though, ways that do not damage them physically. You may tell me anything, Pippin, and it will go no further than we two. Is there anything else you want to say to me?”
Pippin’s face softened. “No, really, they did not harm me,” he said earnestly. “Is my silly cousin worrying about this? They were in great haste, Aragorn, and in great fear of their masters. Merry was there for the worst of things, with Grishnákh.” He shuddered slightly. “We will tell you of it later. But you need not worry that I was otherwise harmed, for I was not.” He added in a low voice, “We were lucky. I dare not think what would have happened had we reached Isengard.”
Aragorn ran a hand through Pippin’s curls. “Then do not think of it – it does not bear imagining. I am grateful you suffered no such abuse, more than I can tell you. I have encountered former prisoners of orcs before, and my mind was filled with foreboding visions while we followed too slow at the Uruk-hai’s heels.”
Pippin put his arms around Aragorn and hugged him tightly. “But you followed us and now you have found us, and we are all right,” he said. “Oh, but I am glad to see you again.”
“As am I, Pippin,” Aragorn said, laying his cheek atop hobbit’s curls. They were still for a moment, and then Pippin plaintively said, “I am hungry again, though, Strider.”
Aragorn chuckled. “Well, far be it from my place to keep a hobbit from his sup. If I have learned nothing else on this journey, I have learned that,” he said. He released Pippin from their embrace, and stood. The hobbit promptly went for the door.
“Hurry up!” he said. “That greedy cousin of mine will have taken the best of everything for himself if we don’t get out there!” and he bounded out of the room.
Grinning, Aragorn picked up his round of cheese and followed.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.