68. Friend or Foe
Smagnu hefted the two drawstring sacks over his shoulder and hurried towards the stables of the Dark Tower. He was carrying most of the food and the extra clothing he had acquired for the hobbits as it would have been difficult for them to haul it through the tunnel and their new, dry clothing would have got smelly and wet again. They had instead been forced to re-don their wet breeches and, shivering and carrying their shirts, started the journey underground. They planned to meet up with Smagnu by following the wall of the tower around until they came in sight of the guard tower and then turning parallel with the road until they came to a pointed rock balanced on two other rocks.
As the Uruk neared the underground stable he could see his mount ready and waiting, a good saddle and bridle had been provided, courtesy of the mithril coins and the horse looked fresh and lively.
Smagnu was expecting to meet Trugba here as he would want his final payment, although he may have delegated the collection of the bribe to the guards or the stable hand, no one in their right mind would cheat the big orc. As he passed hurriedly along the dark passageway, he suddenly felt a hand shoot out and grab his neck from behind and at the same time a knife was held into his back, poised to pierce if he moved too quickly.
When the Nazgûl wail sounded through the corridors, Merry had grasped Pippin's hand, half in fear, half in protection. "We'd better go now!" He whispered urgently to Smagnu.
"Yes, yes! Hurry!" The Uruk gave Merry the directions of where to meet him and told him to make sure he and little Pip were well hidden while they waited.
'we got go fast fast now pip…'
'…what happ merr?'
'…wraith make big noise… think know we goned…'
Pippin still had hold of Merry's hand and pulled him back into the little tunnel, deserting his cousin for a second as he scrambled back out to hug Smagnu's leg once more, before scurrying into the darkness.
Although it was too dark for Pippin to see, he was familiar enough with the tunnel now and went ahead of Merry, albeit slowly and, feeling his way, warning his cousin of hazards.
'sharp rock comes…'
'…littlel dip bit now…'
'…roof go low…'
'…light come now merr…'
'…was… see littlel light now… got go stop here…'
'…why go stop?'
'… get more mith pennies…. they all be here…'
'… you got more pip!'
'…got… wait i get now…'
Pippin fished out his little bundle of remaining coins and untied the cloth so that he could remove the rock. He had learned from Strider in the first part of their journey that stones, no matter how interesting, were not a good thing to carry around when you had a long way to go.
'…gotted all… we go now…'
'…is long more?'
'…is…but is water…is mud… is stinks… we taked legs clothes go off… keep cleaned…'
They journeyed on into the water, having first removed their breeches and bundled them up with the shirts, Merry's jerkin and Smagnu's cloak. At least that way Pippin reasoned they could wipe themselves down with grass or perhaps find some clean water and their clothes would not smell so bad.
They finally emerged outside the tunnel and Pippin was pleased to find it was at least mirky daylight. There was a little shelf just inside the tunnel but out of the water and they hid there for the moment. Pippin cleaned Merry down with handfuls of scrubby coarse grass that he found, then helped him into the still damp clothes, before giving himself the same treatment. They sat shivering and resting from their toil, both still rather drugged and disorientated.
'…how much more pennies you gotted pip?'
'… lot, lot… 'bout how old i…'
'…you get be like bilbo…bring drag's treasses back…'
'…thinks we getted back mer?'
'…got think pip…'
'…we near, near go dead last times…'
'…how you be now pip? you feeled bettrer now?'
'…feel sicked - not know if you or if i…'
'…i not tell which who is…you go head hurted? or i go head hurted?'
'…same and same…now…'
'… pip…think we got go now?'
Merry was getting anxious about meeting Smagnu and wanted to make sure they were in the appointed place in good time.
'…look and look first merr… sure we go safe…sure no get wraith!'
Pippin poked his head out once more, but as he did so a terrible shadow covered the rocks that made up most of the landscape before them. At first Pippin thought it could have been a cloud, but soon realised it was travelling much too quickly for that. He jumped as Merry, flailing for him, reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling urgently.
'heared wraith noise, get hided pip… where you are?'
'…i here… we hided good merr… not can see we…'
'BUT I HEAR YOU NOW!'
Pippin scurried into Merry's arms in terror. His cousin huddled into him, equally afraid, expecting at any moment the Nazgûl to fly down and pluck them both up and rip their secrets from them as it devoured them with its mind and being.
'YOU CANNOT EVADE ME - I SEE YOUR MINDS - THEY ARE ONE WITH ME. I KNOW YOUR PLANS. YOU WILL REVEAL YOURSELVES! SHOW ME!'
Both hobbits fell mentally silent, afraid for the moment to mind speak to each other for fear of revealing themselves to the Nazgûl. But they both felt the despair and dread that it sent into their minds like a black shadow. After a while, as the feeling of terror lessened, Pippin slowly peered out and up again and saw that the shadow had passed. He went a little further out and craned his neck around, scanning the sky and horizon but seeing nothing more threatening than the loom of the Dark Tower itself and the ominous glow of Mount Doom away in the far distance.
Still not speaking he went back and took Merry's hand and pulled him out of the tunnel. Pippin had decided it was now or never. They had to try and reach their rendezvous or perhaps the Wraith would set other orcs to scour the outside walls until they were found.
Keeping close to the walls of the tower they made their way round until in sight of the guard tower. Pippin stopped and took a careful look around again. Had the Nazgûl flown off or was it waiting for them to break cover, perhaps watching from the top of the Dark Tower. Maybe the other wraiths would pursue them, although it always seemed to be the one that took them. Maybe because they were somehow linked to it from the curse Saruman had laid on them.
Merry reached for Pippin's hand and holding it palm upwards wrote '?'
Pippin responded by making two circles with his fingers and thumbs and placed them over Merry's eyes, turning his cousin's head around as if surveying the landscape. Merry understood at once and waited.
They still had Smagnu's big cloak and Pippin looked at it now thoughtfully. He had carried it through the tunnel along with his own clothes and his little stash of mithril. It had been dragged through the filthy water and was now very mucky and stained, the black camouflaged with big splatters of brown mud. It blended very well with the rocks and scorched earth they now stood on.
Carefully, Pippin worked it out. He pulled Merry close in behind him, placing his hands on his hips, making it clear he had to hold on and follow. Then he managed to drape the cloak over their heads, covering them completely, except for a little spy-hole he kept open at the front.
Pippin took a few tentative steps forward and then kicked backwards striking Merry on the shin. At the same time he dropped like a stone to the ground, clutching Merry's hands to his hips, making sure he followed him. That was just a practice. He repeated the exercise and the next time Merry crouched to the ground as quickly as he had.
Slowly, slowly they made their way across the open ground. Several times as Pippin thought it had grown suddenly dark, they dropped and lay still for many minutes and once more when Merry thought he heard something and he kicked forwards.
Finally they reached the appointed place and, still covered by the big cloak, they sat down to wait. They wrapped their arms around each other, too scared to speak in case the Wraith heard them again and too cold to move much, trying to leach warmth into one another.
Suddenly, Merry heard the sound of horses' hooves approaching, but his heart nearly stopped as he realised the sound must come from more than one animal. He shook Pippin so that he would take a look.
Pippin peered out and he too shot back inside the cloak in fear when he saw two horsemen bearing down on them.
The horses stopped and Merry heard one rider dismount, he held his breath, certain they were about to be discovered and taken back to the Dark Tower, the dungeon and the Wraith.
Smagnu kept very still, waiting to find out who his assailant was, measuring his strength, taking his time.
"What the fug have you done with 'em?" It was Grutfley. "I'm on the bleedin' run now, only just escaped with my life as it was."
"Steady friend." Smagnu did not really regard Grutfley as a partner, let alone a friend, but he appeared to have the upper hand at the moment. "They got away from me, you know what little imps they can be."
"You let 'em go - dincha?" Grutfley tightened his grip on Smagnu's throat and pressed the knife a little harder. "What the fug am I supposed to do now?"
"You can take that knife outa my back for a start." Smagnu suggested. "What would you gain by killing me?"
"Some fugging satisfaction," the smaller orc was exceptionally angry, even for an orc. "you, pus-ball, fugging off and leaving me to take the blame."
"I didn't know when Number One would be back." Smagnu could feel Grutfley easing his tense hold a little as they exchanged pleasantries. "I meant to bring 'em back, then it was too late."
"Yeah! right you did, I... aiiieee!"
Smagnu had lurched forward to avoid the knife at the same time bringing his heel down on the arch of Grutley's foot. Without waiting for the orc to recover, he followed up with an elbow to the cheekbone and then spun round, with the bags fending off the knife, as he brought his fist firmly into Grutfley's stomach, flooring the smaller orc relatively quickly and quietly.
Smagnu followed his adversary to the ground, pinning him down and pulling his own knife as he did, pushing it up against Grutfley's neck. "Don't you ever threaten me again! D'yer hear, yer scumbag?"
"Right! right I din't mean nothin'… I just needed to get 'em back." Grutfley realised Smagnu was more than a match for him. "Don't do nothin'… I thought Number One was gonna have us both… and I just…I knew you was off on this mission and I- I…"
Smagnu drew back from the frightened orc. It would have been just as easy to cut this snivelling coward's throat and have done with him, but the Uruk considered for a moment. He had very few allies himself now and at least Grutfley was in the same hole. Also he had left him to carry the can, so it was understandable that he was trying to retrieve the little Pips to save his own skin.
"Chances are Number One'll have both our hides anyway now." Smagnu re-sheathed his knife. "Even if we take 'em back. I'm gonna take 'em with me to Cirith Ungol and then I'll see what I'll do. Maybe set off somewhere else, maybe join one of the battalions out at the front, or p'raps something else'll come up."
Grutfley struggled his wide frame off the ground, keeping his eyes on Smagnu the whole time. This was the longest speech he had ever heard the Uruk make and the strangest. "So what'll I do?" He ventured.
"Yer could come with us, if yer wanted." Smagnu offered, "I got enough loot to bribe you a nag, can you ride?"
"Yeah I can ride." Grutfley looked at the Uruk even more suspiciously now. "What's the catch?"
"Nothing, you watch my back and I'll watch yours." Smagnu suggested. "You take one of the Pips to ride with you and I'll take t'other. No tricks, no double-crossing, we help each other."
"All right…" Grutfley, still suspiciously, took the hand Smagnu offered. "Where're the Pips stashed?"
"Yeah, you'll find out once we're out of here." Smagnu narrowed his eyes. "I'll let you know when I trusts you that much."
The hobbits both stayed under the cloak, scarcely breathing, clinging tightly to each other, hoping that the orc scouts, probably sent by the Wraith, would not see them.
"Little Pips? Are you here?" Smagnu's voice.
Merry's breath exhaled in relief and Pippin felt the hot sigh on his neck. "We're here Mr Smagnu," he called and pulled the cloak off, getting tangled up in the process. As soon as Pippin saw it was Smagnu he threw caution to the wind and ran to him in relief. The big Uruk picked him up and then fetched Merry, taking him by the hand and leading him over to the horses. He also retrieved his soiled but invaluable cloak.
"Grutfley has decided to come with us." Smagnu stated simply. "You ride with him new little Pip and little Pip can ride with me."
"C-can we put some dry things on first?" Merry's teeth were chattering with the cold and Pip was shivering too.
"Of course, quickly though." Smagnu took the bag with the clothes off the horse and helped Merry dress while Pip delved through the supply sorting out his own things. They each had a pair of coarse thick breeches and a shirt. Merry still had his leather jerkin and added a short thick cloak and Pippin found a woolly coat. They stored the wet dirty things in the bag for possible use later.
Merry was handed up to Grutfley and Smagnu threw Pippin up on to his horse and climbed up behind him. Both the orcs then covered the hobbits with their cloaks, Smagnu's a new clean one gleaned from the stores when he was outfitting the hobbits.
"Mr Smagnu," Merry began, then remembered he was not with the Uruk, but the other orc, what was his name? Grumpfly? Something like that. "Mr. Grumpfly? Thank you for taking us, will you get into very bad trouble?"
"Yeah - but don't you worry 'bout that now." Grutfley didn't bother to correct the name mistake, it was an improvement on 'Gripper' and it was a long time since anyone had called him 'Mister'. "Me 'n Smagnu'll see you safely on yer way."
Merry held on tightly to Grutfley's big hands, the long orc arms encompassing the hobbit and keeping him in place on the horse. "But the Wraith he is after us still. You know that."
"I knowed he was after yer and me an' Smagnu now as well." Grutfley snorted. "But even he can't be everywhere and we're leaving Barad-dûr."
Grutfley could hardly believe what he had just said and muttered it under his breath again just to be sure. "We're leaving Barad-dûr!"
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.