Italics indicate a flashback.
‘Merry, how did you get this scar?’
I flinch away from Estella’s gentle touch, her fingers tracing the large brown scar that runs across my brow. Her voice and large brown eyes are kind, but I know that if I don’t answer her now, she will continue to ask, until I finally give in. But it is so hard to speak about; there is so much pain associated with that memory.
‘I know it’s difficult for you to speak about, Merry,’ Estella says, moving her hand from my forehead to cup my cheek. I lean slightly into her hand as she continues. ‘But if we are to be wed, then there can be no secrets between us, not even painful memories. Please, Merry.’
Her voice is so pained; I can feel tears begin to well up in my eyes, but resolutely blink them back. If I am to tell my love this tale, then I must be strong for her.
‘I’ve told you already some of the story: that Pip and I were captured by the Orcs at Parth Galen and taken as far as Fangorn Forest, but I never told you what happened during that journey.’ Estella nods, silently urging me to go on. I take a shuddering breath, willing myself to remember a time that I would rather just forget all together.
I watched as Boromir fought, watched as he was struck by multiple arrows, watched as he kept fighting, even though he was mortally wounded. So caught up in my grief for Boromir, I did not hear the Orcs come up behind Pippin and me. I probably wouldn’t have noticed their presence, had Pippin not cried out when they grabbed at him.
I turned at my dear cousin’s frightened cry, drawing my sword by instinct; anything that had Pip screaming like that was a foe. At the sight before me, though, I nearly froze: hundreds of Orcs, just ready to pounce on Pip and me. The only thing that spurred me into action was the fact that I needed to protect my dear Peregrin.
Trying desperately to remember everything that I had learned about sword-play, I threw myself at the foul beasts with a ferocity that I never knew I possessed. I managed to wound quite a few, cutting off their hands and arms and even scoring a few gut shots, but it wasn’t enough, not nearly enough. What was one small Hobbit against a hundred monstrous Orcs?
After only a moment, I was overwhelmed, my sword thrown aside. I watched in horror as Pippin was knocked over the head and then fall, unconscious. It was then that a searing pain flashed through my own head, but I willed myself to stay awake. The Orcs laughed at my struggle and beat me all the more savagely before binding me and slinging me across one of their shoulders, like an overgrown sack of taters.
I caught sight of Pippin, not far away, being carried in the same fashion as I was. He had blood running over his face from his nose, a product of being stuck. He looked like nothing more than a rag doll left out for the dogs to play with, forgotten and tattered.
Oh, Pip, I thought miserably before darkness claimed me, I’m so sorry.
I choke, the memories so clear and vivid that I cannot go on. Estella reaches out to me and takes both of my hands in her own. How small her hands seem, compared to my own overgrown ones. Raising my gaze from our entwined hands, I meet Estella’s gaze and notice the tears shimmering in her beautiful eyes.
‘You don’t have to go on if the memories pain you so,’ she tells me, her voice watery from unshed tears. ‘I understand if you cannot say any more.’
‘My dear, sweet Estella,” I manage, almost overcome by my love for this Hobbit-lass. What have I ever done to deserve the love of one such as her? ‘I would stop if I could, but I cannot. The flood of memories has begun; it cannot be stopped. If I do not let it out now, then I fear it shall consume me.”
“All right, then,’ she murmurs, scooting closer to me, placing her back against my chest and pulling my arms around her midsection. I don’t know whether the gesture was meant to comfort her or me, but if it was meant for me, it is working.
When I finally awoke, I was lying on the ground, Pippin nowhere in sight. I panicked, thinking that the Orcs had already done something horrible to him. I immediately began screaming his name, which attracted the attention of every Orc there.
One of the largest, ugliest creatures roughly slapped me across the mouth, quieting my cries. Her crouched down in front of me and pulled my face close to his. It tried to shy away from his foul breath, but his grip on my chin wa too strong.
‘So the rat has a voice,’ he spoke in the Common Speech, his voice harsh. ‘A voice that he should learn to quiet before some of my lads forget their orders and decide that they want fresh meat for dinner.’ With that, the Orc flicked his wrist, sending my head flying backwards into the hard ground, before raising to his full height and stalking away.
Through the pain and fog in my head, I realized that I still didn’t know where Pippin was. The Orcs could have tortured him or… or… or done worse things to my innocent, young cousin. I had promised myself when we left the Shire that I would protect Pippin. But I couldn’t. I was a prisoner myself, my fate ruled by the whims of beasts.
Soon, I was thrown on an Orc’s back and the company started moving again. After struggling for a moment to look around at anything but an Orc’s neck, I gave up the pursuit. I couldn’t turn my head far enough to hope to see Pippin. After a seeming eternity, I finally fell into a dark dream.
When I awoke next, it was still dark in the world outside; whether it was the same night as before or a year later, I didn’t know. I knew I was again on the ground and, from the sounds around me, that the Orcs were arguing about something. I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, though, because my hearing was slight murky, most likely from being stuck on the head too many times.
As if from nowhere, an Orc appeared above me, barely visible in the moonless gloom. He grabbed my hair and hauled me to my feet before wrapping one of his arms around my chest, underneath my arms, and holding me up in front of him, like a live shield. In his other hand, he held a long, wicked-looking dagger up against my head. I flinched as I felt the blade bite into my skin, drawing a trickle of blood.
‘Put the Halfling down!’ a voice commanded from out of the gloom. ‘Put it down now before we decide to eat you for dinner!’
‘To get to me, you have to go through the Halfling,’ the Orc holding me hollered back. ‘And what would your precious Saruman say to that, I wonder?’
I heard the twang of an arrow loosed from a bow, and the Orc holding me staggered and made a gurgling noise. He fell forward, still holding me and the dagger to my head. When he landed atop me, he pushed my forehead into the dagger, an explosion of pain radiating outward to the rest of my body.
I watched in a daze as my blood began to stain the ground beneath me, turning the green grass into a bright crimson. I could feel, with every heartbeat, my life flowing out of me, onto the ground, feeding the earth. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe; the Orc on top of me was crushing me, sealing my fate.
Just when I felt certain that I would die in just one more moment, the Orc was thrown off of me and I was rolled onto my back. The Orc above me said what I thought was a curse in his native tongue (although I had always thought that every word in their speech sounded like a curse) before roughly binding the wound with a dirty cloth.
‘I expect it was then that I fell into unconsciousness again,’ I tell Estella, holding my arms about her just a little tighter than before. ‘The next thing I remember is being awoken to find Pippin standing before me, both of us surrounded by those foul Orcs.’
Estella is silent, but I can feel her body shaking with quiet sobs. I take my arms from about her and gently turn her until we are face to face. Her lovely fair face is streaked with tears, her beautiful eyes slightly bloodshot.
‘Darling, don’t cry,’ I tell her, pulling her to my chest and gently stroking her thick brown hair. I can already feel her tears soaking through my shirt. ‘Your tears can change nothing, darling, no matter how hard both you and I want them to. It is done and over with, and I have learned to move past it. Please, Estella, can you do the same?”
She pulls back and out eyes meet. It is almost as if I can read her soul in that gaze: her love, her sorrow, her good heart. Hesitantly, she reaches out and places her fingers against my scar. I close my eyes, willing myself to keep my tears back.
I open my eyes when Estella’s hand falls away from my face. Her eyes no longer contain tears, only their aftermath. She once again takes both of my hands in hers, but, this time, I keep my eyes riveted to hers.
‘I will try, Merry. I will try.’
On impulse, I lean forward and capture her lips with my own, kissing her with all the love inside of me. Again, I wonder what I ever did to deserve the love of Estella.