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“Pippin! What are you doing? What have you done?”
Pippin froze for a moment, wondering at the answers to those questions himself. What was he doing? Oh, the Ring. It was so beautiful. He had only wanted to look at It. Then, like an itch that must be scratched, he had to have It.
But then the others had become alarmed and he knew they would take It away from him. He couldn’t let them do that. It was his now. Frodo had had It long enough. It was his turn to hold on to It.
Frodo never let anyone see It long enough to get a good look at It. That alone had piqued Pippin’s curiosity. The young hobbit had taken to sneaking peeks at night while Frodo slept. As Frodo turned restlessly, the Ring would often slip out of his shirt, and Pippin would be mesmerized as a glint of moonlight reflected off It while he drifted to sleep himself. Once he tried to reach into Frodo’s shirt for It so that It would catch the light. But Frodo had awoken too easily and Pippin had to be content with what glimpses he could get.
Yet soon those glimpses were not enough. It was so beautiful, so perfect, his heart soared to see It. And soon his fingers itched to hold it. How was it that Frodo had never mentioned how happy It made one by merely looking upon It? He had never told them how precious It was.
Now it was his turn to hold It, his turn to wear It. He had known that as soon as he put It on, the same thing would happen that happened to Frodo – he had become invisible! It astounded him and thrilled him. But then the others were searching for him, and though they couldn’t see him, he decided to put as much distance between him and them as he could.
It was eerie being invisible, and not only because he couldn’t see his own feet. Everything looked gray and far away. There were also the horrid whispers calling to him. But he still needed get farther from his companions, in case they had a mind to take It from him. So he ran.
The Eye was there then. He felt it, though he couldn’t see it. It was looking for him. It wanted him. It wanted the Ring. Well, he wouldn’t give It up so easily!
He looked around and realized he had run haphazardly and almost in circles, and wasn’t far at all from where he’d started. He wondered what direction would be best, and then his feet chose a direction for him. They headed east.
As Aragorn and Legolas crossed the Anduin where Pippin had taken a boat to the eastern shore, Boromir, Gimli, and the hobbits rode the River south for some way, then made their way north again through the forest, aiming to hem Pippin in by coming at him from both sides. In their silence, Boromir could feel the tension among the hobbits. Did they lose hope, he wondered, that they would arrive in time to save Pippin? He had not, and to show them his hope, he hastened his pace.
Further north, Aragorn and Legolas were continuing on Pippin’s trail, though they began to lose the light of the sun. After many hours that felt like days, Legolas stopped suddenly, eyes widening. “An army of Orcs approaches.” Doubling their speed, they continued their silent chase until they neared the Orc army and stealth became critical. The thunder of Orc steps grew louder and Aragorn looked at Legolas. “The army is large,” he whispered. Legolas only nodded, eyes narrowed intently. He turned slightly as he continued on and Aragorn followed closely.
They climbed a small rise, and rose slowly above the summit to avoid exposing themselves. Their position showed them the valley below and the black line creeping over the far end – the Orcs were close. They edged themselves further under the brush; they would have to wait until the army passed.
As they waited somewhat north of the Orcs, and just as Boromir and the others approached from the south, Pippin wandered into the dale, where a triangle of spectators had formed to corner him.
Pippin looked up at the thunderous clopping he had heard in the distance. It was not so distant now. His eyes widened as he became aware of Orcs heading his way. He could feel their darkness approach him, and it terrified his limbs into numbness. He understood then that all he had to do was stay still and he would be safe until they had moved on. ‘Don’t move, you fool of a Took! Don’t ruin this now!’ But as the army drew near, Pippin’s terror grew. He tried so hard to keep himself still, he didn’t notice that he was in fact inching backwards. After one too many steps taken blindly, Pippin’s foot struck a root that had freed itself from the earth. He fell onto his back with a loud thud and an eruption of leaves.
True only to Itself and to Its Maker, the Ring now made Its own decision. Amid the scuttling, It used this moment to betray Pippin and fall from his hand, leaving the hobbit visible to all. Pippin knew it immediately. It wasn’t the hundreds of Orc eyes suddenly fixed on him. It wasn’t the eyes of the two who had followed him, silent and hidden, waiting to see where fate took this moment. It was the silence. A terrible, deafening silence. And the lifting of a weight he hadn’t known he carried.
“What sort of wizardry is this! Ain’t that a halfling? That’s just what we be looking for, ain’t it? What do ya know, one drops in front of me as if I was in good graces with the Great Eye.” The Orc roared a cruel laugh and lunged for Pippin, who scrambled with his small arms and legs to get away from the terrifying creature. Behind his large form, more Orcs gathered to witness the spectacle.
Pippin found his feet and launched himself for a run, but he found himself flying through the air instead. “Not so fast, little one! You have an appointment with my Master!” The creature cackled again as he hauled Pippin up and threw him over his shoulder as if he were a sack of potatoes.
“Cap’n! Look! Norgry found somethin’! Somethin’ shiny!”
The captain turned quickly and stomped over, reaching for the object in question. “No! It’s mine!” Norgry demanded.
“If you found it, it belongs to the Master. Now give!” And he swiped it from the Orc without further argument. “All right, boys! About face! We’re quitting early today!”
From atop the ridge, the Ranger and the elf looked on in horror. Legolas grabbed Aragorn’s arm to keep the man from jumping into the fray. “We cannot let them take Pippin!” Aragorn hissed.
“And we cannot take on a thousand Orcs, no matter our skill.” As the Orcs’ footsteps faded into the distance, they heard more rustling and saw the rest of the Company quickly making their way to them.
Despite the length of his legs, Merry caught up with the two first. “Strider! Legolas! Where’s Pippin? What happened? I couldn’t see!”
Boromir trailed behind the hobbit, fear churning his stomach. “Aragorn, tell me I did not see what my eyes tell me has happened!” Aragorn’s silence was his answer.
“Well, we’ve got to go after them!” Sam cried. “We can’t leave Pippin in the hands of nasty Orcs. He’s just – he’s too little! He’s–” Sam’s hope gave out then, and he sagged silently on Frodo’s shoulder.
“But what happened? I couldn’t see!” Merry insisted.
Legolas looked at Boromir, then Gimli, and then the hobbits. “The Ring betrayed Pippin, as it does all those who try to claim It. It fell from Pippin’s hand just as the Orcs approached. He had no chance to hide or run,” he said quietly.
“But we can’t–” Sam tried again.
“Sam,” Aragorn said sternly yet gently. “Trust me when I tell you that, moments ago, I spoke the very words that you do now. But Legolas’s answer still holds: Not even all of us, skilled as we are, can take on a thousand Orcs. To do so would be suicide, and would surely be the death of Pippin, as well.”
“So, what do we do now?” Merry’s small voice shook with misery, yet revealed the hope he still held to save his cousin.
Frodo finally spoke. “And what of the Ring?”
In a moment of heavy silence, the enormity of the circumstances crashed down upon them. Boromir looked at Aragorn expectantly, as elf and dwarf shared a look of their own. The four Big Folk looked to the hobbits then and found hope there to counter their despair. Aragorn sighed. “Nine of us left Rivendell, with our goal Mordor. Then,” he continued with another heavy sigh, “we were eight. Now seven, as the Ring and Pippin are taken to Mordor. I say we continue our path. We will not abandon Pippin. Nay, we cannot. There is a means to save Pippin. We simply must find it. If fortune truly favors us, we will find a way to regain the Ring as well.”
“You do not sound convinced of that, my friend,” Gimli said. “Has our quest failed?”
When Aragorn hesitated in answering, Legolas jumped in. “As long as we continue and do not lose hope, our quest continues, Master Dwarf.”
“Forgive me, Master Elf,” Boromir said, with a cynical chuckle, “but the Ring is in the hands of Orcs, headed directly for Mordor. I do not see any room for hope.”
“If you see no hope, Son of Gondor, then indeed you will find none,” Legolas responded.
“You truly believe we can regain the Ring? And free Pippin? Truly?” Boromir advanced a step towards the elf in challenge. He would have Legolas give him something to hang his hope on.
After a telling pause, Legolas answered quietly, “There are many forms of freedom. I do not say which we can provide for Pippin, but to leave him to the Orcs only assures his future torment.”
“And what form of freedom would you find acceptable for the Ring? How do you propose we fulfill our Quest now?” he asked bitterly.
“The only way we can,” said Aragorn, stepping forward decisively. “We follow Pippin and the Ring to Mordor. Our goal remains. Now, we walk straight into the Fires of Orodruin, and see what doom awaits us.”
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