"Merry! Listen to me!" Gandalf shook the sobbing little form, the only result being to intersperse the sobs with hiccups. "Meriadoc! Stop that at once!"
The sobs reduced slightly to sniffs and hiccups. "I-I'm s-s-s-sor…" Merry could not get the words out yet.
"It's all right," Gandalf let go of Merry's shoulders and pulled him into a comforting embrace. "But you have to tell me what happened."
"Gandalf, Let's take him inside at least." Aragorn understood the wizard's anxiety, but Merry was too distressed at the moment to make any sense." Without waiting for an answer, the ranger took the blind hobbit from Gandalf's arms and lifted him over his shoulder. Merry made no protest but let himself be carried back into the castle. The rest followed behind.
They took Merry to the great hall where Théoden and Éowyn were anxiously awaiting news. Éomer was about other business, the men were still preparing to ride the following morning.
Gradually, Aragorn and Éowyn coaxed Merry's story from him. Gandalf sat listening, not too sure of his patience at the moment. Of course Merry did not know all that had happened, but the ranger pieced together Pippin's role in the misadventure. He rightly guessed that the little hobbit had been searching his bag for poppy paste and had accidentally touched the palantír.
"We must not blame Peregrin then." Gandalf put in, "He was already enthralled by it, after his exposure to it forced by Saruman. Once he touched it again, he would have been quite powerless to resist its call."
"Where is it now I wonder?" Legolas asked. "Do you think Pippin still has it?"
"No, it was lying on the battlements." Aragorn told him. He had found the glass globe as soon as the wraith had left and wrapped and secreted it back in the bag slung at his side. "I may have to use it now sooner than I had anticipated."
"Have a care." Gandalf warned. "Do not be forced into making a move by this turn of events. It may be part of Sauron's strategy."
"I am a cautious person Gandalf, you know me well enough to know that." Aragorn gave a guilty half smile to the wizard. "Certainly in matters of strategy, although I seem to have made mistakes with regard to hobbits of late." He then turned back to Merry, prompting him gently to finish his tale.
All of course were horrified, although not totally surprised, to learn of Grima's treachery. "I will have that man's blood." Théoden swore. "Éowyn, sister-daughter, I leave it to your charge to send out word for his immediate arrest."
"I suspect he is long away from here, My Lord," she sighed. Éowyn had her own reasons to be glad of the man's fall from favour. He had long desired her and would have wed her if he could have devised some means to find grace in the eyes of the King.
"But how can you be sure the wraith took Pippin?" Gimli asked. "I did not see him. Perhaps he is still hiding in the castle somewhere."
"No." Merry gulped his tears back. "I saw him."
"I know, but wh-when he, the wr-raith, h-held P-pip, I c-could see him. I-I think h-his cloak was over Pip, but I couldn't see the c-cloak, j-just a shadow of it. I could s-s-see Pippin clear as clear. Honestly, honest… it w-was…all my w-wishes come true in th-the m-most t-terrible…" Merry stopped as his tears started to fall again.
The Fellowship were lost for words, stunned by the revelation of the horror both hobbits had suffered.
"But what is to be done now? What if the wraith should return for him? Where will Merry go?" Éowyn broke the silence.
"That is indeed a difficult choice." Gandalf shook his head with indecision. "If he were to ride with me to Gondor, at least I can protect him from the Nazgûl."
"But I-I don't want p-protecting!" Merry stammered. "I w-wish I-I could've b-been taken with P-Pip. I-if he c-comes back I-I'll j-just stand th-there and…"
"Which is precisely why you do need protecting!" Gandalf drew a deep breath and checked his anger. He pulled himself down to Merry's face level and took his hand. "Understand Merry, it is not just for you and Pippin I fear. The whole of the war, and the Quest in particular, could be endangered by you two being in Sauron's hands. Why do you think he wants you both so badly?"
Merry shook his head, "I d-don't know, I never really thought. F-for information I s-suppose."
"Yes, that's exactly it." Gandalf noticed Merry's emotional stammer was lessening. "It is dire that he has taken Pippin, but then again Pippin cannot actually speak or hear and we know from Legolas's mind conversations and yours and mine, that Pip is a very muddled thinker telepathically, he will prove difficult for Sauron to make any sense of – or it is to be hoped."
"But won't he k-kill him or t-torture him when he f-finds n-nothing out?" Merry was still sobbing slightly.
"I don't know Meriadoc, but you have to be brave for him." Gandalf stood up and patted Merry on the shoulder.
Aragorn moved over to Gandalf to whisper urgently. "Should he not leave here tonight? It is imperative that he not stay in the vicinity or else the wraith may return for him."
"Yes." Gandalf agreed. "I will take him with me and ride ahead to Dunharrow. I will meet with you there before we take separate roads."
"Wait." Éowyn put her hand on Merry's arm. "The little one needs to be better clad to ride into the night. Give me a short while and I will find him a more fitting array." She bent down and whispered in Merry's ear. "One fit for the warrior I know you are."
"Is it truly wise to make the little one ride off into the night again?" Théoden was concerned for all Merry had been through lately. "It would seem dangerous for him and for you Gandalf."
"No Gandalf you must take him tonight." Aragorn said. "It is too dangerous for him to remain here."
"But this is too much for any hobbit to tolerate." Gimli added his voice to the discussion.
"I don't w-want…" Merry began.
Everyone suddenly seemed to be talking at once, arguing, voices and tempers rising.
"Stop! Quiet…" Legolas, having shouted above the noise, put his hands to his ears. Everyone became silent, so rare was it for the elf to raise his voice. "…I hear something. It's very faint, a tiny whisper of sound."
"Is it…?" Merry hardly dared ask. He did and yet did not want to know the answer.
"Yes. He's very…" Legolas broke off looking at Merry's anxious face.
"Wh-what?" Merry wrung his hands together.
Legolas did not want to repeat the exact words. 'legolas! i too 'fraid – hurted – please go help i – sorry i bad, legolas where you? please where merry, please, please, sorry, no hurt i 'gain! nooo! aiiieeeee!'
Then it stopped.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.