The strange little expedition made another stop in the darkness. As they travelled past Orodruin, Smagnu had described the smoking volcano to Merry who could smell the sulphur and ash and hear the roar of its eruption. Now they passed the first crossroad and took the left-hand spur, which would bring them to Cirith Ungol and the Spider's Pass, before stopping to rest.
Both the orcs could see from the way the little Pips took so easily to making camp, understanding the need for a sentry and taking appointed tasks so readily, that they had experienced this kind of existence over a long period. Pippin took charge of the rations, carefully sharing out the provisions from Smagnu's bag according to size and taste, giving the orcs all the meat. Merry took the damp clothes from the bag and spread them to dry a little more. Grutfley saw to the horses while Smagnu stood guard.
The orcs had not slept since before going on duty the night before and, although Uruks especially, could last a long time without sleep, even they had their limits.
"You rest," Merry suggested, we'll keep watch. "Well, that is Little Pip'll keep watch, I'll listen."
Smagnu lay down and fell asleep almost at once, covered up by his big cloak and almost blending in with the scenery. Pippin perched himself on a rock by the Uruk's head, taking a protective stance, ready to wake Smagnu if the need arose. Then he noticed that Merry, sitting at the foot of his rock, was a little too close to Grutfley for his liking, so he slithered down and pulled Merry to the other side of the rock, before clambering back up. He did not want his cousin on top of the high rock with him in case he fell off, but the vantage point gave him a good view all around. He had pulled Smagnu's dirty cloak, which was now fairly dry, around him for camouflage.
Merry was a little perplexed again at Pip's unilateral decision to move him from one spot to another. He decided to risk a quick word again.
'why move i?'
'on ants home'
'doublel weres too, mer!'
'not can doublel weres, pip'
A little pause…
'pip? why move i?'
'not you go be by orc bad one'
There it was again. This orc was the one that had abused Pippin when he and Legolas were in his mind, so Pippin was bound to be nervous of him. Merry suspected it would have been worse if Smagnu had not been around all this time. But why was he acting all right now? Was it just fear of the other orc or had he changed. Fear probably Merry thought and Pippin would not want him to seek revenge, indeed he was doing everything he could to keep Merry away from this specimen. But it nagged at the older hobbit, like an itch that wouldn't go away no matter how much you knew you shouldn't scratch it for fear of making it worse.
Merry knew Grumpfly, or whatever his name was, was resting on the other side of the rock he was leaning on, that's why Pip had moved him. He also knew the orc had a knife, he had heard him whet it on the rock earlier, probably before cutting his meat. Merry could smell the meat and was glad Pip did not give him any of it.
Stealthily he felt his way back round the base of the rock, keeping very quiet. Pip of course wouldn't hear him, but the sleeping orc might. Merry wished he could see where Pippin was, but he knew that he would take his guard duty very seriously and was probably focussed on the far rather than the near. Strider had taught them to look all around for danger approaching but to listen carefully for danger about to strike, so Pip would be leaving the immediate vicinity to him.
Merry found a foot, an orc's booted foot. Gently he felt his way up the snoring body, which kept a deep steady rhythm, indicating to the blind hobbit that Grutfley was in a very sound sleep.
Merry had never been above a bit of pick-pocketing in his time, although usually as a means to a practical joke, more often than not putting something into a pocket rather than taking from it. There had been that incident with Will Whitfoot and the very large frog at the Summer Fair.
Actually, for once it had been Pippin's idea, and he had found the frog. But Merry was counting up the number of misdeeds his cousin was in debt for that month and decided that this one would be the final straw and that he couldn't stand the thought of Pippin getting yet another whipping and being confined to Great Smials for a week. As it turned out they had escaped being caught on this occasion, a feat Merry had attributed to his sleight of hand skills. Although nobody, especially the Thain and the Master, was in any doubt about the perpetrators, nothing could be proved.
This was the first time however he had ever attempted such a thing without the benefit of sight, and his heart was pounding so loudly he felt sure the orc would hear it. Of course he could not and Merry, in his blindness, had actually learned to be even more cautious and skilful with his actions. He located the large sharp dagger quite easily and removed it from its sheath on Grutfley's belt without the orc even flinching.
Satisfied with his plan so far, the hobbit sat down to think about his next move. What did he want exactly? Not revenge, he wasn't a vengeful creature, no more was Pippin. What he really wanted was, for it not to have happened, but that was clearly impossible, so the next best thing would be for the orc to be sorry, to show real remorse and to tell Pippin so. He wanted for him to have changed. In the same way that he had demanded Spandif change his lifestyle and set the animals free, he wanted Grumpfly to vow never again to use a weaker or vulnerable creature so cruelly.
Quietly Merry made his way to the orc's snoring head and, feeling for the thick neck, placed the sharp knife against it, enough to feel, but not enough to cut - yet. With his other hand he took a hold of the orc's ear, tightly so that it would wake him and whispered menacingly, with his lips pressed close to the foetid smelling appendage, "I know what you did to Little Pip!"
"What? Who?" Grutfley woke with a start and began to sit up but sank back down as first he felt the pull on his ear lobe and secondly the knife at his jugular. "Whassat? I never did nothin'!"
"But you did - I was there!" Merry kept his voice very low - very menacing. "What you did to Little Pip, you did to me."
"How? How was you there?" Grutfley had a horrible feeling that this new little Pip was telling the truth. "Was you in his mind?"
"I was!" Merry pulled the ear a little harder and pressed the knife down so that it drew a little blood, "and I didn't like what you did. It wasn't nice, was it?"
"I was only doin' me job!" Grutfley was making a lot more noise than Merry, but Smagnu was snoring and Pip couldn't hear anyway and was still scanning the distance. "I had orders, to soften him up, it weren't personal."
"Somehow, that doesn't make it better though, does it." Merry pointed out. "You could probably get the drop on me soon, if I don't kill you now, so perhaps I had better just get on with it while I can."
"No! I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry!" Grutfley just sounded panicked, and there was something in the determined little hobbit's voice that made the orc realise that he was in deadly earnest. "I'd never do such a thing again, as long as I live, if you make that long enough for me to prove it."
"You need to make amends to Little Pip," Merry pointed out, "not at the end of my knife, but freely and of your own volition. He is afraid of you, because of what you did. He is afraid you might harm me, it's why he won't let me near you."
"I didn't know, I thought he had forgotten or forgive it." Grutfley thought for a moment. "He is strange, you both are. You weave a magic about us orcs, I felt it just after what I did. No before, when I… when I beat him for the first time. Thass when I knewed he was magicked."
"Whether it's magic or not, if you're going to change it has to be for the better and you have to keep to it." Merry said loosening his hold on Grutfley's ear a little. "You must vow never to behave like that again to anyone - no matter who."
"I promises." Grutfley agreed, "and I will tell little Pip I'm sorry. It was all I knewed, see. Orders and how to do 'em and how to stay alive meself."
Merry knew then that he had made the right decision. Grutfley had already started changing by helping Smagnu with their escape. He was a victim of his circumstances, but given the opportunity to be something else he was taking it. Merry pulled the knife away altogether and let go of the captive ear, standing back so that Grutfley could sit up.
So electric was the tension between them that Merry almost jumped out of his skin when Grutfley took his small hand in his big fist. Merry kept a tight hold on the orc's knife with his other hand. "I'm sorry, new little Pip," Grutfley muttered. "I'll tells you first off, I'm sorry for all I done in the past and I ain't gonna hurt no one again, lessen I'm in a fight of other's making."
"That sounds reasonable." Merry agreed and he was touched that the orc did sound genuinely repentant. "But as a reparation, would it be all right if I kept your knife? I will need a weapon once we part and I expect you have a sword." The hobbit wanted to sound as if he trusted the orc now, but, like Smagnu, he wasn't quite ready to go all the way.
"You keeps it new little Pip." Grutfley pushed Merry's hand back on to his other holding the knife. "You're right, you might needs it."
"Thank you," Merry smiled. "Oh and about my name…"
Just then Pippin slid down off the rock with a thump, landing between his cousin and the orc. He caught hold of Merry's hand and started to pull him away to the other side. Grutfley caught Pippin by the shoulder and gently turned him round.
Pippin frowned in confusion as the big orc knelt in front of him. He took both of Pippin's hands in his and bowed his head to them. "For what I did to you little Pip, I'm really sorry, please forgive me." Grutfley turned to Merry. "I know he can't hears me, so would you tell him - in your mind?"
Merry smiled in satisfaction, the outcome was better than he could have hoped. Grumpfly was apologising of his own free will, without even a knife at his throat. To Merry that showed he meant it. "Of course I will Mr Grumpfly."
"Thank you," Grutfley was astounded at how good this experience actually made him feel. There was definitely some amazing magic about these little imps. But it was good magic. He smiled at Merry, "Oh yeah - about my name…"
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.