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A New Kind of Courage  by Auntiemeesh

Chapter six: Overwrought

Pippin stared at Merry expectantly. "Well? You look as though you havenít slept in a week. What have you been doing to yourself?"

"I havenít been doing anything to myself." Merry growled. "Iíve simply been worried sick about all of you. Thatís what happens when everyone else goes off to face almost certain death and you get left behind. You worry!" All of the anxiety, anger, resentment, fear and frustration that Merry had been feeling for the past fortnight burst out of him in a torrent.

"First you go off with the host, leaving me all alone in Minas Tirith, with nothing to do but wait for word off your death. Then Aragorn sends that horrible letter. ĎYouíre needed, come quick.í What was I supposed to think? And then I get here and find out youíre alive but youíve gone and got sat on by a troll. A troll! What were you thinking? I donít care if you were being heroic and saving someoneís life. It was bloody stupid, díyou here me? Stupid!" Merry took a deep breath to continue but stopped abruptly. He was feeling very sick suddenly. His head was throbbing, his stomach churning and his right arm was ice cold, nearly numb.

Distantly he was aware that Pippin was staring at him in wide-eyed alarm and he wanted to reassure him, but he couldnít answer. It was taking all his concentration to not vomit right there. Clenching his teeth tightly together, he somehow scrambled down off Pippinís cot and found a chamber pot. He began retching and retching. He thought it might go on like this forever. Finally, as his stomachís convulsions eased a bit, he became aware that there was a cool cloth on the back of his neck and someoneís hand was on his back, rubbing soothingly. He sat back on his haunches, wanting nothing more than to lie down on his cot and go to sleep, but feeling too weak and shaky to move just yet.

Someone handed him a cup of water and he accepted it gratefully. He cleared his mouth of the foulness and then drank gingerly, afraid to trigger any more vomiting.

"Come, Merry, letís get you to your cot and make you a little more comfortable." Looking up blearily, Merry saw that it was Aragorn helping him. Giving a little nod, he allowed the ranger to help him to his feet. He swayed alarmingly but refused to let Aragorn carry him the few feet to his cot. He thought rather vaguely that it was wrong the way he had yelled at Pippin, but he was feeling too sick to worry about that for long. He was immensely grateful when he reached his bed and was able to lie down and close his eyes. Someone Ė Aragorn, he thought muzzily Ė was speaking, but the words seemed to come from a great distance and soon faded away. Merry faded with them and was asleep almost as soon as his head met the pillow.

There was dark and cold. A sense of fear so strong he could barely breathe overwhelmed him. He thrashed around in the black, trying to find something, anything with which to center himself. He could find nothing. And yet, he could feel something creeping up on him, somehow hissing and rustling without making any sound. Closer and closer the something came as the cold intensified and the dark became a tangible thing.

Merry woke with a shout, flinging himself upright and staring about wildly, in terror of the cold thing creeping up on him. Gradually he became aware of arms about him, reassuring and supporting, gently holding his thrashing body still so he would not hurt himself. It was several minutes before reason began to reassert itself and he was able to take in his surroundings.

He found that it was Legolas who supported him and was grateful to the elf. His body still trembled with the fear that had awakened him. He thought that if it was not for the elf, he would probably have fallen out of the cot onto the floor of the tent. As he calmed down, Legolas settled him back on the pillows and moved back slightly, still maintaining a comforting presence but removing his arms from around his friend. Turning his head, he could just see Pippin, sleeping in the other cot. Somehow, the younger hobbit had slept through Merryís shouts.

Turning back, he found Aragorn approaching with a steaming mug, which he set on the small bedside table, now placed between the two cots, which also held the remains of a meal. Apparently Pippin had eaten supper while Merry slept.

Sitting on the edge of the cot, Aragorn looked Merry over, resting one hand on his forehead and the other over his heart. "How are you feeling now, Merry?" he asked quietly.

"Iím fine," Merry protested weakly, more out of habit than conviction. He certainly didnít feel fine. His head still hurt, the pain in his arm seemed to be alternating between a deep ache and a burning cold, and the rest of him felt feverishly hot, but there were other, more important things for Aragorn to be worrying about than Merryís health.

"Is that right?" Aragorn smiled. "I suppose thatís why you vomited up everything youíve eaten in the last week, which I might add seems to be very little, and then passed out?"

"Iím just...tired," Merry tried to explain. "Iím sure that a few more hours of sleep will put me to rights."

"I can see for myself that you havenít been sleeping well. How frequent are the nightmares?"

Merry squirmed. He felt like a prisoner undergoing interrogation. He didnít want to talk about the nightmares. He didnít want to think about the nightmares. He didnít want to think about anything. He just wanted to be left alone so he could go back to sleep.

"Merry?" Aragorn prodded.

"I suppose Iíve been having a lot of bad dreams of late, but anyone would. I really donít want to talk about them, Aragorn. Please?" He was very grateful when Aragorn looked at him searchingly for a moment and then nodded.

"Very well, Master Brandybuck." The ranger picked up the mug and handed it to Merry. "Here, drink this and then you can go back to sleep."

Merry eyed the mug suspiciously. Aragorn smiled reassuringly. "Donít worry, itís just tea. It will ease your fever and help you sleep. Drink."

Merry raised his right arm, without thinking, but his hand was clumsy and he dropped the mug, spilling the tea all over himself. Luckily, it had cooled enough that he didnít get scalded, but he did get soaked.

Ignoring the mess, Aragorn seized Merryís arm with a frown. After a short examination, he looked up. Merry was taken aback to see anger in the rangerís eyes.

"Has your arm been like this ever since your wounding?"

"N...no." Merry stuttered in confusion. "It felt much better after the first few days, but itís been getting worse again. I...itís much worse today."

"You should have told me immediately, Merry." Aragorn placed his hand back on Merryís forehead and closed his eyes, concentrating silently for what seemed a very long time.

Opening his eyes, he removed his hand. "I understand, now," he muttered, more to himself than Merry. He shook his head. "I was sure that you were out of danger, that your strong constitution would cause you to quickly mend, with no ill effects."

Merry was unsure what was going on but realized the rangerís anger was directed at himself, not Merry.

Just then Pippin began to stir, muttering and shifting restlessly. Legolas, who had not moved far from Merryís side, now got up and went to sit with the younger hobbit. Pippin woke suddenly, with a frightened gasp. "Sorry! Iím sorry! I didnít mean...it was an accident!" He looked about in dismay for a long moment before realizing where he was. "What an odd dream," he murmured, looking at the elf strangely.

"Yes, there seems to be rather a lot of that going around this evening," Legolas responded dryly. "Your cousin nearly threw himself onto the floor a few minutes ago, shouting loud enough to wake the trees. No wonder you had a bad dream, after all that racket."

Pippin looked thoughtful. "No, I donít think thatís what it was. It was dark and there was a hole in the ground. I dropped something down the hole and then suddenly we were surrounded by enemies. I think they might have been orcs. Gandalf was shouting at me, "fool of a Took," he said and then he was gone, being dragged into the hole by a...a fire thing."

Aragorn and Legolas exchanged looks and Merry realized that Pippin had been dreaming, in a mixed up sort of way, about Moria. It seemed Aragorn had been right when he said Pippinís memories might return on their own.

Legolas spoke soothingly to Pippin while Aragorn returned his attention to Merry, who was becoming increasingly aware of the sopping wet nature of his blanket and himself. He shivered as Aragorn removed the coverlet, exposing his wet nightshirt to the cool air of the tent. Reluctantly, he sat up, ignoring the slight dizziness this caused, and forced himself off the cot so the sheets could be changed as well. While Aragorn did that, he scrounged through his pack, looking for a clean shirt to put on.

It was with great relief that he lay back down a few minutes later. Pippin had already fallen asleep again, so the tent was very quiet.

"Iím going to make you another cup of tea," Aragorn informed Merry as he made sure the hobbit was comfortable. "After that, I think youíll be able to sleep the rest of the night. Weíll talk more in the morning." Merry nodded sleepily, glad to be able to rest his dizzy, aching head on the soft pillow and allow his mind to go blank. It seemed only seconds later that Aragorn was back with another mug, which he helped Merry hold, this time. As soon as the cup was empty, Merry closed his eyes and waited for the world to slide away, which it obligingly did very soon indeed.





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