A/N: My dearest readers - If you are reading this chapter, then I want to thank you so much for hanging in there and waiting so patiently for me to update this story. It’s been quite a long while, I know, and I wish I could update more often. Medical school unfortunately has a habit of taking up quite a bit of time.
I’ve been working on this story for seven or more years already, and I still have every intention of finishing it. It has been (mostly) plotted out to its conclusion; I just need to write the actual paragraphs of story. Thanks to a recent bout of inspiration from my muse, I’ve been able to produce several chapters – enough to carry us through to the end of the movie version of The Two Towers. I will post those next few chapters (and hopefully more) throughout the summer.
So to all you readers, whether you are old friends or new, thank you. It is your support that drives me to write. I hope you enjoy this “long-expected” chapter, and if you do, please leave a review! And, as always, much thanks to my Beta, Hufflepuff, who exchanges so many e-mails and ideas with me that this story is definitely partially hers as well. Thanks and much love to you all, Linaewen.
Chapter 21: Wandless and Wordless
Grrrggggg. The sound came clearly through the steady drip, drip of Orthanc’s dungeon.
“That one was definitely louder than yours, Merry!”
“Oh, shut it, Pip,. I’m taller than you are, and so my size means that my stomach must make more noise!”
A slight smile tugged at the corner of Ron’s mouth as he listened to this cousinly bickering. But even with this small amount of amusement, his spirits remained at the depth of the Mines of Moria.
He had never truly appreciated the sun until these past few days. Not even when he was in the Mines had it crossed his mind that the sun was a wonderful thing indeed. The way its rays warmed the skin, the way it bloody well even cast shadows that gave objects shape and depth! Here in Orthanc, there was no sunlight – especially not in the dungeons. A small, puttering candle that was far out of reach provided the only source of light, almost mocking him. If only I had my wand, I could use the Lumos spell….Magic was another one of those things he had taken for granted his entire life.
Ron sighed. He and his companions were all being kept in separate cells. Unable to even amuse themselves by playing the patty-cake hand games Ron had always been forced to play with Ginny when they were little, the three of them were reduced to having all sorts of inane contests. First it had been belching (Pippin had won that quite handily), and then it had been riddles (Ron had won that because he had known unique ones). It was upon Merry’s suggestion that they were currently gauging whose stomach growled the loudest.
Only a few scraps of stale bread had been tossed through the bars of their cells since they had been cast into the darkness of the dungeon. Ron, who had always been well fed throughout his life, had recently grown accustomed to the strange sensation of feeling satisfied with only a few bites of lembas. But now his body protested against the lack of food. This worked well for the contest currently taking place, but Ron still felt faint and shorter of temper than usual. For the Hobbits’ sakes he tried to keep his feelings in check, but it was difficult. He had always had someone to complain to, someone to tell him that everything would be all right. Now he only had himself – for while the Hobbits were indeed older than he was, they acted near his age or younger. And it seemed that they looked up to him, both literally and figuratively, so he felt responsible for them.
Whether it was night or day they did not know. The unchanging darkness of the dungeon, broken only by that single, flickering candle, ensured that they were even unaware of how much time had elapsed since their imprisonment. It could have been a day, or even three days. Ron felt that it had not yet been long enough to be a week, not yet.
Silence hung over the trio of prisoners as they listened for the next stomach to growl. They had tried talking when they were first locked up, but now even talking felt like too much of an effort. The stillness in the air was broken only by the steady breathing of the three companions.
It was odd being locked up in here, Ron thought. It was not at all like any story that he had ever read or heard of. There were no rats in this place, no other sign of life. In a way this was far more disconcerting, to be shut into a cell with nothing but the clothes on his back and a cold stone floor.
Ron leaned back against the wall opposite the bars, shutting his eyes. Sleep had remained elusive for nearly the entire time he had been locked up, and had only come once when he had been overcome by sheer exhaustion. There was no pallet, blanket, or even a bit of straw to provide any sort of bedding against the coldness of the floor. It was fortunate that the Uruks had been unwilling to touch the Elven cloaks, for Ron’s now served as his only way to keep warm. He sat against the wall with the cloak under him and his legs bent, so that only his booted feet needed to touch the stone. His hood was up, hopefully trapping whatever heat escaped from his head. He was glad that he remembered the time in third year where Hermione had lectured to him about keeping his hat on….
Bloody hell, why was it that no matter what he thought about his mind always went back to her? The image of that stolen moment during the battle at Parth Galen crept unbidden into his mind. He could almost feel her hand resting at the back of his neck, could almost hear the clanking of the Uruks’ armor as they ran by their hiding place –
Ron sat up quickly. The clanking sound had not been his imagination; it seemed to be coming closer, muffled by the heavy wooden door that separated the dungeon from the rest of the tower. Heavy footsteps paused for a moment before the door creaked open on its little-used hinges to reveal the light of a torch. Ron blinked rapidly, dazzled by the sudden flare of light. When his vision cleared, he saw an Uruk carrying a torch, accompanied by three others.
“You three, on your feet!” barked the torch-bearer. “Saruman wants to see you. We’re opening the doors – no funny tricks!”
Mutely the prisoners stood, throwing each other worried glances. Saruman would probably want more information from them, but the time passed within his cell had not changed Ron’s mind one jot. He wished that there was some way to ensure that Merry and Pippin felt the same.
But how could he do anything but give them significant looks with the four guards standing by them? Ron assessed the situation quickly. The Uruks had already let the Hobbits out of their cells. Before the guard could finally open the door to his, Ron stood up. He was almost as tall as the Uruk-Hai, and while his lanky frame had become stronger throughout his journey, he knew he would be quickly overcome if he tried hand-to-hand combat. Tussling with his older brothers over who got to ride the good broomstick during Quidditch matches was nothing compared to fighting with these beasts. This battle would be won by wit alone – his mind was his only weapon.
If only he had Hermione’s brains. The best he could to was think of the contests earlier.
“You guys know what to do, right?” he asked, looking widely at Merry and Pippin.
They only frowned quizzically back as he began to caper and chant:
“The most fragile thing am I,
To be broken by the merest sigh.
If you speak my name
Well then – for shame!
For I well and most truly die.”
He was rewarded for this behavior with a sharp rap on the head. Stars winked before his eyes as he fell and the guard said, “Fool! Saruman won’t want you to jest in his presence. Now up, and quiet with it!”
From his kneeling position on the floor, Ron glanced around the creature’s thick, armored legs at his two companions. Merry continued to frown for a few moments before his eyes widened in understanding. Pippin looked more confused than ever. “But that’s one of – ”
A sharp kick from his cousin, accompanied by a glare, was enough to silence him immediately. He suddenly understood, and pressed his lips together as if to prevent any further sound from signaling Ron’s true intentions to the Uruks present. The two Hobbits gave slight nods to indicate their comprehension.
Feeling marginally better about their situation, Ron stood up. He allowed the guard to bind his hands and lead him out of the cell, up the steps, and past the heavy door.
The light within Orthanc was dim, but after the dungeon it seemed as though the sun itself were shining within the tower’s stark walls. Ron, Merry, and Pippin stumbled along as their eyes grew accustomed to the light. They walked for some distance; Ron supposed that Saruman would be waiting for them several feet above the dungeon.
He smelled it even through the closed door before they entered. The scent of roasted meat and fresh bread reached his nostrils as they stood before the doors to the chamber where Saruman had received them once before. Glancing down, Ron saw his two companions salivating at the thought of proper nourishment. What was Saruman on about now? Perhaps he had just eaten. But no – as the doors were swung open, Ron saw the food gloriously spread out on a long table to one side of the room.
His mind raced. Had Saruman perhaps determined that this was their weakness, that eating in front of them would be the most effective form of torture? Ron’s stomach had never felt emptier. He raised his eyes, determined to not say a word, and was met with the sight of Saruman once again reclining easily in his carved seat of stone.
“Welcome,” the Wizard said smoothly. “Our last meeting was, perhaps, less than cordial. Allow me to begin these proceedings correctly this time.” He nodded to the Uruks who had led them upstairs. “Unbind their hands. For the moment, they are my guests.”
Ron’s eyes widened in surprise, but he said nothing as the rough rope was unknotted. His hands fell to his sides. Glancing at his two companions, he saw that they were rubbing their wrists, but making no comment.
“What, no word of thanks?” Saruman asked. “It is true that I should hardly expect any. Guards, leave us. Gríma, do what you must.”
The Uruks grunted and shuffled to the door. It fell shut with a loud boom. The clanking of the armor stopped just beyond the doorway. Now a hunched, pale figure in dark robes came forward and drew a bolt across before retreating into the shadows.
Clearly Saruman was still taking no chances, for all his talk of keeping Ron and the Hobbits as guests.
The Wizard stood and approached, his expression deceptively warm. That smile just gave Ron a bad feeling – it felt rather as it might if Snape were to begin grinning at students. “I know much about you, Ronald Weasley. I know that you possess powers of an unusual sort. And you two, Masters Brandybuck and Took,” he added, looking at the Hobbits. “Gandalf has always set such store by the strength of Hobbits. I am curious to learn the merits of your people. The three of you must enlighten me.”
His voice had changed with the last sentence. It had taken on a lulling, melodic quality that made it difficult for Ron to keep silent.
“I must know your secrets,” the Wizard continued, with more force. “Together, as allies, we could defeat the Dark Lord Sauron.”
You want to, for all the wrong reasons, Ron thought.
Saruman had paused, waiting for a verbal response. When he saw that expressions of defiance were the only reply, he decided to change tactics, indicating the spread upon the table.
“I realize how poor your rations must be as prisoners. Partake of this food before we begin; it is, I am sure, far better than what you have had in recent times...”
There it was again – that silkily dangerous tone that the Wizard used when trying to hypnotize others into doing his will! Ron’s feet began to move, seemingly of their own volition. He heard Merry and Pippin utter a cry as he ran to the table and began to sweep his arms across it, dashing all the food to the floor. His stomach protested wildly as meats, cheeses, bread, even fresh fruits tumbled from the table.
Ron turned back to face the shell-shocked Hobbits with an apologetic expression. He himself had barely known what he was doing – merely acting upon instinct to remove any source of temptation that might force them to betray their friends.
Saruman had not made a move to stop him. The Wizard’s eyes glittered dangerously as he tightened his grip around the black staff he always carried. Ron glared at him, chin jutting out in defiance.
“So,” Saruman said.
Ron continued to stare, his mouth set in a hard line.
“You make this difficult,” Saruman said. “I gave you a second chance, yet you remain unwilling to comply. Now your friends must suffer for your disobedience.”
He raised his staff and the Hobbits were thrown onto their backs by an invisible force. The unseen power held them down, squeezing the air from their lungs.
“Ron,” Merry gasped. “Ron, don’t just – ”
“Shhh! Remember what I said earlier!” he replied. To Saruman he shouted, “Let them up! You’ll kill them!”
“Perhaps, if you are willing to aid me.”
As the Hobbits writhed on the ground, struggling for air, Saruman gave an evil smile. “Then I presume that the knowledge that your friend confronted me – and that I broke her will – shall not make much difference.”
Hermione! “If you’ve hurt her…”
“Oh, we did not meet physically. But I am afraid that her power may not ever be what it was.”
“You’re lying! You have to be lying!”
“Am I?” He raised his staff, and the pressure eased off of Merry and Pippin for a moment. But he bore down the next instant, with greater force. The two Hobbits cried out as their heads struck the stone floor once again. “Tell me what I wish to know, and perhaps I will tell you if it is the truth.”
I can’t. He could not stand the sight of Merry and Pippin being harmed, but to betray Frodo would result in far worse consequences. If only he had his wand, he could put up a real fight. If only – if only he knew what Harry would do in this circumstance. His best mate had gotten into some terrible situations before, but it seemed as though he thought quickly and managed to escape. But he had had a wand. What could Ron do without –
The whole tower shook.
Something massive was shaking the tower, shaking the very earth.
“My lord!” The pale, hunched Gríma came hurrying out of the shadows by the open door leading to the balcony. “We are under attack!”
His concentration broken, Saruman released the Hobbits and hastened to the balcony to see what was going on outside.
Ron seized his chance. He dragged Merry and Pippin to their feet. “Come on, come on, let’s GO!” he cried, not caring if Saruman heard. He pulled them along for a few moments before crouching down. Merry understood without words, and clambered onto Ron’s back as best he could. Ron stood and swept Pippin from the floor.
Now he could run, since his shoulder was mostly healed, but where could he go? The process of deciding seemed to take an excruciatingly large number of hours, even though it was only a few moments. He glanced to his right. Saruman and Gríma were still staring at whatever was going on outside. There was only one way to go, then.
Ron turned to the bolted door and ran.
He knew it wasn’t like Platform Nine and Three-quarters, where the wall simply melted to let him through. He heard Pippin give a frightened squeal, felt Merry’s arms tightening tensely about his throat. But that did not matter. He simply barreled toward the clearly locked door. Moments before the impact, he closed his eyes, oblivious to Merry and Pippin’s yells.
And with a massive BANG, the doors burst open.
Ron skidded into the hallway, ignoring the Hobbits’ cries of amazement as he scanned for the guards. The Uruks must have deserted their posts to investigate the disturbance. He recognized the direction from which they had come earlier. He knew this led downstairs, so he took off in the other direction.
“How did you do that?” Pippin asked. “Opening the door?”
“Must be – magic – uncontrolled – like a kid,” Ron panted. There must be some way out of here, some window or balcony, where they could get the attackers’ attention. Hopefully they were allies. Ron had not even considered the possibility that they weren’t.
“Good idea too, the riddle,” Merry said as they started up some steps. “Clever.”
“Thanks,” Ron managed, still running. “Don’t talk – not yet.” Behind him he heard angry shouts and the clanking of armor, indicating that Saruman had noticed their absence.
He was growing tired already. Even with his shoulder in better condition than the last time he had carried the Hobbits, he still could not run very far without becoming tired. If they did not find freedom soon, they were as good as dead.
Up ahead, daylight was streaming through an opening. Ron took a deep breath and put on an extra burst of speed, taking the last few steps two at a time. He flung himself out into the glorious sunlight as the tower of Orthanc shook once more. Too exhausted to look, he set Pippin down and let Merry slide off his back before collapsing against the wall, breathing heavily.
Pippin peered through the spaces in the balcony to see below. “It’s the trees! They’re the ones attacking!”
“Like in the Old Forest!” Merry said excitedly. He jumped up and down and shouted, hoping to catch their attention, but they were too high up. Perhaps the creatures were too intent upon destroying Saruman’s domain to hear the Hobbit’s small voice.
“Ron, you have to catch their attention!” Merry cried. “You’re tall, your hair’s bright, they’ll see!”
With an effort, Ron pulled himself away from the wall and leaned over the edge. He waved his arms frantically and called out, “Help! We’re prisoners, help us!”
But his energy was spent, and his voice came out weak and reedy. Merry and Pippin augmented his calls with their own, their cries growing louder as they heard the heavy footsteps of Uruks approaching.
Below, a single tree-creature stopped and appeared to glance up in their direction. Sure enough, it began to shuffle closer to them, but they were still a good distance away from its reach. Ron made up his mind in a split second. With a final burst of adrenaline, he lifted each Hobbit bodily up onto the rail of the balcony before climbing up himself.
“What are you – ” Pippin began, but Ron cut him off.
“They might save us down there, or they might be too late. But I’d sooner die than go back in there, where I might betray our friends. Are you with me?”
The two Hobbits nodded grimly in reply. Ron stood, grasping their hands.
“Best of luck, then,” Pippin said with a wry smile. Merry and Ron gave uneasy laughs as they all tightened their grips on each others’ hands.
The Uruks rounded the corner onto the balcony, leering and grunting. And before they could second-guess themselves, the companions leaped into space, hurtling downward to their fate.
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