94. Dangerous Thoughts
Beta and additional material: MarigoldG
The Witch king of Angmar circled over the growing dawn of Minas Tirith, the eight Nazgûl deployed around him and victory over the City assured for the coming day. His search for the new holder of Saruman’s palantír that had challenged his Master had come to nothing, but it had not revealed itself in any substance either and now the fate of the stronghold below lay in his reach. It was his, and his Master’s, for the taking.
The light was not yet enough to discern the readiness of the army below, but the Witch king knew that the defenders of the City were few and could not prevail against his forces, even with the help of the accursed wizard.
Suddenly he felt a call from his Master, something was stirring in the tower of Minas Tirith. The Lord Denethor no doubt was once more looking to his palantír to find answers to salvage his imminent defeat. The Wraith knew there was no hope for the Steward, if only by the fact that his own Master cast the shadow of despair over the man. But something had happened. Some new addition was clouding the view, his Master was angry. The Dark Lord was sensing a presence within the palantír that should not be there.
It was the wretched halfling! The one that had been ripped from him by the filthy wizard at the gates of the City. His Master had just encountered it in his view from the palantír, it was standing alongside of the Steward, Denethor.
He would swoop down on the Tower and snatch or kill it at once if he were able, but the building was too well fortified and inaccessible. The Witch king strove for the halfling’s thoughts. It was pathetically attempting to reassure the Steward but Denethor wanted to know the fate of the Ring as of course did his Master.
A wall of solid rock slammed down in the small creature’s mind. It surprised the three powerful beings who were all pressing eagerly forward trying to pry this information from the weak little thing. It had grown, its mind had become accustomed to discipline and control, although against this onslaught it could not hold everything back.
The Wraith’s Master sent a painful, sharp spear of demand penetrating into the tiny consciousness. The halfling flung his thoughts, his mind and body away from the Steward, away from the palantír and the Witch king and finally, summoning up all his strength, mental and physical, away from the Dark Lord.
Sauron snatched towards the elusive being and tried to grab it back, to encompass it once more in his shadow, but it was gone. Livid, a streak of rage shot from the Dark Lord intending to pull the infuriating insect back into his control, but to his disbelief he failed. But not completely. One small thought, a tiny memory remained. It had tried desperately to suppress it but the thought was too strong. The other! His companion had been faceless in the memory of the death of the Steward’s son, but as he had fought to lift Denethor’s mood of desperation, his thought had briefly touched on the other. He was abroad, not in Minas Tirith, but with an army that was riding towards the City, with the Rohirrim.
“Fly!” He commanded the Witch king. “Go now! Intercept the filthy horsemen and their aged, useless King. They bring the other halfling to war, the fools, do they not know it is mine? Fly fast! Go and destroy them now and bring it to me.”
Merry sat up proudly on Windfola, seated before Éowyn as the Rohirrim began the ride to the outer walls of the Rammas Echor. The warrior maiden was clad in steel mail with a tabard over and wore a helm that hid her golden locks, her sword at her hip and the heraldic shield slung upon her back. Merry still wore his leather jerkin and a small helm, which did not completely hide his fair curls. The elven rope was still wrapped around his waist, his ancient sword given to him by Éowyn was in its sheath at his side and his little buckler, with its white horse device, was held on his left arm.
Éowyn and Merry rode in the wake of the King, keeping just behind Snowmane, at a good pace. It was several leagues to where the out-walls had stood. They soon reached them; wild cries broke out and there was some clash of arms, but it was brief. The orcs busy about the walls were few and amazed and they were quickly slain or driven off. Before the ruin of the north-gate in the Rammas the king halted again.
Far away, maybe ten miles or more, there was a great burning, but between it and the Riders lines of fire blazed in a vast crescent, at the nearest point less than a league distant.
Silently the host of Rohan moved forward into the field of Gondor, pouring in slowly but steadily, like the rising tide through breaches in a dike that men have thought secure. After a while the king led his men away somewhat eastward, to come between the fires of the siege and the outer fields. Still they were unchallenged and still Théoden gave no signal. The City was now nearer, a smell of burning was in the air and a very shadow of death. The horses were uneasy, but the king sat upon Snowmane, motionless, gazing upon the agony of Minas Tirith as if stricken suddenly by anguish or by dread.
Then suddenly Merry felt it as last, beyond doubt: a change. Wind was in his face, far far away echoed the crash of a mighty boom.
At that sound the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before:
Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
With that he seized a great horn from Guthláf his banner-bearer and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. His golden shield was uncovered and lo! It shone like an image of the sun and the grass flamed green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came and with it a wind from the sea and the hosts of Mordor wailed and terror took them and they fled and died and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. Then all the host of Rohan burst into song and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.
Pippin was shocked as Denethor slapped his face, but only partly by the stinging pain. He looked up at the elderly Lord and saw no malice in his eyes, only anxiety and Pippin felt his mind stir in a different direction. He was bending his full will towards the palantír, trying to wrest control of it from the other who had probed at Pippin and made him withdraw his thoughts.
It was not the Lord Steward who had slapped him, Pippin knew that. His hand was guided by the Other and the malice was one that had touched him before, he felt it to the core of his being. It was a dark, evil malevolence that had buried a cold finger in his heart, but which had never managed to reach him. In any being other than a hobbit it would have frozen through to the very soul, but Pippin’s lightness and innocence had protected him from the very first time the Dark Lord had probed at his consciousness in the tower of Barad-dûr.
His hands remained frozen to the palantír and Pippin now felt the Other move to Denethor. The hobbit could glimpse vaguely the images cast before the weary eyes of the Steward. Minas Tirith was in flames, its towers crumbling to the ground, men falling stricken from the blazing ramparts. The great gates were gone and most of the buildings lay in ruins as orcs ran through the bloody, body littered streets, screeching and killing all they found.
The image moved on to show Gondor. It was laid waste, a barren, blackened countryside, devoid of life and light. Ithilien beside lay burnt and dead, a cover of grey cinder carpeted its once lush hills and vales. The wooded countryside of Lossarnach showed only blackened tree stumps and burnt out crofts. The grassy fields of Rohan were a blackened wasteland. Dol Amroth lay in ruins, the only life was scavenging orcs and other foul creatures.
Pippin breathed faster, his mind was a little befuddled by the opium and he was aware that Denethor had encouraged him to take more than he should have, an act he now regretted. He felt Denethor’s mind sinking deeper into despair as he viewed stricken images of his country and its neighbours. There was no hope left in the Steward, the images were to him as if the events had already occurred, but Pippin did not believe it. The hobbit could not think of a way to lighten the outlook for Denethor, other than by allowing information that he must not show, of Frodo and Sam and the Quest, of Merry, Éowyn and the Rohirrim, to seep into his own consciousness. As his thoughts flitted briefly in that direction he felt a sudden onslaught to his mind, as three powerful yet warped entities instantly strove to leech his secrets. The hobbit gritted his teeth and brought a wall of solid rock slamming down across his memories, shutting fast the access to his mind.
A tendril of thought wafted back, aimed towards the Steward. Pippin had tried to send one tiny ray of hope to let the beleaguered Lord know that there could be help and that all was not lost.
The little hobbit steeled his inner resources and, using the hard learned control of his mind which he was gradually achieving, managed to briefly isolate a view of the Rohirrim galloping valiantly towards Minas Tirith and even as the image, positive and shining, reached Denethor, Pippin could not help but let slip a brief sight of his Merry perched before Éowyn as they rode into battle.
He blanched in horror as he felt the Witch king and the Dark Lord seize upon his thought in a second and although Denethor lifted a little at Pippin’s message of salvation and liberation, still he tried to pull the thought back and away from those who preyed upon his mind. But it was too late, Merry shone like a beacon in his heart, his love too strong for the greatest will to suppress and now it had betrayed him.
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