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A New Kind of Courage  by Auntiemeesh

Beta by Pipspebble

Chapter Ten: Promises

Merry woke the next morning to the sound of someone moving around the tent. Opening his eyes, he found that it was still quite dark and a shadowy figure was bent over the brazier. After a brief moment of alarm, Merry realized it was Aragorn.

The King turned with a smile, greeting the hobbit quietly. "Good morning, Merry. I trust you slept well last night?"

"Very well, thank you," Merry replied, pushing his blanket back and sitting up. Stretching, he noticed that his right arm was completely free of the slight ache heíd barely noticed yesterday. Grinning, he stretched a bit more vigorously, enjoying the freedom of movement.

"I was just going to set some water for tea. Would you like some?" Aragorn poured water into the kettle as he spoke, and at Merryís nod, he added an extra measure.

ĎNow, let me just take a look at you while the water is heating." So saying, Aragorn moved to Merryís side carrying a lamp which he set down on the far side of the hobbitís cot. Lighting the lamp, he set the wick so there was just enough light for him to see Merry, without flooding the tent with light and waking Pippin.

"Any nightmares?" he asked as he looked in Merryís eyes, checked his pulse and felt his head for fever.

Merry searched through his mind. There had been dreams, certainly, half-remembered images of home and friends, but nothing unsettling or frightening. "I think I dreamed that Pippin stole my pipe. I donít suppose that counts as a nightmare, though."

"It depends on how much value you place on the pipe, I suppose." Aragorn laughed softly. "Still, try to be aware of your dreams for the next few weeks, at least. If they become disturbing or dark, I want you to come to me immediately. This is very important," he added when Merry tried to dismiss his concern. "Iím willing to wager that you started having dark dreams before you had any other indication that you were unwell, yes?"

"Well, yes, I suppose so," the hobbit muttered, not really wanting to think about those dreams if he could avoid it. "It seems only natural, though, to have nightmares after the things Iíve seen the past few months."

"That is true, but if the Shadow should begin to return again, it will most likely show itself in your dreams first. The sooner I know about it, the sooner I can help you." Aragorn waited for Merryís response.

Merry looked at the king enquiringly. "How am I supposed to tell the difference between regular nightmares and these, these," he groped about for an appropriate term, "these Shadow-touched dreams?"

"I suspect regular nightmares will seem less frightening to you than the horrors that have been running through your mind for the last week or so," Aragorn replied gravely. "However, I think it best, at least for now, that you see me about any nightmare. Please promise me that you will not hold back for fear of bothering me or being a nuisance."

"Very well. I promise that at the very first hint of a nightmare I will come to you directly." Merry hoped that he would not have any more of those hideous dreams, but Aragornís words made perfect sense.

"Thank you," the King replied, before moving on to complete his examination of the hobbit. "Ah, very good. You are looking nearly your old self again." He clapped Merry on the shoulder. "I would like to see a bit more color in your cheeks, but I think that can be accomplished fairly easily. Some time spent out in the sun should get you looking rosy again in no time. I donít see the need for any further restriction of your activity. You are free to come and go as you please, Master Brandybuck."

Merry bowed in acknowledgment and then proceeded to dress himself as Aragorn checked the water before turning his attention to Pippin. "Would you please bring the lamp over here and turn it up a bit?" the king asked, indicating the small table between the beds.

Merry obliged, setting the lamp in the indicated spot and turning the wick until the tent was filled with a cheery glow. Wanting to be close, but not in the way, Merry returned to his cot and watched as Aragorn examined the other hobbit, who was beginning to stir with the increased light and activity in the tent.

"Hello, Pippin. How are you feeling this morning?" Aragorn asked quietly. Pippinís mumbled reply was too soft for Merry to hear, but he noticed Aragornís response with a twinge of concern. The King frowned ever so slightly and put a hand to Pippinís forehead.

"Mm, yes, you are running a slight fever. I think yesterday was, perhaps, a bit too exciting." The King smiled reassuringly. "Iíll make you some elderberry and peppermint tea. That should help you feel better."

After examining the hobbitís various bruises and cuts, he announced that Pippin was healing well. "Still, I think Iíll put a poultice on this cut again today," he remarked, gently touching the bandage around Pippinís calf. "One more day should do it, however."

Aragorn moved away from the cot and began pulling out herbs and ointments. He beckoned Merry over. "I know you, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and I can tell that you are already working yourself up to a fine worry, before you even know what is wrong." Merry opened his mouth to protest but was given no chance, as Aragorn continued "I do not want you hovering over Pippin and worrying him with your anxiety." Merry frowned and Aragorn relented a little. "He really is going to be well, Merry. This fever has been coming and going for several days, and is not serious. He is simply overtired. Re-experiencing those memories yesterday, on top of fretting over your health the past two days, has worn him out. He just needs to rest a bit."

Merry had a hundred things he wanted to say to this. He bit them all back and nodded. "Very well, Aragorn, I will try not to hover." At least not too much, he amended to himself. Aragorn was correct in one thing. He was feeling very worried, in spite of the Kingís reassurances. Pippin hadnít had a fever yesterday or the day before, so this seemed like a major setback to Merry. He was determined to stick close to his cousin until he was sure the younger hobbit truly was well.

"Thank you." Aragorn eyed Merry as if trying to determine how sincere he was. "Now go entertain your cousin while I mix up his medicines." He clapped Merry on the shoulder before giving him a slight nudge in the direction of Pippinís cot.

Merry obligingly sat on the edge of the cot, looking down at the ill hobbit. Pippinís eyes were closed, lashes dark against the pallor of his skin. He wasnít asleep, Merry could tell, as his breathing was too uneven.

"Hullo, Pip," he said as cheerfully as he could when Pippinís eyes fluttered open.

"Hílo, Merry," the younger hobbit whispered groggily. "What time is it?"

"Itís early. Not yet time for first breakfast."

Pippin managed a half-smile. "Youíve been spending too much time with the big people, Merry." His voice grew clearer as he spoke. "Whenever you wake up is time for first breakfast."

"Not according to these Gondorian cooks." Merry was very glad to see Pippin teasing, even a little. "Still, I suppose I could try to round something up for you, if itís an emergency."

"What is this emergency?" Aragorn asked, coming up and hearing only the last few words.

"Pippin was asking about breakfast, Aragorn." Merry turned to the King, allowing his frustration to show in his face. "You should have brought some food with you."

Aragorn sighed, giving Merry a stern glance. "I cannot be forever thinking of nothing but hobbit stomachs."

"Did I just hear something about hobbit stomachs?" Legolas asked as he entered the tent, carrying a well-laden tray. "I thought there might be need for provender, once you had awakened these two." Smiling at the hobbits, Legolas set the tray down and stepped back. "I thought I might explore the area, this morning, and I was wondering if you would like to accompany me, Merry?"

"Thatís very kind of you, Legolas, but I think Iím going to stay here today." Merry ignored the look sent to him by Aragorn. "Pippin isnít feeling well and I want to keep him company."

Aragorn shook his head in gentle reproach. "Merry, just two minutes ago you made a promise to me that you would not hover over Pippin this morning."

"Iím not going to hover, Aragorn," the hobbit replied indignantly. "I have plenty of things I can do to keep me busy. All of my clothing needs mending and I daresay Pipís could use some mending, as well. That alone should last me through the morning."

"Merry," Aragorn shook his head. "I applaud your dedication to your cousin, but I am thinking of you now, as much as him. You have spent too much time worrying over others and not enough time taking care of yourself." The King sat down on the edge of a cot and placed both hands on Merryís shoulders. "You need to spend some time out of this tent. Go with Legolas. Walk around for a few hours. Come back for lunch and if Pippin is feeling better, the two of you may spend the afternoon together." He raised a finger to emphasize his point. "That is, if Pippin is allowed to rest this morning and his fever is down."

Merry wanted to argue. He wanted to protest that Pippin should have someone with him in case he needed anything, that as the ladís older cousin, he should be allowed to stay. After all, he was the one who would have to face Aunt Eglantine and Uncle Paladin if Pippin didnít make it back home, not Aragorn, King though he may be.

"Donít be stupid, Merry," Pippin intervened before Merry could speak. "Iím not a child. Iíll be fine on my own for a few hours." The younger hobbit sounded tired and cross. "Now, if youíre all done arguing, Iíd like some breakfast and then I think I want to sleep some more."

Merry stared at Pippin, quite taken aback. He could have argued with Aragorn all morning and not given in, but somehow, he couldnít find it in him to go against Pippin. Giving vent to a small sigh of defeat, he turned to the elf. "Very well, Legolas, I would be most pleased to spend the morning exploring with you."

"Good. I am taking another tray to Gimli." Legolas said. "He spent the night with Frodo and Sam. Why do you not come join us after you have eaten?"

After bidding Legolas farewell for the nonce, Merry turned back to Pippin. "What would you like to eat, Pip?" he asked a bit hesitantly, afraid his cousin might growl at him again.

"Oh, I donít know. Iím not terribly hungry, really." Pippin eyed the tray thoughtfully. "Maybe just a bit of fruit and some toast. And some of that cheese? Oh, and Iíll have a bit of the egg, as well, and that scone looks awfully tasty. No bacon, though. I donít think I could face bacon this morning."

Ignoring Aragorn, who was chortling over something in the background, Merry carefully helped the younger hobbit sit up, setting pillows behind for him to lean against, before filling a plate with the foods he had requested. He then filled his own plate with a good bit more of the same things and set to.

Despite his worries, Merry was pleased to see that his own appetite was back to normal this morning. It didnít take him long to clear his plate. He was disappointed with how little Pippin managed to eat, however. The younger hobbit managed a few bites of each food, but finished nothing.

Once the food was cleared away, Aragorn stepped in again. "Here, drink this down, Pippin," he said, handing the hobbit a cup. Pippin scrunched his face up in distaste, but obeyed Aragorn without comment. The King then handed him a cup of tea generously laced with honey.

"Merry, you may visit with your cousin a few minutes more and then he needs to be left alone so he can sleep." With a stern look at Merry, Aragorn waited until he received a reluctant nod before picking up the now empty tray and exiting the tent.

"Iím sorry, Mer," Pippin whispered sleepily. "I didnít mean to be cross, but Aragornís right. You canít just sit here all day, watching me sleep. I donít," he hesitated a brief moment, "I donít want to talk this morning, Merry. My head hurts, and my legs ache, and I donít feel well. Youíre not angry with me, are you?" He suddenly sounded very young and insecure and Merry hastened to reassure him.

"My dear ass, of course I am not angry with you." A faint smile flickered across Pippinís face at having his own words thrown back at him by the very person to whom heíd addressed them just a few short weeks ago, when Merry lay ill in the Houses of Healing.

"Just be glad Aragorn allows you to wake up from time to time," Merry advised. At Pippinís look, Merry continued. "I saw Frodo and Sam yesterday afternoon. Somehow, our cousin and his faithful servant have merited themselves an airy little bower in the midst of a beech grove, while we get to sleep here in this smelly old tent in the middle of a noisy encampment." Merry began with a grin, but sobered as he remembered his visit.

"Everyone assures me that they are going to be well, but Aragorn is keeping them asleep for now. He wonít let them wake up at all until they have recovered from their injuries and gained a lot of strength. Although how they are to do that when they arenít allowed to wake up long enough to eat is beyond me." Merry wondered about Aragorn sometimes. There were moments when he thought the King had learned nothing about hobbits during their time together.

Before he could mention this thought to Pippin, however, Gimli stuck his head inside the tent. "There you are, young hobbit. The elf is waiting for you, and Aragorn has asked me to remind you of your promise, whatever that means." Gimli looked disgruntled to be passing along messages that he didnít understand. "Go on with you now, Iíll spend some time with young Peregrin, here."

Not having any choice, Merry turned back to Pippin. "Get some rest, Pip. Iíll be back for luncheon."

Feeling terribly torn, Merry strode out of the tent. He stopped once outside the flap, fighting the desire to look back in and make sure Gimli was getting Pippin settled properly. Setting his jaw and forcing his hands to unclench, he turned and made his way to the beech grove housing Frodo and Sam.

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