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Pip-napped!  by Dreamflower

Several days ago, Lindelea mentioned that Dana had been craving a "pip-napping"--which is to say, a kidnapping of Pippin. Lin had written Pippin kidnapped by Orcs and by sisters, so she posted a nice little story-starter in which Pippin was being menaced by *both* Orcs *and* sisters! I told her I had an idea, and I took it and ran with it, LOL! Lin was kind enough to give it a quick beta, so here you are, Dana--this is for you:

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The part in bold is by Lindelea.

PIP-NAPPED!  AUTHOR'S NOTE: (1)The part in bold is by Lindelea.
(2) This story is AU to "my" Shire universe for a number of reasons, but mostly because this is a "different" Diamond.

PIP-NAPPED! 

'Shut your mouth, you ill-smelling thing!' Pearl scolded, her hand raised for a round slap, if needed.

The vile Orc cowered away from the threat. ' 'Ere now,' it whined. 'No call for that!'

Pippin stared, wide-eyed, at his eldest sister. He'd never seen Pearl in quite this mood before. Well, he *had*, and regularly, about the same time every month, but he'd never seen her quell an Orc before with a word and a look.

'Can't we have just the littlest nibble?' another Orc growled. 'Surely the lad won't miss one of his toes, now, will he?'

'Hush, you,' Pimpernel said, freezing the creature with a glance, her hand tightening on the handle of the cleaver she held, poised in midair, as she was chopping meat for stew. 'Or you'll be missing *more* of your toes than you already are!'

“It doesn’t know the first thing about tying knots, does it, Vinca?” This was the voice of his cousin Celandine. Pippin tried to turn his head to look at her, but he couldn’t move.

“Well, it’s smelly enough. It doesn’t have sense enough to wash. Of course it’s too stupid to know how to tie a proper knot,” was Pervinca’s smug response. “And no one ties them as well as you do, Celandine!”

“Why thank you, Vinca!” responded his Brandybuck cousin, and suddenly she was standing by Pervinca‘s side. “Still, they’re sound enough to hold, I suppose.” She wrinkled her nose at Pippin, and stuck out her tongue, just as if she were still a little lass.

“He often needs to be tied, or he gets away all too easily,” Estella sounded very cross. Pippin had not heard her sound that cross in years--not since he was a very little lad. It hadn’t been *his* fault she got in trouble for pilfering the adult finery to play wedding. But even now she’d throw that up to him from time to time.

“It’s not fair!” said Diamond angrily. “*I’m* the only one who’s allowed to tie him up now!”

“Di-Diamond?” Pippin attempted to say her name, but his voice didn’t seem to be cooperating. All he seemed to manage was a raspy whisper. And his eyes didn’t seem to want to open either…

“Pah!” came a rough voice. “He’s coming out of it already.”

“It’s all right,” came another voice. “He’s tied up sound enough now. He’s not going anywhere.”

Pippin felt a slap against his leg, but when he jerked in response, he realized that he couldn’t move from the knees down. And the ropes around his wrists--

that’s what had him dreaming of Orcs.

He tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry and tasted very nasty. Muzzily, he tried to bring his thoughts around to what happened.

The last thing he remembered was walking down to the fourth circle to pick up a gift for Diamond, and stopping at his favorite tavern for a bowl of stew and an ale…

He sighed.

She was really going to be angry at him now.
_____________________

The newlyweds had not had any difficulty in persuading Merry and Estella to accompany them on their wedding trip to the South. They had travelled in the pleasant company of a King’s Messenger and a couple of Rangers, and the young wives had marveled at the sight of so many places their husbands had been--the wild places and mountains and swift rivers.

The journey had been fairly uneventful, and after a few weeks spent in the amiable company of the King of Rohan, they had continued to Minas Tirith.

Nothing they had yet seen had begun to prepare Diamond and Estella for the sight that was Minas Tirith. They had imagined, perhaps, a slightly larger stone version of Edoras. But the reality was amazing--the White City, gleaming in the distance miles from their arrival, and looming ever larger, the closer they drew.

Diamond was stunned. She had never in her life imagined a dwelling so vast and magnificent and beautiful. She had looked over at Pippin, and seen his posture straighten imperceptibly, and noted the tears he blinked away.

They passed the Rammas Echor, and Pippin was saluted, and greeted as the Ernil i Pheriannath by the guards at the wall. She had remembered Pippin’s joking about how they had mistaken him for a prince, and thought it a bit of typically Tookish exaggeration. But it was quite clear that to these people it was not a joke at all. They believed him to *be* a prince. And she looked at him with new eyes: splendid in his gleaming livery, his cloak billowing behind him, and the green brooch of Lórien at his throat. She had often thought him handsome in his Outland uniform, but *today* it seemed more than that--and she could easily see why these people thought him a prince, and her heart swelled with pride to think that he was hers.

When they approached the Gates, which were immense, Diamond looked over at him nervously. But his face shone with delight, and there was no apprehension at all. She was not sure if this made her feel better or not.

It was still day, and the Gates stood open, but there were Guardsmen there. And they straightened and saluted Merry and Pippin, greeting them with great respect, and passed them through.

And now the small party began the ride through the wide and winding streets, and Diamond noticed that they were beginning to attract a crowd. She saw clusters of Big Folk--shopping or going about their business--stop to stare and point, and murmur behind their hands. And then she began to hear the calls: “Sir Peregrin!” “Ernil i Pheriannath!” And there were also a few calls of “Sir Meriadoc!” as well. People were smiling and waving, and beginning to walk alongside, remaining at a respectful distance for the most part.

Diamond glanced over at Estella, and thought that she too seemed a bit overwhelmed. Merry leaned over and spoke to his wife, and then Estella looked--well, less nervous. But Pippin did not seem to be noticing Diamond at all. He was grinning and waving back at the crowd, and appeared to be enjoying himself immensely.

And Diamond felt a little hurt, and a bit resentful. And then as the street twisted back upon itself once more, she could look back and see how far up they had come, and now she felt frightened. She tightened her grip on the pony’s reins, and it tossed its head and whickered in protest.

That got Pippin’s attention. He dropped back alongside her, and spoke her name gently, and looked at her with such a look of love that she forgot all about her fear and anger. She smiled back at him shyly, and he grinned at her, and stayed by her side, as they rode up and up.

Diamond gazed wide-eyed at the immense buildings, all of white stone, and most of them larger than any dwellings of Men she had yet seen, save only the King’s Hall of Meduseld in Edoras. But now, looming before her was one which placed the Golden Hall in the shade. It was so large she could not really take it all in.

They rode through another of the smaller gates, and Pippin and Merry stopped, as they were met by more Guards, and by grooms. The two hobbit knights dismounted, and assisted their ladies to do so. Pippin took a moment to let his arms linger about Diamond’s waist, and tipped his forehead to hers briefly, and her heart lifted. Then he extended his arm, and she took it as though they were being led in to a ball, and followed by Merry and Estella in the same manner, they walked forward.

In a stately manner, they passed in to the Courtyard of the White Tree, where the scion of Nimloth stood, tall and beautiful and filled with blossoms, by a fountain of crystal water. Merry and Pippin paused briefly, and gave a slight bow to the tree, and Diamond thought she had never seen a tree so fair, not even the mallorn that Sam had planted in the Shire.

Diamond’s hand trembled a bit on Pippin’s arm, and they went on. There were clusters of Big Folk, standing about, dressed in their finery. She cast her eyes forward, away from their stares.

And then she saw them, two tall figures, standing at the foot of the steps of that huge building. There was no mistaking who they might be--even from this distance, Diamond knew they were seeing the High King and his Queen.

As they approached, Diamond felt awe at this tall Man, who looked so grave and high and noble. Why, she had thought Éomer a noble king, and had been impressed by his air of command, but this king seemed even higher and further away. And by his side stood the most beautiful creature Diamond had ever laid eyes upon. She had heard Pippin once, proclaiming the beauty of the Queen, and had felt a small twinge of jealousy. But now, seeing her, she realized that her husband had been doing naught but stating fact. Why one might as well be jealous of the sky being blue, or of water being wet!

All these thoughts passed in an instant through her mind, and then Pippin stood a respectful distance from these two remarkable beings, and gave a slight bow, as did Merry. Almost automatically, Diamond and Estella gave curtseys, scarcely daring to raise their eyes.

And then all was changed. The Man gave a smile that warmed his rugged face like sunrise on a mountainside, and he bent down to one knee, holding out his arms. “My dear friends!” he exclaimed. And Pippin and Merry, wives forgotten for the moment, rushed into his embrace, with tears and laughter.

Diamond and Estella drew together, dazed. And then the warm grey eyes of the King were upon them.

“Now, my dear hobbits, are you not going to introduce us to these lovely ladies?”

Pippin turned back, and drew Diamond forward, and said proudly, yet almost shyly, “This is my bride, Diamond of Long Cleeve.”

Diamond found her small hand enveloped briefly in two very large ones, and felt unaccountable tears swimming in her eyes, as a kind voice said gently, “Welcome to Minas Anor, Mistress Diamond.”

Then Merry presented Estella and they were ushered into the Citadel, and the great feasthall of Merethrond, for it was growing late, and the feast of welcoming had only awaited their arrival.

It was only the beginning, and for the next few days, Diamond found herself in a daze, as she was introduced to more Big Folk than she could keep track of. Some of them, of course, she could remember from having heard Pippin and Merry speak of them before: Lord Faramir the Steward, and his wife the Lady Éowyn, the young Guardsman Bergil, who was only eighteen, Captain Targon of the Third Company. But most of the others she simply could not recall from one day to the next.

The two couples were snuggly ensconced in the guesthouse in which Merry and Pippin had stayed with other members of their Fellowship in the days following the Coronation. The large chamber on the first floor, which Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin had once shared had been turned into two rooms with an adjoining door. Each one sported an immense bed, the legs of which had been cut down to accommodate hobbits, and the other furniture in the chambers--chairs, tables and chests--were all of hobbit size.

There were a few servants, who slept on the upper floor, and had clearly been thoroughly briefed on the needs of hobbits, as they prepared all the meals that a hobbit would expect in the Shire--except for supper, which had been taken each evening in the Citadel, in the company of the King and Queen.

For the first few days, Pippin was constantly at Diamond’s side, as he and Merry showed her and Estella this wondrous City, enthusiastically taking them to their favorite eating houses and to shops they remembered. They were often accosted by Big Folk who remembered Merry and Pippin from the War, and who wished to show their gratitude. Young children, taller than Diamond or Estella, would come up and give them flowers, or old wives would gift them with biscuits, cakes and pies. Old soldiers would stand them ale in the taverns. The evenings were spent in the company of the King and Queen, and Diamond soon lost her shyness with them, though her awe turned to rapt admiration. They were so kind and friendly, and Queen Arwen had a lovely sense of humor. The Steward and Lady Éowyn were usually on hand as well, and Diamond soon learned why her husband loved Faramir so--he was so noble and wise and understanding!

And at night, she and Pippin would celebrate their married state in the huge bed, and fall asleep, sated, in one another’s arms.

But on the fourth day, Pippin told Diamond that he had to see to some of his duties, as a Guardsman of the Citadel, and as the King’s Knight. And he had gone to attend the King in his Court, and then to practice swordplay among the other Guardsmen in the afternoon, and Diamond had spent the day with Merry and Estella, and not even seen Pippin until after teatime!

And the fifth and sixth day passed in the same manner, and Diamond was beginning to feel a bit neglected and peeved.

Then, on his return the evening of the seventh day, he had told her he was going out in the evening with several of the Guardsmen, to a tavern. One of his friends among them had become betrothed, and it was to be a celebration for him.

“But I haven’t seen you all day!” she said, dismayed.

“I have duties when I am in the City,” Pippin told her. “I did explain that to you! Remember how Merry had to attend on Éomer King, when we were in Edoras?”

“It’s not the same thing at all!”

Pippin quirked an eyebrow at her, and said in an amused tone, “Well, I am not so sure that Estella would agree with you!”

Diamond was not prepared to concede the point. Besides, Edoras had not been nearly so large and daunting a place as Minas Anor. And it was very irritating to have Pippin think this was funny!

“This is not a duty for the King! This is just going out with your friends to get drunk!” She folded her arms and glared at him angrily.

For just an instant, his green eyes sparked with a flash of anger, and then they went flat. “Very well. If you feel that way about it, I will send word that I cannot come, and I shall stay here with you.” He sounded reasonable--too reasonable.

And for some reason, that made Diamond even angrier. “No. You’d rather be with them tonight anyway. You go on! They’re expecting you.”

Now he just looked confused. He blinked, and then said uncertainly “Are you sure?”

“Of course, I just said so, didn’t I? Go. Go on!”

With a shake of his head, he had given her a little kiss, which she did not return, and he had gone, but not before looking back at her once more with a puzzled glance.

And she had thrown herself into the middle of the huge bed in a storm of tears. They’d had their first quarrel! Why had he gone like that? He was supposed to argue more; he was supposed to feel sorry for wanting to leave her alone! And why had she told him to go, when he said he’d stay? He should have known how she would feel!

She wept until she had given herself a headache. There was a rap on the door, and Estella came in with a tea tray, and they had tea and commiserated with one another about the general obtuseness of males. But Diamond told Estella that she did not feel up to going anywhere that evening, and she and Merry were to go up to the Citadel on their own.

She tossed and turned for hours. When Pippin came in in the middle of the night, smelling of ale and pipe-weed, she kept her back turned and pretended to be asleep. And then she *had* fallen asleep in truth, and woke well past first breakfast, and he had gone already, to attend his King. Without waking her.

Hurt and angry, Diamond miserably picked at the second breakfast laid before her. She could not bring herself to speak of her foolishness, and Estella did not press her. And Merry feigned not to notice. She knew he was only pretending--there was no way he would not realize she and Pippin had quarreled, but she was grateful for his silence.

The two of them were to go riding with Éowyn, and though Estella offered to stay with Diamond, Diamond sent them both on their way. Except for the servants, she would have the guesthouse to herself. She had gone through the day in a fog of misery, alternating anger at Pippin with anger at herself.

Why, she wondered, had she sent him on his way the night before, after he had offered to stay? And yet, still, shouldn’t he have realized what she wanted?

Finally, desperate for some distraction, she chose a book from the room next to the entry hall, and attempted to read. It was interesting enough, and if she had not been so unhappy, it would have kept her attention better. It was an account of the early days of the Kings of Gondor, and there was a good deal of information she had never heard of before. But she started up at every sound, and often lost track of what she was reading, and had to go back and read it over.

When she heard the door open and close, she flung the tome aside, and dashed into the hall. “Oh,” she said. It was Merry and Estella, and Merry did not look very happy.

“Where’s Pip?” he asked.

“He’s been fretting about Pippin all afternoon,” said Estella.

“He’s not back yet,” Diamond said dully.

Merry and Estella exchanged an alarmed look. Merry said, “We stopped at the training field. Captain Targon said Pippin had begged off this afternoon. He told him he had been neglecting you, and that he wanted to surprise you. That was *hours* ago!” He turned and gave Estella a cross look. “I *told* you something was wrong!”

Diamond went white, and pressed her hands together. “What’s happened?” she asked, in a frightened voice.

___________________

Pippin shifted slightly, and raised his eyes in the direction of the rough voices.

The person belonging to the first voice was immense. He was, in fact, the fattest Man Pippin had ever seen. He reminded Pippin a good deal of old Lalia, Thain Ferumbras’ mother. Although he was a good deal uglier.

He was dressed in a filthy tunic, and his face was shiny with sweat. He had a few sparse hairs on top of his head, and his chin was covered in stubble.

“Well, little High-and-Mighty,” he said to Pippin, “you’re not so high and mighty now.”

Pippin wanted to ask why they had taken him prisoner, but his throat was still a bit too dry for speech. He tried to swallow.

“Whatta we do next, Tiny?” said the second voice.

Tiny? Pippin stared once more at the huge Man so addressed. It *had* to be a joke!

“Why, we have ‘im write us a nice little note to the King, we do, Slouch.”

“How do we get a note to the King?” Pippin could not quite get a good look yet at the second person, though the voice sounded very vaguely familiar.

“We pay some little street urchin to take it up to the Citadel for us, of course,” was the response. Tiny bent over Pippin, and pulled him into a sitting position. The Man’s breath was foul, and Pippin had to fight down a moment of nausea.

The huge fingers were surprisingly nimble, as the Man untied Pippin’s wrists. Pippin felt the pins and needles, and gasped as the feeling came back into his hands. He tried to swallow again.

Now he could see the other villain. Why, that’s why the voice was familiar! He had been the one who served Pippin at the inn earlier--he’d been most attentive in bringing Pippin’s food and ale. His name was “Slouch”, was it? Unlike the other, this one’s name fit him perfectly.

Tiny turned away for a moment, and Pippin heard the splash of liquid. The Man turned back, and held out a battered tin mug. Pippin could scarcely get his hands around it, especially as the numbness was only just beginning to wear off. As thirsty as he was, he looked at it suspiciously. Obviously they had drugged him.

The Man gave an evil chuckle. “Drink up! Ain’t nothing in that but water. We already got you--we don’t need to put you out again.”

Pippin sipped cautiously. The water was stale and lukewarm, but it tasted all right. He drank a bit more, and then looked the ruffian in the eye. “Why?” he asked. “You have to know that taking me will mean more trouble than you can handle. I *am* a friend of the King, as you well know!” He let his anger show, but only a little. As furious as he was, he was also curious. He was not, however, the least bit afraid, not of these two.

“You let me worry about what I can handle, little *Prince*,” the Man sneered. “It’s your own fault, you and your kind, that I’m brought this low!”

Pippin gaped in amazement. “What on earth have hobbits ever done to you?” he asked.

“What’ve ‘hobbits’ done to me?” the Man mocked. “You mean what’ve you little half-grown walking stomachs done to me? Only put me out of business, me very own business what my uncle left me! Only made me the laughingstock of the City!” He put his foul face right in Pippin’s, and his spittle flew as he talked more wildly. “I was a respectable innkeeper afore you little freaks come along after the War!”

“Now, Tiny,” came the voice of Slouch, “don’t you go upsetting yourself!”

The Man straightened up, and drew a deep breath. “You’re right, Slouch, it’s not good for me to get so upset.” He drew out a dirty kerchief in a rather violent shade of blue, and wiped his forehead.

Pippin was baffled. “I don’t understand. Who are you, and what did we hobbits do to you?” Other than my cousin ending your War with Sauron, Pippin added to himself.

“Oh you don’t even remember do you? The lot of you, all over the City, cadging free meals from every inn and tavern in Minas Tirith, and everywhere you went, folk swarmed along after, ‘cause everyone knew how the halflings was such good judges of food and ale. But did you ever come to *my* place? No! Not even when I asked you especial to come in and offered you as much free food as you wanted! Oh, no, you was too good for the likes of me!”

Pippin’s brow drew together in puzzlement. He seriously doubted they had eaten in *every* place in Minas Tirith, but surely--wait a moment--”What was the name of your place?” he asked.

“It were The Dirty Duck, the inn my uncle left to me! And after you lot turned up your noses, all my customers started staying away!”

The Dirty Duck? Of course we never ate there! That place was filthy! And the smells?” Pippin remembered now. Just standing outside the place had been enough to make Frodo ill, and it hadn’t done much for the rest of them either. “Why Orcs fed me stuff that smelled better than that!” he lied. “It wasn’t *our* fault you had no customers! If you’d cleaned the place up it might have helped!”

“There weren’t nothing wrong with my place! It were a sweet little inn it were!”

Pippin was shocked to see tears standing in the fat Man’s eyes. But there was no way that filthy place could have stayed in business!

“Well, Tiny,” said Slouch, in a conciliatory tone, “he can make up for it now! We’ll get ever so much money from the King!”

“That’s right!” The Man grinned at Pippin in satisfaction. Then he picked Pippin up, carried him across the room, and plunked him down in a chair next to a small battered table. There was a quill, a bottle of ink and a piece of parchment. Pippin sat low in the chair, barely able to reach the tabletop. “Now--you take up that quill, and you write to the King, and you tell him that if he wants you back, he can hand over a hundred gold ducats!”

Pippin goggled. A hundred ducats? That was an immense fortune! Why a ducat was worth eight gold pennies! And how in the world did this foolish Man think he was going to get away with this?
_____________________________

Merry looked at Diamond’s frightened face, and softened a bit. He’d felt very sorry for Pippin this morning, and as a result had been somewhat angry with Diamond for putting his cousin into such a state, but he realized now that she was just as miserable as Pippin had been. The more so, he thought, if Estella was right and Diamond blamed herself for their first quarrel. He tried to remember what his first quarrel with Estella had been about--something quite silly, he thought, but the making up again had been nice. Now however, they needed to discover what had come of Pippin, for the nagging fear at the back of his mind was growing stronger.

“We’ll find him, Diamond,” he said firmly. “Now we know that his intention was to come back early and surprise you. That was about five hours ago. He knows the City fairly well. I do not believe it likely that he became lost--although not impossible--there have been a few changes in the last eight years.” Merry only half believed what he was saying--he felt too unsettled for that to be true, but it seemed to help Diamond relax a bit, and Estella looked at him gratefully.

He pursed his lips and thought a moment. “Nothing for it, then. We’d only waste time trying to search for him ourselves. It’s time to head up to the Citadel, and tell Strider. He and Faramir will soon have things set to rights. You’ll see, Diamond.”

Diamond bit her lips, and gave a nod. Merry could tell she was fighting off tears. “There’s a good lass,” he said. “You’ll see--it will be all right.”

But still--something was wrong.
______________________________________________

Aragorn carefully refrained from sighing. Also from shifting in his seat, drumming his fingers on the table, rolling his eyes or tapping his foot. One lesson he had learned about being King: it was all the little things one had to avoid doing that made the job so difficult. Especially when he had to listen to the head of the Cloth Merchant’s Guild drone on and on about restricting certain imports into Gondor.

Especially wool from the northern Kingdom.

He risked a glance at Faramir. A certain tightness about the eyes of his Steward indicated that he, too, was finding Master Valacar less than enthralling. Yet they had to hear him out, before they dismissed his petition. Aragorn would give a good deal for an interruption right now.

His mind wandered a bit, and he allowed himself a tiny smile. If Master Valacar chose to interpret that as encouragement, then all to the better. He wondered how Pippin was getting on with his bride this afternoon…

Earlier in the morning, as the hobbit had taken his turn standing guard by the throne during Court, Aragorn could not help but notice Pippin seemed to be distressed, and not his usual cheerful self. Naturally, when Court was dismissed, he turned and gave his small friend a searching look.

“A worried hobbit, Pippin, is a distressing thing. Do you wish to tell me what is wrong?”

Pippin shrugged, and bit his lip. He hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Diamond and I had a quarrel last night. I think? She was angry at me for wishing to go out with my comrades to celebrate Mardil’s betrothal. But when I offered to stay home with her, she told me to go ahead. So I did. I thought she meant it--but she was still angry when I got back. She pretended she was asleep.” He sighed heavily. “We’ve never quarreled before. And--and we’ve never gone to sleep before without--” he stopped suddenly and blushed furiously. “You know,” he finished weakly. His face was beet red, and he would not look Aragorn in the eye.

Aragorn managed to avoid giving a knowing smile. Of course he knew.

“Pippin, would you take luncheon with Arwen and me?” For the King had made it a habit to take a private luncheon with his wife in their quarters, and every now and then he would invite one or two privileged guests to join them. He thought perhaps his friend could use a bit of cheering up, and for a hobbit, food was the first avenue one tried. He also thought that he and Arwen could give the young husband a little advice.

Pippin had brightened up a bit over chilled fruit, salad, a light vegetable soup, cold chicken and flat bread. After the usual hobbity comments on the food however, he turned to playing with his cheese, and grew thoughtful once more.

Aragorn poured a little wine for his guest, and said, “Pippin, perhaps you could relate your discussion with Diamond for my lady wife. She might be able to give you some idea of what was upsetting your bride.”

Pippin looked up at Arwen’s face with a look compounded of embarrassment and hope. Arwen gave him a look of encouragement and sympathy, and soon he found himself relating the conversation.

“I know I hadn’t been spending a lot of time with her the last few days, but I had explained to her about my having duty sometimes. And since it’s not likely I’ll ever be lucky enough to be around again when one of my comrades-in-arms has such a special occasion, I thought she’d understand. And then, it seemed that she had--she told me to go ahead and go. I wondered if she meant it at first, but she insisted--so I did.” He sighed. “I thought that would be the end of it, but when I got back I could tell she was still angry with me.”

Arwen smiled at him. “Yes, Pippin, I am sure that she was. You see, she expected you to put up more of an argument about leaving. She wanted you to say you would rather be with her than with your friends.”

Pippin looked astonished. “She did?”

The queen nodded at him. “Yes, she did. Brides tend to be somewhat unsure of themselves when their new husbands do not wish to spend every waking moment at their sides. Of course, it soon wears off, and they wish to have a bit of time to themselves as well.”

“Oh!” Pippin’s expression was one of sudden enlightenment.

“Diamond is rather young for a hobbit to be wed, is she not?” asked Aragorn.

“Well, she wasn’t quite of age at the wedding. In fact she came of age while we were in Edoras! Most hobbits wait at least until they are of age, and even more wait for a few years beyond that. But really, we didn’t want to wait any longer to be together.”

“Being young, and being in this strange City, all surrounded by Big Folk, it can’t be easy for her.”

A look of shame came over Pippin’s face. “No, no I suppose it isn’t. I remember how big and frightening it all was to me at first--though there was a siege on at the time.” He paled a bit, remembering briefly. “Well, I can see I need to make it up to her. I wish I could do so now, but I am scheduled to be down on the training fields for weapons practice in a quarter of an hour. I suppose I had better get going, by your leave, your Graces.” He stood up and gave them a little half-bow. He did not look happy.

Aragorn smiled. “Tell Captain Targon that you must be off this afternoon--that it is by my leave. Go home early, and surprise your lovely bride.”

Pippin grinned, and started to leave, but Arwen caught him by the arm, and bent her lips to whisper in his ear. He grinned at her, and said “That is a wonderful idea, my queen!” And bowing again, he took himself off.

Aragorn looked at his own bride--though they had been wed eight years, he still thought of her thusly--and said, “And what did you tell my small Knight, that made him so happy?”

“That taking along a small gift would not go amiss, my husband.” She stood up and went behind Aragorn, bending down to whisper in *his* ear-- “I do believe that you have over an hour yet before you must meet the Guild Master. Perhaps we could find some way to pass the time profitably?”

And so they had. And Aragorn allowed himself another smile. He then glanced at Faramir, and wondered what he had missed.

And then the door to the chamber was opened, and a guard came in apologetically. “My Lord King Elessar,” he said, bowing deeply, “Sir Meriadoc requests to see you immediately. He says it is urgent.”

One of Aragorn’s standing orders was that any of the remaining members of the Company of Nine Walkers could see him at any time they wished.

“Send him in.”

Merry bustled in, trailed by Estella and Diamond. The hobbit stood on no ceremony, but blurted out, “Strider--Pippin seems to be missing!”

Aragorn and Faramir looked at him, startled, and took in the pale faces of Estella, and especially Diamond, who was clutching Estella fiercely.

The King stood, and said “Master Valacar, if you will excuse us?” And the next thing he knew the guild merchant was being hustled out of the room by Faramir, who shut the door behind him.

Aragorn turned to Merry. “Please, Merry, explain yourself!”

The hobbit took a deep breath, and then in a voice that was clearly very tightly controlled, explained what they had discovered.

“Estella and I were told that he had missed the afternoon’s training, and was going back to the house. But when we arrived, Diamond had not seen him all day!”

Shaking his head, Aragorn said “I knew he intended to go back to the guesthouse--I had suggested it myself. But he had planned to go elsewhere first, Merry. Still, I do not think that it would have delayed him this long.”

“Elsewhere?” Diamond asked. She looked thoroughly frightened and confused.

The Man glanced at her. He did not wish to spoil Pippin’s surprise--still, it was information that was needed at this point. “Yes--he planned to buy you a present before he returned.”

At this revelation, Diamond burst into tears.
____________________

Pippin had looked crossly at the parchment and ink. He certainly didn’t want to be forced into writing his own ransom note. Glancing around the room, he saw Trollsbane was next to its scabbard, leaning against the nearby door. With his legs so tightly tied, it would certainly do him no good. His cloak and brooch were tossed at the foot of the bed on which he had awakened. Through the only window, he could see that this room was on a level with the rooftop of the house or building next to it. Even if his legs were free, he couldn’t jump out a window from this high up. Crossly he thought of his Orc captivity--he’d managed things much better then. But then, he supposed even very stupid Men were brighter than the cleverest of Orcs.

“Get on with it!” snarled Tiny.

Pippin glared at him. “I can’t. See!” His elbows barely reached the tabletop--he certainly could not write.

Slouch did not say anything. He went over to the bed, snatched up the pillow. Yanking Pippin up by the left arm, he stuck the pillow under him, and plopped him back down. “There!” the Man said triumphantly.

Giving the Man a dirty look, Pippin picked up the quill.

“Tell him to put the money in a leather bag. It is to be dropped in the fountain by the gate to the Third Circle before dawn.”

Pippin raised an eyebrow at that. Seemed a rather daft way to collect the money. But then it was apparent that Tiny *was* rather daft.

“Dear Strider--”

Tiny, who was looking over his shoulder snarled, “This is to the King!”

Pippin did not argue. He crossed it out, and started over. With the Man looking over his shoulder, he had to make the message fairly straightforward--and really, he had no hints to drop as to his location. Third or Fourth Circle, he thought, but nothing more than that to go on. He scratched along, dipped the pen, and wrote a bit more. “There. How’s that?”
_____________________

As Aragorn was trying to comfort Diamond, there was another knock at the chamber door. Faramir went over to open it. He stepped outside for a moment, and then came back in. His face was grim.

“I believe,” he said, “that this may be relevant.” He held out a folded paper. It was sealed with a bit of candle wax. On the front, in Pippin’s inelegant scrawl, it said “To King Elessar” And pinned right through the paper and into the message was Pippin’s Lórien brooch.

There was a stunned silence.

Aragorn removed the brooch, and handed it to Merry, whose eyes were wide with fear. He used his thumb to slide under the wax and unfold the missive. In a tightly controlled voice, he read aloud:

“Dear Strider
Dear King Elessar,

I am being held prisoner by two Men. They have said they will release me if you will pay one hundred ducats. They say to put the money in a leather bag, and drop it in the fountain by the gate to the third circle before dawn tomorrow. They have not harmed me.

Peregrin Took" Merry gave a wordless exclamation of fury, his hand reaching for his sword, as if he had the Men in front of him.

Diamond went even whiter, and collapsed in a swoon.
_______________________

After he had written the note, Slouch had carried Pippin back to the bed, and taking his arms, had tied his wrists together once more. Behind his back this time, and very securely, though not quite as tightly as before. At least it was not cutting off the circulation.

The two Men ignored him now, and began to talk of what they would do with the money.

“We’ll go off somewhere far away from this City, and I’ll buy me another inn,” said Tiny.

“That sounds good to me,” answered Slouch. “Our own little inn--far away where no one’s never heard of halflings or even the King.”

Pippin rolled his eyes. These two would never make a success of such a venture, and even if they managed to get away from Minas Anor with their ill-gotten gains they’d only end up losing it to bigger fish. His nose itched, and it was very annoying not to be able to scratch it. When he got out of here, he was going to have a word with the inn-keeper at The Star and Eagle about the kind of help he hired.

“You know,” said Slouch, “I’ve got to get back to me job if we want any supper.”

Tiny nodded. “I’m feeling a bit peckish meself. You want to work it in the usual way?”

“You thinkin’ o’ leaving that one here?” Slouch nodded at Pippin.

“Why not? He’s trussed up like a chicken and we’re on a third floor--he won’t go nowhere.” Tiny looked at Pippin. “How ’bout it? You be good and we’ll bring you some food.”

Pippin gave him a speculative look, and just nodded briefly. He was making no promises if these idiots decided to leave him here alone. And he was curious--”What did you mean by ’the usual way’?”

Slouch grinned. “Simple enough. Tiny here comes to the inn for a meal, and I overcharge three or four other customers enough to make up the price of it. Me boss never knows the difference. I allus picks customers I’ve never seen before, and they never comes back.”

Pippin felt disgusted. Clever enough a ruse, he supposed, but what if the customer saw fit to complain? Out loud he lied admiringly--”That’s very sharp of you.”

“Why thank you,” said Tiny. “It was my idea. Now you be a good little halfling, and I’ll bring you back a bit o’ bread and cheese in a while.”

Pippin’s traitorous stomach chose that moment to give a rumble. The two Men laughed as though it was highly funny, and they went from the room, shutting the door behind them. Pippin heard the snick of a lock.

He listened carefully to the sound of their footsteps fading away, and then heard the distant sound of a door slamming.

Now, he thought, if only I can get my hands in front of me…
__________________________

Diamond opened her own eyes to find herself gazing into the sympathetic ones of the Queen. For a brief moment, she was confused, and then she remembered.

“What--what happened?” she whispered.

“Here,” said Estella, coming into view, “drink this.” She handed Diamond a goblet of wine.

“You were brought here, my dear,” said Arwen, “so that my husband and Merry may see to finding your husband.”

Tears filled Diamond’s eyes. “It’s all my fault. If I had not been so foolish and so angry--he never would have gone out like that! He was going to buy me a gift!” She began to sob in earnest, and the Queen took her into her embrace and began to sooth her as she might have comforted a faunt.

_________________________

After giving Diamond and Estella into the care of the Queen, Aragorn sent Faramir to question the guards who had received Pippin’s message.

“Merry, follow me! We will see if we can discover what has become of your cousin.”

Merry trotted alongside the quickly moving Man, reminded of the early days of the Quest, when it had been all the hobbits could do to keep up with his long-legged stride. However, Merry had no complaints, not if it meant finding Pippin. But he was puzzled--they were not headed out of the Citadel, but deeper into it, and then to a steep staircase leading upwards. He felt his stomach drop slightly at the sight of the stairs, but gamely followed along. Fortunately the steps were narrow enough not to be difficult for a hobbit to climb. Merry was very curious, but he had no breath to ask questions.

At the top of the stairs, Merry bent over to catch his breath, as Aragorn drew out a key and unlocked a massive door.

Aragorn threw the door opened and beckoned Merry to follow. It was a large round tower room, with arched windows all around. Merry was very glad that the windows were too high up for him to see out. The only thing in the room was a table and chair, and on the table, a round object, perhaps the size of a young hobbit’s head, covered with a black cloth. Merry’s eyes widened.

“Is that what I think it is?” he shuddered.

Aragorn nodded. “It is a palantír, the Orthanc stone, the very one in which Pippin gazed.” He looked at Merry confidently. “The stone is mine by rights, and I have mastery over it. Do you trust me in this?”

“Of course, Strider!” That stone held no good memories for him, but if it would help to find Pippin, there was no question of his trust in this Man who had saved their lives so many times before.

Drawing the cloth away, the King sat down in the chair before the stone. Then he drew Merry to his side, and put his arm around him. “Relax and trust me, Merry.”

For a few brief moments, nothing happened, and then gradually, Merry began to see--well, what he would have seen if he *could* see out the windows: The view of the White City, all laid out before him, miles and miles. A distant part of his mind wondered at the fact that he did not feel giddy, flying over the City like that.

Down, it seemed, they swooped--down to the Sixth Circle, where he briefly glimpsed their little house; down to the Fifth, then the Fourth, and then the Third. But just without the gate to the Third circle, they seemed to be going lower and lower, closing in on one small dirty street, and then one building. It appeared to be an abandoned inn. The windows on the lower floors were boarded up, and a sign hung brokenly from above the door. Merry could not read the faded letters, but the picture appeared to be a bird of some sort. Many of the upper windows were broken. They drew closer and closer, and then it was as though they were hovering outside the window.

There was Pippin. He was alone in the room; his legs were tied snugly with a coil of rope, from just below his knees down to his ankles. His hands were tied behind him, but even as Merry watched, Pippin began to wriggle, trying to bring his arms down, so that he could get his hands in front of him…
______________________

Pippin found himself very glad that he was more limber and somewhat leaner than the average hobbit. He wasn’t sure this little trick would work. He’d not been trussed up this much since he was a lad and his cousin Celandine had played a particularly nasty prank on him and some of the other lads at Brandy Hall.

Almost there. His hands were behind his heels now, and he felt as though his elbows were going to pop out of their sockets. He paused briefly to breathe, and then began the tortuous task of getting his hands around to the front of his feet.

Just when he thought they would be stuck forever right behind his toes, they came free!

Ah! What a relief that was! Now, if he could only get off the bed, he could crawl over to Trollsbane, and try to cut his bonds. That was certainly something he’d never thought to have to do again…

_______________________

Merry and Aragorn watched, as Pippin began rocking back and forth, and finally began to roll toward the edge of the bed, where he rolled off and landed with a thud upon the dirty floor.

Merry winced, and tears filled his eyes. If he could get his hands on the ones who had done this...! Pippin lay still for a moment, and Merry was worried that his cousin was hurt, but he must have just been gathering his strength, for then he managed to hoist himself up to elbows and knees, and began to drag himself across the floor.

The scene changed. They were no longer in the room with Pippin.

“What!” Merry panicked a bit at losing sight of Pippin, but Aragorn said “Hush, now Merry, and trust me…”

Now they were once more above the dirty street. They circled about the old inn, and then, a street or two over, they hovered above another inn--The Star and Eagle--one where Merry and Pippin had taken their wives frequently since their arrival, as it was near the shops in the Fourth Circle.

The scene began to grow more distant, until Merry no longer felt as though he were hovering there. It became a mere picture in the stone, and then it faded away.

Merry let out a deep breath he did not realize he had been holding.

“We know where he is now, Merry. Let’s go. We’ll gather up Guardsmen as we go.”
______________________

The distance from the bed to the door seemed vast, but Pippin persisted. He was filthy and hungry, and his head was pounding as an after-effect of whatever they’d slipped into his food or drink, but he’d been like that before. About halfway there, he had to stop briefly and rest. Then he crawled on.

Soon he was there--right next to the door. His sword gleamed, as it stood against the wall. He found himself glad they had unsheathed it for some reason, and the angle at which it stood was just right. He began to saw away at his bonds.

The former barrow-blade held an edge very well, and it was as sharp as sharp might be. The rope between his hands soon gave way, and he began the task of untying his legs. Then he had to give some thought as to what he should do to get out. The window was far too high up for him to risk, and the door was locked.

He cast his eyes about the room, and then grinned. As the ropes fell away from his legs, he gave them a moment to get the feeling back, and then he stood up, buckled his sword-belt on, and put his sword in its scabbard.
_______________________

It was nearly sunset, as two dozen grim-faced Guardsmen--all volunteers from the Third Company, and led by the King, the Steward, and one very determined small Knight of the Riddermark made their way down through the circles of the City.

From a balcony overlooking the Courtyard of the White Tree, Diamond, Estella and the Queen, now joined by Lady Éowyn, all watched them move out.

Diamond was feeling a bit calmer now that she could see that all these big Men, and Merry, were going to rescue her Pippin. Word had been sent to assure her that he was alive, and that they knew where he was. She wondered a bit as to how they had come by such information so quickly, but it never occurred to her to doubt it.

She sighed deeply, and tears gathered in her eyes yet again. How ever was she going to make this up to him, once he was safe in her arms once more?
______________________

Grinning in anticipation of the payoff of their scheme, Tiny and Slouch returned to the ruins of The Dirty Duck, talking of what they would do once they had their money.

Up the stairs, and unlocking the door, Tiny called out, “Little halfling, I have some food for you--” and then when the door swung open, he cursed. “Where’s he gone?”

For there was no sign of Pippin in the room. His sword was gone, he was gone! The window stood open, and the two Men rushed to it, wondering how their prisoner could have gone out from so high up.

And froze at the sound of a chill voice. “Gentlemen.”

Tiny swallowed. He could feel the prick of a sword point at the small of his back. The point moved away.

“Turn around,” Pippin said. “slowly.”

They did so, and found themselves looking into a pair of hard green eyes. Their former prisoner was holding his blade confidently, and did not look the least bit intimidated. In his left hand he held the ropes with which he had been bound.

Pippin moved the sword’s tip to the fat Man’s belly, and tossed the rope to the floor between him and Slouch. “You! Slouch! Take the rope and tie him up.”

“Where--where were you?” gasped Tiny.

“Under the bed, of course! You don’t think I’d be fool enough to go out a third floor window?”

Slouch bent over cautiously to pick up the rope, eyeing the hobbit suspiciously. He picked it up gingerly.

“I said ‘tie him up’.” Pippin repeated.

The smaller Man eyed his partner, and gulped. Then he looked at Pippin again. It suddenly occurred to him that they were in serious trouble. If they were tied up and turned over to the King…

In a panic, he threw the rope at Pippin.

Pippin batted it aside with his sword, and then backed up quickly as the Man lunged at him. “Don’t!” Pippin warned. “I’ve killed a troll with this sword!”

Slouch hesitated, but now Tiny moved to the side, trying to get away and behind the hobbit.

Pippin backed up, and for the first time a bit of apprehension showed in eyes. But before he could make up his mind to strike to kill, he heard the pounding of footsteps--many heavy footsteps, and the very welcome voice of his cousin calling “Pippin!”

“I’m here, Merry!” he yelled, and then there was his Strider, his King, bursting through the door, Anduril drawn, and Merry at his heels, his own sword out. Faramir was right behind, and others.

Slouch threw his hands up.

Tiny burst into tears.
_____________________

Many hours later, Pippin and Diamond were finally alone, in their chamber at the guesthouse.

The two rogues had been tied up and led off to gaol. Pippin, in spite of his declarations that he was not in the least hurt, only dirty and hungry, had been borne away in the arms of his King, who had insisted on examining him thoroughly. Merry had fussed over him until he thought he’d lose his temper, but finally he had been allowed to bathe--in the King’s own apartment, no less, and a servant had been sent to the guesthouse to fetch a change of clothing. The four hobbits had taken a late supper there, along with the King and Queen, and with Faramir and Éowyn. Diamond had very little to say, but she had clung to him tightly the whole time.

Pippin described the whole event for them. “I wasn’t really frightened. Those two were not really evil--after Ringwraiths, Orcs and renegade Wizards and Dark Lords, I think I might be a judge of evil. They are only dirty and lazy, and Tiny seemed rather obsessed with the idea of the inn he’d lost. I actually think they would have let me go when they got their money. From the way they talked this was the first time they’d ever tried anything like this.” He cast a sideways look at Aragorn as he spoke.

“If this is a roundabout way of asking me to spare the villains, Pippin, we shall have to wait until the matter comes to trial.” But Aragorn gave a half-smile and shook his head. Hobbits. But he’d not have them any other way.

Finally, when the two couples were well sated with food and drink, several Guardsmen escorted the four back to the guesthouse, and now, at last he and Diamond--alone.

Diamond looked at her husband, as he started to undress. “Pippin.”

“Yes, love?”

“I’m sorry I was so foolish last night.”

He gave her a lopsided grin. “Tooks are allowed to be foolish. It’s in the blood.” Braces hanging at his side, he went over and put his arms around her. “It’s quite all right. I had been neglecting you.” He gave her a little kiss on the forehead, and then smiled into her eyes.

“Those wretches never thought to search me, by the way, or they might just have robbed me and been done with it.” He reached into his pocket and drew forth his hand, opening it to her curious gaze.

A golden chain, with three pear-shaped diamonds suspended from it lay there. Stunned, she picked it up.

“It was meant to be a bracelet, I suppose, for some fine Lady of the Big Folk. But I think that it will look very nice around your lovely neck.” He bent and kissed the side of that neck, and then they were in one another’s arms.

And all was right with the world once more.





        

        

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