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Chapter eight: Echoes of the Past
Merry allowed his thoughts to drift as he rested. He thought back on his conversation with Aragorn, pondering the meaning of the rangerís words. He had not reached any deep understanding, however, when his attention was drawn back to the tent. The sound of ragged breathing reached him from the next cot. Pushing himself up, he hurried over to Pippinís side.
The younger hobbit was curled up on his side, eyes wide and staring, fists clenched tightly in his blankets. As Merry approached, he could see that Pippinís slight frame was wracked with sobs.
"What is it, Pippin? What is wrong?" Pippin didnít reply. Reaching out, he touched one of his cousinís hands, trying to ease open the fist.
"Pippin, look at me," he ordered as calmly as he could. "Youíre not alone now. Iím here with you. Look at me." Still soothing the tightly clenched fist with one hand, Merry smoothed the curls back from the bandage on Pippinís forehead with the other.
"Come on, Pip. Youíre safe, Iím here. Nothing is going to hurt you now." He continued to murmur soothing nonsense as he felt the tension in his cousinís body begin to melt. "Thatís right, Pippin. Your Merryís here now. Iím going to take care of you." As Merry spoke, he kept a close eye on the younger hobbitís reactions but was still caught off guard when Pippin suddenly went completely limp.
"Pippin? Pippin!" he called urgently, fear knotting his insides painfully.
"M..Merry?" The voice was muffled, small and hesitant, and the most beautiful sound Merry had heard in ages.
"Itís alright, Pip. Iím here," he soothed, clasping Pippinís hand and pulling it to his chest. He was relieved to see focus coming back into his cousinís eyes. Pippin shuddered once and then blinked a few times, as though clearing his vision.
"Merry..." Pippin shuddered again and closed his eyes. "Too bright," he murmured, so softly Merry could barely hear him.
"Do you want me to close the tent flap?" the older hobbit asked quietly.
"N..no, donít leave me." Pippin gripped Merryís hand tightly. "Iíll be alright in a minute."
Shooting an anxious glance at the tent flap, wishing with all his might that Aragorn or one of the others would return, Merry complied with his cousinís wish. Keeping up a steady murmur of reassurance, he climbed up into the cot, carefully positioning his body so as to block the bright sunlight coming in through the entrance.
After a moment, Pippinís eyes fluttered open again, and he squinted up at his cousin. Merry hoped he was wearing a calm expression, although he felt anything but calm inside. He had no idea what had just happened, but Pippinís behaviour had frightened him badly.
"Better now, Pip?" he asked softly.
"Mm, a bit."
Meeting Pippinís eyes, Merry noticed the pain reflected there. "Is your head hurting?" he asked solicitously.
Pippin hesitated a fraction of a second before answering, "Yes."
"Um, rather a lot, yes."
"Well," Merry continued, keeping his tone light, "if you will let go of my hand, I can close the tent flap and make you a cup of tea. Then you can tell me what happened. All right?"
Pippin seemed to notice for the first time that he was holding on to his cousinís hand as if for dear life. Sheepishly, he forced himself to unclench his fingers and let Merry go.
"Here, letís get you comfortable first." Merry fussed around with pillows and blankets until he had Pippin propped up slightly and neatly tucked in. Leaving his companionís side, he made his way to the entrance of the tent and released the ties that held the flap back.
Near the center of the now dim tent was a small brazier with a large container of water resting nearby. Quickly lighting a fire and setting water to heat, Merry rooted through his pack, digging out a small tin of tea leaves he had brought with him from Minas Tirith. In short order, he had everything prepared and carried the tea back to the small table between the cots.
"Thereís no honey, Iím afraid," he commented as he sat back down next to Pippin. "Youíll have to drink it bitter."
Pippin smiled shakily. Merry knew he preferred his tea unsweetened but could never understand why, as it tasted so much better with cream and honey. It had become something of a joke between them.
"Better bitter than thick and cloying," Pippin retorted, picking up his mug. He was still shaking and held the mug with both hands to prevent it from spilling.
Aragorn returned from his other duties while they were still bickering over the proper way to make a cup of tea. Merry had found a smidgeon of food left over from elevenses and brought it over to share with Pippin, although his cousin didnít do more than play with the bit of cheese and bread.
Pippin winced when Aragorn opened the tent flap, the light striking his eyes painfully, but didnít say anything. Merry noticed the expression of pain, and felt no compunction about keeping quiet.
"Aragorn, could you please take a look at Pippin? His headache is worse and Iím a bit worried about him." He told Aragorn everything that had transpired. "I was just going to get him to tell me what happened when you came in."
With an expression of concern, Aragorn sat down next to the injured hobbit and looked him over carefully. "Can you tell me exactly what happened, Pippin?"
"I donít know exactly." Pippin faltered. He was still squinting his eyes against the light, a fact that did not escape his companions. When Merry moved to close the flap again, Aragorn halted him. "Here, Pippin, Iíll sit over here to block the light from your eyes. I want to keep the flap open so I can see you while we talk." Merry wanted to protest. Pippin was in pain and it seemed cruel to make him suffer, but Merry also knew that Aragorn would never be senselessly cruel to either of them.
They rearranged themselves and Aragorn asked Pippin to continue. The young hobbit took some time to gather his thoughts. "Iíve remembered a lot more. I dreamed about the ents and Isengard. And," he hesitated. "and the palantir. It came back to me as though it was just now happening. I heard," Pippinís voice lowered to a whisper, "I heard His voice in my head, telling me he was sending for me." He shuddered again, wrapping his arms about himself as though cold. "Merry?" His voice quavered as he turned to his cousin.
"Iím here, Pippin. Youíre safe now." Merry reassured him, trying to stay calm for Pippinís sake, but finding it difficult to contain his worry. He wondered if this was how Pippin had felt when heíd found Merry wandering the streets of Minas Tirith, hurt and confused, after the fight with the Lord of the Nazgul.
"Iím sorry, Merry. You told me to leave it be and I wouldnít listen to you." He closed his eyes and turned his head away, though not before Merry and Aragorn noticed the tears leaking from under the closed lids. "I want to go home," he whispered miserably.
Merry felt a sudden rage for everything that had happened to his innocent young Pippin. He was furious with Elrond and Gandalf for allowing Pippin to sway them in Rivendell. He should have been sent home right then, not allowed to come on this horrific quest. He was most angry with himself, however, for having allowed Pippin to come with them in the first place. Heíd known that it was going to be terribly dangerous, of course, but hadnít understood what that meant. Even though heíd been frightened at the prospect, it still seemed like a grand adventure. Even after Weathertop, it hadnít truly seemed real. Now, looking down at the trembling form of his dearest friend, the reality of it all was inescapable. The rage left him as quickly as it had come, leaving nothing but sorrow in its wake.
"So do I, Pippin. So do I." There wasnít anything else to say, and so Merry sat quietly by, holding Pippinís hand and offering what comfort his presence alone could provide.
Aragorn moved over to the brazier. Finding the water in the pot still hot, he made two fresh cups of tea, which he took back with him to the hobbits.
"Pippin, Iíve made you another cup of tea. This one should help you sleep easier and ease your headache.
Pippin, half asleep already, responded sluggishly.
"Merry, could you lift him up a bit? I want him to drink this before he falls asleep entirely." Aragorn waited while Merry shifted Pippin, then helped the younger hobbit hold the cup. "Drink, Pippin," he ordered gently.
Eyes still closed, mumbling something that neither of his companions caught, Pippin slowly drank the tea. Once the cup was empty, Aragorn moved away and Merry settled his cousin back on the pillows. He sat there, watching as Pippinís breathing slowed and deepened into sleep, not realising how heavy his own eyes were getting until Aragorn startled him by speaking.
"Heís going to be fine, Merry. I promise you. He was frightened by the strength of the returning memories and it has tired him, but he has not taken any further hurt. Come, I made some tea for you, as well. I think it would do you good to have a nap before lunch."
Merry slid off Pippinís cot and walked over to where Aragorn waited, on his own cot. "You said you would finish explaining about the dreams and such, when you came back," he reminded Aragorn.
"Youíre right, I did." The ranger smiled at Merry. "Iíll continue our conversation, but only if you drink this tea." He had decided to use the same negotiating tactics the hobbit had used earlier in the day. Catching Merryís doubtful look, he hastened to reassure him. "Itís only chamomile. It will help you rest but it wonít make you sleep."
Merry eyed the ranger doubtfully, but acceded to his request. Glancing frequently at his younger cousin to be sure Pippin was resting quietly, he made himself comfortable and settled back to hear what Aragorn had to say.
"As I said earlier, I thought that you would recover quickly from the effects of the Black Breath." Aragorn picked up his explanation where he had left off. "It had only been a day and you were already out of bed and walking about. Hobbits have great stamina and fortitude, as Iíve come to discover, but I overestimated how far that would carry you."
The ranger grimaced ruefully. "I have made many mistakes since Moria, and my friends have suffered for each and every one of them. Not least of all, you. Alone and worried for your friends, the shadow of the Black Breath was able to grow within you again. It took your fears and emphasized them, caused them to grow and nearly overcome you."
He fell silent for a time, and Merry realized anew how tired his friend looked. There were dark circles under Aragornís eyes and the hobbit wondered how long it had been since he had slept more than an hour or two at a time. "If you had not come here, where I was able to recognise what was happening and help you, you would eventually have fallen back into a dark dream from which you might never have awoken."
Merry shivered, finding this answer to his questions rather frightening. "Is it gone now, though. The...the shadow?"
Aragorn smiled in reassurance. "Nearly. And with plenty of rest and friends to help you, I think it will be gone completely in a few days time. But you must rest." He turned a stern look on Merry. "For the next few days, you must eat plenty of hearty meals, sleep often, and focus on joyful thoughts. Do not fear anymore. The war is over and a great evil is gone."
Merry could feel the warm heaviness of exhaustion creeping up on him, but before he gave in to Aragornís welcome orders, there was one more thing he had to do. "Now, about Frodo and Sam..."
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