The army headed north at dawn the next day, the third since they’d left Minas Tirith, leaving a strong guard behind at the crossroads made up of archers and some of Faramir‘s Ithilien Rangers. The mounted Northern Rangers scouted the road ahead of the army while more of Faramir‘s men, led by Mablung his lieutenant, haunted the thickets and rocky gullies to either side. It was a bright, sunny day and the warm western wind kept the gloaming mists over the Mountains of Shadow at bay.
Pippin rode on Beregond’s saddle bow among the grey cloaked Northern Rangers. He liked them, they reminded him of home, which was odd when you thought about it as he’d never even seen a Ranger before meeting Strider in Bree. Maybe it was because they spoke to him in the homely manner of the Shire rather than the grand and rather stiff Man style - though he’d heard them talk like that too to the Gondorim.
Beregond seemed comfortable with them also but Pippin had noticed the new King’s Guard and the other Gondorim were uneasy around the Northern Dunedain - even Beren, Aragorn‘s new banner bearer, who was half Northerner himself. Pippin wondered why. After long consideration he decided the Ranger’s habitual silence was the source of the trouble, like Strider they practically never opened their mouths. Pippin was quite used to that by now, and Beregond was almost quiet enough to be a Ranger himself. But the other Gondorim were like old Boromir, chatty enough in their fashion, and no doubt found the Northerners’ taciturn ways off-putting - even unfriendly. But no doubt they’d get used to it in time.
Gandalf rode ahead next to Aragorn, the two of them deep in talk. Pippin wondered what about, then decided he was probably better off not knowing. And every so often the trumpeters would let loose with a fanfare and the heralds would shout their piece about King Elessar taking back his lands. It was not a pleasant journey. On the surface there was nothing wrong; good weather, a sound road and no enemy to be seen anywhere, but Pippin felt a heavy weight of foreboding, a sense of evil that grew stronger with every northward step.
“I feel like turning around and running all the way back to the Shire.” he admitted to Aragorn that night after they’d made camp.
The King let the tent flap fall shut and turned to smile at his squire. “I feel it too, we all do.” the smile vanished and he sighed. “So far the Men are bearing up well, but some are bound to break before we reach our goal.”
“I hope I’m not one of them.” Pippin said ruefully, taking the kettle from the brazier and pouring the hot water into a big golden basin.
“You won’t be.” Aragorn said with a conviction that was both flattering and comforting. “You’ve borne far worse than this, Peregrin Took.”
Pippin put the bowl of gently steaming water on a stand and Aragorn began to wash his face; “Strider, if the Black Gate is so strong and well guarded and all the rest, why did you want us to go that way from Parth Galen?”
“Because the Rangers know a secret way around the Gate.” the King answered reaching for the towel.
Pippin’s eyes widened. “You mean you’ve been inside Mordor?”
Aragorn shook his head. “No. I’ve never been farther than our watch post on the eastern side of the mountains - nor have any of my people since Sauron returned seventy years ago.”
“Even that’s a lot closer than I’d want to get!” said Pippin with a shudder. “Is it... is it very terrible?”
The King’s eyes went out of focus as if he was looking back through the years and his face got that grim ‘Ranger‘ look. “Yes.”
Oh dear. “Worse than that Morgul Vale?” Pippin pressed anxiously.
“Frodo and Sam have withstood the one, they can bear the other.” Aragorn said firmly. “Try not to worry, Pippin. It does neither them nor you any good.”
Easy to say but hard to do Pippin thought wryly. “Boromir said the very air was poisoned,” he worried aloud, “do you think he knew?”
“Very likely.” the King sat on the edge of his bed, a big cross-legged thing too grand to be called a cot. “I would not be surprised if he had sometime dared the Morgul pass to look into the land of his Enemy. But it was just a manner of speech, Pippin, Orcs must breath too - the air is heavy and foul but that is all.”
“’And the Great Eye watches all’” Pippin quoted softly, from Boromir’s words at Elrond’s long ago council.
Aragorn reached over to clap Pippin on the shoulder. “The Eye is on us, and it is our business to keep it fixed so.” he said. “Frodo and Sam will be all right as long as they escape its notice. Now get some sleep, Pippin.”
Pippin rode with Gandalf again on the next day‘s march, and so was right there, near to the King, when one of the mounted Rangers rode back to report. “The road passes through a defile with steep, well wooded slopes on either side, Dunadan.” the Man said. “A good place for an ambush.”
“We have often found it so.” said Mablung, chief of the Ithilien Rangers, striding along at Aragorn’s stirrup.
“I think I know the place.” said the King. “Mablung take your Men and see if the enemy has decided to take advantage of it.”
They were several further miles along, dismounted and having a breather, when Mablung returned with the news that there was indeed a strong force of Orcs and Easterlings lying in ambush just as suspected.
He scratched a rough map in the earth for the Kings and Captains; “The main body is here, with smaller bands here, here, and here.” he stabbed the ground with his stick in four places. “And watchers stationed along the road. White teeth flashed in a brief, fierce smile. “We have already taken care of those.”
“Good.” said Aragorn, his eyes on the map. “Our foot will leave the road here and come upon them from a direction they do not expect. Imrahil, Eomer King, take your horsemen west and circle around to attack their flank. We will crush them between us.”
And that was exactly what happened. Pippin heard the clash of arms as the leading companies engaged the enemy, and the war cries of the Rohirrim and Swan knights as they too attacked, but by the time the King and his companions came upon the field the enemy was either dead or fled.
Pippin was disappointed and said so. Merry, who’d ridden to battle behind Eomer, grinned cheekily. “Sorry, Pip, next time I’ll save an Orc or two for you.”
“It was but a fient,” Aragorn said, “meant to fill us with false confidence rather than do us hurt. Sauron has many troops, he can afford to sacrifice some in such stratagems.”
“That’s our Strider, always looking on the bright side.” said Merry wryly.
Imrahil laughed. “I remember well my Captain Thorongil’s dark forebodings, and that they invariably proved true.”
“That’s reassuring.” said Pippin.
They went a few steps farther up the road, enough to get clear of the dangerous high ground, and made camp. Pippin’s hands were kept busy as the King’s tent was reared and arranged but that didn’t keep him from thinking over the incidents of the day. It was true, he had been disappointed at not getting a chance to fight - to kill more Orcs - and being so what did it say about the Hobbit he‘d become?
Dinner that night was informal, just the remaining companions of the Ring and Eomer King who’d come with Merry, so Pippin was able to join them at table after serving rather than standing by in attendance. He confessed his fears. “I never used to want to kill anything and it can’t be good that I want to now - even Orcs.”
Old Merry started to look worried too but Eomer, sitting beside him, said firmly: “You have become a warrior, Master Peregrin, naturally you desire battle, to use your skills.” he smiled wryly. “And if wishing to kill Orcs is a sin than every one of us here is as guilty of it as you.”
“They are vermin, young Hobbit,” Gimli said gruffly, “a plague that must be kept from spreading. Don‘t worry yourself over the likes of them!”
“They are sad, twisted creatures,” Gandalf said sorrowfully, “their lives are a torment to them. Death is a mercy - the only one we can give them.”
“They are not simply the servants of the Enemy, as the Easterlings and Southrons are, but his creatures,” Aragorn explained equally seriously, “they cannot change as Men may and so we have no choice but to destroy them without mercy. For certainly they will have none on us.”
“I understand your fear, Pippin,” Legolas said quietly, “there was a time when my hatred of Orcs led to a bloodlust that darkened my spirit, but I see no such shadow in you.” he smiled quickly. “If I ever do I will warn you at once - I have no wish to see you go down that path!”
Pippin looked at him startled and curious, but realized there were some questions even a friend shouldn’t ask. “I don’t want that either.” he said earnestly instead.
“But we can’t help hating Orcs, Pippin and I,” Merry ventured, “not after watching them kill Boromir and suffering at their hands ourselves.”
“There is no blame in that, Merry.” said Aragorn. “It is right to hate evil and wish to destroy it.”
“But one must not enjoy the doing too much.” said Legolas.
“No.” Aragorn agreed.
Pippin squinted, trying hard to remember how he’d felt during the Siege and the Battle of the Pelannor field - other than scared to death. “I didn’t enjoy fighting exactly,” he decided at last. “but it was satisfying - like mucking out the stable. It’s a nasty job but it’s got to be done and you feel you‘ve really accomplished something when it‘s finished.”
Gimli choked on his wine and Legolas pounded him on the back grinning. Gandalf and Aragorn exchanged a glinting glance, and Eomer laughed out loud. “A good comparison, Master Peregrin, we go now to cleanse a very evil smelling stable indeed!”
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.