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A New Kind of Courage  by Auntiemeesh

Chapter three: The Summons

Merry was sitting on a bench in one of the gardens which overlooked the city. He had been released from the healers’ care several days ago but was still living at the Houses of Healing, having nowhere else to go. He’d continued to help where he could and the Warden, who’s name Merry had finally learned was Faragut, had found that Merry had a talent for organization. With this in mind, he had asked Merry to help him inventory the remaining supplies. Merry had taken on this task in addition to spending time with the convalescing patients, especially those from Rohan and other distant places who were far from home and alone. He had also fallen into the habit of eating his noon meal with Bergil, who was equally alone and lonely though he wouldn’t admit it. He was waiting for the lad now.

The wind was blowing from the north and clouds covered the sky. Merry wrapped himself in his cloak, wishing he still had his good wool coat. It had been lost when he and Pippin were stolen away by the orcs. He shivered, thinking of that, and turned his thoughts to other things. It had been seven days since Pippin and the others left. He wondered where they were. Had they reached the Black Gate yet, or were they still marching? Poor Pip must be exhausted, trying to keep up with the tall men of Minas Tirith. He remembered how hard it had been for all of them to keep up the pace Aragorn had set when they left Bree. The ranger had been as patient as he could be, but their shorter legs just couldn’t go as far or as fast as the tall ranger’s could. He had finally accepted this and slowed the pace just enough for them to make it to the end of each day. Now Pippin was the only hobbit amongst an army of men and Merry doubted Aragorn would slow the pace to accommodate one small soldier among many.

He was distracted from his worrying by the arrival of Bergil with a hamper full of food, a flagon of ale and another of water.

"Here," the lad said, handing over the flagon of ale, "Targon made me swear that I would turn this over to you directly, and promised that he would flay me alive if I drank so much as one sip of it."

"So how much did you drink, then?" Merry made a great show of weighing the flagon in his hand and trying to guess how much ale was missing, glad to have his gloomy thoughts interrupted.

Bergil grinned guiltily. "More than a sip, but not much more. Father doesn’t approve of us young lads drinking ale." Clearly his father’s approval mattered far more to Bergil than all of Targon’s threats.

The lad set the food down on the wall next to Merry and the two of them began to eat. Neither of them was terribly hungry, they found, and both just picked at the food. There was something oppressive in the air today and it was affecting them both.

"Do you think they are fighting, over there?" Bergil nodded towards the northeast, in the direction of the Black Gate. He sounded very young today, young and insecure. Merry wanted to give him reassurance, but found he had nothing to give. His heart was troubled.

"I feel sure that something is happening, or is about to happen," he answered. He shivered again and wrapped his cloak more tightly about himself. The wind, which had been blowing vigorously all morning, suddenly died down and all was still. Merry and Bergil looked out over the wall, neither talking. It seemed as though a giant hand was pressing down on the city. Everyone had paused and even the birds and beasts had gone quiet. Looking east, Merry gasped as he saw a mountain of darkness rising. His heart lurched painfully as the darkness was lit intermittently by flashes of lightning. It seemed that something was indeed happening. But just as Merry drew breath to cry out in fear and sorrow, the darkness lifted and blew away. Suddenly the sun was bursting through the clouds and the vice that had clamped itself around Merry’s heart released and fell away. He couldn’t explain the sudden joy he felt, or the tears that were running down his face. Looking to Bergil he saw that the lad had been similarly affected. They stared at each other for a long moment, unable to make sense of anything. Faintly, upon the gentle breeze that was springing up around them, Merry could make out the sounds of singing coming from the lower levels of the city. Clearly, whatever was happening, the lightening of fear was being felt all over Minas Tirith.

"Do you think," Bergil began hesitantly, "is it possible that we’ve...won?"

"It hardly seems possible or reasonable to suppose so, and yet," Merry faltered as he tried to explain what he felt, "I cannot help but think that some good thing has happened."

The two friends stood at the wall, waiting it seemed, although they knew not what they were waiting for. It was not long before they received an answer to Bergil’s question. The sun had just passed zenith and was slowly sliding down into afternoon when a great Eagle came winging in out of the east, crying out a message of victory. The sounds of singing redoubled as everyone began to celebrate.

Merry was kept very busy the next few days. The healers, while celebrating as much as everyone else, knew there would be a price for the victory, paid in bone and blood. Men and women went out into the surrounding countryside, with armed guards, to gather as many herbs as they could find to replace those used up in the battle upon the Pelennor. All the young lads left in the city, including Bergil, were put to work rolling bandages, running errands, and generally helping out where needed, and Merry found himself in charge of this small army of underage helpers.

He was pleased to have something useful to do, as it kept his mind occupied and prevented him from fretting over the well-fare of his friends. Once the initial jubilation had worn off, he had found that his fears for Frodo, Sam and Pippin had not gone away. The eagle had given very little information, just crying that the dark tower had been thrown down and Sauron defeated. Merry supposed this to mean that Frodo had accomplished his quest and destroyed the ring, but at what cost to himself and Sam? And what of Pippin? It was best not to dwell on these thoughts and so Merry did his best to keep busy.

"Ah, Master Brandybuck, what can I do for you?" Faragut asked, inviting Merry into his study.

"I’ve got the completed inventory of the lower supply rooms." Merry handed over a sheaf of papers. Faragut looked the papers over, noting that Merry had marked which items were in danger of running out, which items were old and past their usefulness and what was missing altogether.

Before the Warden could comment on the papers there was a knock at the door. "Yes? Come in." Faragut looked up as the door opened. Bergil stood in the doorway, looking very excited, face flushed and breathing heavily.

"Messengers have come, Master Faragut, from Lord Aragorn. Lord Faramir has summoned you to a meeting. You as well, Merry." Faragut frowned at the lad’s informality with Merry but did not comment. Gathering up his cloak, he nodded at Bergil to lead the way.

Several minutes later, Merry found himself sitting with ten or twelve men, most of whom he did not know, around a large table. There were no tall stools in the room and Merry was forced to make do with one of the regular, man-sized chairs. This resulted in the table being at about the level of his chin and making him feel like a child eavesdropping on the business of his elders. It was not a sensation he liked, but one he had become somewhat inured to since leaving the Shire. Faramir stood at the head of the table, facing the men he had summoned.

"As you’ve heard, Lord Aragorn has sent several messengers," Faramir began. "He tells that while the war is over, the battle took a grievous toll of men. There is much need for healers and medicinal supplies. He also requests that supplies of food, clothing and other such goods be shipped as soon as possible. He is removing the army to Cormallen and there establishing a field hospital to care for the wounded."

There were many murmurs as the gathered men took in Faramir’s words but no one interrupted the Steward.

"Warden Faragut, Lord Aragorn has forwarded a list of supplies for you to fill. Please have the supplies and a contingent of your best healers ready to go by the first hour before sunrise tomorrow."

"Of course, my lord." Faragut nodded his head in acknowledgment, already mapping out in his mind the things that would need to be done in the next hours.

Faramir continued to speak, delineating the tasks each of the men were being asked to perform. Finally, they had all been assigned their tasks and the meeting was adjourned. Merry wondered why he had been summoned. He’d hoped for news of his friends but clearly that was not forthcoming. Everyone was talking freely now, as the men stood and began moving towards the door. Merry slid off his chair but hesitated, torn between wanting to ask Faramir if there was any other news and not wanting to annoy the Steward, who was currently engaged in speech with the Captain of the Guard. After a moment’s indecision, he headed toward the door.

"Master Brandybuck," Faramir’s voice froze him in place. "Please wait one moment. I have something for you." Before Merry could respond, Faramir returned his attention to the soldier, continuing to issue instructions.

Merry stood awkwardly, not sure what to do with himself as he waited. He toyed with the idea of returning to his chair but discarded the thought almost at once. Instead, he moved into one of the narrow window bays, looking out over the courtyard. In the distance, he could see the waters of the river Anduin glinting in the sunlight. Spring had arrived in truth this past week and everywhere he looked, Merry saw signs of rebirth. The dead tree by the fountain drooped sadly but elsewhere trees had burst forth in a riot of blossoms and fresh green leaves. Garden plots, neglected during the course of this long war, still bloomed, a tangle of flowers and weeds that shouted out their joy in warmth and sun. The very air was warm and sweet. Merry wondered what Cormallen was like. Were there trees or flowers there? Was Pippin smelling the sweet scent of honeysuckle right now, as Merry was? His thoughts were interrupted by a hand on his shoulder and Merry jumped in surprise.

Faramir smiled. "Minas Tirith is beautiful in the spring, is it not?" he asked. "Of course, the city has a beauty of its own in every season, though it is not to everyone’s taste, I suppose."

Merry, glancing up into the Steward’s face, saw the love Faramir felt for his home and recognized it as the same love that burned in his own heart whenever he thought of the Shire and Buckland, and his home at Brandy Hall. Faramir smiled again as he met Merry’s gaze. "We are much alike, you and I," he commented, seeing much of Merry’s thoughts reflected in his eyes.

Merry had met many big folk on his travels, most of whom were admirable men, but he had never felt that he had much in common with any of them. It came as something of a shock to realize that he agreed with this tall, stern ruler of men. He returned Faramir’s smile.

"I have a missive for you, from Lord Aragorn." Faramir handed over a small piece of parchment, folded over and sealed with wax. Merry accepted it with a trembling hand, eager for news but afraid of what he might learn. "I do not know what he has written to you, but he has requested of me that I allow you to accompany the supply wains leaving in the morning."

Merry nodded to acknowledge that he heard Faramir’s words but his attention was all on the letter in his hand. Faramir’s hand rested on his shoulder a moment more before moving away. Merry vaguely heard him move across the room, and the sound of the heavy door opening and closing.

He studied the parchment. His name had been written across the front, hastily but in an elegant script which proclaimed the writer thereof to have had elvish training. Taking a deep breath and attempting to still the nervous trembling of his hands, Merry broke the wax seal and opened the paper. The note was short. Merry, you are needed here. Please come with the supply wains. Aragorn. That was all.

The letter fell to the floor, slipping free of Merry’s suddenly lifeless fingers. He was suddenly convinced that something was terribly, horribly wrong. An image of Pippin rose in Merry’s mind, laughing as he drained a mug of beer in the Green Dragon back home. Side by side with that image rose another, this one of Pippin lying on the ground, bleeding and lifeless, hacked apart by cruel orc blades. Tears fell unnoticed down Merry’s nose and splattered on the parchment and his hands. Why had Aragorn not said something? Anything to reassure Merry that Pippin had survived the battle. He held little hope that Frodo and Sam could have survived the exploding mountain and if Pippin was gone too, he thought he might lose himself as well.

"No!" Merry shook his head, refusing to believe his own worst thoughts. Pippin was fine. Aragorn hadn’t said anything more because he had more important things on his mind. Stuffing the letter in a pocket, Merry hurried out of the hall. It would not take long to pack his few belongings and the items Pippin had left behind. Then he would try to track down the messengers and see if they could give him any information. With this plan in mind, Merry was able to push his fears aside, at least for the moment.

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