58. Near and Far
"I think my name is Pip."
Smagnu and Grutfley exchanged surprised looks once more. They were so accustomed to little Pip not speaking or hearing for that matter, that this new one was obviously listening to what they said and speaking out loud was a complete surprise to them.
"B-but I'm not sure." Merry added uncertainly.
"What happened to your head?" Smagnu touched the bloodied bandage bound about the little one's brow.
"D-don't know." Merry did not even remember Wormtongue tying the cloth on his injury, any more than he remembered the kick from the flying hoof.
"See that's odd, too," Smagnu said quietly to his partner. "It's the same as where little Pip's head was bleeding."
"Hmm… Don't start me off. I'd best get this one locked up." Grutfley took a piece of cord from his pocket and tied it round Merry's neck. He pulled the little hobbit forward not roughly because Smagnu was watching, but firmly. "Come on now."
"No! No!" Merry caught hold of the cord with his bound hands and pulled back, managing to snatch the end from the unprepared Grutfley. The hobbit turned and took a couple of paces but there was a bench in the way, which of course he could not see, and he fell over it, landing awkwardly on his shoulder.
Smagnu stepped forward and picked him up. "What's wrong? Didn't you see the bench?"
"See? I don't know. What do you mean?" Since Merry's first waking memory was of the wraith and nothing else, he was not sure what the concept of 'see' was. His general use of language and function was intact but he had no recall of incidents or people or experiences to measure anything against. "What do you mean 'see'?"
Smagnu moved his fingers back and forth in front of Merry's eyes. There was no reaction, no blinking and he did not follow the movement. "I think this one is blind."
"Oh fug, not another bewitched one." Grutfley had picked the cord up again but dropped it at once. "The other 'un can't talk and this 'un can't see."
"That's its misfortune." Smagnu pointed out. "Not yours." He took his knife and cut the cords binding Merry's wrists and looked at how chafed his skin was. Then he unbound the bandage from the wound to see not only a discoloured bruise and a deep cut, but also a swollen lump. "Poor little thing. At least see to it and give it some food before locking it up."
Smagnu did not wait for Grutfley's agreement but took Merry by the hand and led him carefully over to the big mess table and sat him on the bench. Grutfley snorted in disgust but stomped off to collect some rations anyway.
Pippin was still sitting under the table. He had seen Merry brought in by the Captain and his fear for his cousin turned to delight as he saw him handed over to his two orcs. He was certain the big Uruk would not let any harm come to Merry, especially as he picked him up so quickly when the blind hobbit tripped over.
Even so, his heart leapt a little when he saw his big orc take out his knife, but only for a second, as Pip realised that he was merely cutting the ropes around Merry's wrists.
As they came to the table, Pippin scooted over to where they were and as the big Uruk sat down, the little hobbit tugged on his trouser leg. "Pip! What are you doing there?" Smagnu was surprised and frightened for the hunted little one.
"What d-did I do?" Merry asked fearfully.
Smagnu realised his mistake, this one was called Pip and he could actually hear so he thought he was being addressed. This was going to get very confusing.
"Nothing, don't be frightened. Are you hungry?" Smagnu frowned under the table at Pippin and then pushed his curly head down lower to let him know he should stay put.
Pippin scrunched up next to Smagnu's leg and very lightly put his hand on Merry's foot. Merry wriggled his foot a little as if trying to shake off whatever it was, so Pippin let go and contented himself with just being near. He knew he must not speak to Merry and Merry could not see him or remember him, so there would be no point in throwing his arms around him. All that would do would give him away to the other orcs. For now the nearness would have to be enough.
Grutfley arrived back with the food and Smagnu asked Merry again if he was hungry.
"I don't know." Merry felt there was very little he did know, for instance what was 'hungry'?
"Here eat this." Smagnu put a spoon in the hobbit's hand and sprinkled sugar on the porridge the way little Pip liked it. "Like this." The big Uruk realised this new Pip didn't know what to do with the spoon and holding the small hand in his oversized paw, dipped it in the bowl and spooned it up to the hobbit's mouth. "Eat."
The porridge was a bit hot and burned Merry's mouth a little, but as he tasted the sugar the memory of eating flooded back and he suddenly remembered what 'hungry' was.
Pippin sitting under the table was also fed titbits of bread and honey and the odd piece of cheese. He felt unreasonably happy, given that he was sitting in the Dark Tower in a room filled with orcs who were hunting him and that Merry couldn't remember him. But on the other hand he was being fed, the big Uruk would look after him and Merry was there.
Light was fading fast when they came to the forest-end. There they sat under an old gnarled oak. A deep valley lay before them. On its further side the woods gathered again and marched on southwards. To the right the Mountains of Gondor glowed, remote in the West, under a fire-flecked sky. To the left lay darkness: the towering walls of Mordor; and out of that darkness the long valley came, falling steeply in an ever-widening trough towards the Anduin. At its bottom ran a hurrying stream: Frodo could hear its stony voice coming up through the silence; and beside it on the hither side a road went winding down like a pale ribbon, down into chill grey mists that no gleam of sunset touched. There it seemed to Frodo that he descried far off, floating as it were on a shadowy sea, the high dim tops and broken pinnacles of old towers forlorn and dark.
He turned to Gollum. "Do you know where we are?" he said.
"Yes Master. Dangerous places. This is the road from the Tower of the Moon, Master, down to the ruined city by the shores of the River. The ruined city yes, very nasty place, full of enemies. We shouldn't have taken Men's advice. Hobbits have come a long way out of the path. Must go east now, away up there." He waved his skinny arm towards the darkling mountains. "And we can't use this road. Oh no! Cruel peoples come this way, down from the Tower."
Frodo sighed deeply as Sam dropped his pack off his aching shoulders for a moment. "I wonder where Merry and Pippin are tonight, Sam?"
"I shouldn't worry, Mr Frodo," Sam rubbed the circulation back into his arms. "Probably eating someone out of house and home I expect."
"Yes, you're probably right." The hobbit gave a rare smile as he thought for the first time in a long while about his younger cousins. "Either that or driving Strider mad."
"I'm sure they will both manage, wherever they are and whatever they're doing." Sam picked up the pack again. "As long as they escaped from those orcs."
"Oh for sure they would have escaped," Frodo felt certain the two were both still alive. "Strider would have taken care of them."
When the dawn of that day came, cold and pale, Aragorn rose at once. He spared only a brief thought for the four hobbits and others of the Fellowship as he led the Company forth upon the journey of greatest haste and weariness that any among them had known, save he alone, and only his will held them to go on. No other mortal Men could have endured it, none but the Dúnedain of the North.
They passed Tarlang's Neck and came into Lamedon; and the Shadow Host pressed behind and fear went on before them, until they came to Calembel upon Ciril, and the sun went down like blood behind Pinnath Gelin away in the West behind them. The township and the fords of Ciril they found deserted, for many men had gone away to war, and all that were left fled to the hills at the rumour of the coming of the King of the Dead. But the next day there came no dawn, and the Grey Company passed on into the darkness of the Storm of Mordor and were lost to mortal sight; but the Dead followed them.
Gandalf and Gimli rode to the Great Gate of the Men of Gondor at the rising of the sun, and its iron doors rolled back before them.
"Mithrandir! Mithrandir!" men cried. "Now we know that the storm is indeed nigh!"
"It is upon you," said Gandalf. "I have ridden on its wings. Let me pass! I must come to your Lord Denethor, while his stewardship lasts. Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known. Let me pass!"
Then men fell back before the command of his voice and questioned him no further, though they gazed in wonder at the dwarf that sat behind him and at the horse that bore them. For the people of the City used horses very little and they were seldom seen in their streets, save only those ridden by the errand-riders of their lord. And they said: "Surely that is one of the great steeds of the King of Rohan? Maybe the Rohirrim will come soon to strengthen us."
But Shadowfax walked proudly up the long winding road.
Mostly J.R.R. Tolkien
Éowyn and Legolas left Wormtongue some water and then relented and left him a little food as well. "I would not have the death of a coward on my hands," the Lady declared. "It is not a noble or worthy battle for any warrior.
Together they rounded up the runaway horse, but decided there was no value in returning the steed to the traitor. "He will have sore feet, but the journey is possible." Legolas decided. "It is little enough punishment for his crimes."
"Whither now?" Éowyn wondered. "Will we ride together further in search of the halflings?"
"If you are willing to continue the quest, I should be glad of your company," Legolas smiled. "It has become lonely since the little ones have stopped talking in my head."
"I doubt I will make a good substitute for that company." Éowyn smiled also at the jest. "But will they not return soon?"
"I think Pippin might speak to me eventually, even though I have warned him not to." Legolas shrugged a little. "He tends to get excited about things sometimes and may forget."
"What about Merry? Do you think his memory is completely lost?"
"Who knows?" Legolas had encountered amnesia before in his long lifetime. "Sometimes these things can be cured, or sometimes not. He may just remember himself eventually. But while he is in danger of being questioned it is better that he doesn't remember."
"Poor Merry." Éowyn felt for the little hobbit. "He has suffered so much, first at the hands of Saruman, then Spandif and now to lose his memory and be blind. He must be so frightened."
"I know," Legolas agreed. "I have no plan of how we can help the little ones. I doubt we can get into Mordor, but let us ride in that direction then at least we are going towards them."
"I will go." Éowyn agreed. "Perhaps a strategy will unfold itself as we draw near."
Together, with Legolas leading Wormtongue's former mount, which they named Brenin, they galloped off ever eastwards towards the Land of Shadow.
"C'm 'ere!" Smagnu grabbed Pippin unceremoniously and bending under the table as if he had dropped something, bundled him underneath his cloak.
Grutfley caught hold of the cord round Merry's neck, but at a look from his partner, sighed and took the blind hobbit by the hand. Trying not to attract too much attention, the pair went separately back to their room as Smagnu had persuaded, well threatened with extreme violence his partner into not just throwing the new imp into a cell.
Once behind the closed door, Smagnu stood Pip, his little Pip, on the bed and then stood the new Pip next to him. The Uruk stood back and looked at the pair carefully. They weren't especially alike in looks, except for the same pointed ears, curly hair and woolly feet that seemed too big for their little legs.
The new Pip was a bit bigger than the other and had lighter hair, but what was most odd was that the bruise on his forehead was almost identical to the one on his little Pip's head, only more severe. "Now isn't that the weirdest thing you ever saw?" Smagnu looked at his partner with a mystified frown.
Grutfley shook his head in astonishment. "I never did see nothing normal like dat! It's a bewitching for certain." He leaned forward and touched the bruise on Merry's head, making the hobbit wince, his fingers came away bloody. Pip flinched at the same moment and his wound started to seep a little once more. "Did yer see that?"
"That is real magic if I ever saw it." Smagnu had seen the simultaneous reaction and especially the way that little Pip had started to bleed again. "They're obviously linked in some way."
Merry did not know where he was except that he was standing on something that felt very unstable and that he was being discussed in a way that meant nothing. He felt the air in front of him trying to find something to hold on to.
Pippin could see that Merry was in danger of falling again and could not restrain himself any longer. He caught hold of his cousin with both arms and steadied him with a hug, burying his face in Merry's shoulder. The blind hobbit almost pulled away, but the embrace felt suddenly familiar and made him feel happy and dreadfully sad at the same time.
"Oh what? P-please help me!" Merry sank down onto the bed, pulled there by Pippin as large tears began to roll down his cheeks. "…scared…sob…don't 'member anything…"
It was as though the shock of everything had hit Merry in one great tidal wave and he sobbed deeply and painfully as Pippin rocked him to and fro, matching tears running down his little face.
Pippin longed to make mental contact with his Merry, he knew he could in just a second, but Legolas had banned it. Said it would be dangerous for Merry – that Merry shouldn't remember. But it was torture to Pippin, if he could only say just one word, tell Merry it would be all right, that he loved him and that the big Uruk wouldn't hurt him. They were so near and yet still so far away.
Pippin had almost forgotten the two orcs in the room and was startled when the big Uruk lifted him out of Merry's arms and set him on the end of the bed, a picture of misery with red streaming eyes and shaking shoulders.
Smagnu wrung out a large cloth over a bowl of cold water and, folding it a couple of times, placed it over Merry's eyes and forehead, holding the little hobbit's head from behind to steady him. Several times he swished the cloth and reapplied it, gently bathing the bruise and sore eyes at the same time. Pippin crept forward on the bed and held Merry's hand.
"Well what do we do with them now?" Grutfley wanted to know. He was impatient but also frightened. Frightened of the magical imps and the bewitchment that was obviously on them, frightened of Smagnu, frightened of not getting any more mithril coins and frightened of getting caught.
"Did you have cell earmarked for the new one?" Smagnu held the soothing cloth on Merry's head, watching as the little creature eventually started to relax. "If so, we could put them both in together, no one will check."
"D'you know?" Grutfley snapped his fingers. "That's such a fugging bad idea it'll probably work!"