The Magnificent Speaks

by Avondster


CHAPTER 11

"The next day of travelling was very much like the first," said Merry. "It seemed like we were on a holiday. It was cold, but the sun was shining and the going was fairly easy. Until the third day, that was. At some time way too early in the morning, we woke up when the first snowflakes descended upon us. A few minutes later, we sat huddled together, wrapped in our cloaks, having breakfast, cold, because we could not succeed in making a fire. Then, just as suddenly as it has started, the snow stopped and the sky cleared. We began stowing the luggage back on the pony's back and Sam brushed the snow off him - he had taken a liking to the animal, which was already more healthy-looking and cheerful than when we had left. Strider came back from exploring the area. "Gentlemen, we do not stop till nightfall."
And then Pippin…" Merry started laughing.
Pippin, who seemed to know what was coming, turned slightly pink; Sam grinned.
"That part really does not have any significance to the story," Pippin mumbled.
Merry stopped laughing and looked at his cousin, still grinning. "On the contrary, Pippin-lad," he said in a mock-serious voice, "that display really shows your motivation for the whole of the journey. I should tell it. And…" he added with a chuckle. "It's very funny, too."

He cleared his throat. "So Pippin looked at him, appeareantly really shocked. "What about breakfast?" he said indignantly.
"You've already had it, " Strider replied, referring to the cold leftovers we had earlier.
"Well," said Pippin, who didn't seem to think that counted as breakfast, "I've had one yet. What about second breakfast?"
Strider cast him an odd look and turned around. I caught a fleeting glimpse of his face and was sure he was strongly surpressing a laugh. At that moment I realised I had never seen him so much as smile once during the journey.
But the look on Pippin's face made me have to use every bit of strength I had to keep from laughing myself. He wore an expression of mingled wonder and disappointment as he watched Strider's retreating back. I patted his arm, trying to keep my voice casual. "I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip." I started walking, too.
Pippin's eyes widened; he looked positively alarmed now. "What about elevenses?" he asked, grabbing my arm. "Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he?"
He looked so thoroughly bewildered that I almost pitied him. "I wouldn't count on it."
Just then, an apple came flying from over the trees. I caught it, gave it to Pip with a reassuring pat, and continued walking, gazing back just in time to see Pippin get hit square in the head by a second apple. He wavered for a moment, looking even more bewildered.
I could no longer resist and started laughing at the expression on his face.

However, I was very soon deprived from laughter when I saw what we were facing today. No more fields and hills, but a huge, stinking marshland, covered in fog. Strider informed us that these were the Midgewater Marshes, and that we would be travelling through them today. I looked at the bogs before me miserably. Goodness knows I have never minded a bit of dirt, but the sight of this was depressing even to me. A landscape of grime, muddy brown water and small islands of grass and reeds stretched out before us, endlessly it seemed. Insects were swarming over our heads as we started the long way through the Marshes.
I can say in pure honesty that it was the most uncomfortable experience in my life up to that point. We sank away in pools of water and mud, sometimes even up to waist-height. The going was extremely slow because of the thick mud, and many times we had to stop to pull poor Bill out, and occasionally each other as well. Pippin fell face-first into the dirty water one time, and accused Sam of pushing him, while Sam insisted he had only tried to help him. And the midges, don't even get me started on those!
"Midgewater!" cried Pippin. "There are more midges than water!" And that was indeed about as close as you could get with describing it. What had seemed like fog from afar, turned out to be a cloud of tiny little insects. They got everywhere, into our clothes, our hair, our packs… At the end of the day we were all covered in red, itchy spots from their many bites.
They continued to haunt us with their buzzing and stinging all through the night, like many other things did.
The next day was not much better. It started raining late that afternoon, and I have never been more thankful for it. It chased most of the midges away for a while, and clean, fresh water was a welcome change after two days of splashing through filthy, half-warm mud.
I was altogether overjoyed when we could say goodbye to that miserable place after almost three days.

Just before nightfall, we saw the oddly shaped silhouet of Weathertop loom up against the horizon. It was not a very welcoming sight, but after three days of unsheltered sleep in the Midgewater Marshes, I could not care less.
But as we drew nearer the next day, what had seemed like a great building was actually nothing more than a ruin; I could see broken stones and oddly misshapen carvings and statues and I was suddenly overcome with the foreboding feeling that we should not go there. The sight of it brought the dark, cold Barrow back to mind, and I did not like the reminder.
When I expressed my feelings to Strider, he merely shook his head and looked at the ruins on the hilltop with a sad expression on his face as he told us of its history, and of Elendil and Gil-Galad. And I must say I was very surprised that when I asked him about Gil-Galad, it was not his, but Sam's voice that replied, soft but clear, with that beautiful poem. When Sam spoke those words, it suddenly seemed to be less dark and cold around me. I didn't want him to stop, I wanted to hear more about this mighty Elven King of old, because it seemed that even his memory was powerful enough to drive away the darkness that was around me and - even though I would not admit it - still inside me.

Later that day we arrived at the Weathertop. It was even more depressing from up close. Strider left Sam and Pippin with Bill, and took Frodo and me with him as he climbed to the very top.
The stone circle had a very eerie feel about it, and when I looked around at the world around me, it was as if evil eyes were staring at me from every direction. I felt the urge to hide somewhere; I felt very naked and exposed, standing on this unfriendly hill in plain sight.
Frodo and Strider seemed to be exited about a sign that was supposed to be from Gandalf, but I couldn't help feeling sceptic. It would take a lot more than some vague scratches on a stone to make me feel any better. The cold seemed to grow more intense and I shivered; I felt all but comfortable and I wanted to go away from this miserable place.
Then Frodo gave a cry, and I didn't need to look in the direction he pointed to read from his face that we were in deep trouble. I threw myself onto the ground, shivering more violently. "What is it?" I whispered, hoping beyond hope. Yet I knew, even before Strider announced it with a grim face: the Enemy was coming.

When we had climbed back to the hollow, Strider took every precaution in order to keep us from thinking of our fear. He made a fire, which would be useful in both keeping us warm and - hopefully - keeping the Enemy away, and he agreed in telling us more tales of the Elves of old. But I found the fire would not warm me, and the tales did not keep me from looking over my shoulder every so often. Unless the heroes of Strider's stories would come to life and rush to our aid, they weren't of much help except as a distraction.
After a while I stretched and got up; I knew I would never be able to sleep here. I walked carefully to the edge of the dell, then turned back and nearly screamed when I bumped into a figure standing right behind me.
"Calm down, Mr. Merry, it's only Sam." Samwise was standing behind me and looked into my eyes, which were wide with fear. I quickly covered my eyes with my hands, but I knew he had seen it. "I am sorry, Sam, I am just…"
"It's all right, really, Mr. Merry," said Sam softly. "I'm as much afraid as you, sir. But you must remember - not that it's any comfort, of course - that it's not you or me they're after. They don't care 'bout us, it's Frodo they want."
I lowered my hands and looked at Sam again; his eyes were as full of fear as mine, but his was different. His fear did not concern himself. His only fear was for Frodo. I suddenly felt extremely guilty. Of course, you fool! I thought. They could have killed you back in Bree if they wanted to, but they didn't seem to think you were important enough and left you there. You came on this journey to protect and help Frodo, and that's all you should think about!
"You are right, Sam, you are absolutely right. I should…" I stopped speaking when a sudden, violent and awfully familiar wave of icy cold swept over me. My heart skipped a beat.
"Did you feel that?" I whispered. Sam looked at me, very pale, and nodded. We both ran back at once to the relative safety of the fire, and when I looked back I thought I saw two or three shapes coming our way. When I told Strider, his face went pale and he disappeared in the direction we had just come from, ordering us to stay where we were.

For a while there was silence, as we were all afraid to speak. The cold inside me grew more and more intense, and I could tell the others felt it, too. Pippin was shaking so violently beside me that I was afraid he might faint. I wrapped one arm around him, but could find no words to comfort him, even if I had dared to speak.
Then Frodo got up and crept to the edge. He looked down and his eyes grew wide. The three of us gathered around him and there we saw them; three or four black shapes gliding alarmingly fast to the slope of our hiding place, even the fog seemed to recoil at their presence. Fear had rooted us to the spot and we could not move.
Frodo was the first to come out of his trance. He pulled out his sword and turned to us. "Go!" he yelled. We drew our own swords and ran up the slope. When we reached the scorched stone circle, we stood together, back to back, looking fearfully in all directions.
Then they came. Silently, out of the shadows, darker than the darkest night and colder than the coldest winter. Their horrible swords gleamed with a cold light as they advanced on us. They were too big, too many, too powerful… this was the end, I was sure. Then I remembered: it's not you they're after… And I realised there were greater things at stake than just our lives.
I pushed Frodo backwards and stood before him, my sword - oh so tiny it now seemed! - raised. I felt a shoulder touch mine and saw Pippin standing beside me, tears of horror and fear in his eyes, but with a desperate determination. Sam stood before us all.
The first Ringwraith towered over us menacingly. Sam feebly brandished his sword at him. "Back, you devils!" His fight was brave yet short; a mighty blow from his opponent sent him flying into a rock, where he fell down motionless. Pippin's and my fight was even shorter: it took only one blow to make us fall to the ground. I was only out for a few moments, then I grabbed Pippin and crawled out of the way. For a few seconds he was all I could think about, but he opened his eyes wide when I lay him down. "Merry? Where's Frodo?"
At the same moment an agonized scream pierced the air, and it seemed to freeze the blood in my veins even more than the presence of the Ringwraiths. It was the dying scream of someone I loved."


CHAPTER 12

The room had gone awfully quiet. Merry sat very still in Frodo's chair, his eyes closed and his brow furrowed. Sam's eyes were full of tears and Pippin, still sitting on the arm of the chair, was squeezing Merry's shoulder so hard his knuckles had gone white. No one said anything.
Finally Merry reached out and gently took Pippin's hand. "If you don't mind, Peregrin, I will be needing that arm in the future."
Pippin nodded and loosened his grip somewhat. Merry wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "Well," he said to the room at large. "As you can all see this was one of the most fearful moments of our journey. Here we were, with no way to escape, Frodo was injured or worse, and we could find neither him or Strider. I managed to stand up, but I could not see my cousin anywhere. Five great shapes were standing together, a small sword was laying on the ground by their feet, abandoned, but where, where, was Frodo?

I was just halfway through wondering where Strider had got to, when the Ranger jumped out of nowhere, or so it seemed, with a flaming torch in each hand. I vaguely remembered him saying something about the Ringwraiths being afraid of fire. But to me, the fire of the torches was nothing, nothing, compared to that which blazed in Strider's eyes. I also think it was that fire more than any other that made the Ringwraiths recoil, but recoil they did.
Pippin tugged at my arm, and brought me back to searching for Frodo. At the other side of the stone circle, Sam had regained consciousness. He looked around frantically, trying, like us, to locate Frodo somewhere in this chaos. He caught my eye and mouthed silently 'the Ring!'.
My stomach made an unpleasant lurch. Of course, the Ring! Frodo had put it on!

But if he was so badly hurt he could not make a sound or take it off, we would never be able to find him again… Please, I prayed to anyone who would hear it, please let us find him before it may be too late…
Just then, a second scream pierced the air, and suddenly there was Frodo, lying on the ground right where the Ringwraiths had stood moments before. Sam was at his side in an instant, grasping his hand. Pippin and I crawled his way, too, more careful though. The Ringwraiths may not find us important, I figured, but no one knows what they might do if we accidentally get in their way…
Finally we reached Frodo and Sam. My cousin was extremely pale, and seemed to be in great pain. I was not even sure if he could recognise us. Pippin quietly took Frodo's other hand and I - because I felt I needed to show him I was there - put my hand on his forehead, like he had done with me in my childhood, whenever I was hurt or scared. His eyes darted in my direction for a moment, but I was not sure if he had seen me.
His skin felt hot, as if he had a fever, but it was drenched in cold sweat. I just stroked his forehead a little awkwardly, it was the best I could do. Then I heard Pippin's voice speak to me, and it was trembling with cold fear.
"Merry…"
I looked up and saw what Pippin was looking at. He had pulled away Frodo's jacket and on his shirt was a growing red stain. Sam made a sound that was a mix of a gasp and a sob.
Everything around us had gone quiet, but we only noticed it when Strider walked up to us and pushed the torches into my and Pippin's hands. "Take Frodo, and lay him by the fire," he said shortly. "Watch over him. I will be back soon."

He disappeared and we did as he had said. Sam and I carried Frodo to the fire, as carefully as we could manage, and wrapped him in our blankets. He had now lost consciousness and was breathing difficultly, and in the gentle light of the fire he looked even worse.
We sat with him the whole time, without any desire to eat or sleep, and we did not speak much. When Sam was not crying, he was mumbling to himself or to us about Strider, and that he didn't trust him one bit, disappearing like that.
After a few hours, Frodo started to stir. We hurried over to him as he opened his eyes and spoke in a weak voice that was still full of panic. We were not sure if he knew what he was saying, but he was speaking and that had to be a good sign. After a while he calmed down, and we told him all that had happened.
Suddenly Strider reappeared, and Sam jumped up, growling. But Strider knelt down to calm him, then went to Frodo immediately, examined him and meanwhile listened to his side of the tale. He looked more worried than I had ever seen him before. When Frodo was done speaking and lay back, exhausted by the reliving of those undoubtedly terrible moments, Strider pushed Sam's two kettles in Pippin's hands and told us to heat some water and bathe Frodo's wound. He and Sam settled down and spoke together.
Pippin heated the water as he was told, but hesitated when I pulled back Frodo's shirt and revealed the still bleeding wound. "You do it, Merry. I'm so scared I might do something wrong."
Frodo, who was having a clear moment just then, looked in Pippin's eyes and attempted to reach out his good hand to him. "You can hold my hand then, Pippin my lad, I'm sure you can do that just fine."
Pippin tried to smile bravely and gratefully took Frodo's hand in his own.
When I applied the damp cloth to the wound, Frodo bit back a cry and sunk back into his half-consciousness, still clinging to Pippin's hand for dear life.
The wound, to my surprise, wasn't as bad as I had expected. It was small and stopped bleeding quickly once I had cleaned it. But it looked odd to me and I found I was rather reluctant to touch it with my hands.

Frodo was sinking into something between sleep and unconsciousness, his eyes still open but glazed, and he was breathing with a horrible squeaking sound, as if breathing itself cost him immense pain and trouble. Sam came back from his talk with Strider, looking stricken, to check on his master. "Mr. Frodo?" he whispered and put his hand on Frodo's forehead, then pulled it back. "He's goin' cold!" he cried.
Pippin seemed to be on the verge of tears as he turned to Strider. "Is he going to die?"
The Ranger sighed sadly as he told us that Frodo's fate might be much, much worse…

Pippin and I were left alone to watch over Frodo that night. Strider had told us to keep Frodo warm and left again, in search for tracks of our enemies most likely. He handed Sam a torch and asked him to find a certain plant I had never heard of before, that might be able to slow the poisoning. Sam seemed to know what he was talking about and ran into the darkness of the trees as fast as he could, waving his torch so frantically that I feared he might set the trees on fire while searching.
Frodo kept waking up, and the two of us did not sleep at all. Sam came back after a few hours of fruitless searching, and sat with us.  The night air was chilling, and to our dismay we saw Frodo shivering in his blankets - already all the blankets we had.
"Keep him warm, keep him warm," I mumbled as I poked up the fire. "With what? I think we have about used every single bit of cloth for that purpose, the fire cannot possibly be larger, and he is still cold as ice."
"I could do without my cloak," said Sam bravely, though he, too, was shivering.
"I suppose we could use our cloaks, indeed," I said thoughtfully.
"I seriously doubt you would be of any more help to me if you all freeze to death yourselves," said a weak voice behind us. Frodo's eyes were gleaming in the fire as he looked at us, and he even managed a little smile.
"He has a point, as usual," said Pippin.
"But what will we do, then?" whispered Sam. "How will we warm him without blankets?"
"Wait a moment…" I said, as an idea had just occurred to me. "Sam, I need your help. Frodo, do you think you can sit up?"
Frodo nodded weakly, and with some help from Sam he was soon in a half-sitting position, though wavering dangerously. I sat down on the ground behind him, and let him lean back against me, the back of his head resting against my shoulder. I took the hems of my cloak in my hands, and wrapped both my arms and my cloak around him. "Is that better?"
Frodo sighed. "A little." Then he fell into an uneasy sleep.

We took it in turns to warm Frodo for the rest of the night, which unfortunately caused a lot of discomfort for him, as we had to move him every now and then. The lack of sleep was taking its toll now, so one of us would have watch and keep Frodo warm while the others slept.
At dawn, Strider returned at last. He did not have much news, but he had found a few things that the wraiths had left. One was a cloak with a hole in it where Frodo had tried to hurt his attacker - good old Frodo, I thought - and the other was the dagger that had pierced his shoulder. Once again I felt strangely reluctant to come near those things, as if I could still feel an icy cold still about them. The same cold that overcame me on the Road in Bree. I also realised then why it was that we could not warm Frodo. Had I not felt that same intense cold myself, inside me rather than on my skin?
But when Strider tended to Frodo's wound with athelas and the sweet scent reached me, I felt the last of the cold leave me, and I was a little calmer. I felt myself again, for the first time in many days, and I had hope again. The others also seemed refreshed and even Frodo looked a little better. For as long as I live, I shall never forget the scent of athelas, and the hope it brought back to my heart."