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A New Kind of Courage  by Auntiemeesh

Chapter five: A Friend in Need

The ship docked on the east bank of the river near the island of Cair Andros. There were a number of large men on the bank, waiting for everyone to disembark so they could get on board and begin offloading the cargo. Further away, Merry could see an encampment with people milling about. He could hear the speech of both Gondorians and Rohirrim. Walking down the shipís ramp, he scanned the crowd, hoping to see someone he knew, who would be able to direct him to Aragorn. It was difficult to see around so many big people, however, and once he had stepped off the ramp and onto dry land, it was even worse. People were moving about purposefully and Merry had to look sharp to prevent being trodden upon. He didnít know where he should go and was beginning to feel very small and insignificant. He jumped when a gentle hand suddenly grasped his shoulder. Turning, he looked up into an elvish face.

"Legolas!" He clasped his friendís hand in relief. "I was afraid that I would never find any of you in all this."

The elf smiled. "We would not let that happen. Aragorn sent me to meet you and asks that you join him in his tent."

Merry refused to move. "Where is Pippin. Is he alright?"

"Come, Master Brandybuck," Legolas evaded the question. "The rightful King has summoned you and you would keep him waiting?" He quirked a delicately arched eyebrow at Merry. Before the hobbit could protest further, Legolas picked up his friendís pack and began walking away rather swiftly. Merry had to nearly run in order to keep up and felt resentful at having to do so. The resentment soon vanished under a fresh wave of anxiety. Why wouldnít the elf tell him that Pippin was safe? All he needed to know was that his young cousin was alive. On the other hand, if the news was bad, he supposed it would be better to hear it in private.

A wave of nausea swept over Merry at that thought and he stopped dead, trying to control both his thoughts and his stomach. Legolas, now far ahead, turned to check on his small companion and saw him standing still some paces back. He returned and knelt in front of the hobbit, looking into his eyes for a long moment before shaking his head.

"He lives. That is all I will say as this is not the place to discuss such things. Aragorn will tell you more when we reach him. Which will happen faster, young hobbit, if you continue to walk."

Pippin was alive. Relief flooded over Merry as strongly as the panic of a moment ago. He gave himself a shake, trying to regain his composure. "Well, what are you waiting for?" he demanded as he strode off, passing the elf still kneeling in the mud.

If Merry had hoped to see the elf scrambling to catch up, he should have known better. In one graceful movement, Legolas was back on his feet and in the lead again. "I applaud your eagerness to serve your king, young one, but it helps if you know where you are going." Relenting slightly, he slowed his steps enough for Merry to comfortably keep pace with him.

This time they walked side by side and Merry hoped to gain a little more information from his friend as they went, but in this he was disappointed. Legolas was quiet and when Merry studied him closely, he realized that the elf looked tired and worried. Wondering what other news he might receive from Aragorn, Merryís sense of relief began to fade and the anxiety crept back in. Pippin was alive but what shape was he in, and what about Frodo and Sam? What about Gimli, for that matter.

He almost asked Legolas these questions but thought better of it. His companion was clearly not in the mood for speech and would likely just repeat what he had said earlier, that Aragorn would tell him what he needed to know.

Merry was very grateful, therefore, when they arrived at a tent and Legolas indicated they should enter. The tent was unprepossessing, no larger or fancier than any other in the encampment, although it had guards stationed on either side of the entrance. At a gesture from Legolas, one of the guards opened the flap for them.

Merry was not sure what heíd expected, but found that he was in what seemed to be a conference room. Aragorn was standing by a table in deep discussion with Eomer and Prince Imrahil. There were maps strewn about the table, along with goblets of wine and half empty plates of food. All three men looked worn but none bore any injuries that Merry could see. Aragorn looked up as they entered. Although he smiled a greeting to Merry, he continued talking with the other men for several minutes. Legolas took a moment to make Merry comfortable, leading him to a small table with several chairs placed around it. On the table was a decanter of wine and a tray with bread, cheese, cold meats and fruit.

"Please help yourself, Iím sure you are hungry after your journey," Legolas gestured at the food. "I have other duties that I must see to now. No doubt Gimli is wondering where I am, but Aragorn will be with you shortly." The elf gave him a reassuring look before leaving the tent.

Merry poured himself a goblet of wine and took a sip before sitting back in his chair. He supposed he should eat but the food didnít tempt him at all. He wondered if he would ever feel like eating again.

Lack of sleep was beginning to catch up with him and he sat sipping his wine and staring rather blankly at the walls while he waited for Aragorn to finish his meeting. Thoughts drifted randomly through his mind but even his fears couldnít fully capture his attention.

He was startled out of his doze when a hand touched his forehead. He looked quizzically at Aragorn, who simply stared searchingly at him.

"When a hobbit doesnít inhale all the food placed in front of him, I worry," the Ranger eventually responded to Merryís unspoken question. "When he doesnít even touch the food, I know something is wrong."

Merry looked for a lighthearted response and couldnít find one. "Please, Aragorn, tell me whatís happened to Pippin. Legolas told me he was alive but wouldnít say any more and I know something must be terribly wrong or you would have said that he was fine in your note and I must know whatís wrong."

Merry was horrified to feel tears pricking at his eyes. He knew he was exhausted but still, he didnít think it was right that he should be having such trouble maintaining his composure. In the years that he had watched his father handling various situations as Master of Buckland, he had learned how to keep his composure during a crisis. It had been ingrained in him that a leader must always stay calm and collected, no matter how upset he might be inside. Merry had taken that to heart and had become a much better leader himself because of it. But now everything was falling apart and he was unable to hold on to the pieces any longer.

Aragorn studied him gravely for a moment but made no comment on his distraught appearance. "I wanted to talk with you myself about Pippin. I had hoped in this way to save you worry, but I see that I was wrong. I am sorry for causing you needless pain. I suppose I wasnít thinking all that clearly myself at the time." He paused a moment. "Young Peregrin comported himself most admirably during the last battle. He killed a troll in defense of a friend but was buried beneath the troll when it fell. He is badly bruised and has some painful injuries but nothing life threatening. The main problem is that he has a head injury and has suffered some memory loss."

"Memory loss?" Merry was not sure how to respond to this. "How much has he forgotten?"

"He doesnít remember anything much past arriving at Bree. He knows Gandalf and vaguely recognizes me, but has no memory at all of Legolas or Gimli or any of the others here. The past few days have been very upsetting for him. It is good that you are here."

"Canít you help him?" Merry asked. "Or if not you, what about Gandalf, surely he could do something."

"Iím hoping it wonít be necessary," Aragorn responded. "Memory loss is not unheard of in conjunction with head wounds and it is often temporary." Merry wanted to argue this point but decided to hold off for the time being.

"Come, you are clearly tired. I have a cot prepared for you in the tent with Pippin. Why donít we go see him and then you can get some rest." Merry simply nodded, feeling suddenly as if he had marched for days to get here instead of arriving by boat. Wearily hefting his pack, he followed Aragorn out of the tent. He was thankful to find that Pippinís tent was very close by, because it suddenly seemed as though he couldnít go another step. Aragorn caught him swaying slightly as he passed through the tent flap, and placed a steadying hand on his shoulder. He was beginning to feel dizzy and a bit sick to his stomach again. Maybe he shouldnít have had that wine, he thought muzzily. He was vaguely aware of being led to a seat and then a glass of water was put to his lips. Drinking gratefully, he began to take in his surroundings again.

He was sitting on a camp stool placed next to a large (to hobbit eyes, anyway) cot which made its sleeping inhabitant seem tiny. Merry caught his breath at the pallor of Pippinís skin, contrasted by the many dark bruises on his face and what could be seen of his body outside of the blankets. In addition, there was a large bandage wrapped around his head. Despite Aragornís earlier reassurance, Merry felt a moment of heart wrenching fear. Pippin was lying so very still. What if Aragorn had missed something and Pip was more seriously injured than anyone realized? He gently picked up one limp hand and was somewhat reassured by the warmth of the skin. Just then, Pippin mumbled something in his sleep and stirred slightly without waking. It was too much for Merry and he put his head down by his cousin, crying silently for several minutes before giving in to his deep exhaustion and falling asleep.

He suddenly lurched upright, about an hour later, sweat pouring off his brow. His heart was pounding and he wasnít sure where he was or what had just happened. Looking around, he saw Pippin still asleep in his cot a few feet away. He vaguely remembered falling asleep at Pipís side and guessed that someone had moved him to the cot he now found himself in. He must have been dreaming, he mused as he gradually calmed down and oriented himself. He still felt shaky and even more tired than before, but had no desire to return to the nightmare that had just wakened him.

Climbing carefully out of the cot, he went to his pack and found a change of clothes. After washing and changing, he felt somewhat better. Sitting down next to Pippin, he looked his friend over carefully, remembering Aragornís words about his condition. True to the rangerís words, he saw that the injuries that had shocked him so much were mostly superficial. Pippin seemed to be bruised over most of his body but other than the bandage on his head, seemed to have only cuts and scrapes. There was a swath of linen wrapped around his left calf but otherwise, the damage seemed minimal.

Merry settled back in the chair by Pippinís cot and contented himself with waiting for his friend to wake up. His own eyes felt heavy, but the memory of the nightmare was still making him feel a little queasy. He refused to fall asleep again. When staying awake began to grow more difficult, he got up and began pacing around the tent.

"Itís about time you got here," a voice mumbled from the cot. Merry spun around and hurried back to his friend. Pippin was awake and looking relieved.

"Whatís going on, Merry?" he asked with a plaintive tone to his voice. "Where are Frodo and Sam? That Strider fellowís been in a couple of times and Gandalf has been here also, but no one will tell me what happened."

"That figures," Merry muttered in disgust. "One thing never seems to change. Our tight-lipped friends hold back information just for the fun of keeping us in the dark, I sometimes think." He shook his head and returned his attention to Pippin.

"You remember getting to Bree, right?" Pippin nodded. "Do you remember leaving with Strider?"

Pippin looked thoughtful. After a pause he replied, "I remember him coming to our room and telling us all how foolish we were and how we would need his help, and then you came stumbling in, babbling about having seen those black riders." Another pause and then, "We slept in the parlor, I think, but I donít remember anything that happened after that."

"Well, thatís alright, then.† Aragorn Ė Strider," he clarified at Pippinís blank look, "seems to think that your memory loss may be temporary. If you just give it some time, it might all come back." He didnít say that it might be more merciful if some, indeed most of it, remained blank, although he thought it. Pippin had matured a great deal during the course of their adventures, but Merry thought he preferred a more innocent, immature friend who had not suffered any of the terrible things they had all experienced.

"What about Frodo and Sam?" Pippin persisted.

"I donít know," Merry admitted reluctantly. "Aragorn has been almost as tight with information as Gandalf. He scared a good ten years off me when he summoned me here. He gave me no news of you or anyone else, saying only that I was needed." Merry smiled a bit shamefacedly. "I assumed the worst. I was sure you were dead and he just didnít want me to hear the news alone."

"Merry," Pippin took his cousinís hand and looked at him imploringly. "Tell me what has happened. Are we in Rivendell? Whatís become of," he looked around cautiously, "the Ring?" he continued in a whisper.

"We were in Rivendell for a few months, but we left a few days before Yule." Merry was thinking quickly, deciding how much to say. "Weíve had a lot of adventures, climbing over and under mountains, boating on the river Anduin. We met some talking trees and did some things that no hobbit back in the Shire will ever understand or even believe, most likely."

Indeed, Pippin was looking at him skeptically. "Talking trees?"

"Itís a long story, Pippin. Iím just giving you the basics." He sent the younger hobbit a mock glare, willing him to accept that, for now at least. "We all got split up a few weeks ago and I donít know exactly where Sam and Frodo are right now. They must have succeeded, though, because the war is over."

Pippin looked confused. "Succeeded at what, Merry? I thought we were just taking the Ring to Rivendell and then going back home." There was a noise behind Merry and Pippin tensed, looking very uncomfortable.

"Hmpf, look who finally showed up!" a deep voice rumbled. Merry spun around to see a dwarf glowering at him from the entrance to the tent. Gimli had a bandage wrapped around his forehead but seemed otherwise undamaged.

"I wish I could say you were looking well, lad, but Iíd be lying." The dwarf scowled at Merry. "We left you in Minas Tirith to recover and you look worse now than you did then."

Merry was taken aback by this as he hadnít realized that he looked any different than he always did. He turned to Pippin and found his cousin staring at him.

"Heís right, Merry. Iím not sure what heís referring to about Minas Tirith, but you look terrible." That was too much, coming as it did from a talking bruise.

"I think itís time for you to get back to sleep, Pippin," he replied as calmly as he could.

"I just woke up and Iím feeling much better today." Pippin refused to let his friend off the hook that easily. "Now tell me what you have been doing to yourself that you look like something dragged in by one of Queen Beruthielís cats."





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