Time for another synopsis as things are getting slightly complicated. Llinos

The story so far:

1. As the armies of the West march upon the Black Gate, Gandalf is using Pippin as bait for Sauron by making him appear to be the Ringbearer in order to give Frodo a better chance. To increase the deception, Gimli forged a gold ring and they hung it about Pippin's neck while he slept.

2. Merry was recovering from his battle with the Witch King in Minas Tirith, nursed by Éowyn (assisted by Faramir) and Dysgwr, but still has not seen Pippin after regaining his sight, and as Pippin had left for the battle before Merry regained consciousness has not had the chance to verbally speak with him either.

3. Gandalf's plan begins to backfire after the power of Frodo's Ring, frantically looking for escape from the fires of Mount Doom, finds a link with Pippin (who It remembers from an encounter Bilbo had with Pippin when Pippin was small) and manages to transfer some of Its power to Pippin's ring.

4. Aragorn uses the palantír to confront Sauron but has Pippin join him at the same time to reinforce him as Ring bait. In the process Pippin's mind finds Frodo's.

5. Gandalf has Legolas send a mind message to Éowyn to tell Merry to mentally contact Sam to tell Frodo not to mindspeak with Pippin as it may lead Sauron to Frodo. So they do.

6. Pippin becomes mistrustful of Gandalf and Aragorn, believing that he has the one Ring and that they want to take It from him. He also starts to become delusional and paranoid, his already muddled speech starting to sound like Gollum. Pippin determines that he needs to try to take his Ring to Mount Doom and destroy It.

7. Frodo and Sam shut out Pippin's voice by playing rhyming games.

8. Legolas and Pippin are mindspeaking to perpetrate the deception that Pippin is the Ringbearer, but Sauron hears and then attacks them on the mental plane they occupy. Legolas is blinded and struck mute but before his hearing can be taken, Merry and Éowyn, combined as one mighty warrior, intervene and save him. They in turn are brought back to the living world by Faramir's unwitting intervention.

9. Faramir keeps getting jealous twinges over Éowyn's friendship with Merry.

10. Merry and Éowyn, having been in mind contact with Pippin, now know that he thinks he is the Ringbearer and that he no longer trusts Gandalf or Aragorn and will try to go to Mount Doom. They believe they must stop him, but cannot deliver this message through mindspeak to Legolas or Pippin as Sauron or the Nazgûl might overhear. Théoden agrees that Éowyn and Faramir will ride out to catch up and stop Pippin doing anything untoward.

11. Merry, with the help of Drâmym and Ŭnomer, manages to escape his healer Dysgwr and King Théoden, to accompany them.

12. Théoden is angry when he finds Merry gone as Dysgwr had been, on Gandalf's orders, dosing Merry with opium to keep his mind shielded from the Nazgûl. He sends Drâmym, Ŭnomer and Dysgwr after him with orders to bring him back or at least dose him up again.

13. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam are battling with rock falls and unexpected deluges and then Frodo begins to realise that the Ring is losing some of Its power and that the power is transferring to Pippin. Frodo can still hear some of Pippin's thoughts though he is careful not to answer him.

14. Gandalf regrets his ploy now as it seems to be getting out of control and tries to take the faux Ring back from Pippin, but Pippin will not relinquish It as he still believes It to be the true Ring and that Gandalf wants It for himself. Although Pippin declares he just wants to continue as bait, he is in fact determined to attempt the destruction of his Ring.

15. Meanwhile, beyond the Black Gate, Smagnu and Grutfley and Sniggin and Bloggin and Co are preparing for the battle. They have been given charge of Groll the Troll.

16. Gandalf learns from Aragorn's experience with Pippin and the palantír, that Pippin had touched the Ring when he was a child. This puts a different complexion on things and Gandalf is horrified to learn the fact, as it means the Ring may well have found Pippin again.

16. Sauron, after His encounter with Pippin, Legolas and Merry/Éowyn is certain now of where the halfling is that carries His Ring.

17. Nazgûl fly over the army's camp and Pippin runs out to show himself, planning to order the Nazgûl to take him to Mount Doom. Legolas and Gimli rush to protect him and manage to hold the attack off until Gandalf arrives and, using the flame of Anor, repels the wraith. With the enormous surge of power that the wizard uses, more of the Ring's power transfers from Frodo's Ring to Pippin's.

18. Aragorn and Gandalf realise that Pippin's Ring has become more powerful and attempt again to take It from him. This results in a skirmish ending with Pippin putting the Ring on to try and escape. Although visible to Aragorn, (because of who he is and their connection through the palantír) and Gandalf and Legolas (who can now see what is in the Shadow World and naught else) he becomes invisible to Gimli. Gandalf finally persuades Pippin to take the Ring off – but agrees that he should keep It.

19. Frodo now realises for certain that Pippin's Ring has to be destroyed along with his Ring as the power has divided between the two Rings. He sends a message, via Sam to Merry to tell Pippin this. Merry can't do this using mindspeak, in case he is overheard, so it becomes imperative that he reaches Pippin.

20. Gandalf realises how firmly Pippin is attached to his Ring now, but hopes that once Frodo has destroyed his Ring, Pippin's will fail too. In the meantime he believes he must prevent Pippin from trying to go to Mount Doom. They try to persuade Pippin to speak normally, and finally he manages to say, "I miss Merry."

Now read on…

Pursuit
Recaptured – Chapter 119

Author: Llinos
Beta: Marigold

"Three riders, coming fast towards us." Faramir shaded his eyes the better to see. "I cannot yet make out whose colours they wear – friend or foe."

"It looks like nothing more than a dust cloud to my view yet." Éowyn wondered whether Faramir's better interpretation was due to superior vision or a long experience of scouting and patrolling.

"I think it's Drâmym and Ŭnomer." Merry tried to stand a little taller on Gaseg-Wen, levering his bare hobbit toes against the edge of Éowyn's saddle. "And I think they have Dysgwr with them. That's odd, he did not seem the type of man to go riding about the country."

Éowyn decided that it was not experience but superior eyesight that gave Faramir the edge, she was obviously not able to see things at a distance as well as her two companions. "I imagine you are the inspiration for his journey then Merry." Éowyn exchanged guilty glances with Faramir, who looked up from his task of dousing their campfire, before setting off on their journey once more. "The healer obviously holds his responsibility for you very deeply."

"Oh Éowyn, do you think so," Merry turned to look up at the lady, "I feel dreadful now for running off – poor Dysgwr."

"Well, I suppose the least we can do is wait here for them, to see what their mission or message can be." Faramir advised. He halted from extinguishing the fire and warmed his hands over the remaining flames. "It must be quite critical for a healer to ride out from the City."

"Do you suppose they're going to take me back though?" Merry was aware that he was not really fit for this journey and that he should not have put the other two in danger by asking to come, but his need to find Pippin was not always a logical thing. "I-I just know I have to find Pippin now." But there was more than just his personal need. Merry recalled the message Sam had given him, perhaps now would be a good time to mention it, just in case he was not able to deliver it himself. "Éowyn, if they insist I go back, there is something important you have to tell Pippin. But please…" Merry wriggled around to look plaintively up at her. "…you must not tell anyone else – just Pip."

"What is it Merry?" Éowyn did not need to tell Merry he could trust her, he already knew that.

Merry lowered his voice to a whisper, looking a little furtively at Faramir, "Pippin has to do something, Sam told me. He has to do the same as Frodo. I know it doesn't make much sense, but I'm sure Pippin will know what to do."

"But Merry," Éowyn was not certain if the hobbit was being deliberately vague, "They must mean for him to destroy his ring – to take it to Mount Doom! Is that not Frodo's mission and what we're chasing Pippin to prevent him from trying to do?"

"Yes… and… and…" Merry faltered, looking down once more at the reins in Éowyn's hand. "…I don't know what to advise him, but I think on this occasion Pippin will know in his heart what is the right thing to do." Merry then perked up a little and looked up once more, "and I know that Frodo and Sam would not misguide us, so I'm sure that to take Pippin's ring to the fiery mountain is the proper course, and Éowyn…" the hobbit's voice took on a pleading note, "I have to go with him – he cannot be expected to do this alone, so don't let them take me back – please!"

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"Wass 'at you got there?" Grutfley watched the smaller orcs in his battalion boiling up something else in the big pot. "I thought we'd had all the grub fer today."

"We did Sergeant," Bloggin jumped up to attention to answer his superior, "this 'un's jist summink for a sort a' decoration."

"Descoration? Wass a point o' that?" Grutfley leaned forward and sniffed tentatively at the pot not liking the look of what was in there at all. "It looks like a fuggin' mess – is what it looks."

"It's called woad Sergeant," Sniggin had been stirring but dropped the long stick in the pot to turn and answer. "Me Mum tol' us 'bout it. Iss what all the men's in olden times wored when they's go into battle. I thought 'cause we was gonna go to battle it might help."

"Thass not proper woad anyhows." Grutfley dipped some out of the pot with his leathery fingers and dipped his tongue out to taste the blue goo. "Thass glaslichen, that is."

"Is's the right colour though Sergeant." Bloggin pointed out, "'cept it don't seem to stick too well just yet. Praps if'n I's boils it a bit more."

"Nah – 'taint gonna work" Grutfley shook his head in disagreement, "it's too thin by half and it's not gone get sticky on it's own like. Yer gotta put somethin' else in it. Nice drop o' stuff though." He smacked his lips at the taste of the blue liquid from the squelched down moss, "it packs quite a kick that drug."

"Is it a drug Sergeant?" Sniggin sniffed at the brew himself now, "we dursn't know nuffin' about it see, 'cept it's blue."

"That blue moss – very potent – bit like poppy only more of a painstopper." Grutfley told them. He had had cause to use it himself on a few occasions when injured in fights. "Best watch how much you sup o' that."

"We wasn't gonna drinks it, Sergeant." Bloggin explained again, "We's gonna wear it – fer the battle, see? Only it's not thick enough an' it won't stick."

"Well, youse could try an' get Groll ter spit in it." Grutfley chortled at the mental image this had already conjured up for him. "Troll spittle is pretty thick and glutinous. They used ter make glue out o' it back in Barad-dûr."

Sniggin and Bloggin, ever enterprising and ready to tackle most things, immediately hefted the cooking pot up between them and plodded over to where Groll was now moving restlessly from foot to foot. Both were fully prepared to drop the pot and run at the first sign of hunger as neither one wanted to end up as a troll snack.

"Come on, good Groll," Bloggin yelled at the creature, "Groll spit – come on gob, Groll – in the pot." To show the troll what was needed, both the little orcs worked up some phlegm and managed to spit lustily into the pot. At first the monster tried to pick up the pot in order to swill the contents, but Bloggin was ready for him and smacked him across the back of his big hand with the ladle. "No! Not fud! Not Groll fud!"

"Groll go glump!" Sniggin shouted, gobbing into the pot once more.

"Groll go glump!" The troll watched them and growled with bewilderment. "Glump?"

"Yes – Groll, glump!" Sniggin jumped up and down making revolting noises through his nose and throat at the creature to encourage him to expectorate.

Finally, the beast snorted in the back of its great throat, making a liquid gurgling cacophony of troll saliva and snot. Sniggin and Bloggin managed to scramble out of range just as the troll produced what they wanted with a force that splashed the glaslichen almost out of the pot. Fortunately, most of the contents fell back into the receptacle along with the phlegm.

The little brothers waved up at the troll, "Good Groll!" Sniggin shouted as he and Bloggin between them dragged the pot back to their fire. Sniggin stirred it up once more and lifted the stick out to check the mixture.

"Looks better eh?" Grutfley remarked. The glaslichen indeed was now far more viscous and less liquid than before. "That should be all right, what yer gonna do? Paint it on yer armour?"

"No, Sergeant," Sniggin took a large dollop of the blue concoction and waved it around to cool it. "So's yer and the Captain'll know which is your orcs, we're gone to paint it on our faces!"

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Frodo and Sam were sitting quietly under the rocky outcrop half way to the summit of Mount Doom. Had the overhang been a leafy beech tree and the hard stone that they sat upon been the green grass of the Shire, they might even have been close to happy as they munched on the last few pieces of lembas and eked out their few mouthfuls of water.

"Sam the Ring is definitely feeling lighter now, but…" Frodo paused not wanting to add anything bad to worry his servant."

"But what Mr Frodo?" It was too late to throw the tenacious Samwise off the subject, Frodo should have realised. "You can't just give a 'but' and leave the rest."

"I know, I just didn't want to say the thought that crossed my mind." Frodo gave a small smile, "although you Sam always seem to know what I'm thinking."

"I wouldn't know about that Sir," Sam looked embarrassed and turned his head away to look at the grim terrain around them. "I'm not too sure why we have to wait now, although I suppose you know what's right – what Gandalf would have wanted."

"…or Bilbo." Frodo added mysteriously.

"Bilbo? How do you mean?" Sam wondered if the lightness had extended from the Ring to Frodo's head. "What does Mr Bilbo have to do with it?"

"You talking about knowing what people want without them having to explain." Frodo looked encouragingly at Sam, hoping that he had successfully thrown him off the scent of asking what was on his mind.

"Ah I was never much good at that Mr Frodo," Sam turned back to look quizzically at the other. "Even Mr Bilbo. No!" Sam amended quickly, "especially Mr Bilbo. I loved his stories and all, but I never could tell what was going on in his head."

"But you learned," Frodo reminded him, "eventually. Remember when he told you where to plant the bulbs and how upset you got?"

"I'll not forget that, Mr Frodo," Sam put his head on one side as the memory of that early encounter with his dear Master flitted across his thoughts.

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"Oh confustigations and botheration!" Bilbo always flustered when there was a knock on the door. It was one of the things Frodo noticed above all others since he had come to live at Bag End. "Now who in Mirkwood and beyond could that be? No wizards or dwarves I hope!" He dropped his spoon back into his plate as he stood to answer the rapping and, winking at Frodo, "or especially relatives!"

Frodo listened carefully as the big round front door was swung open.

"Oh it's you! Well what's the problem?"

"Please Mr Bilbo Sir, the Gaffer says I'm to plant your spring bulbs and I'm not sure where. and the Gaffer's gone off to Bywater to get that new rake and I'm not rightly sure and I didn't want to get it wrong."

Frodo recognised the voice of the gardener's youngest son; he liked Samwise. Although the lad was only 9, he worked alongside his father willingly and with enthusiasm, as if his one delight in all the world was to be planting and trimming so he could watch in wonder the gifts of the earth sprout and bloom.

"Oh come now lad," Bilbo sounded impatient but Frodo could tell there was an edge of teasing in his voice. He wondered if Samwise heard it too. "Give them to me for pity's sake! There's an awful lot here."

"There is Master Bilbo, Sir."

Frodo left the table to peep round the edge of the doorway to get a glimpse of what it was they were talking about. Bilbo had taken the little wooden tray filled to the brim with crocus, daffodil and primrose bulbs and was stalking off into the Bag End gardens. Frodo moved to the front door and saw young Samwise scuttling after his father's employer, his bag of a hat held in both hands as he anxiously wrung it around like a dishcloth.

Bilbo stood in the middle of the garden, under the shady oak and suddenly threw the contents of the tray up into the air. The bulbs tumbled higgledy piggledy all over the grass, some landing nearby and others rolling a little way down the hill. "There!" Bilbo exclaimed. "That's where you plant them, you don't ask me – ask them."

Frodo scurried back inside as his Uncle turned again towards the smial, but before he did he could not help noticing a bewildered look on young Samwise's face.

As soon as second breakfast was finished, Frodo washed the cups and plates as he had begun to do since moving in with Bilbo. At first his older cousin had fussed around when his protégé had undertaken the task, as if he did not quite trust the lad with his precious crockery, but Frodo was careful and meticulous and no accidents had occurred, so now Bilbo let him get on with it. As soon as the task was complete, Frodo hurried outside to see what the gardener's son was up to. He too loved to see things flourish and grow and Samwise seemed to have a oneness with the earth and plants that Frodo had not encountered before in one so young and it fascinated him.

"Sam? Samwise – what's wrong?" Frodo had crept quietly around the massive tree trunk when he had heard stifled sobs coming from the far side. "Did you fall and hurt yourself? What's the matter?"

"N-no… I just… " A long sniff followed by a deep breath interrupted the hiccupping noise. "It's just, I think I annoyed Mr Bilbo and… and I really didn't mean to, and now my gaffer'll be cross with me and mebbe won't let me come and do for Mr Bilbo again."

"Why Sam, I don't think you've offended Uncle Bilbo." Frodo was mortified to hear this. "What ever makes you think so?"

"Well," Sam gave another quick sniff, feeling in his pocket for a handkerchief and gratefully accepting the clean pressed square Frodo offered when he failed to find one. "When I asked him where to plant the bulbs, he just… just…" Sam's voice broke off into hiccupping sounds once more.

"Threw them in the air?" Frodo supplied helpfully.

Sam nodded and hitched his breath again. "I didn't mean to make him cross, I-I just didn't know wh-where to put them."

"Oh Sam, I'm sure he wasn't angry," Frodo gave an encouraging little smile and reached out to offer Sam his hand. "Come with me, let's see what's up."

"Oh no – I dursent!" Sam backed away a little looking at Frodo's hand as if it were a red hot poker. "I mustn't upset him any more, my gaffer'll give me what for if'n I make things worse."

"Sam, Uncle Bilbo won't be angry with you – I promise," Frodo knew his older cousin could be strange, but he was not unkind or unreasonable. "Come on now." Frodo reached out and took Sam by the hand and pulled him forward.

Reluctantly, and really because he had no option without now offending Frodo, Sam allowed himself to be pulled along until they found Bilbo. He was ensconced in his work in the little study, a quill in his hand as well as another forgetfully left behind his ear. "What do you two lads want eh? More planting advice?"

Sam quavered a little at this. But Bilbo did not actually seem too cross, just distracted. "Please sir, Mr Bilbo, I ju-just thought…" Sam could not articulate his fears to Bilbo any more than he had been able to with Frodo.

"What he's wondering Uncle," Frodo stepped in helpfully, "is why did you throw the bulbs up in the air? Were you cross because Sam didn't know where to put them?"

Bilbo's answer was uproarious laughter. "No… no my lad!" He finally managed to gasp out. "Young Samwise you are a good little gardener but you've still got a lot to learn. Master Hamfast should have told you, spring flowers don't like to be ordered about and set down neatly in serried ranks. They are really wild flowers that we persuade to grow in our gardens. So when you want to know where to plant them, you have to let them decide for themselves."

"I see Sir," Sam sniffed a little but brightened considerably, "I didn't understand, but now I see, you throw them up and then plant them where they land."

"Of course you do lad!" Bilbo patted Sam on the shoulder. "Otherwise they'd sulk and refuse to stick their heads through the soil come springtime."

"Right then Mr Bilbo," Sam managed a smile of his own now, "I'll go and get them set in the earth ready then, just wherever they landed."

"Off you go then lads." Bilbo turned back to his manuscript with a little chortle. "Me cross over flowers… whatever next?"

"Can I help you Sam?" Frodo walked back to the garden with the youngster. "I like to plant things too."

"Well my gaffer says I was to do it." Sam pulled his hat back on his head, "I'm not sure it would be proper and all with you being the Master's nephew."

"We're cousins really," Frodo explained, "I just call him Uncle Bilbo because he's always seemed like an uncle to me."

"Well all the same…" Sam knew his position and that of the young master. "But Mr Frodo, I'm everso grateful to you for sorting that all out. I was a might upset and I did get it all wrong. My gaffer alus says I don't think things through properly."

"Don't worry, Sam," Frodo picked up the trowel and started a little hole to plant the first bulb. "You certainly understand flowers, even if you don't always understand folk."

"I thought I did," Sam admitted, "but not as well as Mr Bilbo. I never knew daffs and crocuses had such strong opinions on where to grow."

"Me neither," Frodo agreed, "so we both learned something new today, although I'm not certain what it was."

"How do you mean?" Sam carefully placed the crocus in the hole Frodo had made and patted the earth back down on top of it, pushing the grass neatly back into place.

"Either flowers have senses of their own, or my Uncle Bilbo has taken leave of his," Frodo added with a grin, "like everyone around here seems to think."

"Oh no, Mr Frodo," Sam was emphatic, "Mr Bilbo… is… is the most wise hobbit I ever did meet. I'll never understand him, or half of what he says, but I believe every word he tells me and if he says flowers know where they want to be, then I'm sure he's right."

Frodo did not argue with that.

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"I was only a scrap of a lad then," Sam pointed out. "I didn't understand that adults could be fanciful about flowers, like Mr Bilbo. My gaffer loves growing things, but I don't think he ever wrote a poem about a flower."

"I know what you mean Sam," Frodo ran some dry dust through his fingers, "I wish there were some flowers to be fanciful about here. This place is so dry."

"I know Mr Frodo," Sam considered the dry earth running like sand in an hourglass through his master's hand for a moment. "You said earlier that the Ring felt lighter though."

"Hmm?" Frodo absentmindedly picked up another handful of dust.

"But that there was something else, only you didn't say what."

"Sam! I thought I'd distracted you enough to make you forget that." Frodo sighed heavily.

"Like you said Mr Frodo," Sam put his hand under Frodo's and caught the spilling earth. "I learned to tell what's going on inside folk's heads – especially Mr Bilbo and you! I know what's bothering you."

"You do?" Frodo was surprised as he had not been completely sure himself.

"The Ring feels lighter because of sending some of Its power away – away to Mr Pippin." Sam frowned as if he were directly gleaning the thoughts from Frodo's mind, "but your heart is heavier because you know it means that Pippin will somehow have to come here and face the same agony that you have been going through. And I know you would sooner bear it all yourself than have young Mr Peregrin suffer one moment of torment."

"Oh Sam," Frodo smiled a smile so endearing it almost broke Samwise's heart. "You know what's in my head and in my heart as if you dwelt there yourself."

"I know Mr Frodo," Sam nodded with his own smile, "I know."

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"I'm truly sorry for your trouble Mr Dysgwr." Merry was indeed sorry to see his kind healer looking so bedraggled and travel sore. "I did not expect you to come after me though. Surely there are more deserving people needing your help in Minas Tirith than one truant hobbit would warrant?"

"Meriadoc, believe me, I would not have set foot or heel near one of these wretched horses had it not been imperative!" Dysgwr remained seated upon Diawl Goch for all his protests. Merry suspected the effort to climb down unaided was beyond the awkwardly seated healer. He looked as at home on a horse as Samwise did in a boat!

"How long did it take my Uncle the King to interrogate the truth from you two worthy Riders?" Éowyn looked half sternly but also half mockingly at Drâmym and Ŭnomer.

"We realised Milady," Drâmym looked about as sheepish as a Rider of Rohan can in full Rohirric armour atop a noble steed, "…after we had aided Merry to abscond, that we may not have acted in his best interests."

"Merry, tell me," Dysgwr's voice had a note of urgency to it, "did you take that medicine with you – the bottle from the cupboard in your room?"

"Yes," Merry looked puzzled, wondering if that were a right or wrong thing to have done. "I thought I might need to go on taking the medicine."

"And did you?" Dysgwr asked, "go on taking it, that is."

"A little," Merry told him. "Why? Is it important?"

"Gandalf said you were to take it," the healer explained. "He was most insistent about it. He said it would stop you accidentally mindlinking with your cousin, but also it apparently stops the Nazgûl or the Dark Lord from finding you – in your mind that is."

"But I don't understand," Éowyn put in, "why did it not stop Merry and me back in Minas Tirith? We linked minds and even fought with the Dark Lord after he attacked Pippin."

"Quite simply because Meriadoc had been sick and rejected the medicine and I had not yet pressed more upon him," Dysgwr had not seen fit to mention it at the time because he had not envisioned Merry needing to know the real value of the drug. "There was not enough of the potion inside him to be effective."

"You mean you have been drugging me to control my mindspeaking? Without telling me!" Merry could not keep the edge of anger out of his voice, "That's… that's terrible! How could you do that!

"Meriadoc it was not my decision," Dysgwr was surprised at the sudden vehemence from the halfling "I was only following Mithrandir's instructions."

"Is it normal procedure in the Houses of Healing to drug adult patients without their consent?" Faramir knew for a fact that it was not. "Merry is a grown up and entitled to make his own decisions. Gandalf may be the protector of the hobbits but he is not their guardian."

"In truth…" Dysgwr frowned a little as he considered this carefully. He had tended to think of both the halflings more as children, although he had been made aware that Merry at least had reached his majority. "In truth," he repeated, "the medication administered to Meriadoc was not just to drug him, although that is a side effect, it was for pain relief in the most part. So it would have been appropriate to give him that particular opiate."

"That's what it is though," Merry drew forth the bottle from the pocket of Pippin's britches that he was wearing, "it's opium, isn't it?"

"That is a mixture of opium and glaslichen," Dysgwr nodded. "Not pure opium."

"So did Gandalf say I should have opium?" Merry was a little bewildered at this; both Aragorn and the wizard had disapproved of Pippin taking too much poppy.

"Actually, it was first suggested by your little companion, um," Dysgwr searched for the name, "Peregrin, he even had his own supply."

"But…" Merry's next protest halted before it reached his lips as he considered this information. Pippin had given him opium? After the suicide pact they had made in Barad-dûr he hoped he would never encounter the drug again. But then Pippin had suffered from a very compelling addiction, craving it so badly during their journey that Merry had felt the need through their link. He also remembered the relief when Pippin had finally been given a small dose of Faramir's emergency ration. "Yes, I suppose Pip would think it to be the best thing for me when I was hurting so much."

"You were in a great deal of pain, Merry," Dysgwr said gently. He had grown very fond of the halfling while he had nursed him and more than a little protective. "We both wanted to save you from any unnecessary suffering."

"I'm sorry," Merry regretted his earlier resentment towards the healer who really had shown him nothing but kindness, "I did not mean to seem ungrateful. It's just that if Gandalf…"

"Merry!" Éowyn flung her good arm around the hobbit as Gaseg-Wen suddenly reared with a terrified whinny. Faramir's horse, Ceffyl-Ddu, stood stock still, his reins still tied to a tree and too petrified to move. Drâmym managed to rein in his steed and grab the lead rein they had attached to Diawl Goch as the horse snorted and rolled his eyes. Faramir drew an arrow and nocking it to his bow almost seamlessly, turned his aim to the sky and tried to locate the Nazgûl that had terrified their horses and cast a black shadow across the land.

Ŭnomer was struggling to keep his nerves and horse under control but the animal barged forward against Gaseg-Wen, making the mare rear again, this time unseating both Éowyn and Merry. They slid off backwards; clear of the horse's stomping hooves, the Shieldmaiden cushioning her smaller companion's fall, frantic that the hobbit would break the stitches of his wound with the impact.

"Merry! Stay down!" Éowyn threw her cloak over the hobbit as they heard the dreadful screech that heralded the Nazgûl. Merry struggled against the swathing of the garment, attempting to draw his sword until he remembered that he did not have one any longer, but still frantically trying see what was happening. Faramir loosed an arrow, but it was wide of the target as the Nazgûl wheeled in an arc, turning towards the small band and swooping down upon them.

Éowyn did not flinch from the prospect of fighting with such a deadly foe once more, but Faramir, re-shouldering his bow and drawing his sword, stood firmly before the woman and hobbit; prepared to battle to the last breath in their defence. Merry had managed to pull Éowyn's cloak off his head and had scrabbled up as far as his knees, a large rock, the best weapon he could find, in his hand. Drâmym and Ŭnomer were both struggling to control their steeds as well as Dysgwr's, while the healer himself was bent over the horse's neck and clinging frantically to the bridle, too terrified to look up at the deadly black shadow, the oppression in his mind making him lose all coherent thought.

As the winged beast carrying the hooded spectre reached the ground, the creature turned and snarled at the horses, making the four untethered steeds finally bolt frantically, carrying the three pursuers from Minas Tirith with them.

The Nazgûl dismounted his fearsome black beast to stand and tower over Faramir, his mace held high and the power of the shadow he cast almost overwhelming the man. "Give me the halfling!" The ghostly voice demanded, "I ask no more – just the halfling, then you may depart."

But Faramir stood firm. "You already know the answer," he snarled, "I would not yield the halfling, or any other under the protection of Gondor, to the servant of Sauron! Be gone and tax these innocents no longer!"

"Fool!" The wraith hissed sibilantly, "Gondor has no protection to offer – no more than you have, poor feeble mortal!" With that he swung his mace towards the man with a violent stroke. Faramir parried the blow with his sword, which became entangled in the chain of the weapon. The man caught hold of the ball of the mace and grasped it to his body tenaciously.

Éowyn grasped her sword with both hands and moved to the side of the confrontation, seeing an opening through which she could strike, but waiting until she could manage a clear blow without injuring Faramir. Merry, meanwhile, still somewhat disoriented from his fall, crawled on his hands and knees around to the other side, still clutching his rock tightly, with Éowyn's cloak draped half across his back. He glanced around quickly to see what had happened to the others and to their horses, but all that was visible was a dust cloud in the distance.

The wraith, angered at Faramir's unorthodox strategy, raised his sword in his other hand and dropped the blade to a downward position, preparing to stab the man, who was too close for a normal strike, with a stabbing thrust, aimed at the back of his neck.

As the stroke descended Éowyn's blade swung mightily across the wraith's sword, knocking the blow off course and out of the grasp of the gauntleted hand. As the great sword flew through the air Éowyn herself ducked to avoid the blade, then drew back to desperately plunge her own weapon into the hollow-seeming black cloak.

Faramir could see that the blow had not found its mark as the enemy was not felled and, letting go of the ball of the mace, he stepped quickly back, drawing a handful of arrows from his quiver. Spinning upon his heel the man plunged the arrows into the still burning campfire and, as each caught light, retrieved and fired them into the spectre one after another.

A great shriek rose from the now writhing form as it fell to the ground and a great stench arose from the now flaming cloak. To the relief and amazement of both Éowyn and Faramir the flames subsided until there was nothing inside it but dust.

It had all taken a few blurred movements and the battle was over, even as Merry had managed to climb to his feet and stumble forward with his rock held ready to hurl or batter with if needed. But the wraith was gone – defeated. "Éowyn!" Merry gasped in obvious pain from the undue movement "Are you all right? Faramir you …aaiiieee!"

"Merry! Merry! No! Faramir, quickly do something!" Éowyn felt a flash of terror sear across her mind. It was from Merry, his link with her sparked by the shock of what had happened. But, just as suddenly, she felt him slam down a barrier, like a wall of bricks and mortar. She staggered with the mental impact of what he had done and she realised that he knew he must not mindspeak to any of what was happening, for fear that the Dark Lord would know. The turmoil, physical agony and petrified horror of his mind spiralled away from her as he firmly severed all links.

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Esmeralda Brandybuck dropped a plate of buttered scones on the stone floor of the Brandy Hall kitchen, smashing the delicate crockery to a thousand pieces and scattering the delicacies in all directions. She clutched at her ribcage in terror and fainted clean away, gasping one word as she fell. Cook rushed over to her Mistress as fast as her bulk would allow. She heard the one anguished word fall from the pale lips, "Merry!"

Saradoc was saddling up his pony and two of the stable lads were helping, one holding the pony's headstall and the other the worn leather saddle, while the Master arranged the blanket across the pony's back. Suddenly the Master of Buckland let out a terrible cry, as if someone had stuck him with a knife. He dropped the blanket and wrapped his arms around his body as if in pain. Without any explanation to the two bemused lads, he gasped out "Meriadoc!" and strode from the stable to run across the courtyard to the kitchen door. There he found Esmeralda lying on the cold stone floor, her head cradled in Cook's lap, being fanned by a maid with a tea towel.

On seeing her husband she struggled up and fell into his arms. "Oh no, Sara, did you see it too?"

"At least it means he is alive." Saradoc whispered to his distraught wife. "Merry lives, it is more than we had hoped for until now."

"Yes, but for how much longer?" Esmeralda whispered, "Did you see it? It was terrible – so frightening! Poor Merry, my poor dear child! What has he endured that has brought him to this?"

"I know, my dearest one, it is almost too much to bear." Saradoc kissed his wife's tears gently from her cheek. "But it means he is still thinking about us, I'm sure that's why he sent us that thought. Merry is a brave lad – he's a Brandybuck with your Took blood in his veins." Saradoc had always been proud of his son and now he was certain that Merry would face with fortitude the evil that beset him. "I know that he will do all in his power to overcome this peril."

Esmeralda was still sobbing with fear for her lost one, "He felt so alone though, as if all had abandoned him."

"Even if we never see him again, our dear child loves us both dearly and at that moment, whatever had happened, he needed us both and we were with him." Saradoc wished he had better words of comfort, "We must stay strong for him and keep hoping."

"But he was so afraid!" Esmeralda was inconsolable; at least with no news of Merry she had kept hope alive. But the vision she had shared with her husband was so terrifying, "why else would my dear baby have cried out to his mother that way? His anguish was too great for anyone to bear!"

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Merry's terror shot through him like a palpable thing. At first his mind reached out and clung to Éowyn, but almost immediately, even through his fear, he realised he must not mindlink with Éowyn, not now – the Dark Lord would find him and know! He slammed down a barrier that extended to all those he knew he should not communicate with for fear of being overheard; Pippin, Legolas, Sam, especially Frodo, even Gandalf.

But his brain was in such turmoil he could not prevent it from crying out for help. The emotion of fear so electric that, in that split second, he thought he would die and knew above all others that he wanted his mother and his father. He wanted to tell them that he loved them and that he was sorry for going off without a word and he had tried to be a good son and honour his family name and most of all that he desperately missed them and would die happy if he could see them one more time. The thought reverberated around Merry's mind and in a shock of realisation for several seconds he was back at Brandy Hall and his parents were there, distraught and grieving for him. He tried to send another thought, to say they should not grieve, but the connection was brief and, all at once he was back in his nightmare that was all too real.

Éowyn could not believe her eyes. She was still breathing heavily with the exertion of the fight with the wraith, so when the Nazgûl's winged beast, seeing its master defeated, beat its wings and surged forward she had been unprepared. The hideous, dragon-like creature took off, leaving the ground with a screech. But before it flew off it made one more swoop and grabbed the unsuspecting hobbit in its great talons.

Faramir had reached for another arrow, only to find that he had used every one on the wraith and the shafts had all burned away in the fire that brought down that deadly creature.

Merry was lifted above the ground, at first kicking and struggling frantically and then, as the creature rose higher, keeping still for fear that he would be dropped. The sharp talons were large enough to encompass Merry completely about the waist although it was a tight fit and he was squeezed painfully in the iron grip of the claws. His wound began to throb and he suspected it would be bleeding again. At first he closed his eyes, terrified of the great height he was being dangled over, but then realised that he needed to know what was happening and where he was headed. In spite of the agony and gut-wrenching terror, he forced his eyes open.

Drâmym and Ŭnomer had control of their horses once more and were in pursuit of Diawl Goch, rounding him up with his helpless passenger, as they had had to do several times on the journey before. They caught and calmed the frantic horse, offering at the same time a few words of comfort to Dysgwr, still clinging desperately to the headstall and still muttering curses or prayers beneath his breath.

They were about to collect Gaseg-Wen when an horrific sight crossed their eyes. They saw Merry, their dear friend that had saved Drâmym's life so bravely, who had come through so many dreadful trials and perils, they saw him being carried off by the hideous winged beast. The little hobbit looked like a lamb snatched up by a dragon as he hung helplessly from the creature's talons.

"It's too high, we'll never reach him!" Ŭnomer gasped. "We need some rope, then perhaps we can cast a loop about the creature."

"I have none," Drâmym was already reining his steed around for the chase, "but let us follow as swiftly as we can. At least we should know where it goes, or if it should drop little Merry..." the man stopped as he realised that he did not want to entertain that thought.

Without another word the two Riders of Rohan abandoned Dysgwr and took off with all speed across the bleak plain after the winged beast and its captive.

"Rope?" Everything was happening too fast for Dysgwr, he had not even regained his composure from being carried off by Diawl-Goch, "Rope?" He repeated the word out loud to himself in a bemused fashion. Suddenly the sense of it hit him. They needed rope to try and catch the dragon-like beast that had flown off with Merry. A foolhardy mission for certain. They had no hope of catching up to it and surely, once it flew over rocky terrain and into Mordor they would lose it altogether.

But little Merry! The healer realised that, hopeless though it may be, they had to try. "Rope?" he muttered again. Then he remembered! He had the rope that belonged to the halflings, the 'magnic' rope as the other halfling had described it. He reached into his bag that was slung across the horse's neck and pulled the silvery rope out, looping it around his neck so that he could use both hands to ride.

Bravely gathering up the reins, Dysgwr frantically tried to remember what he had been told to do. He urged Diawl-Goch forward with a slight kick and found a trot, then sat down hard in the saddle, squeezing with both legs at the same time. As the pace increased he resisted the urge to try and pull up, but concentrated on steering the horse after Drâmym and Ŭnomer, using his legs as much as possible, but also pulling the reins around until the horse got the right idea of where to go.

Dysgwr would never have caught the two Riders, but as they saw him give chase, Ŭnomer turned back to see what was up. "Rope! I have a rope!" he shouted frantically. The Rohan Rider did not wait for niceties, but rode swiftly to the healer, seized the rope from about his neck and took off again in pursuit of his companion.

As he rode, Ŭnomer managed to fashion a loop from the rope, in fact he was amazed at how easily he accomplished the feat whilst riding at full pelt with no hands. The knot was neatly tied and the loop could be loosened and tightened to perfection.

Ŭnomer urged his steed on to greater speed, needing to catch up with Drâmym as well as the winged beast and it seemed, now he had the rope, that his horse was imbued with a fresh spirit, ready for a chase rather than nervous and exhausted as he had been before. He quickly drew level with his companion and, at that moment, the winged beast wheeled around as if it would fly down and attack its pursuers. This was exactly what the two Riders had hoped for. As the creature flew shrieking towards them, Drâmym's mount reared and bucked and a lesser rider would have been unseated, but he was left with little control over the poor frightened horse.

Ŭnomer had fully expected his steed to behave in the same way, but, to his amazement the creature remained calm, even as the winged beast, still clutching Merry tightly in its claws, flew at them, screeching with a terrible voice that would still the heart and freeze the blood of the bravest warrior. Ŭnomer, however felt a warmth radiate through him, starting with the hand that clutched the silvery rope. He realised then that the rope was humming softly and glowing a little.

There was no time to be astonished or frightened. Ŭnomer swung the rope over his head in a wide circle and let the loop soar up and over the descending beast. His aim was so accurate that he found it hard to believe himself, but Ŭnomer's toss of the rope had fallen cleanly over the beast's neck and he caught a tight hold of the rope, urging his horse backwards, trying to pull the fell beast to the ground.

But as soon as the rope touched the beast, it screamed as if scalded and reared up again, still keeping a tight hold of Merry as it rose higher. Ŭnomer hung on desperately but gradually as the beast bucked and fought against it, the rope, before the man could wrap it around the pommel of the saddle, was pulled through his fingers. "No! No!" Ŭnomer could not fail, he had been so close, but the rope, in spite of its apparent earlier co-operation, now seemed to slip away from him and eventually he lost his grip altogether as the evil creature ascended higher and wheeled away, across the mountains into Mordor.

***********************************************************************************************************

TBC

No author's notes this chapter, but beta notes instead! In honour of my return to the Shire, Llinos has suggested that I do the notes for this chapter rather than hang annoyingly over her shoulder, dictating any comments that I might want to have included. My notes may not be as witty as hers, but the fact that she is on the other computer working on a chapter of Recaptured! should make up for it!

Llinos: Just one quick word from me… The quick trip to the Shire was actually inspired by Marigold bullying me! She doesn't just beta you know, sometimes she poses as the muse as well! (and makes me tea and brings me biccies!)

lindelea: Whew. very nice, except for the fact that i must wait for more.
Marigold: It's annoying having to wait for more, isn't it? Now that I'm here she'll buckle down and write faster. (Poke, poke!)

Sandy Kay: OK, I admit it. I started, and then finished, reading Recaptured about a month ago. Wanted to write a nice, long review, but I was so overwhelmed by the twists and turns of the plot that I didn't know where to start!
Marigold: Isn't it a fantastic tale? I am so glad that you read it! The plot yet to come is amazing, exciting and terribly complex so stay tuned!

nitedancer: keep up the good work and write, write, write. I can't wait for every new chapter, It's killing me waiting for them.
Marigold: Telling Llinos to write faster from L.A. wasn't working to my satisfaction so I have flown 8,000 miles to poke at her with my stickses in person. I'll keep her chained to her computer desk in shackles if I must! She must realise that we can't have the readers keeling over from lack of updates!

hole_dweller: I've read the first hundred and something chapters during the course one weekend a while ago.
Marigold: Wow, I bet that took the entire weekend! Thanks! We are both glad that you liked it…
hole_dweller: Oh, nearly forgot to mention my favourite orcs, I think yours is the first story where I've come across orcs portrayed in any other way than pure evil.
Marigold: There are a lot more of our favourite orcs coming up soon…Smagnu and Grutfley, Snig and Blog, and of course Groll the troll. You won't believe the plans Llinos has for these guys! You won't be disappointed I'm certain of it, though your jaw may hit the floor.
hole_dweller: "I miss Merry!" This was just beautiful, I love how it highlights how much Merry means to him. He seems to be the only thing that can make him forget the Ring and this sentence being the first unmuddled one which he has spoken for such a long time…
Marigold: Wasn't that lovely? It made me get tears in my eyes…Hope you visit us both on LJ when you get a chance. We are listed as Llinos and Marigoldg.

Sakura123: Keep Writing!
Marigold: Oh, she will! I am harassing her constantly, trust me.

: ) : Of course it is starting to look like he may see his dear cousin sooner then anyone was anticipating!
Marigold: Do you still think so after this latest chapter, lol? We'll have to wait and see what happens to poor Merry. I don't know how he'll get out of this one…

: ) : I noticed earlier at least you were planning on this to be a 150 chapter story, are you still aiming for that or has it changed?
Marigold: I won't let her stop with less than 150, and being in the same house now will help me to get my way!

QTPie-2488: Heh, quite an interesting Merry/Eowyn scene in this chapter.
Marigold: I admit to making Llinos put that in. I mean, how many times has Eowyn seen Merry naked after all? It seemed to me to be the only fair thing to do, lol!

QTPie-2488: This plot line just gets more and more twisted, and even more exciting.
Marigold: And it's just going to get better…believe it or not, the twists and excitement have barely started!

Xena: when Frodo had his realization as to what was going on, chills went up my spine.
Marigold: Be prepared for extreme chills in the upcoming chapters…

Periadoc: And Pippin! The poor thing...is he really gonna have to destroy the One Half Ring of power?
Marigold: Consider the deviousness of the author.
Periadoc: things are getting very complicated precious, yes very complicated
Marigold: You've got that right – Llinos and I have just finished discussing various complicated plotlines and twists in order to figure out what a particular character's next movements should be. It's taking both of us to keep track of all that's going on!

august wynd: ah brilliance
Marigold: Llinos really is brilliant, isn't she!

Pearl Took: Once again you lead us to the edge of the cliff.
Marigold: And she is about to push us over the edge.

Shirebound: Uh oh, they're both poppy-ized again. I hope Gondor has a rehab clinic set up.
Marigold: Actually, I think if Pip and Sam ever get together again, Pippin is probably going to ask him whether poppies will grow in the Shire or not!

Dear Reader: Aw, come on -- how come Faramir didn't get to bite off the knots on Eowyn's bodice?
Marigold: He'll get his chance after the wedding I'm sure! If he gets that lucky!

Baylor: "Merry!" Éowyn clasped her hands across her bosom as the lacings finally came completely undone. "You are a tease, as well as a bad hobbit."
Ahahahaha! Merry's a naughty hobbit, isn't he?!
Marigold: You should know, lol! Everyone out there make sure to read Baylor's very funny story "Did I Say Bosom" which I am proud to have inspired!
Baylor: I got mentioned so many times in your notes that I feel like a big star! I may become even more intolerably big-headed than I already am.
Marigold: Look, I mentioned you again! What's your size in hats now?

Sam: I felt so bad for Pip. He doesn't understand what everyone wants from him and when he does get it right it's too heartbreaking!
Marigold: Hi Sam! Look, I am doing the notes! I feel so important! You are right about Pippin – there is so much pressure on him and he just wants to do the right thing, but doing the right thing is not going to be easy, especially with everything that is coming up in the next bits.

meatball: I can't wait to see what happens!! MORE MORE MORE MORE!
Marigold: We can't wait to see what happens either!

Pip4: I like how you got Frodo and Sam into this
Marigold: You can expect lots more Frodo and Sam in the chapters coming up.

Unhobbity hobbit: I've been contemplating reading this story for weeks, but the length always put me off, but I finally got really bored with nothing else to do and read the whole of it.
Marigold: And it was worth it, wasn't it? Welcome to the story!

Eldarin Queen: sorry in being so late in reviewing
Marigold: Better late than not at all! Do you guys know that an average of 500 plus people read each and every chapter of this story, and yet look at the percentage of you who take a moment to review. Llinos and I both appreciate it so much when readers leave a comment. Glad that you liked the chapter!

pippin-the-thain: omg! i cant believe i didn't read this story b4! i wish i could have joined in with all the reviews
Marigold: At least you've read it now! And please join in the reviews on the upcoming chapters. There is a lot more story to go, don't worry.

Tasha: Oh, and Merry, Eowyn and her lacings—LOL.
Marigold: I loved that part! I am glad that you liked it, too!

ssi 3 Thomas: ALL HAIL MERIADOC THE MAGNIFICANT
Marigold: We both agree with you there! Huzzah for Merry!

Stef: Quick Marigold, poke her more!!
Marigold: It is too fun actually being here so that I can give her a poke for real instead of just virtually!

Llinos: Ow! gerrrof!