Note: This was something that had been floating around in my head for a while, and I just had to write it out! It's nothing serious, but I thought that I should try something a bit scarier as practice for

"Two Lads and a Lass: Part Two". Well, someone give me some feedback so I know if this is something that would go well in future stories. This is definitely not something like I would write ha-ha, I know a lot of you people who know me are going to poke a great bit of fun at me for writing something so, and oh I don't know, alarming? Really, I had to literally bind myself to the computer and wrench the words out of my brain. Like I said, this is not like me, but oh well. Oh, and this is not really gone over thoroughly for grammar errors. Pardon me if you run across any, though I doubt there will be any. Katie, I hope you read this and I know you're not going to like it, yes I KNOW it's stupid. Donke!

The wind stirred Merry's newly-cut curls as he trotted down the road that led to Brockenborings . . . the place that he had heard was the most ruthless in their treatment of hobbits. These Men still had to be dealt with, as a few of them had stubbornly staid put. His heart skipped a beat; he should have brought along Pippin and some armed Tooks. But no! He had been so completely stubborn in wanting to go alone that Peregrin had to give in. After all, they must have got wind of the battle by now, and were afraid. "Merry, you'll kill yourself." Pippin had said seriously. Yet all that the resolved Brandybuck would say was, "Ruffians? You know me. I can take care of myself." "Yes, but can you take care of someone else at the same time? It isn't boldness that makes them hesitate on attack; it's numbers. You're going to need someone on your back if you plan on waltzing into the most dangerous part of the Shire." Pippin firmly had stated, not wanting to lose his best friend because of a rash decision.

"I'll be fine, Pip. Just see that things stay good here in Buckland, and I shall be back with her before you can blink. Oh, and don't worry, I'll not steal all of the glory.

All I'm going for is Es'."

Yet now Merry could almost sense that a threat was lurking nearby. It was this sixth sense that he had had ever since Aragorn had saved him from death. As his mind was wandering that day, he also remembered back to that fateful time, only recalling shadows and faint voices surrounding his bed . . . Going in and out of terrifying dreams to actually seeing himself as from one of the onlookers eyes, it was all so far away. First it was an orc; hideous with fangs dripping with crimson. It was wounded, but inching its way over to the fallen Eówyn . . . no! He had to stop the vile creature from sinking those teeth into her. He couldn't move an inch, only watch; only watch her suffer a cold and violent end. His waking dream slowly and painfully faded away to a misty stone room, filled with anxious people, all keeping a distance from the person on the bed. It was a hobbit, yes, a hobbit, but sick. His face and chest were soaked in perspiration, and he tossed and turned his horrified face from side to side. Yet there was another little hobbit, he looked so very familiar, by the sick one. He took the other's hand in his, gently putting it to his lips. Soon he was softly told by another familiar person that he was now on duty.

Merry stopped his thinking, as it only brought tears to his eyes, which he wiped angrily away with back of his arm, realizing too late that he had his stiff armguards on. "Blast this armor!" he shouted, "Can't a hobbit come home and slip on a blouse in peace, without having to worry about being ambushed on the road to Brockenborings?" Ironically, a hulking Big Person stepped out onto the road, blocking Merry's path. "Going somewhere, pretty boy?" he asked, fingering the cruel-looking whip that he clutched in his hand. Merry rose in the saddle. "Yes." He now answered loudly, setting his hand in the hilt of his sword, loosening it from the scabbard. "I am going to the town of Brockenborings. And I will deal with you if I must. Now clear the way and be gone from the Shire! Your kind is dead."

There were suddenly flying sparks, and then he knew no more.

"What? Another trip? Away? When?"

"Oh, next week or something."

"Will it be very long?"

"I . . . I don't know. It could be long."

"But you just got back from Bree! Can it wait any longer?"

"I'm afraid not. It's sort of necessary. Oh, and rather hush-hush. You understand."

"I'm afraid not."

"Please understand then! You need to."

"What is that supposed to mean? I need to?"

"Well, yes!"

"You're always away!"

"Because I like to be away."

"Then you can stay away!"

"Wait! Es'! No . . . I, I didn't mean . . ."

"Es' . . . Estella . . ." Merry stirred awake, regretting it as soon as he did. The ache in his head sent the world around him reeling topsy-turvy. "Where am I?" He groaned, sitting up as best he could. "Shut up!" a vicious kick sent him sprawling on his face. Routinely Merry tried to reach for his sword, yet his hands were bound behind his back, and his sword was gone anyways. "Leave 'em be!" another voice shot out through the musk, "He needs to be all the way alive for the whipping." Whipping! So that's what these . . . these filthy ruffians had in store for him. Didn't they know that their head was gone, killed, destroyed? "You can kill me if you want, but there are others who are coming to wipe your kind out for good! So don't get any ideas." Merry defiantly said, spitting the blood that the kick had gave him out of his mouth. He had just noticed that he was in a barn. It didn't look like one of the ugly brick houses that the Men had built; it smelled of sweet, musty hay and saddle-grease.

Long, roughly cut pine trunks made up the rafters and sides, and he could barely make out an enormous hay pile in the corner. And then it dawned on him. This was the Bolger's barn! He could have known it anywhere. A sudden stream of yellow light smote him in the face as the barn door was thrown open. "I've the whole town gathered at the post." a slit-eyed ruffian sneered. "Up on your feet, ya upstart!" Merry was hauled to his feet, dizzy though he was. He was marched outside, and the light was brilliant after the darkness of the barn. As soon as he stopped blinking, Merry's breath caught in his throat, for he viewed an indeed sad scene. There was the Bolger residence burnt from the inside out, the grassy bank that once served as a roof caved in with the support beams. "No!" he cried out, struggling with his bonds. "Quiet!" A Man cuffed the side of his head without leniency. Thoughts of Estella being burned alive raced through Merry's mind, and he felt a great grief come over him.

"No . . . she can't have been." He reassured himself in a whisper. After minutes of marching, they came at last to Brockenboring's desolated square, where once had been bustle and life. Around a hundred hobbits gathered around a wooden pole, straight and tall in the midst of the little people. Merry was shoved through the crowd to the post. He recognized many faces, yet none would look at him directly. All of the ruffians drew forth long knives and gathered in a circle around Merry. "So, are you going to skip to the killing?" Merry asked with heat, gazing with grimness at the leader of the group, who had been his primary escort. "No, little show-off, we'll set you ta rights before we do away with you. Now take all of that fancy armor off, 'cause we can't." the leader commanded, taking his knife from his belt and slitting his captive's bonds. "What if I said no?" Merry asked sarcastically, earning a cuff.

I had better just do as they say! My chances are better in trying to stir the crowd up than getting beat unconscious.

"As you wish. Yet you might as well know that the lot of you are fools, and that a brigade of hobbitry is on their way here right now. Yet I shall receive my punishment with pleasure." With that being said, he proceeded to remove his breastplate, jerkin, armguards, tunic and undershirt until he was stripped to the waist. This was completely discomfiting for a hobbit, as they were a respectable breed, and made the young traveler uncomfortable. That was not what was on his mind, though. All he could think about was the lashes to come, painful and stinging on soft, bare skin. "Tie 'em up!" one of the Men shouted. Merry was faced to the pole, and his hands were hoisted above his head and strung up tight. The crowd tittered nervously as the lead ruffian whispered something to one of his men, who then produced a stronger whip than the one Merry had seen.

The leader made a short speech. "This hobbit has broken numerous rules; too many to count! But most, he's started uprisings in the land, punishable by flogging! If any one of you little brats decides to play this same game, then you'll get the same! Understand?" Merry could hear his own heavy breath with how quiet the crowd had become. He braced himself. He tried to think about how worse the Black Breath was, and how this would only be pain for a moment, how this was somehow for Estella. Abruptly, there was the whistle of the whip and the hobbits' deep gasp and . . . SMACK! It came down with precision and force, smiting its target hard. A cry escaped Merry's lips as the stinging thrust of pain shot up through every sinew in his back and neck. Clutching at the ropes that bound him, he closed his eyes hard just in time for the next blow to leave a raised whelp across his back. "Mm!" he grunted, blowing out a short breath.

That Peregrin had better be along soo-

His thoughts were bashed out of his brain by the next nasty lash, a full-forced Man lash. It was true that Merry was tall for a hobbit and had a stronger back than most, but he was still a little over half the size of Men; Men that could kill a hobbit like this if they weren't careful. The whipping went on slowly, sometimes Merry could hear the antagonizing jeers of the ruffians, asking him if he wasn't enjoying this, or inquiring if he had had enough yet. To this the rider of the Rohirrim only answered with a curse and a scowl. Every thrash sent the multitude of hobbits into gasps. The world began to blur before the hobbit's eyes, and he could now feel that the whelps were beginning to trickle blood. He looked down at the waist of his trousers, seeing the red dampness gathering there.

I shall certainly faint! He assumed, still trying to keep his head up straight and tall; at least Théoden would have been proud of him.


The tiring ruffian brandishing the whip had missed his mark, and the stroke had landed on the side of Merry's face, leaving a flaming red line on his cheek. "One more like that an' he should learn 'emself!" the Man laughed, wiping his brow, getting ready to swing again. Merry was gasping for breath, yet he managed the remark, "One more like that and I should discover that you don't have a knack with a whip! I've . . . I've seen Orcs do better." The Man's face flushed with anger. "Turn 'em about!" he yelled to his lot, "He ain't learning yet!"

"Now why did I say that . . ." the Brandybuck muttered, on the very brink of passing out. Two Men came and roughly jerked him around so that he was facing the Men and the crowd of hobbits. Through his staggering vision he could make out the faces of scared yet angry hobbits.

Yes! They were angry, and perhaps he could get them going. SMACK! The whip came down onto his chest, making him double over as far as the bonds would let him. No . . . trying to raise the hobbits would only make things worse for him. Yet what was that good quality that he had always had? You have to do what's right, even if you yourself don't want to do it. Even if nobody else wants you to do it. It doesn't change what the right thing is. Flog after flog, three, four, six. "Enough!" Merry finally cried out breathlessly after a particularly wicked stroke. The Man before his eyes grew dim . . . "Enough!" He thought he heard his words echoed, although it sounded much stronger. "Stop! Stop!" There it was, that strident voice rising over the taunts of the Big People. What was that? Something small, smaller than him, was up against him, tightly clutching him. This was very curious indeed, but he was beginning to lose consciousness.

"Get out a' the way!" He heard a Man shout, "Or I'll give it to ya too!" Merry could sense familiar-feeling hands gently fingering the red mark on his face.

"I said to move, ya dumb ox!"

Everything was pitching around with pain and ache in Merry's head, but he could still feel small, smooth hands on his face . . . no! They were being pulled away. "No, no, no! Let me, let me stay by him! Please! Please, I'll, I'll take it instead." the sobbing voice cried out. Merry could hear the hoots and hollers of the Men. This obviously had amused them; a hobbit, no, a hobbit lass, asking to take this penalty from the upriser! Merry saw a blur lean over him, there was a slicing sound, and then his wrists were free. He sunk to the ground, hardly even conscious of his pain. "It's going to be alright now; it's going to be alright." He heard that familiar voice saying close to his ear.

"It's Estella, Merry. I'm here. You won't be hurt anymore, I promise."

Then it all came crashing down him. The full realization of what was happening. Sure, he had found Estella alright, and now she was probably going to die for entertainment for a bunch of invaders of the Shire. And why? Because he hadn't been paying attention, that's why. A whole lot of good he had done. Merry surprised himself by reaching out and forcefully clutching Estella's arm. "I can take what's left of it, Es'. D-don't you even dare think about doing this." he whispered faintly. Merry could now see her clearly for the first time since he had left. She had hair cut up to the middle of her neck, and her gaunt face was streaked with grime cut though by tears and covered in scrapes. Yet those same enormous dark eyes gazed out from her thin face, just as compassionate as they were a year ago. Before the Men hauled her away, Estella had time to choke out, "You died once. You're not going to do it again."

"Estella . . ." Merry groaned, reaching a feeble hand out towards her at the sound of her cries, for the Big People were handling her to the roughest extent. Merry watched the Men tie her hands above her head as she stood there stoutly awaiting the first blow, just as he had done. And all Merry could do was lie there like a slug, struggling with swooning. The Man had raised his arm . . . Estella grit her teeth . . . Merry bit into his lip . . . and Pippin yelled Stop. Merry raised his head, swearing about the belatedness of Tooks. "I said ENOUGH." Peregrin again bellowed, this time dismounting his pony and unsheathing his sword with a flash of cold steel. His armor glinted with the zenith of the sun, and his face was set hard. By this time at least twenty other hobbits, Tooks by the looks of it, were gathered around the Men with arrows pointed with deadly accuracy at heads. "Release the girl!" Pippin shouted, "I gave a command, Ruffian! Now do as I say!"

The Man looked around with fright, wondering if this whole "uprising" thing was right after all. He released Estella, who immediately ran over to Merry and started weeping while shielding his body with her own in case anything else would happen. "Tie em up." Pippin ordered one of his hobbits after all Men had relinquished their weapons. "Yes sir, Mr. Peregrin sir! They was quick about it weren't they?" the hobbit asked, savoring the moment of victory. "Indeed." Pippin said absently as he excused himself to go over to his two closest friends. Meanwhile, Estella had been sobbing over Merry as if her life depended on it. "Oh, oh Merry! I thought you were dead! T-they said you, Fatty said that you . . . oh dear!" Merry was only moaning that he felt like he was dead. "Let me see your back." Estella insisted with a snivel, turning her friend over onto his front. "Oh how could they!" she sobbed, barely fingering the bleeding whelps all across Merry's back and shoulders.

"It's truly . . . ah! . . . alright, Essie. I promise I'll be alright." he said with effort, "And thank you for saving me. It's good to be home." "Sorry about the delay, Meriadoc." Estella looked up to the voice; there stood Peregrin Took in all of his splendorous attire, gleaming weapons, flowing cape and lofty height. Besides all of that, one would see that concerned look that he had ever since he was three on his face, and you would know it was Pippin.

"Estella. Good to see you! I am sorry that I came too late." he said casually, trying desperately to cover up any emotion that was making its way to the surface. He didn't need to, though. For Estella straight away jumped up and buried herself in his arms. This was absolutely too much; they were both alive! Pippin's newly attained bulk almost swallowed the already petite Estella up to where you couldn't see her at all.

"You're huge." Estella said in a muffled voice while wetting the white tree of Gondor with her tears. Pippin sighed heavily. At least fifty people had made the same comment since he had returned. "I know I'm huge. Everybody says it. Although I like it, since I have been places where I was considered a boy by everyone except for my own kind." he said while stroking her hair and taking no notice of poor Merry. Estella drew away and laughed in spite of her crying. "You are a boy, Pip! You'll be only twenty-nine this coming December. Where have you been anyways? A-and why are you alive?" she sputtered, now so baffled that all she could do was stand there and blink in the morning sun. She glanced down at an exhausted Merry, who looked up and feebly smiled. "You've changed, Essie. It looks as if hard work and many cares have made you strong in spirit." he said wonderingly. Estella sank down beside him.

"The same for you, Meriadoc." she now said with a steady tone and noble eyes, "You are now wiser than you once were. In time, your wisdom will grow, and you will be the bright star in the line of Masters. Your wisdom will make you magnificent." With eyes full of grateful tears, Merry finally closed them to an inescapable sleep. At last, Estella understood what Fatty had said long ago . . . Estella Bolger; someday that lad is going to prove how brave he really is for you. Just wait and see.