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A New Kind of Courage  by Auntiemeesh

Chapter sixteen: Fishing
beta provided by Pipspebble

"Master Brandybuck, sir?" Marek entered the tent hesitantly.

Merry looked up from the game he and Pippin were playing. "Just Merry, remember, Marek?" he responded. "What can I do for you?"

"I have a message for you from Lord Aragorn, si... Merry." The soldier reddened slightly as he continued. "Thereís a bit of a crisis in the healing tents. Nothing to do with your friends," he added hastily, as Merry looked up in concern. "One of the lads is in a bad way and Lord Aragorn asked me to lend ye a hand this afternoon, as he thinks it likely heíll not be free for some hours, at least."

"I see." Merryís heart had frozen for just an instant, fearing that Frodo or Sam had worsened. Shaking off the sudden fear, he looked at Pippin, trying to gauge his cousinís response to this news. Pippin looked about ready to get out of bed and try walking to the stream, despite Aragornís warning. He clearly didnít care who took him out, so long as he was able to get away from the dark, stuffy tent for a little while.

"Very well," Merry said, smiling his gratitude at the soldier. "Aragorn was going to carry Pippin outside this afternoon, but Iím sure you can do that as well as he." Issuing directions and gathering up pillows and blankets to take with them, Merry soon had the little group organized to his satisfaction.

Marek was a bit awkward as he slipped his arms under Pippin and picked the hobbit up, jostling him slightly, causing Pippin to yelp and close his eyes. "Oh, Iím...Iím sorry, sir," Marek exclaimed in dismay, shifting his grip to hold Pippin more securely.

"No matter," Pippin replied faintly, "Iím just a bit dizzy, is all." He clutched Marek tightly and kept his eyes closed. "And itís just Pippin," he added, "Pippin Took, at your service."

Merry, who had managed to not interfere only by dint of great self-control, breathed easier when it was clear that Marek was not going to drop his cousin, or hurt him further. Picking up the makeshift bundle of pillows and blankets, he led the way to the small grove of trees by the stream.

Once there, Merry searched for the best place to set up, and soon found a shady spot under the fringe of the old willowís branches, and not far from the stream. Quickly shifting rocks and sticks out of the way, he spread a blanket on the ground and threw the pillows on it, gesturing to Marek that he could set Pippin down.

"Díyou think you could do us one more favour, Marek?" Merry asked with a smile. "It would be lovely to have our tea out here, if you could bring us a tray."

"Of course. Right away, sir .... Merry." Marek saluted smartly and turned back to the camp.

Merry turned his attention to Pippin, who was looking about the area with an indefinable expression on his face and a slight tension in his body language.

"A willow, Merry?" he asked, quirking one eyebrow at his cousin.

"Sheís a harmless old tree, Pip," Merry answered calmly. Moving closer to the tree, he placed a hand on the trunk, somehow sensing once again the contentedness of the ancient willow. "Remember when Treebeard was telling us about the trees, how some of them seemed hale and strong but were rotten in the core, and others that looked old and rotten were still very gentle and good? Well, this is one of the good ones. Even I can feel it. Legolas said all sheís thinking about is sunshine and squirrels."

Pippin sent him a look which clearly said if Merry wanted to believe such nonsense, that was all well and good, but Pippin was not such a gullible fool.

"Come away from the tree, Merry," he said, "and sit beside me." He tossed a pillow in Merryís direction and patted the ground at his side.

The two friends sat quietly for a time, content to bask in the warm spring air, listening to the chatter of squirrels in the branches of the trees, the scolding of an unseen bird, and the hum of insects. They remained like this until Marek returned with a tray, well-laden with food and drink.

"Please, join us," Merry invited as Marek set the tray down and stepped back. The young soldier hesitated only a moment before lowering himself to the blanket. Merry eyed the food on the tray and sighed. Tea would be more in the nature of a snack, he thought, rather than a full meal today. Still, any food at all was to be gratefully received. Heíd learned that, if nothing else, during the course of this miserable Quest.

He moved to fix a plate for Pippin, only to find it unnecessary. Pippin was for once within easy reach of the tray and was serving himself handily.

"You know, Merry," Pippin announced around a mouthful of bread and cheese, "Iíve just about had enough of this camp food."

"Pippin!" Merry admonished. "Thereís nothing wrong with this food." Aside from the fact that it was bland, tasteless and hard to chew, he reflected as he tore a bite of bread off a small loaf. Still, it was what they had, and heíd been hungry often enough in recent months to take what he could get.

ĎOh, I know," Pippin answered reflectively. "I just miss my mumís cooking, I guess. Or, well, Asterís cooking, at any rate." This last was added with a rather provoking grin.

Merry scowled. Everyone knew that Aster Twofoot was the best cook in the Shire and somehow Paladin Took had managed to steal her away from Brandy Hall three years ago. The Brandybucks had not yet forgiven the Tooks for this offense. Normally, Pippin was polite enough to refrain from bringing up this sore point between their families.

"Really Pip, I think all this fresh air has gone to your head," Merry muttered repressively. "Perhaps you should lie down now."

Pippin grinned unrepentantly, "Now, cousin. You donít want to smell of sour grapes, do you?"

"Speaking of sour grapes," Merry came back, "does Aster still have that little drinking problem? I remember two years ago at Yule, when she came out of the kitchen screaming that the Yule pig was trying to gore her, despite itís already roasted state."

Now it was Pippinís turn to scowl. There had, indeed, been several such incidents, which the Tooks tried to keep quiet.

Marek, who had taken a single pear and a small wedge of cheese, and not touched either, was looking between the two hobbits with growing discomfort writ large on his face. Catching his glance, Merry smiled reassuringly.

"Tíis an old argument, and one that wonít be resolved here." Eying the tray for another little tidbit, Merry saw that it was nearly empty, only one small cake left. Picking it up, he broke it in half, offering one of the pieces to Pippin; a peace offering.

The mood had become distinctly uncomfortable, however, and something needed to be done. Thoughts of home were all well and good but home was far away and it would be a long time before they returned to the Shire. Listening to the water rushing past, he remembered that last night in the Shire and softly began to sing, sending a look to Pippin, inviting him to join in.

"Sing hey! for the bath at close of day
That washes the weary mud away!
A loon is he that will not sing:
O! Water Hot is a noble thing!

O! Sweet is the sound of falling rain,
and the brook that leaps from hill to plain;
but better than rain or rippling streams
is Water Hot that smokes and steams.

O! Water cold we may pour at need
down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed;
but better is Beer, if drink we lack,
and Water Hot poured down the back.

O! Water is fair that leaps on high
in a fountain white beneath the sky;
but never did fountain sound so sweet
as splashing Hot Water with my feet!" (1)

They finished the song together, laughing breathlessly.

"I could do with a bit of beer right now," Pippin stated, "but I suppose Water cold will have to do." Picking up his cup, he drained it before pouring more water from the flask.

"Right, itís your turn now, Marek." Pippin looked at the young soldier earnestly. "Iím sure you know many songs that weíve never heard before."

Marek looked from one to the other. "Aye, I know plenty of songs. Let me think now." He was quiet a moment, face drawn inward, before beginning to sing.

"A maid walked out one day, one day
She met an aged man by the way.
His head was bald, his beard was grey
His clothing made of the cold earth and clay,
His clothing made of the cold earth and clay.

She said, "Old man, what man are you?
What country do you belong unto?"

"My name is Death. Hast heard of me?
All Kings and Princes bow down unto me.
And you, fair maid, must come along with me."

"Iíll give you gold, Iíll give you pearls.
Iíll give you costly rich robes to wear,
If you will spare me a little while.
And give me time my life to amend.
And give me time my life to amend.

Iíll have no gold, Iíll have no pearls.
I want no costly rich robes to wear.
I cannot spare you a little while,
Nor give you time, your life to amend,
Nor give you time, your life to amend.

In six months time this fair maid died.
"Let this be put on my tombstone," she cried.
"Here lies a poor distressed maid,
for in her prime she was snatched away.
Her clothing made of the cold earth and clay." (2)

The song was strange to Merryís ears and the slow, mournful sound of it made him slightly uneasy. Still, he thought, it was likely that one day, when death was a bit further removed than it had been these past few weeks, it might be a nice song to sing around a warm, cozy fire on a cold, winterís night. He had Marek repeat the song a few times, until he had it memorized. Then it was time for another song.

"How about this one, Merry? I learned it from Beregond on the march. Itís in a very old dialect, but he says the song is still quite popular in Minas Tirith." Pippin took another sip of water before beginning to sing.

"I have a yong suster
Fer biyonde the see;
Manye be the druries
That she sente me.

She sente me the cherye
Withouten any stoon,
And so she dide the dove
Withouten any boon.

She sente me the brere
Withouten any rinde;
She bad me love my lemman
Withoute longinge.

How sholde any cherye
Be withoute stoon?
And how sholde any dove
Be withoute boon?

How sholde any brere
Be withoute rinde?
How sholde I love my lemman
Withoute longinge?

Whan the cherye was a flowr,
Thanne hadde it no stoon;
Whan the dove was an ey,
Thanne hadde it no boon.

Whan the brere was unbred,
Thanne hadde it no rinde;
Whan the maiden hath that she loveth,
She is withoute longinge." (3)

Marek nodded his head in recognition as Pippin began to sing, and joined in with him on the second verse. When they had finished, it was quiet in the little grove of trees, but the atmosphere was genial and comfortable again.

"Do you remember the march, then?" Merry finally asked, unwilling to disturb the peace, but curious to know whether Pippin had recovered more of his memories.

Pippin didnít respond right away. He played with his pillows, rearranging them so that he was lying on his back, staring up at the willow fronds over his head. He looked drowsy and Merry thought he might fall asleep without answering at all.

"I think I remember almost everything, now, save the last day or so before the battle." He paused a moment. "Itís been quite an adventure, hasnít it, Merry?"

"It has, indeed." Merry forced a smile. "Just look at us. Valiant heroes of the War of the Ring. Theyíll write songs about us, Pippin, my lad, just you wait and see."

"Mm, Iíd like that," Pippin murmured, eyes shut. He said nothing more after that and a moment later he was asleep.

Merry covered his cousin with a light blanket and stood up to stretch his legs a bit. Taking the dirty dishes to the stream, he spent a few minutes scouring them out with sand and set them in a patch of sun to dry. Aware that Marek had settled against the willow, he rolled the cuffs of his breeches up and sat on the bank of the stream, dabbling his feet in the water.

He was half asleep, himself, when he felt the nibble on his toes. Coming awake with a splash, he saw the fish. Suddenly, he had a powerful desire to have fried fish for supper. Slipping his feet out of the water, he searched about in the grass until he found a long, sturdy stick. Taking his knife, he whittled the end of the stick into a sharp point. It wasnít the best fishing stick ever, he thought ruefully, but it should do the trick, if he was careful not to hit any rocks and shatter the point.

Walking very quietly back to the bank, he hovered, still and silent for a long moment, waiting for the perfect opportunity. When it came, he was a blur of movement, spearing into the water and pulling out a large trout. Half an hour later, there was a nice sized pile of fish at his side. Marek had seen what he was doing, and had joined him, and although the Man was not as fast with his spear, still he had added at least two fish to the pile.

Merry grinned up at his companion before pulling out his knife once more, this time to prepare the fish for cooking. Without speaking, Marek moved about the grove, gathering firewood and preparing a firepit. By the time all the fish were ready, Marek had a good fire going. Lacking a frying pan, they found a large flat rock to set in the fire. The aroma of cooking fish soon filled the grove and it wasnít long before Pippin began stirring.

"Wake up, lazy hobbit," Merry called, stretching out a foot to gently nudge Pippinís leg.

Pippin sprang into full wakefulness, slapping at Merryís foot and opening his eyes. "I smell fish," he announced with a happy grin.

"That you do, Pippin my lad. Marek and I have been hard at work while you slept the afternoon away. If you would care to sit up, we may be inclined to spare you a bite or two."

Merry helped Pippin rearrange his pillows again, then brought him a plate of hot, flaky fish, and a cup of cool water. He and Marek filled their own plates and the three sat in companionable silence for a time, as they ate their supper and watched the sky sink in the west, bringing their afternoon outing to an end.

After they ate, it was time to return to the camp. Merry bundled up the pillows and blankets while Marek lifted Pippin, much more smoothly and gently this time. They talked and laughed softly on the walk back, not wanting to disturb any of the patients in the healing tents. After Marek settled Pippin on his bed, he bid the two hobbits good evening, showing much more comfort with them than heíd done earlier that day.

Merry and Pippin continued to talk for an hour or so, but Pippin looked tired, and Merry did not want him overdoing it. Turning down the lamp, he ordered his cousin to sleep, and settled himself in his own bed, lying back and staring at the ceiling. It had been a good day. Pippin was healing well and would soon be on his feet again, Merry was sure. He was feeling well, himself, today, and he allowed himself to think that maybe he wouldnít have to worry about things so much now. Sinking back into his pillow, he closed his eyes and drifted off, the song heíd learned from Marek drifting through his thoughts like a gentle lullaby.

1. From The Fellowship of the Ring- A Conspiracy of hobbits, by J. R. R. Tolkien

2. Death and the Lady - medieval ballad of late 16th century origin- this version by John Fleagle, off his recording, "Worldís Bliss - medieval songs of love and death"

3. I Have a Yong Suster - middle English verse, anonymous author, dated to 1430

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