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Shadows of a Nameless Fear  by Budgielover

Chapter Nineteen – Down Dark Roads to Terrible Truths

Minas Tirith is built on seven levels, Merry recited to himself. Through this gate and around the curve, then down through the other gates and out of the main Gates onto the plains… Aragorn’s words sounded again in his mind and desperately, Merry raised the volume of his internal muttering to drown out what he had heard. There is no possible way for us to arrive in time to save Pippin. No. No.

“Merry,” came a voice above his head. “You are swearing under your breath. So far I have heard Elvish, Orcish, and what I can only assume is Entish. Frodo would not approve.”

Merry said another word and heard Aragorn gasp behind him. “I learned that one from Frodo. What does it mean?”

Frodo taught you that word?”

“Not deliberately, of course,” Merry replied. The next gate was before them, then they were through it. The soldiers riding behind them had to slow to navigate the narrow opening. They were further slowed by the people of the city lining the streets, gathered everywhere in tight knots of conversation. As Aragorn passed, they bowed in silence, eyes downcast. Merry  realised this was the road on which the guards would have taken Lammor. Hastily he wrenched his mind from what was even now probably taking place at the Gates. “Lord Elrond was … working on Frodo when Frodo said – well, screeched, actually –”

“He will be well, then?”

For a moment Merry was confused. “Didn’t Gandalf and Legolas tell you?”

“Yes,” Aragorn replied, and Merry could hear the heartache in his voice. “But I wished to hear it again, from you.”

Merry was silent for a moment, then deliberately pressed back against Aragorn. “Yes, Strider, he’ll be fine. He just needs quiet and rest.”

“And Pippin,” Aragorn finished.

Tears burned in Merry’s eyes. “And Pippin.”

Aragorn’s horse lurched and Merry pitched forward, snatching at the saddle horn. Behind him he felt Aragorn shift, easily keeping his seat. Merry knew himself to be a fine rider, but he had not been taught to ride by the Elves. He spared a moment to wish for his Stybba, all big brown eyes and soft muzzle nosing his pockets for treats. The pony could never keep up with these great horses, he knew, but at that moment he missed the little beast desperately.

Aragorn’s hand descended on his shoulder, steadying him. “All right?”

Oh, yes, I’m just fine while Pippin is probably being tortured and murdered, Merry thought. But what came out of his mouth was, “Fine. It was just a slip.”

“We are going as fast as we can, my friend,” Aragorn said.

“I know,” Merry whispered. He tried to smile. “No doubt by the time we arrive, those orcs will be begging us to take Pippin back. On their knees, probably. They’ll be tired of feeding him and taking care of him–” he choked suddenly.

“I know, Merry,” Aragorn murmured, his warm breath puffing into Merry’s hair. The hand tightened momentarily then removed itself.

That was the fourth gate. And now the markets are opening, and the roads are becoming crowded with vendors and carts. The horses can’t go very quickly on the cobbles– As if in answer to his fear, he heard a man shout and the bugle of a frightened horse. The cries were followed by the crash of mail and clatter of weapons as an animal went down. He leaned around Aragorn and looked behind him just as Faramir flung himself off his horse and reached the thrashing animal, pulling its rider out from under it.

Merry’s heart clenched in sympathy as the horse struggled to its feet, head hanging and blood running freely from its shoulder. Its rider frantically pulled off his cloak and held it against the wound, his other arm bent against his body at an odd angle. The soldier’s face was white beneath his helm. Faramir spoke with him briefly then turned to the King. “Sire! The men cannot go at speed on this uncertain ground!”

Aragorn groaned and Merry echoed him. These horses were not Shadowfax, not Mearas, able to run swift as the wind over sand, soil, or stone. The King held up his hand and horses whinnied as their riders reined them in. “Slowly,” Aragorn shouted. “Do not risk yourselves or your mounts!”

Elrohir and Elladan would have gone to the injured man, but Aragorn forestalled them. “There are others to help him to the Houses of Healing, my brothers. I need your bows with me.” The twins looked at each other and Merry saw that silent communication pass between them. Still mounted, both strung their bows then returned them to their backs with the strings across their breasts. Legolas did the same, forcing a grunt from Gimli as a bowtip caught him in the side.

“The orcs have far outpaced us,” Aragorn said grimly. “If they do not turn from the path the palantÍr showed them taking, they could reach a ridge of hills before we could come upon them. Those hills are riddled with caves. If they found a defensible one, they could hole up in it. We would not dare to storm it.”

“We could wait them out,” Gimli growled. “Lack of food and water might induce them to surrender.”

“They have food,” Legolas reminded them. “And water – or at least liquid. They prefer blood to water.” The elf looked at Merry, distressed to have said that. Shaking his head, Legolas continued, “They could hold Pippin’s life against us, and we would never know they had killed him until too late.”

Merry found his heels were drumming against the sides of the saddle-blanket, confusing the poor horse beneath him. He made himself stop and rubbed its neck in apology. Gimli was right, Merry thought, all Men and Elves did was talk and talk. He wanted to fling himself to the ground and run, run ahead of them all, never to stop until Pippin was found and safe. He wanted Frodo not to be hurt, and Sam, and he wanted–

“Gandalf!” Aragorn’s shout brought the wizard closer, crowding the horse Legolas and Gimli shared. “Once outside the city, can you sense Pippin? Can you find him?”

“If there are no more blasted piles of stone in the way,” the wizard replied shortly.

* * *

The voices piercing the warm murkiness enveloping him did not alarm him. Some of them were not familiar but they tugged at his memory. Sam’s voice was there and Sam was laughing, so Frodo knew that nothing could be so very wrong. He smiled, luxuriating in the warmth and immobility of the room.

“Mama? He’s waking up, Mama!”

Where had he heard that voice before? It was a young voice, and excited, and had delivered that pronouncement inches from in his ear. With a great effort Frodo opened his eyes. A pale blur hovering before him drew back and resolved into a dark-haired boy with brown eyes, his face covered in freckles and grinning ear-to-ear.

“Hello, Master Frodo! I bet you didn’t expect to see me here!”

“Brion! Give Master Frodo room to breathe!”

The boy wrinkled his nose at his father’s command but he backed up. Frodo saw that Brion was kneeling on the table, and another, larger boy stood behind him, grasping the edge of the table eagerly.

“Master Frodo! How are you, sir?” Richard asked. Brion slid off the table and joined his older brother, both of them practically bouncing in place.

“Hello, lads,” Frodo murmured, swallowing around a dry throat.

Marly bustled up and shifted her offspring to the side, a cup of water in her hand. “He’ll be thirsty, boys. Let the master have a drink before you ply ‘im with questions.”

“May I, Mama?” the older boy asked, reaching for the cup.

“Let me, Rich,” his mother replied comfortably. “Master Frodo looks a bit wobbly yet.” Still somewhat fogged, Frodo watched as the woman circled ‘round the end of the table and ever-so-carefully lifted his shoulders and settled him before her. He felt quite pleasantly cushioned on something soft and warm.

“Thank you,” Frodo murmured as she put the cup to his lips.

“Rich has been hoping to practice on you,” Marly told him as he drank, her voice bubbling with laughter and pride. “He’s determined to become a great hobbit-healer.”

Peter joined them, smiling, and Sam with him. “The boys have been asking to see you, sir,” Peter told him, “but there wasn’t time till now. You just tell me if they’re a bit much for you.”

“No, let them stay,” Frodo replied quickly, smiling at the children. “It is good to see them again.”

“Are you going to be all right, Frodo?” Brion asked, reaching over the table to clasp his hand. Frodo squeezed his fingers, smiling as the child’s face lit up.

“With such healers as these, how could I not be?” he replied lightly, feeling Marly quiver with amusement behind him.

Elrond strode into view and much of Frodo’s pleasant haze dissipated.  When the Elf-lord reached for him, Frodo found himself shrinking back. Summoning his fortitude, he raised his head and met the healer’s eyes. “Once … once again I seem to be in your debt, Lord Elrond.”

“There is no debt, Master Frodo. Now or ever." The Elf-lord examined the bandages over his ribs, put a hand on his forehead, looked into his eyes, and listened to his breathing. "You will have a new scar to add to your collection.”

Under that scrutiny, Frodo became aware that his chest was starting to hurt very much, and little, nagging hurts were needling him in too many places to count. He winced, and it did not escape Elrond's notice. “A moment, Master Frodo, and I will give you something to ease you.” Over Frodo’s head, Elrond said to Marly, “Keep him quiet.” With that he busied himself with his case, examining various vials and bottles.

Frodo smiled at the people gathered around him. “Hullo, Sam. I’m glad to see you’ve sorted things out with your usual efficiency.”

Sam smiled back and Frodo saw something that had been held tight relax in his face. “Have you eaten and rested, Sam?” he asked, looking at him as closely as he could with eyes that would not quite focus.

“Don’t you worry about me, sir,” Sam replied stoutly. “I’m fine. I had a bite and a nap and a good mug of beer. The ale here’s a treat.”

“It is indeed,” Frodo replied. “Poor Master Mikah … I don’t know how I shall ever repay him. I imagine he won’t invite hobbits to his inn again so readily.” He paused. “Do you think I might have a mug of that beer now?”

“No,” Elrond said flatly, returning with a small, corked bottle all-too-familiar to the Ring-bearer. “This will do you more good than ale. And I do not want any argument, Master Frodo.”

Frodo sighed and accepted the bottle. He sniffed it and grimaced dramatically. Still cushioned comfortably against Marly, he started to raise his arm.


“Best not move that arm till your ribs heal some,” Peter advised rather late.

“Ow,” Frodo agreed in a gasp.

“Do you want me to pinch your nose shut?” Brion offered. “Mama always does it for me when I have to take some horrible medicine.”

Frodo squeezed his eyes shut briefly, a less painful expression of mirth than laughing. “Thank you, Brion. But after all I’ve been through, I think I can manage.”

“Did you really walk all the way into the Black Lands, Frodo?” Brion asked, clearly unable to stifle himself a moment longer. “And defeat the Dark Lord and save the whole world from darkness? You and Sam?”

Sam saw some of the light go out of Frodo’s face, and he hastened to intervene. “Now let Mr. Frodo swallow his tonic, lad.”

Elrond watched Frodo until the last drop was gone. With a nod he recovered the bottle. “You are to be taken to a room here, Master Frodo. Where you will stay – in bed – for several days. I or one of my children will attend you at all times.”

“That’s not necessary, Lord Elrond,” Frodo protested, eyes widening in alarm.

“I believe it is,” the Elf-lord returned implacably. He looked at the supine hobbit, frowning. “The litter we used to bring you to this inn cannot manage the stairs. Can you stand for a moment, Master Frodo?”

“Of course,” Frodo replied.

Peter lifted Frodo from Marly’s embrace and set him carefully on his feet. The sudden change in position made him dizzy and Frodo swayed, clutching at Sam. The room seemed to darken and tilt.

“Catch him!”

“I’m … I’m all right…” Breathing shallowly and quickly, he forced the darkness to retreat. Leaning against Sam gratefully, Frodo discovered that his legs were trembling and little droplets of cold sweat were gathering in his hair. Then another arm supported him and Brion grinned at him, brown eyes dancing.

“I’m taller now than you are, Frodo!”

“Almost everybody is,” Frodo agreed woozily. “Wait until you see Merry and Pippin. Where are my cousins, Sam?”

“Ah…” Sam began, unwilling to lie as had Merry. “Um … that is…”

“I’ve got him, son.” Peter stepped forward and displaced Brion, having to bend down to do so. “Go tell Mikah we’re coming, would you? And I imagine Master Frodo would like a bowl of warm soup once he’s settled.”

“Yes, da,” the boy replied and darted out of the room.

“Sam? My cousins–”

Peter’s interruption had given Sam time to think. In perfect truthfulness he looked at his master and said, “They’re not here at the moment, Mr. Frodo.”

“Oh.” Frodo leaned against him and Sam looked over his bowed head at Peter anxiously. “Are they out having a bite? I could do with something strengthening myself. What kind of soup is there?”

“I couldn’t say, sir,” Sam replied, having the answers to neither question. Frodo was looking around, blinking absently. “Master Peter, he needs to lie down.”

“This will get him to his bed.” Sam looked behind them to see Elrond positioning a small, straight-backed wooden chair behind Frodo. “Sit him down, gently.”

“I can walk,” Frodo protested, swaying.

“Yes, sir,” Sam said, tightening his hold. “But we got stairs to go up, and my feet hurt.”

Frodo looked down at the fresh white bandages wrapped around Sam’s feet. “Oh,” he said in confusion. “My poor Sam. Of course you mustn’t climb stairs. Aragorn has a salve that smells vile and feels like river muck, but it soothes the burns…” Still rambling, he was eased into the chair and lifted between the Elf-lord and healer-in-training.

Sam reached up and caught Frodo's hand as they started for the door. Burns? Frodo was becoming befuddled, thinking the bandages on his feet were for the burns inflicted on Mt. Doom. “Yes, sir,” he said neutrally. “Just you hold tight to your Sam, and you can have a rest in a few minutes.”

* * *

What he wanted most, Pippin, decided, was simply to stop. His bruises and weariness dragged at what little strength he had left and his throat burned with thirst. Strangely enough, his excruciatingly empty stomach had stopped complaining; probably, Pippin thought dismally, because it had given up on him.

Though he no longer had the strength to make a dash for freedom, he had tried slowing their escape by falling down and refusing to rise. The orcs had kicked him, but he would not stand. Then the one he had bitten had hauled him up by the scruff of his neck and waved its knife under his nose, still dark with the blood of the other it had killed.

“See this?” Shunt taunted him. “We don’t need fire to cook our meat, and you don’t need arms to walk. One for him,” it waved the knife at the smaller orc, who was watching avidly. “And one for me.”

It dropped him and Pippin stumbled but kept his feet. He knew he had reached the orc’s limits; years of testing his sisters’ limits, his parents’, and most fun of all, Merry’s, had given him almost a mystical sense of when to stop. Frodo, on the other hand, he had had to push and push and push, because his elder cousin would keep on forgiving him and indulging him and spoiling him…                   

Slap. Pippin’s head rocked back on his neck and he staggered sideways, staring up at Shunt in bewilderment. “You listening?” the orc snarled. “I said ‘walk’!”

Pippin stumbled into a walk. His whole body hurt and his feet throbbed horribly. That reminded him of Sam’s feet, and he wondered if Sam had hurt himself badly. And if Frodo was all right. Surely, oh surely, someone would have seen the fire?

He managed perhaps a league more before he fell again and could not get up. A fine trembling ran through him, muscles overtaxed into exhaustion. He was not aware of falling, only of the jolt from striking the earth and jarring the teeth in his skull.

“Get up! Get up!”

He could not. There was nothing left in him, not even tears. How had he and Merry managed to run ahead of the whips of the orcs, all those leagues? It seemed an unimaginably long time ago. He’d been younger then, Pippin thought wryly, and his leg hadn’t ached so. He heard the orcs snarling at each other, than the cold hiss of a blade clearing its sheath. He hoped it would be quick, and that they were too tired to torture him.

He pressed his face into the earth and felt the heat of the sun on the back of his neck. The earth smelled of green things long dormant, grasses and wildflowers just now waking after deep sleep. His cheek trembled against the ground. A tiny pebble worked loose of its place and rattled by his nose. Pippin watched it blankly before he realised the trembling was outside of himself. He could feel it with his whole body, and the now the orcs were noticing. The ground was shaking.

* TBC *

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