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A New Kind of Courage  by Auntiemeesh

Chapter seven: The meaning of dreams

He awoke with the groggy feeling of not knowing where he was or what was happening. He lay still for a moment, trying to orientate himself. At first, everything seemed very quiet but gradually he became aware of distant sounds, people moving about, horses stamping and neighing, voices raised in laughter or shouts. None of it was very near, but close enough.

The previous dayís events came back to him with a rush and he sat up suddenly. Or rather, he started to sit up, got very dizzy, and flopped back down on his cot rather limply.

"Easy, Merry. Aragorn will be here soon and he wants to have a look at you before you get up." Legolas had appeared next to his cot and was bending over with concern shining out of his ageless face.

"Very well." Merry bit back his impatience and acceded to the elfís concern. Casting about for something to occupy his attention while he waited, he saw that Pippin was still sleeping. Or maybe sleeping again, as there were signs of a fresh meal having been recently consumed. The tray on the table between their two cots held different food remnants than it had the previous evening.

His young cousin still looked very pale and the lines of pain on his face tore at Merryís heart. He was alive, though, and he would recover from his wounds. This knowledge filled Merry with a relief so great it was almost a pain in itself.

"What is the time?" he asked. "Is there any breakfast service round here or must I go hungry?"

"It is midmorning, and Pippin said, and I quote," Legolas answered with amusement, "ĎIf that lazy cousin of mine cannot be bothered to wake up for breakfast, than he will have to go without.í" He sobered suddenly. "He was very worried about you."

"Well, thatís only fair. I was very worried about him." Merry avoided Legolasí eyes. "I was worried about all of you." He shifted restlessly, trying to obey Aragornís orders but wanting to get up and move around.

"Where is Gandalf? Pippin said he was here, but I havenít seen him. And what about Frodo and Sam? Has there been any word of them?" Merry had been hesitating to ask this question but couldnít put it off any longer. He knew there was almost no chance they could have survived but as long as he didnít know for sure, he could pretend to himself that they would be coming back.

Legolas gazed at him searchingly for a long moment before answering. "I do indeed have news of the Ringbearer and his companion. They have been returned to us, against all expectation. They are sleeping in a tent nearby, and Mithrandir watches over them."

"They are alive? They are here, in camp?" Merry tried to rise but the elf put a hand to his chest and easily prevented the hobbit from moving.

"Yes, they are alive." Legolas smiled in reassurance. "But they sleep, and will continue to sleep for some time."

Merry tried to roll out from under Legolasí hand, to no avail. "Let me up. I want to see them."

"Aragorn will be here shortly," Legolas responded, unperturbed. "Until then, you will stay in bed."

"But I told him last night that I was just tired." Merry tried negotiation when escape failed. "Iím truly feeling much better this morning."

"Iím very glad to hear that." Aragorn ducked his head as he entered the tent, straightening up once he was through the flap. "Thank you for your assistance, Legolas."

The elf joined Aragorn near Pippinís cot, speaking quietly, but not so quietly that Merry couldnít hear him. "He seemed quite dizzy when he first woke, but he seems steadier now. Heís asked for breakfast. Heís also asked after Frodo and Sam."

Aragorn rested a hand on the elfís shoulder for a moment in thanks before walking over to Merryís cot and sitting down.

"Now, letís just take a look at you. It eases me to hear that you are feeling better, but Iíd like to be on the safe side, if you donít mind."

"Only if youíll tell me about Frodo while you do so." Merry was determined to get some straight answers out of someone.

"Very well, but tell me about your arm first." Aragorn was every bit as determined as Merry. "How does it feel? Any coldness or pain?"

Merry hadnít paid his arm any mind up til now, but as soon as the ranger brought it to his attention he realized that it was, in fact, still rather sore.

"It aches a little, not nearly as much as it did last night, but it isnít icy any more. It feels nearly normal. Now, what about Frodo?"

Aragorn smiled at Merryís tenacity as he felt the offending limb. "Frodo, as Legolas undoubtedly told you already, is sleeping in a tent nearby. He and Sam have been through a terrible ordeal. They are exhausted, more than half starved and suffering from numerous injuries. They will heal, however, at least physically. Iím keeping them asleep until they are fully recovered, so that all their energies may go to healing."

Aragorn kept his tone light, but Merry saw a shadow of worry in his eyes. The ranger was keeping something back and the hobbit wanted to know what it was. Before he could speak, however, Aragorn forestalled him.

"Now tell me about these dreams youíve been having."

Merry sank back onto his cot. The dreams were another thing he hadnít given thought to since he woke up this morning, and he didnít understand Aragornís interest in them. When he tried to pass them off, however, the ranger became very stern and insisted that Merry describe the dreams honestly and completely. There was nothing else for it, so the unhappy hobbit reluctantly and haltingly described the nightmares heíd been having the last few days.

"Oh, Merry!" Both hobbit and man looked up when Pippin spoke. He was staring at his older cousin, eyes wide and lips trembling. Merry wondered how much heíd heard.

"Donít worry, Pip. Theyíre only dreams," he tried to reassure his friend. He looked to the ranger for confirmation and was dismayed to see Aragorn looking disturbed as well.

Aragorn brought a gentle hand up to Merryís forehead, brushing back sweaty curls, and managed a small smile. "Yes, they are only dreams, Merry. But they signify something rather larger."

"Really." Merry was feeling exasperated. All he wanted Aragorn to do was reassure Pip that all was well. That was all. Could their friend do this simple thing, though? No. He had to go on about significance and deeper meanings.

Pippin was more straightforward. "What do you mean, they signify something larger?" He sounded worried and Merry wanted to go to him, comfort him, reassure him that there was nothing wrong. Aragorn prevented him from rising as effortlessly as Legolas had.

The Man sighed. "After I first tended to you in Minas Tirith, I told the Warden that you would heal quickly and indeed, you seemed to do so. When I met with him yesterday, he remarked on how well you were doing. And yet, it seems that he and I were both mistaken." He brought his hand down to Merryís arm.

"If your illness had been merely the result, as you insist, of being tired and overburdened with worry, your arm would not have worsened the way it did. When I led the host from Minas Tirith, I did you a great disservice. I separated you from Pippin. I left you alone and ill in a strange place, not thinking how that might have affected your recovery."

He began to say more but was interrupted by the arrival of a young soldier bearing a tray. "Begginí your pardon, Sire, but Cook asked me to bring this tray for the perian." The Man, not much more than a child, was clearly uncomfortable in Aragornís presence. Bowing, the lad made his way to the small table, but was at a loss how to proceed. The table was occupied with the remains of Pippinís breakfast and the ladís arms were full with the tray he was currently carrying. He stood there, juggling the food and trying not to die of embarrassment on the spot.

He became even more uncomfortable when Aragorn took the tray from him with gracious thanks. Grabbing up the old tray and bowing again, the soldier fled as quickly as propriety allowed.

Merry was torn between hunger and a desire to not be rude. He really did want to hear the rest of what Aragorn had to say, but his appetite, missing for some days now, had returned with a vengeance upon the appearance of food. He felt that it had been weeks rather than days that he had gone without food.

Having spent as much time as he had in the company of hobbits, Aragorn was able to guess his friendís dilemma. "I am sorry, Merry, but I must go check on some of my other patients. I will return shortly to finish this conversation, but in the meantime, please eat. I want you to rest, at least for now. You may get up and move about a bit if you so desire, but donít leave the tent. As for you," he turned his attention to Pippin, "my earlier orders stand. You will stay in bed until further notice. You may sit up to eat, if Merry will help you." He turned back to Merry. "He is recovering much quicker than I would have expected was I not familiar with the resilience of hobbits, but he took a nasty blow to the back of his head. Heís been experiencing frequent nausea and dizziness when he moves his head around, as well as a good bit of pain from his other injuries." So saying, the ranger got to his feet, and with a last look of warning to both hobbits, ducked through the flap and out of the tent.

Sitting up cautiously, Merry was pleased to see that the lightheadedness heíd experienced upon waking was gone. Moving slowly, he got to his feet and walked the short distance to Pippinís bed. "Well then, letís get you up so you can join me in some breakfast, or is it second breakfast for you?" Merry helped Pippin sit up as he spoke, rearranging the pillows behind his cousinís back for support.

"Hm, elevenses, Iíd say," Pippin retorted as Merry turned to the tray of food. "You slept through first and second breakfast."

There was quiet for a time, as both hobbits made inroads on the mountains of food piled on their plates. It was a good half hour later that Merry set his plate aside, feeling full and content for the first time in days. Pippin had eaten nearly as much, despite having already had two meals that morning.

"I started to remember a bit, last night." Pippin sounded oddly subdued as he said this, and Merry turned his full attention on his cousin, forgetting the bit of cheese heíd been nibbling.

"Not a lot, just bits and pieces really. It started with that dream I had. I fell asleep again right away but I woke up a little later. Iíd had the same dream again, or, really, I suppose it was different. It was more memory than dream the second time round, with things in their proper places and all." He looked at Merry imploringly. "Has it all been like that? Frightening and dangerous and... and awful?"

"Most of it, yes." Merry wanted to cry for the pain radiating off his cousin, but no good could come of lying about what had happened.

"I donít think I want to remember the rest, then," Pippin stated. "I think Iíll be a lot happier not knowing all the horrid things that happened to us."

Tears pricked at the corners of Merryís eyes. Moving very carefully, he moved over to the other cot and sat next to Pippin, putting his arms around his friend.

"Oh, my Pip," he whispered sadly, leaning his head against Pippinís, "I wish those horrid things hadnít happened at all. They did, though, and no amount of wishing is ever going to make it all go away." They sat that way for a time, each comforting the other as best he could in the midst of his own pain, until Pippin fell asleep again. Merry settled his friend down on the pillows and returned to his own cot. He was tired, but for some reason, despite his sorrow,†he felt less weighed down than he had in a long time. Lying back, he gazed at the ceiling, content to wait for Aragornís return.

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