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A New Kind of Courage  by Auntiemeesh

Chapter Twenty-two: Victory
Beta provided by Pipspebble

Merry wandered the streets of Minas Tirith, alone, cold and afraid. His arm had gone numb and his mind had seemingly gone numb as well. Just moments ago he’d been with the others escorting Theoden King and Eowyn into the city, but now he couldn’t see them. He had turned himself around somehow, so that he now walked down and out of the city, back onto the field of battle. And then, suddenly, he was standing over Snowmane’s body, looking down on Theoden King.

Merry blinked in confusion. Hadn’t his knights already taken the king into the city? Or was that still to come? The thought passed and Merry forgot his confusion as he heard a sharp cry behind him. Turning he saw Dernhelm confronting the Lord of the Nazgul. "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him. *

"Foolish child! Think you that I care for your wordplay? I will sweep you out of my way, as I have done to all these others." The Nazgul laughed and swung his great black mace and Eowyn crumpled to the ground, open eyes-- already glazed over in death-- staring directly at Merry.

"No!" Merry shouted in horror. This wasn’t right, a tiny voice in the back of his mind whispered, it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. "No!" he shouted again. He tried to raise his sword but his arm was still numb and cold, and would not obey him.

This isn’t right, the voice in his mind said again, slightly louder this time, this is a dream, that’s all. A dream, Merry thought, clinging to that thought like a lifeline. This is only a dream. And suddenly he knew what to do. Closing his eyes, he concentrated fiercely on his memory of what really happened here, Eowyn shouting her defiance and killing the great beast the Nazgul rode. He fixed this image firmly in his mind and opened his eyes, forcing the scene before him to mold itself to the scene in his mind.

Eowyn rose slowly, until she was once again standing tall and proud before the Nazgul, and the Black Captain was silent before her. The scene played itself out as he knew it should. As the Nazgul brought his mace down on Eowyn’s shield and prepared to deliver the final blow, Merry crept up behind and dealt his own blow. Even as his sword sheared through the cloth and sinew, the scene before him wavered and dissolved.

Merry awoke with a great gasp, sitting up and staring about wildly. Light flooded the tent, too much light for his sleep-sensitive eyes and he squinted painfully, trying to understand what was happening.

"Easy, Merry," a calm, soothing voice spoke to him out the glare, and Merry was able to make out the figure of Aragorn. Blinking repeatedly until his eyes adjusted to the light, he looked about in confusion. Aragorn was seated on the edge of his cot, and the light was coming from a single lamp placed on the small table between the beds.

Scanning the room, he spied Pippin hovering near Aragorn, looking very pale and frightened. "What’s happened? Is something wrong?" His voice shook, and he slowly realized that the rest of him was shaking as well.

Ignoring his question, Aragorn placed a warm mug in Merry’s hands, wrapping his own large hands around the hobbit’s shaky ones. "Drink this down and then we shall talk."

Not having much choice, Merry allowed Aragorn to guide the cup to his lips and drank. The tea was only warm, not hot, and tasted comfortingly of chamomile. By the time he’d emptied the mug, his trembling had stopped and he felt a bit more coherent. His thoughts were gradually becoming more cohesive and he remembered the dream.

"I – I did it, Aragorn! I fought the Shadow, in my dream."

"I know," the king replied gravely. "Pippin sent for me when he couldn’t wake you. He was quite frightened, I think." Aragorn spared a reassuring glance at Pippin before continuing. "When I realised that you were fighting the Shadow on your own, I did not intervene, but simply watched to be sure of the outcome. You did very well, Meriadoc. I am most proud of you." He smiled warmly at Merry.

There was a small choking sound from Pippin and Merry opened his arms to the younger hobbit, who fell into them, embracing him fiercely. "I was so scared, Mer," Pippin choked, around sudden tears. "You were shouting and crying out in pain and I couldn’t wake you. You just kept shouting. I was so afraid you weren’t coming back this time."

Merry tightened his arms around Pippin and held him while his cousin cried himself out. He turned to Aragorn. "How long...?"

"I have been here for several hours," the king answered solemnly. "It is nearly morning." Merry was amazed and appalled that the dream, which had seemed to take only a few minutes, had lasted that long.

"But, that doesn’t seem possible," he murmured, shifting slightly as he tried to make himself more comfortable. Pippin had become a dead weight in his arms and looking down, he found his cousin had fallen asleep, tears still wet on his cheeks.

"Don’t wake him," he whispered when he saw Aragorn also glancing at Pippin. "I don’t think I’ve ever seen him looking so scared," he continued, struggling to understand everything that had happened.

"Neither have I," Aragorn answered. "He sent a guard to bring me, and when I got here, you were shouting and thrashing about, and Pippin was nearly frantic because he had not been able to wake you. The only other time I’ve seen him that pale was when Gimli brought him in from the battlefield."

Merry bit his lip, hating to think he’d brought such pain to his friend. Looking up at Aragorn, he braced himself for a difficult question. "Is the Shadow gone for good, now?"

"I wish I could answer that question for you, my friend," the king replied, just a hint of regret coloring his voice. "All I can see is that the Shadow was defeated for this time. Whether it will return or not will only be known with the passing of time. We will continue to talk of your dreams, for as long as you feel it necessary, but I think," and he smiled encouragingly, "that you are more than equal to whatever may come."

That answer wasn’t entirely what Merry had wanted to hear, but he supposed it would do. "Thank you, Aragorn," he whispered.

"Now, I suggest that you get some sleep while you may. Morning will be here soon."

Merry’s eyes slid closed even as Aragorn stood up. More dreams might come, but he was no longer afraid of them. Having come to this acceptance, he slept deeply and dreamlessly for the remainder of the night.

When he awoke, daylight suffused the tent. Rolling over to check on Pippin, he found no sign of his younger cousin, aside from a rumpled blanket pushed low on the other hobbit’s cot. Instead, his glance settled upon a pair of thick-soled feet propped on the edge of his bed. Looking further, he found the feet attached to Frodo, who leaned back in a chair, looking very comfortable indeed, as he waited for Merry to wake up.

"Hoy!" Merry exclaimed in mock indignation. "Get your great muddy feet off my bed. Have you no manners?"

Frodo smirked but removed his feet. "You’re a fine one to talk, sleeping until all hours of the day. Is this how you behave when no one is around to keep you in check?"

"‘All hours of the day!’" Merry snorted, "It’s barely eight o’clock, judging by the light, which means you’re up rather early for a Baggins. I suppose Sam rousted you out of bed, so you’ve came to pester me out of bed as well."

"Yes, so get up, you lazy log of a hobbit!" Frodo grinned and swatted at Merry with his good hand. "Actually, I’ve just come from Aragorn. When I said I was coming to get you, he asked me to let you know that Eomer won’t expect you for duty until after lunch today."

"That’s good to know, as otherwise I’d already be late." Merry observed with a self-deprecating laugh.

Frodo stood to walk around the tent, stretching his legs. "Aragorn said you had a rough night," he commented pensively.

"Where’s Pippin?" Merry asked, ignoring the implied question. He didn’t think it was time, just yet, to talk about the Shadow with Frodo.

"He and Sam have gone off to fetch us breakfast. I was going to bring some myself, but I don’t know my way about camp yet and couldn’t find the kitchen area." Frodo smiled ruefully as Merry laughed. "I want to talk with you while they’re gone," he added when Merry had quieted.

Merry was disconcerted by the sudden shift in Frodo’s mood. He had gone quite serious all of a sudden. "Talk about what?"

"I wanted to thank you, first of all, and to apologize. I should never have allowed you and Pippin to come along on this Quest. It was terribly selfish of me to allow either of you to be put in such danger as you were."

Though he tried, Merry couldn’t stifle the laugh that burst from him at Frodo’s apology. "I’m sorry, Frodo," he gasped as he caught his cousin’s slightly offended look. "It’s just that I’ve been saying the same thing about Pippin for weeks now, and I never realised how ridiculous it sounded until just now." Calming down, he continued, "You can’t lay that burden on yourself and apparently, neither can I, anymore. We all made the choice to be here and no one can change that now, simply by wishing things were different. What we can do, what we’ve been doing, is help each other face the consequences of the choices we’ve made."

Whatever else Frodo wanted to say would have to wait, as a shadow fell across the opening of the tent, followed by the cheery voices of Sam and Pippin. They shortly entered the tent with two large, nearly overflowing trays, and the four hobbits sat down to breakfast. They kept the conversation light and minimal while they ate, but as they began to fill up and settle back to pick and nibble, Merry raised his cup of tea.

"I would like to propose a toast," he announced. "To Frodo and Sam, for showing us that sometimes a fool’s hope is the only hope."

"To Frodo and Sam," Pippin repeated, and all four hobbits took a sip of their tea.

Then Frodo raised his cup. "I would also like to propose a toast. To Pippin, for the incredible bravery he showed throughout this Quest, but most especially for killing a troll, a feat that has never been rivaled by any hobbit, including the Bullroarer."

Once everyone had cheered, he continued. "And to Merry, for his bravery in facing the horror of the Black Captain, and most especially for having the courage to do what he must, even when it meant allowing the rest of us to go into danger without him."

Merry raised his glass with the others and drank the tea, but he remained silent, remembering the conversation he’d had with Faramir, seemingly a lifetime ago, when the Steward had talked with him about courage. "I think," Faramir began haltingly, "that these times call for a new kind of courage from us, Merry. The courage to face our own weakness and accept it. The courage to accept that in this instance, someone else is better suited to the task. There is no shame in this. You helped to rid the world of a great evil and suffered greatly in the doing. Now it is time to rest and heal." **

Merry smiled, finally understanding what Faramir had meant. He looked at his friends and felt his heart bursting with love and a great joy that they were all together once more, but certain now in the knowledge that even if they should be separated again in the future, in their hearts they would always be together.

The End

* The Return of the King, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

** This quote was taken from Chapter two of this story.

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