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Shadows of a Nameless Fear  by Budgielover

Chapter Sixteen – Inside and Outside of White Stone Walls

Sated with lembas and lulled by the Elf-horse’s soothing stride, Merry fought against sleep by imagining Aragorn’s wrath when one of the Men who had kidnapped Frodo was delivered to him. He, Merry, has all sorts of blood-thirsty suggestions to get the Man to talk. Darting an evil look at Lammor’s back; he was pleased to see the Man panting and gasping and riddled with sweat as he stumbled ahead of Elladan’s stallion. Good, thought Merry, then wondered if the Rohirrim’s rough sense of justice was rubbing off on him.

Suddenly he felt Elrohir jerk in the saddle. He tore his mind from contemplating all the ways he would like this Man to pay and leaned back to look up into the elf’s face. Elrohir’s eyes were locked with those of his brother. Elladan had exchanged his bow for his sword but it was not actually necessary to subdue their prisoner; Elladan’s stallion walked behind the Man, ears still flat and hoping for an excuse to bite.

“What?” Merry said. “What is it? I didn’t hear anything.”

The twins stared at each other. Elrohir’s right eyebrow rose and Elladan nodded infinitesimally. As one they urged their horses to a fast walk, forcing Lammor to break into a lurching run.

“You were too busy staring daggers at the man,” Elrohir returned gently. “Merry, you must not let anger consume you.”

Merry flushed, knowing his friends understood him all too well. There was enough light now for the Elves to see his chagrin, and they smiled at him. Then Elrohir returned to the hobbit’s question.

“We heard our father … shout.”

“Bellow, actually,” Elladan put in, watching their captive carefully while not appearing to do so. They paused at an intersection and he moved his horse forward to evaluate a street blocked with rubble. Shaking his head, he motioned for them to stay on the main road. “Father was the herald of Gil-galad. Dear Ada can make himself heard over a battlefield, did he wish it.”

Merry strained his ears but he could hear nothing. Both Elves were also listening, though it was difficult to hear anything over Lammor’s gasps and the ring of the horses’ hooves against the cobblestones. He looked up at Elrohir again. “What was he shouting about?”

“We don’t know,” Elladan answered. “I could not make out the words. But I think we need to find out.”

“Milords,” Lammor whined. “I can’t keep running like this. I’m about done in. Have mercy, masters.”

Merry’s rage flared into new life. “You didn’t show my cousin much mercy, did you? You left him to burn to death!”

Elladan kneed his mount forward and caught Lammor by his dirty collar. In one deceptively easy movement, the elf hauled the man into the air and across his horse’s withers. Lammor choked and kicked, the stallion’s pommel digging into his stomach. “I suggest you be still,” Elladan told him conversationally. “My horse likes to bite annoying legs and hands.”

Lammor groaned and let his head bump into the horse’s side as both stallions broke into a trot.

* * *

“It cannot be! No! No!”

Pippin dangled at the end of the orc’s arm, the five betraying fingers waving as he flailed helplessly. The creature held him effortlessly above the ground, and surely his arm was being pulled from his socket. The pain made him forget his bruised face and other aches, and he had to clench his teeth against a wail.

“You got the wrong one!” Shunt screamed. “This is one of the others!”

“It – no – it said it was the Ring-bearer –”

The third orc pulled out its knife and Pippin’s heart sank right down to his toes. They were going to kill him now, and he would never find out if Frodo was all right and if he and Merry would get home and if Sam would ever marry his sweetheart. He wanted to see his mum’s face. And hear his Da’s patient, exasperated voice, and even those of his three chattering sisters. All of a sudden his family, all his family, seemed more precious than he had ever realised, and he hated the orcs for taking that away from him.

The leader screamed something at the other and waved Pippin about as if that would change the evidence of their eyes. The already abused cloth of Frodo’s jacket gave and all three of the orcs momentarily stared as the leader was left holding only a brown velvet sleeve. Pippin dropped to the earth and lay there, too stunned to move.

“It’s your fault! All that hiding and waiting, and forging in rubbish heaps! For this? It won’t even make a good meal! You said we were to have the Ring-bearer!” The last words were screamed, froth and spittle flying from Shunt’s mouth. Drawing its sword from its sheath, it leaped over Pippin and launched itself at the leader.

The leader fell back, tugging on its own weapon. The small orc circled to the leader’s side and tried to come up behind it to strike. The leader spun and leaped to the side and the smaller orc’s blade fell short. Snarling at the other two, the leader backed away, its small beady eyes darting from enemy to enemy.

Life was returning to Pippin’s arm in an agonizing rush. He curled up slightly and tried to force himself to think. The ground was cold, so cold, and the growing light above was yet too weak to shed any warmth. Shunt was driving the leader farther and farther from him while the smallest one kept trying to get behind it. The leader was spinning from side to side, trying to keep both in sight, the object of their contention for the moment forgotten.

Trying to move as little as possible, Pippin began dragging himself closer to the wall. Inching along on his side, he pushed with his feet and dragged himself with his one good arm, the one he had been hoisted by throbbing too much to use. The orcs did not notice, either too intent on their revenge, or not caring. Even as he crept away, Pippin wondered why – he could scarcely climb up the wall, and it stretched before him like a great, like a great … wall, thought Pippin. How am I ever to get away?

A shriek brought his attention back to the orcs. The little one had marked the leader; blood streamed from its side. Cursing, the leader lunged at it and the little one danced away, the first rays of sun glinting on its fangs. Waving its sword in the air, it shouted something derisive and insulting; Pippin could tell by the expression on the leader’s face. Unwisely, it turned its back on Shunt.

Shunt covered the last distance in a great bound. Pippin wanted to close his eyes, wanted to turn away, but he could not. He seemed to see the orc slowing, its sword swinging ‘round for a killing thrust. Sun flashed off the razored edge. Then the leader seemed to realize its danger, for it started to turn back, and the smallest orc leaped forward and drove its knife into the leader’s back just as Shunt rammed his blade forward through its stomach.  

It screamed, a high wavering screech that burned along Pippin’s nerves like fire. He fetched up against the wall and clapped his hands over his ears, but the screams went on as the other two orcs slashed and stabbed. Shivering in horror, he could only stare as the orcs murdered their leader.

Shunt at last pulled back and leaned on his sword, panting. “Now we do what we want,” it said, glancing at him. “And we want to get away from this stone city. Find a dark, quiet place, maybe some swag.” It strode over to him, its sword gleaming black. “And we have some fun and eat.”

It reached down and caught Pippin by his arm, the same arm its leader had held him up by. Pippin yelped, bright spots swimming before his eyes. The orc held him up just as the leader had, its eyes locked on his hand. “I think we start with those, first,” it snarled, chopping its sword in the air over Pippin’s fingers. “Since they cause so much trouble. Missing one or missing none, I think they all taste good.” It lowered him to the ground and pushed him. Trembling, Pippin stuck his hands in his pockets and stumbled into a walk.

* * *

As another pair of soldiers bowed before the King and took their leave, Gandalf growled to himself and left Faramir and Imrahil and Gimli to join Aragorn. After a moment, Gimli trailed after him. “What news?”

“They have not found any sign of them,” Aragorn replied, frustration evident in his tone. “No one has found any sign of them.”

“It is most unnatural of hobbits to remain unseen and unheard for this length of time,” the wizard replied. “If they have not returned, we must assume they cannot.”

“More Men?” Gimli asked, his thick, muscled hands tightening on his axe as if they would like to tighten around the throats of anyone who would hurt his friends.

“Or something else,” Gandalf replied slowly. “Or simply mischance. If some piece of rubble had collapsed on them, the search parties would have heard their cries for help –”

“Assuming they could make them,” Aragorn murmured.

Gandalf nodded. “Yes. Assuming.” He took a deep breath, and suddenly it seemed to the others that he seemed tired and worn with care. “Very well. Your men had searched buildings and alleys, with nothing more to report than seeing Elladan and Elrohir and the occasional thief. Send some to search outside the city.”

Aragorn looked at him blankly. Faramir and Imrahil joined them cautiously, uncertain of their welcome. When the King greeted them with a nod, Faramir dared voice his thoughts.

“Sire, the Gates, greater and lesser, are closed. They were closed immediately after the Ring-bearer was taken. The halflings could not possibly be outside the city.”

Gimli was less bound by a lifetime of believing in the impenetrability of stone walls. “There are always ways out, laddie. Not all of Minas Tirith’s citizens are law-abiding folk.” Faramir grimaced, acknowledging this as truth.

“I am tired of standing and doing nothing but giving orders,” Aragorn said suddenly. “I cannot bear to wait to hear that Frodo…” He choked suddenly. Then his expression hardened. “The Ring-bearer was under my protection. Still he was taken, and hurt, and his kin have disappeared. I will wait no longer.”

“Aragorn,” Gandalf began slowly, “You are the King. It is not your place –”

“My place is where I say it is.” Gimli drew back from the anger in the King’s voice, and he saw Gandalf flinch. He had a moment to wonder at this, but Aragorn had seen it, too. He reached out and laid a hand on the wizard’s arm. “My friend,” Aragorn said more gently, “You have guided my steps all my adult life, and together with our Fellowship we helped bring an end to Darkness. But Frodo was the one who finished it. I owe it to him to use every tool at my disposal to find Merry and Pippin.”

Gandalf looked at him warily. “Tool…?”

“We are going back to the Palace,” Aragorn told them. “I will send a messenger to Arwen to prepare the palantír.”  

Faramir’s face blanched. “My king, Aragorn, do not –”

Aragorn touched his shoulder reassuringly. “Not your father’s Seeing-stone, Faramir. I do not have time to force my way past the image entrenched there and wrest the Stone to my will.”

Faramir looked down. When he raised his head, the newly risen sun glittered off tears in his eyes.  “Perhaps someday that Stone will show other than my mad father’s burning hands.”

“May it be so,” Aragorn murmured. “I will use Orthanc’s Stone. Arwen will know that.” He motioned and a soldier immediately ran to him and saluted him. While Aragorn gave the man his message, Gandalf gathered the others to him.

“I am wary of those Stones,” he told them quietly, “for they lay long under the influence of the Dark Lord. Sauron’s was no doubt destroyed when Barad-dûr fell, but the destruction of the Ring did not eliminate all evil. The Stone Denethor used is proof of that.” Faramir nodded, his face strained.

“Aragorn has used it before to espy his kingdom,” Gimli said uncertainly.

“And suffered for it,” Gandalf murmured. “Using such a thing of Power is never without cost. We must –”

“Prince Imrahil,” Aragorn said courteously, turning his attention to them. “You have the command. Instruct the soldiers to continue their clean-up efforts and return to the Palace when you are certain the fires will not re-erupt.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Imrahil replied with a bow, shooting a worried look at Gandalf as the King turned to speak with an aide.

* * *

When the King, one wizard, a dwarf, and a prince saw the turn ahead of them leading to the inn ahead where Elrond had taken Frodo, Gandalf surprised them all by deserting them. “I’ve known that lad since he was a tweenager,” he told the others, “and he is one of my dearest friends in the world. Elrond may be the authority on healing, but I am the authority on hobbits.  Perhaps I can help Elrond in some way.”

Aragorn stayed him as he sought to leave. “You are not angry about the palantír?”

Gandalf smiled then, and the love he bore the King was in his face. “Elessar Telcontar,” the wizard said, “the time is past when this old wizard dictated your steps. You are the King of Men, now. And the small hobbit who made that possible needs me, as you do not.” Aragorn returned Gandalf’s smile slowly and stepped back.

“I want word as soon as you see him. Send a messenger.”

“I will. I hope to tell him you have found his cousins and they are well.”

“I hope to tell him that, too,” Aragorn murmured as the wizard strode away.

* * *

Queen Arwen had the Stone prepared upon their arrival, as well as a few choice words for her husband about carelessness with hobbits and then expecting her to hold the reins of sovereignty there instead of helping search for them. These were delivered within Gimli and Faramir’s hearing, resulting in much staring at the floors and foot-shuffling.

Aragorn ended her tirade by seizing her hands and kissing them.  “Elladan and Elrohir are searching,” he reminded her, “as is every soldier in Gondor and not a few townspeople. We will find them. I hope to find them more quickly using the Seeing-stone.”

“Have you news of Frodo?” Arwen asked quietly as she followed her husband to the cloth-draped pedestal of the small room set aside for the Stone’s use.

“Gandalf will send word,” Aragorn assured her. “What I can do most for him now is find his cousins.”

“Should we leave?” Faramir asked uneasily as Aragorn pulled away the cloth. The palantÍr shone beneath it, purple and black and moonlight, oddly compelling and repulsive all at once. Gimli had already taken a step forward, fascinated by its crystalline beauty as would be any of his people.

“This Stone will not be used in secret,” Aragorn told him, “in closed rooms and by minds deceived by Shadow. No, do not leave.” Arwen joined them and they retreated to the perimeter of the room. Aragorn spent some moments merely standing, his eyes closed, then he carefully raised his hands and placed them on each side of the Stone, and stared into it.

“Merry…” he murmured after some moments. The others dared a glance at the ball and quickly looked down; the colours were swirling and twisting back on each other, and the effect was nauseating. It did not seem to bother Aragorn. He stared into the seething chaos and laughed shortly. “Our young Brandybuck is in the company of your brothers, my love. They are on the level below us. They have a man with them, slung across Elladan’s horse most uncomfortably… They are turning from the road… I think they must be going to Mikah’s inn. The soldiers would have told them that was where Frodo was being taken. Well, they will be there shortly. Doubtless all of them can explain themselves then.”

Aragorn took a deep breath and rested a moment, eyes half-shut. His eyes met his lady-wife’s over the ball and Arwen smiled, all forgiven in the good news. Aragorn returned the smile then bent to the ball again. “Pippin-lad, where are you?” The colours swirled and searched. “Pippin … Pippin … Peregrin Took, where have you got to?” He frowned as the Stone continued to swirl and shift and looked at the others. “This should be easy – the Stone knows him.”

“Pippin handled it at Isengard,” Gimli explained to Faramir shortly. “And again in Edoras. Shouldn’t be surprised if the lad would wish to avoid it, now.”

“He does not have the choice,” Aragorn replied, frowning into the Stone. “It will seek him out… There!” The others were silent and intent. Aragorn stared into the stone for long moments, and when he raised his head again, his face was white and strained. “It is worse than we feared.”

* TBC *

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