66. Bribery and Corruption
Smagnu wandered over to Trugba in the mess hall. "I hear'd you got a mission to go to Cirith Ungol."
"Yeah, they got 'nother one of them brats there by all accounts. Why? I hear'd you're collecting 'em. Fancy getting this one an all?" Trugba sniggered at him. There were few orcs in the Black Tower that would laugh at Smagnu, but Trugba was one of them.
"Mebbe I do," Smagnu gave the not so obvious answer. "What'll it take to get you to swap duties?"
"Depends." Trugba eyed him suspiciously. "What you up to. If it's anything that'll get me in trouble, I ain't interested."
"Naw, no trouble. I already checked with the Captain and he said we could swap if you agreed." Smagnu was pretty certain he had Trugba's price in mithril coins alone. "I fancy taking a look at that spider, Her Ladyship they calls her, reckon I could make m'self a nice spider-hide jacket."
"Oho that'd be worth seeing." Trugba laughed out loud now. "Tell you what, you bring me back her hide and we'd call that payment for the swap."
"Perhaps I got something better than that." Smagnu did not really want the added problem of having to battle a giant spider that had already killed countless orcs. "Coins - pure mithril."
"Oh yeah?" Trugba was very interested now. "Where'd you steal them, then?"
"Didn't steal 'em." Smagnu grabbed the other's arm and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "My imps magicked 'em!"
"Oh really?" Trugba wanted some proof first. "How many you got then?"
"Never you mind that." Smagnu knew how to drive a bargain. "I'll give you five now and five when I get back from the mission."
"What if'n you never come back?"
"All right, I'll give you five now and five just as I'm leaving, can't say fairer than that." Smagnu could see he had a deal.
The other Uruk spat into his hand and offered it to Smagnu and the two shook. "Let's see the colour of your money then," Trugba demanded. Smagnu turned himself to the wall for secrecy and drew out five of the precious coins, stowing the remainder away before he turned back to Trugba with his bribe.
The deal was done and Smagnu was due to leave that night. He knew it was against his better judgement but something wouldn't stop gnawing at his brain. He didn't know it yet but the Uruk was evolving a conscience.
He spent another two of Pip's coins in the supply store getting black market provisions for his little Pips, he knew how they liked to eat. A further three went in bribes to the stable orc to ensure he got the best horse available and not some broken down nag. Three more were spent in securing extra clothing for the pair, who were both rather dirty and Pip was especially smelly and would not in any case be warm enough as they were.
That left twelve coins, which he could still use should he need to pay any further bribes such as to the jailer or Grutfley and if not, well he would have twelve coins more than he started the day with. All he had to do now was think of a way to get the two out of the Black Tower. It was quite a while now since he had left them. He had better get back and rescue them before the Nazgûl returned.
Merry felt for the fourth of Pip's bottles of poppy juice. He had swallowed almost two now and Pippin, he reckoned, had downed three. His little body had stopped moving and Merry could no longer feel a heartbeat.
But he had promised Pip that he would make certain he was dead before finishing himself off. With trembling hands he traced the outline of Pippin's mouth and lifted the fourth bottle up to the unmoving lips.
'No! Pippin!' The voice screamed in Merry's head.
'legolas? you too late, pip goned now and i got go with he'
'Merry! You must not do this! Please stop! Make Pippin sick. Massage his heart. Don't let him die!'
'we got go die… legolas… please stop talk at i…'
'It is not right or just, that you two should take your lives! Please stop! What are you doing now? Merry answer me!'
'i…i gone give pip last bit poppy… then i taked mines…'
'NO! Stop now! Put your fingers in Pippin's throat. Please don't die. I know you think it is the right thing, but in my heart I know it is wrong!'
Merry was certain that the option they had chosen was the right one but Legolas's cry for him to stop stayed his hand just for a few precious moments. He hesitated briefly and as he did, the cell door swung open with a noisy creak. In the tension of the moment Merry was startled and dropped the bottle with a clatter.
"Wassat you got there?" The jailer had come in to take a look at his charges and held his torch up higher to see what had made the noise. At first he thought the smaller imp was sleeping in the other's arms, they were both snuggled up closely and looked very comfortable. But, as he bent to pick up the fallen bottle and saw what it was, he also spied the other empty and full bottles on and around the cot.
"Gripper!" He shouted. "Come and take a look at what your imps is up to."
Grutfley snarled and slouched into the cell. "What the fug!" He saw the poppy juice bottles and the comatose Pip and the sleepy new Pip cradling him in his arms. "Come 'ere you." He roughly snatched Pippin from Merry's comforting embrace. "Number One'll have my fugging hide if owt happens to you two. Fug me! What have you done?"
The orc was in a total panic now. He began shaking Pippin and then thumping him on the back and front.
"Leave him! Stop it… please!" Merry was anguished at the sudden removal of Pippin's lifeless little body, the noises he could hear and his own sleepy inability to rise up off the cot. "Don't please don't…"
"Doncha hafta make it sick or summat?" The jailer asked helpfully. "thass what I hear'd. I got some soap, that'd make it sick."
"Well don't just stand there," Grutfley snarled, "go and get it!"
Grutfley stopped shaking and hitting little Pip for a moment and lifted the lifeless body up to his ear, listening for a heartbeat. His own heart was pumping nineteen to the dozen as he thought of the retribution that would be meted out to him by the Wraith for letting these creatures die before he had questioned them.
He waited… waiting…wait… a pulse… a beat…
The merest flicker of life trickled to Grutfley's ear. Without waiting for the jailer, he bent Pip forward and stuck two fingers brutally down his throat, holding them there until the little one finally retched and vomited.
As the jailer came in with a potion he had mixed of soap, salt and water, Grutfley seized it and, turning Pip over, poured the concoction down his throat, almost drowning him in the process. He turned him back over and started shaking and massaging him again and then reapplied the fingers to the little one's throat. Pippin retched and retched this time and, now that there was something more to bring up, vomited again.
"See if you can get him awake," he ordered the bemused jailer. "I'll start on the other one."
As the jailer held Pippin up and slapped his face around trying to get him to respond, Grutfley started work on Merry who had finally made it off the cot and was crawling across the cell towards the commotion. He was force-fed the vile soap and salt water mixture and Grutfley held his head over the bucket as he pushed his fingers into struggling hobbit's throat and made him relinquish much of the poppy juice he had swallowed.
"Don't you dare fugging die on me." Grutfley shouted angrily. "How'd you get hold of all that stuff anyway?" He pulled Merry's head up by his hair and holding his nose poured more of the emetic down the unwilling throat. "Oh I know! Would you like to get some more mithril? How's about some more whiskey and cheese? Youse two was just after this bleeding poppy poison all the time! You little puke-brats!"
It was just as Pippin finally responded by weakly lifting up his arm to try and ward the jailer off from slapping him again that Smagnu arrived to find the mayhem in the cell. "What the fugging… ? What happened?"
"They tried to kill 'emselves." Grutfley shook Merry like a terrier with a rat. "Get us into trouble with the Number One an' all."
"Let me see!" Smagnu picked little Pip up and wiped his face with the corner of his cloak. "What you been doing little Pip? Why'd you do a thing like that?" Smagnu stood Pippin on his feet, trying to balance him into standing on his own, like a child with a toy soldier that was broken.
Pippin fell over and Smagnu picked him up again, holding him in place this time by the waistband of his breeches. "Give me the other one!" Smagnu demanded and Grutfley picked Merry up and set him on the floor next to Pip. The big Uruk balanced him against Pippin.
"Do you think they've been sick enough?" Smagnu asked peering at them critically. "How much d'you think they had?"
"Ask new Pip." Grutfley suggested, "he must know."
"How much new Pip?" Smagnu lifted Merry's chin up so that his blind gaze was directed into the big Uruk's face. "Tell me how many bottles did you drink?"
"I-I don't w-want you t-to save us." Merry stammered, hot tears starting to form in his unseeing eyes. "It-it w-wasn't meant t-to b-be like th-this."
Smagnu looked up at the jailer and Grutfley, daring them to challenge him. "I'm taking them up to the courtyard. Get them some fresh air, bring 'em round a bit." With that he scooped both the hobbits up into his big arms and carried them out of the dungeon.
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