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A New Kind of Courage  by Auntiemeesh

Chapter Nine: Seeing is Believing

"Yes, Merry?" Aragorn’s mouth quirked up in a smile. "What about Frodo and Sam?"

"W...well," Merry was interrupted by a large yawn, "I know you said they were slee..." another, equally large yawn interrupted him, ", but I want to see them. Just to know." He struggled to keep his heavy eyelids open as he waited for Aragorn’s response.

"Just to know what?" The King seemed amused.

"Mmm, know..." Merry had lost the battle with his eyelids and was fast losing the battle of coherency as well. "J...just t’know.... know they’re..." he slid off into an incomprehensible mumble, finally sighing in defeat and allowing himself to sleep. His last conscious thought was that he would be sure to take this up again later.

It was quite late in the afternoon before Merry woke again. Lying still, he became aware of voices talking quietly, somewhere nearby.

"There, now that’s taken care of, you should try to sleep some more." Merry recognised Gandalf’s deep, rumbling voice immediately.

"Mm. I s’pose so," the Tookish lilt was a bit muffled but Pippin’s high voice was easily identifiable, and Merry smiled at the reluctance saturating those few words.

"Indeed, Peregrin, my lad. I don’t think you have much choice in the matter." Merry easily detected the smirk in the wizard’s voice.

He rolled over, opening his eyes to see Gandalf walking away from Pippin’s cot, carrying a mug, and Pippin lying back against his pillows. His cousin looked cranky and rebellious, curls dark against the white bandage framing his face. Even as Merry watched, his eyes fluttered once, twice and then closed fully. Letting out a gentle sigh, the younger hobbit relaxed, the lines of pain easing as he settled into the healing sleep his body needed in order to recover.

"How is he, Gandalf?" Merry called softly to the retreating figure.

The wizard turned to look at him, one bushy eyebrow quirked in reproach. "And ‘hello’ to you, too, Meriadoc Brandybuck," he replied, setting the mug down as he approached Merry’s cot. Despite the gentle rebuke of his words, his expression was kind. "No, don’t fret, my dear hobbit," he hastened to add as Merry flushed uncomfortably. "I understand your concern for your young cousin. Pippin is doing well. He just needs a great deal of sleep right now. More than he likes, I dare say."

Producing his pipe and a small pouch of leaf from a hidden pocket of his robes, Gandalf took a few moments to go through the ritual of packing, tamping and lighting his pipe. Merry watched in silence, until he remembered the promise he had made to himself.

"I would like to see Frodo and Sam now, if I may." He asked politely but had no intention of taking ‘no’ for an answer.

"Yes, Aragorn thought you might," Gandalf responded. He gestured with his pipe to a well-laden tray sitting on the small bedside table. "He told me it would be perfectly all right, as long as you have something to eat first."

Feeling suddenly as though he hadn’t eaten in a week, rather than the few hours that had passed since elevenses, Merry obediently tackled the meal provided. Some time later he settled back, holding an apple in one hand and a large chunk of cheese in the other, taking small, neat bites of each, allowing the flavors and textures to blend in his mouth. When he had finished, he found that he felt much better.

"Well, I suppose that will do, for now." Gandalf seemed displeased at the amount of food still sitting on the tray, but made no further comment.

"Can I see Frodo and Sam, now?" Merry asked hopefully and, receiving Gandalf’s nod, stood up, slipping an apple and a heel of bread into his pocket as the wizard caught his eye. "Just in case," he said with a shrug.

Nodding approval, Gandalf stood and moved to the entrance of the tent, holding the flap open for Merry, who moved slowly and carefully, still quite weary despite all the sleep he’d had in the last two days. A thought struck him as he stood at the entrance and he halted, looking back at his young cousin, still asleep in his cot, oblivious to the activity around him.

"Gandalf, is it all right to leave Pippin alone? What if he wakes up and needs something?"

The wizard chuckled, tapping the side of his nose and winking at the worried hobbit. "Trust me, Merry. Young Peregrin will not wake for several hours, at least. Most likely, not until morning."

Merry was unconvinced, and stood his ground. Seeing this, Gandalf smiled reassuringly and clapped him on the shoulder. "He will be fine for the short amount of time we will be gone, but just in case, I will make certain a guard is stationed outside the tent to listen for any call that might come from within."

Merry surmised that Gandalf had given Pippin something to encourage this sleep, and feeling relieved, he followed the wizard through the flap. The sun, hovering low in the western sky, sent forth beams of light which shone golden against every surface they touched. Looking around, he saw rows of tents stretching out far to his right. On his left there was a wide gap between the row he was in, and further rows of tents. Beyond the gap, many men were in view; some sitting around fires, talking and singing loudly, and others moving about in the spaces between the tents. There was much less activity on this side of the gap. As they passed the tent next to his, Merry heard a muffled groan and he realized they must be on the edge of an area set aside for those who had been injured in the battle.

Rather than entering one of the tents nearby, however, Gandalf led Merry away from the encampment altogether, taking him a short distance away, into a stand of beech trees. Here, Merry found that a lightweight cloth had been draped from tree to tree around and over a small clearing to form an airy structure. Gandalf held a swath of the cloth aside, motioning for Merry to precede him into the tent. Merry stepped inside and then came to a halt, unprepared for the sight that met his eyes. Bathed in the golden light of the setting sun, the enclosure was small but warm and glowing. The air was filled with the mingled scents of trees, flowers, grass and other smells he couldn’t identify. But what captured his full attention was the sight of two beds, pushed together, near the back of the clearing.

Two forms lay in those beds, unmoving, wasted and terribly small, and Merry’s heart lurched with fear that maybe Aragorn and Gandalf were wrong. What if Frodo and Sam were worse than he’d been led to believe? But in the next moment he caught the faint sound of snoring and his lips quirked in a smile, recognizing the unmistakable sound that had followed Merry into sleep every night of the Quest. He hadn’t realised until now just how much he had missed that sound.

A strong hand squeezed his shoulder, offering reassurance and also urging him forward. Looking back, he saw regret and pity flash across Gandalf’s face, gone so quickly Merry wasn’t at all sure that he had not imagined it. Following the wizard’s urging, he moved closer to the beds.

As he approached, he noticed for the first time someone sitting in a chair to the left of the beds. As the figure stirred, he saw that it was Gimli.

"Meriadoc," the dwarf nodded, "it does my heart good to see you looking better."

Merry reddened, ducking his head for a moment before raising it and meeting the dwarf’s eyes. "Please forgive my behaviour yesterday, Gimli," he began in apology. "I don’t know what came over me. Frodo would have flogged me if he’d been there." So saying, he glanced in the direction of the beds, trying to determine which of the two figures lying there was his cousin.

Careful scrutiny revealed that the bed closest to Gimli held Sam, although the gardener looked much different than he had just a few weeks earlier. His face was gaunt and drawn, plainly marked with pain and suffering. A light blanket was drawn up to his once robust chest, now substantially thinner, and, looking further, Merry could see that bandages covered the hobbit’s arms and body. Turning, reluctant to see the same marks on his cousin, he steeled himself to look at the other recumbent figure.

Frodo, too, was covered with the marks of suffering, particularly the heavy bandaging on his right hand, which appeared to be missing a finger. Despite the evidence of his terrible journey there was nonetheless a look of peace in his cousin’s face that took Merry’s breath away. The cursed Ring was gone, and his long struggle over.

Tears sprang to Merry’s eyes and this time he made no effort to check them. He had thought never to see Frodo again, and seeing him now, so thin and pale, with all the bandages, and yet that clear indication of inner peace, so totally unexpected, nearly undid him.

Gandalf and Gimli moved away, allowing Merry privacy for the long-awaited reunion, one-sided though it might be, and he was thankful for some time alone with his companions. Moving around to the other side of the bed, he gingerly climbed up to sit next to Frodo. Taking the uninjured hand in his own, Merry spoke quietly, telling Frodo all the things he needed to say, knowing that Frodo could not hear him and also knowing that it mattered not.

"I am so proud of you, Frodo," he told his older cousin, tears falling unheeded down his face. "You did something that none of the high and powerful could do. Just you and Sam. You made it all the way to Mordor and through to Mount Doom. I so wanted to help you. I would have gone to the mountain with you. So would Pippin. I know you were trying to protect us, but we wanted to help."

Merry smiled sadly, stroking Frodo’s hand softly. "You’ll be so proud of Pippin when you wake up, Frodo. He’s grown up in the last few weeks. He’s a guard of the Citadel in Minas Tirith, although he doesn’t remember that. He even killed a troll. All by himself. He doesn’t remember that, either. I tried to watch out for him but I’m afraid I didn’t do a very good job. I couldn’t protect him from all the dangers. I couldn’t protect you either." Merry stopped himself, aware that he was babbling. Gently kissing the hand he held, he carefully placed it back on the coverlet. "I’m going to let you sleep now, Frodo, but I’ll be back tomorrow."

Wiping his face free of tears, he slid off the bed and returned to Gandalf’s side. The trauma of seeing his well-loved companions in such a weakened state was exhausting and Merry suddenly wanted nothing more than to return to his cot and find his own healing sleep.

He allowed Gandalf to lead him back to the tent he shared with Pippin, whom he was glad to note still slept peacefully. Pushing his exhaustion to the side for a moment longer, he sat next to his younger cousin, taking one of Pippin’s hands in his own.

"I’ve just seen Frodo and Sam, Pippin." The sleeping hobbit stirred slightly, but showed no further response. Speaking softly, Merry continued. "They are going to be fine. You don’t need to worry about them anymore. Just rest easy and concentrate on getting well, yourself. I’ll be right here if you need me." With that, he leaned over, kissed Pippin’s brow and laid his hand back on the cot. Even as he did so he felt a slight pressure from the other’s hand and knew that Pippin had understood.

Making his way back to his own cot, Merry wearily climbed upon it, lay down, and closed his eyes, feeling hopeful for the first time in longer than he could remember. With one final tired sigh, he sank into a deep and dreamless sleep.

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