Théoden, King of Rohan and Lord of the Mark had seen many things in his long life that angered him, made him smile, or moved him to tears, filled him with compassion or admiration. But never before had anything or anyone done all those things at once as did the sight of the tiny beaten and blinded halfling standing erect and undaunted in the centre of the great tower of Orthanc.
Merry, still wrapped in the rag of cloth ripped from Gandalf's cloak, had staggered to his feet and held the chain from his cruel neck collar like a weapon, raised and ready to swing at anyone or anything that approached. "Who's there? Stay back!" Merry's voice quavered just a little, but he stood firm.
"Do not fear me, Master Holbytla… Halfling." Théoden corrected himself. "Your given name is Merry, is it not? Gandalf sent me and I have a message by which you will know I mean you no harm."
Merry did not relax yet, but kept his hands raised and stuck out his chin. "Who are you? What message?"
"He bade me say this," Théoden paused a moment as he recollected the exact words. "'Gandalf understood why you stole The Tribute to Smaug. It was a grand firework.'"
Merry brought his hands down, but kept hold of the chain, "Who are you?"
"I am Théoden, King of Rohan and Lord of the Mark." He ventured a few steps forward to lay his hand gently on Merry's shoulder. "And I come to offer you my sword and protection Master Meriadoc."
Merry gasped a little as he became aware of the greatness of the man he had been challenging. He dropped on one knee, "I beg pardon, Lord. I did not mean…" He suddenly grew faint and slumped down to crouch on all fours, the tension and adrenaline abandoning him.
The elderly King eased himself down to sit next to the small figure on the stone flags. "Master Merry," Théoden manoeuvred the sightless hobbit into a sitting position. "I rule a great Kingdom and command a vast army of valiant warriors. But seldom have I seen such a brave heart as you obviously possess."
Merry scarcely knew what to say. "I am not brave – I was just frightened."
"And with just cause." Théoden was not accustomed to sitting on the ground and awkwardly removed his sword from the scabbard. "But you have naught to fear from me. Here is my sword, Meriadoc." He placed Merry's small hand upon the hilts. "It will protect us both from danger."
"You are truly kind, Sir to offer your protection to me." Merry's trust in the kindly voice was growing with each word. "Had I still a sword myself, I would lay it at your feet."
"And I would accept it." Théoden said sincerely.
"But I fear it will not be enough and you should leave here soon." Merry did not want the King to suffer what he thought to be his fate.
"I will not leave before Gandalf returns to help you down from this tower." Théoden assured him.
"But Saruman has summoned a Nazgûl, a winged Ringwraith. It is coming to take Pippin and me to the Dark Lord Sauron." Merry's voice was quivering slightly. "I could not tell Gandalf, because he might have stayed here and then Pippin would have died."
"And you would sacrifice yourself for your companion." Théoden said, "that is a mark of a true friend, Merry."
"He would do no less for me. Pippin is safe now, I think, with Gandalf." Merry drew the rag of cloak around him and shivered. "But you should not remain here, Lord."
"I will not leave you here alone." Théoden stood and replaced his sword in its scabbard and took Merry's hand, gently encouraging him to his feet. "Come, I can guide you down the Orthanc steps. Will you trust me to do that?"
"Yes, Sir." Merry held the King's hand with both of his. He had not walked far since he had lost his sight and was anxious at the idea of climbing down steep steps. "Is it far?"
"There are many steps," Théoden said guiding the hobbit to the entrance. "But even if we do not go all the way down, we should start."
Théoden reached out to open the great door to the Orthanc steps, but even as he did so there was a terrifying clap of thunder and almost simultaneously a lightening bolt struck the door. Théoden let go of Merry's hands to draw his sword and reel around, pushing the hobbit behind him. A dreadful sight met his eyes.
The Nazgûl's foul black winged steed took up most of the space between two stanchions. It was wreathed in a stench which both Merry and the King could smell. Its long claws clutched the sides of the great pillars and its great horned body was scaled and scarred. Upon it sat a shape, black-mantled, huge and threatening. A crown of steel was on its brow, but between rim and robe, Théoden could see nothing save only a deadly gleam of eyes.
"Do not hinder me, foul creature." Théoden stood firmly in front of the hobbit.
The thing spoke. "Stand aside mortal. I am destined to take the one who sees me. Stand aside!"
Merry was pushed back against the door and, in his blindness, did not expect to lay eyes upon the danger, although the stench of it filled his very being. But, as he turned his head towards the fell voice, he gasped in horror. "Théoden, my Lord. I can see him!"
"What! What do you see, Merry?" Théoden darted an anxious glance behind him at the hobbit.
The wraith spoke again. "He sees me. He dwells in the shadow world of the Dark Lord where Saruman cast him."
Merry's voice was barely above a whisper. "It is a man, a King, clothed all in white. Very ancient, with a crown upon his brow. I see nothing else, but I can no longer look away." Merry fell to his knees and put his hands over his eyes. The vision pursued him.
"Stand aside!" The wraith ordered Théoden, while his steed screeched out its fury. "He is mine and I will take him. A sorry prize it may be, one small beaten halfling, but it is Saruman's tribute and the Dark Lord wishes it."
"There is a greater prize here than one small, beaten halfling." Théoden was resolute. "This is a noble and untainted soul. You must defeat me Théoden King of Rohan to win this prize."
"Then so be it." The wraith sent forth a bolt of lighting, which struck Théoden's sword from his hand and felled the King to ground.
"Merry go to the stairs!" Théoden cried trying to grasp his sword again. "Go now!"
But Merry stepped forward and stood in front of Théoden. He bowed his head to the Nazgûl meekly. "Take just what you came for and do not hinder others. Take one small halfling as your prize."
The creature seemed to be appeased by the offer. "Come then halfling, you are already in the Dark Lord's thrall. It is fitting that I bear you away to my Lord Sauron."
The Nazgûl reached out its long fingers and clutched Merry on the shoulder, but immediately it screeched as if the hand had been thrust into a furnace. The fist pulled away and the creature hissed at the hobbit in rage and anger. "Filthy wizard cloth!" It screamed.
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.