69. Terra Incognita
'Merry? Are you all right little one?'
'not sick more… pip go sleeps… got talk fasts'
'wraith listnen we too, finds we… not say we go where…'
'you still look we?'
'We will, but you can't say where yet?'
'All right, you keep safe, both of you…'
'YOU CANNOT HIDE! I WILL FIND YOU AND FIRST RIP THE TRUTH OUT OF YOU AND THEN RIP YOUR INNARDS OUT SO YOU MAY WATCH YOUR FLESH DECAY. YOU SHALL DWELL IN BLACKNESS AND FILTH OF THE MIND FOREVER!'
Legolas shook his head and touched Merry lightly with his mind like a gentle caress, feeling the hobbit steel himself not to fear the dire voice of the Witch King. It was a hard task for the halfling, and Legolas could sense Merry using all his resolve to combat the dread, not answering, but retreating from that part of his mind that heard the tormentor and biting his lip against the terror of the Nazgûl.
The elf's eyes opened and he yelped in surprised pain. Éowyn touched her hand to his lip and brought her finger away bloodstained. "Yours or the halflings'?" She asked.
"Merry's I think. No I'm sure, he was biting his lip to concentrate on not listening to the Nazgûl."
"Listening to the Wraith. Does he have them again?" Éowyn was preparing food and she adjusted the sticks, holding the meat from the rabbits they had killed, over their small fire. "This is dire news indeed."
"No, he is seeking them." Legolas dabbed at his bleeding lip. "Merry could not tell me much because he is afraid to give away their location. But it would seem as if the Wraith is now linked to them in the same way they are to each other and to me."
"At least he does not have them in his clutches." Éowyn sighed with relief. "But it will make it difficult for us to find them if they cannot speak to you of where they are."
"That is true, but I got the impression that they are escaping now. Legolas helped himself to the cooked meat. "Perhaps the orc that saved them has set them free."
"It will take them a long time and through much danger and hardship if they have to travel from Barad-dûr." Éowyn pointed out. "How will they ever survive that, two such small helpless creatures?"
"I cannot answer, fair Lady," Legolas smiled. "But I know they are not as helpless as they seem and I have a feeling they are going to manage it. We must keep our side of the bargain and continue on to meet them."
"We will, good Master Elf." Éowyn managed a smile of her own.
"Much must be risked in war," said Denethor. "Cair Andros is manned, and no more can be sent so far. But I will not yield the River and the Pelennor unfought - not if there is a captain here who has still the courage to do his lord's will."
Then all were silent. But at length Faramir said: "I do not oppose your will, sire. Since you are robbed of Boromir, I will go and do what I can in his stead - if you command it."
"I do so," said Denethor.
Then farewell!" said Faramir. "But if I should return, think better of me!"
"That depends on the manner of your return," said Denethor.
Gandalf it was that last spoke to Faramir ere he rode east. "Do not throw your life away rashly or in bitterness," he said. "You will be needed here, for other things than war. Your father loves you, Faramir, and will remember it ere the end." Farewell!"
Aragorn in command of the black fleet chose the greatest ship to be his own and he went up into it. Then he let sound a great concourse of trumpets taken from the enemy and the Shadow Host withdrew to the shore. There they stood silent, hardly to be seen, save for a red gleam in their eyes that caught the glare of the ships that were burning. And Aragorn spoke in a loud voice to the Dead Men crying, "Hear now the words of the Heir of Isildur! Your oath is fulfilled. Go back and trouble not the valleys ever again! Depart and be at rest!"
Thereupon the King of the Dead stood out before the host and broke his spear and cast it down. Then he bowed low and turned away and swiftly the whole grey host drew off and vanished like a mist that is driven back by a sudden wind.
That night many captives were set free and many slaves released who had been folk of Gondor taken in raids and soon also there was a great gathering of men out of Lebennin and the Ethir and Angbor of Lamedon came up with all the horsemen that he could muster. Now that the fear of the Dead was removed they came to look on the Heir of Isildur for the rumour of that name had run like fire in the dark.
Sam roused himself painfully from the ground. For a moment he wondered where he was, and then all the misery and despair returned to him. He was in the deep dark outside the under-gate of the orcs' stronghold, its brazen doors were shut. He must have fallen stunned when he hurled himself against them, but how long he had lain there he did not know. Then he had been on fire, desperate and furious, now he was shivering and cold. He crept to the doors and pressed his ears against them.
Frodo gagged as the large orc lifted him up by his hair and poured a burning liquid down his throat. Half the foul liquor he managed to spit out and it ran down his face and half he was forced to swallow. The orc now held him around his middle and another forced his head backwards as they jammed the flask neck between his teeth again and made him drink the equivalent amount that he had spat.
"Please don't. I'll be sick." Frodo whimpered, not sure where he was or what had happened, but desperately wanting to go back to unconsciousness again at least. "Sam?" he whispered weakly.
"Who is Sam?" A rough voice demanded as he was dropped to the floor. "How many others were with you?"
"No one, no one!" Frodo gabbled too quickly for the orc's liking. "I don't know what you mean."
"Yes you do!" The orc kicked the hobbit in the stomach making Frodo cry out in pain and vomit, getting rid of much of the evil liquor in the process.
Where was he? What was happening? Where was Sam? Frodo desperately wished that he knew the answers to these questions himself.
Then the most awful realisation struck him, worse than any orc's blow, more sickening than their foul liquor, he was naked! He had nothing - It was gone! The Ring was gone!
"Who are you?" The sneering evil orc voice demanded, and a whip lashed across his back to emphasise the question.
Frodo barely felt it, he felt nothing, he was empty, lost, finished. "I am no one." he whispered, "no one."
They rode for several hours through the gloomy daylight, they passed some troops on their journey but no one paid heed to two orcs bound on a mission from Barad-dûr to Mount Doom and beyond. The hobbits were carefully concealed beneath the orcs' cloaks.
Eventually they made a stop. Both Pippin and Merry had fallen asleep during the ride and Grutfley shook Merry awake so that he could lower him to the ground before dismounting himself and helpfully lifted Pippin down from Smagnu's horse.
Pippin awoke with a jolt as Grutfley took him in his arms and Merry felt a mental lurch from his cousin's unguarded mind. A little surge of fear and distaste at the touch of this orc, Merry recognised it as a recent memory. He remembered, now that he thought about it, that Pip generally had very little to do with the other orc and tended to stay away from him. It was more than his recent treatment of him, for which Grutfley could not really be blamed as he was reviving them both from near death, but a deeper conflict, still unresolved.
Smagnu tied the horses and gave the animals a little fodder and water that he had brought. Then the four strange companions sat beneath a small overhang of rock as they shared their rations.
The hobbits nestled closely into Smagnu for warmth, Pippin out of habit and Merry to be close to Pippin. The Uruk in turn took the drowsy Pippin's role, handing Merry small pieces of food, placing both his hands around the water bottle so he could drink.
"Are you frightened, new little Pip?" Smagnu asked looking critically at both the rather subdued hobbits.
"No, well yes." Merry realised that since he and Pip had been forced to stop their mind chatter, he had stopped talking out loud as well. Also the earlier encounter with the Wraith in his head had scared him badly. He was not sure though that he should mention it now. "We're everso grateful to you, really, we can never repay you Mr Smagnu. And now I'm afraid that you will be in bad trouble because of us."
"Ha! Orcs are always in trouble of one kind or another," Smagnu sliced off a piece of apple with his cut-throat knife and put it in Merry's hand. "My kind were never made for an easy life."
"How's that?" Merry had wondered before how orcs grew and propagated. "Do you have a family? A mother and father?"
"I suppose I was bred in the normal way, but I don't recall none." Smagnu had not considered the possibility before. "Just always been in the Dark Tower - always had orders to follow."
"Don't you ever have any fun?" For the hobbit the concept of an existence without fun was hard to imagine. "You know just fooling around."
"Naw! We laughs around a bit in the mess hall." Smagnu thought about what they did laugh at in the mess hall. "Mostly at each other though, or tormenting prisoners… thass what they does - most of 'em, like when…" He trailed off, remembering the last time a prisoner had been thrown to the orcs in the big hall.
"When what?" Merry persisted. He had not seen the look on Smagnu's face at the memory. Neither had he seen the big Uruk carefully pick up a surprised Pippin and hold him at arm's length, his head on one side, before hugging him gently to his chest and setting him down again with a pat on his unruly curls. But he felt a wave of something emanate from Pippin, love? Not exactly, it was more a feeling of trust, confidence and very deep attachment.
"Never mind." Smagnu said hastily. "Did you have enough to eat yet?"
"Yes thank you." Merry agreed, although he did not say that this was a pointless question to ask a hobbit as there was no such thing as 'enough to eat'. He also got the distinct feeling that his question was not answered because of the other orc. Mr Grumpfly had done something - something bad! Something to Pip!
"We'd best be off then." Smagnu started to pack things up and reloaded the horses. "Come on Little Pip." He made to lift Pippin up onto his horse, but the little hobbit backed away, shaking his head. He pointed at Merry and then at Smagnu, then pointed at himself and then at Grutfley.
"Heh heh!" Grutfley chortled. "Little Pip wants to come with me, don't cha!"
This turn of events surprised both Merry and Smagnu. "What's wrong Little Pip?" Smagnu sounded a little hurt as he pointed to himself and shrugged.
Merry decided to risk a quick word. He could not feel the Wraith at the moment, that feeling of dread and despair and he would not give anything away.
'pip? why not go smag?'
'not want you go othrer'
'hurted you pip?'
'you go my orc - best at you merr.'
"It's nothing." Merry did not want to say out loud to both of them what was bothering Pip at the moment. "He just thinks we should have a swap."
"Did he just tell you that?" Grutfley was still a little suspicious and a little in awe of the mind-speak abilities of the pair.
"Yes," said Merry simply.
Smagnu shrugged and lifted little Pip up to Grutfley and set Merry on his horse before climbing up behind him. As they set off Merry was quite pleased to have Smagnu to talk to. "You know that wasn't the real reason," he whispered quietly.
"What wasn’t" Smagnu was still baffled at his little Pip's refusal to ride with him.
"Pip, just now." Merry confided. "It's Grumpfly!"
Smagnu chucked at Merry's mispronunciation.
"He did something to Pip didn't he?" Merry was not really guessing any more, he had remembered the terrifying mind link when he and Legolas had shielded Pippin from the worst of the hurt. The dreadful abuse that he and the elf had shared and absorbed and now he recognised the abuser.
"You know don't yer?" Smagnu could tell the hobbit was not guessing.
"It's why Pip doesn't want me to ride with him." Merry explained. "He is still afraid of that one but he is more afraid for me, so he's trying to protect me."
"And he trusts me with you?" Smagnu felt a new emotion swell through him. He did not know what it was called but it made him feel very good. This little creature not only trusted him, but trusted him so much, he put his much loved friend, his mind linked companion into his care.
"Oh yes." Merry confirmed. "Pip would trust you to the end of time. You do know that, don't you? He is very deeply attached to you."
"And I'm very attached to him," Smagnu admitted. "It's going to be hard to part with him."
"As for Mr Grumpfly," Merry muttered half to himself, "he and I have a score to settle."
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.