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Title: Of Fish And Feverish Hobbits
Author: Anso the Hobbit
Characters: The Fellowship
Timeline: SR 1419, Hollin
Summary: In which I explore what happens when Pippin goes fishing for supper/breakfast and Merry has a bad few days.
Note: Written for Marigold´s Challenge 7. As always, great appreciation and thanks to my wonderful, patient and encouraging beta!
"Well, that’s just perfect. What do you suppose we should do now?" Frodo said to all and no one, exasperation for his two cousins and their various antics beginning to wear on him. This was just one of many larks he and the rest of the Fellowship had had to endure the last days. Things that seemed like a good thing to do or were done with good intentions always ended in disaster when Merry or Pippin were behind them. Frodo sighed. This time the cousin was Pippin.
"Someone just get him out!" Merry was standing beside Frodo, watching as Pippin enthusiastically tried to catch their breakfast, watching him struggle to make his way back to the bank, but not feeling particularly eager to help him himself. They were getting low on food and fish seemed like as good as any supplement. The young Took loved to fish, so he was eager and willing when the first useful river showed up, and Legolas had suggested before their evening meal that they try to catch some fish. Pippin had shed his garments down to his smallclothes and had already been wading into the icy water before anyone could stop him.
Walking for days upon days was beginning to become fatiguing, and tension had slowly built up within all of them. Gandalf was grumpier than usual, Legolas and Gimli fighting more earnestly, Boromir more silent and Aragorn was just as mute and had been quickening their pace as if to get away from it all. The hobbits were exhausted from the pace the Ranger set and that made them uncharacteristically quarrelsome.
Now Pippin was chest deep in the river, eyes shining with glee over having caught two large fish. He had stalked them as they schooled in the rock pools, out of the current, and was now trying to make his way back to the safety of the riverbank. For a moment he slipped and swayed, but caught himself and started forward again. The current away from the rock pools in the midst of the river was swift, and Pippin was small, and while it wasn’t beyond his skill to manage he wasn’t having the easiest time of it.
"No. There’s no use any more of us getting wet. We’ll wait a little and see how he manages." Aragorn said, earning himself a shocked glance from Merry.
"We can’t do that!" Merry said, resigning himself to getting soaked and shaking his head over the rest of the Fellowship’s lack of interest in helping his cousin, but also deciding to lend a hand because he was hungry and now craved fish for breakfast. He`d just have to do it himself then. He removed his cloak and coat, and had only just unbuttoned his weskit when they heard a yelp and Pippin went under. He lost hold of one of the fish, but trying to save the other he hung on as the fish tried to get away. The fish slipped from Pippin`s hand and made a leap before landing in the shallows by the riverbank. Sam waded into the shallows and snatched the fish up and made quick process of killing it. There was no use throwing away good fish, no matter how it made it to the bank.
Without any thought, Merry splashed into the river and dived in, searching for Pippin, who had not resurfaced yet, leaving a baffled Fellowship to watch as he groped around in the water. Pippin could swim all right, and while that yelp sounded like something more than just slipping on a stone Pippin had not seemed in any real distress. Indeed, Pippin quickly made his way to the surface, coughing and sputtering, and started swimming to the shore. Seeing Merry in the freezing water he swam for his cousin instead and together they staggered to the bank.
"What were you thinking, Meriadoc?" Both Frodo and Gandalf were walking up to the two dripping wet cousins and handing them blankets to dry off with. "Pippin can swim you know. You taught him yourself! Have you completely lost your mind?"
“Yes Merry, why did you jump in after me, I was all right!” Pippin added between clattering teeth.
Merry turned to Pippin "Well, don’t scare the life out of me with yelling like that then! You sounded as if you were hurt!"
"Calm down Merry. I just shouted because... well, something heavy brushed against me and knocked me over and it was slimy and icky. Talk about the big one that got away!" Pippin toweled himself off with the blanket, shivering, his teeth chattering. Merry watched him in concern, making no move to dry off himself until Pippin noticed and sighed in exasperation. "I’m fine Merry! Just a little cold."
Merry didn’t say anything but dried himself off and picked up his pack to find fresh clothes.
"There is no need for you two to be out of sorts with each other." Gandalf said. "Merry`s intentions were good Pippin, if not thought through, something I might add is rare when it comes to him.”
Merry nodded in silent agreement, it felt as if his nerves were on the outside.
"I’m sorry, Pip. But you scared me." Merry drew Pippin in for a quick hug, and was rewarded with a smile. “Sure you`re all right?”
“I`m fine Merry. You scared me a little too when you jumped in after me like that. I’m sorry that I snapped at you just now, you were only worried about me.” Pippin returned the hug, then groped through his own pack for dry smallclothes.
”Pippin, would you assist me in refilling the water bottles?” Legolas said. He had been watching the camp while Pippin had been fishing.
“I don`t know if it`s wise to let Pip be near water at the moment. I`ll come with you.” Frodo said.
Merry picked up his own and Pippin`s wet clothes and wet blankets and laid them out to dry. Pippin had been drying his ears when Legolas requested his help, so he remained indifferent when Frodo joined the Elf in fetching water. Gandalf had sat down on a boulder, his eyes deep and distant. Pippin nudged Merry and jerked his head in Gandalf`s direction.
“I wonder what he`s doing when he sits like that. Do you think he communicates with the other wizards or anything?”
“Sssh, Pip. I don`t know what he`s doing. Maybe he`s just tired.” Merry shook his head. Maybe Gandalf did talk to other wizards in his head? That was certainly something to ponder. Merry finished with their packs, shivering a little in the cold wind and sitting down beside Gimli and Boromir.
"Breakfast’s ready, if you will." Sam piped in, knowing the food would comfort the hobbits and all of them needed something warm inside them with this chilling wind howling all the time. Gandalf had allowed a small cooking fire this night, and they all were glad for the warmth of the food. Pippin’s fish was delicious and they made a feast of it, supplemented with dried fruits and flatbread. The sun was going down, and after assigning the two youngest members of the Fellowship to clean up after the meal, everyone else set to breaking camp for another night of walking.
"Atchooo!" Pippin’s sneeze sounded throughout the barren landscape, and the Fellowship jumped. They had been walking silently and without speaking. Merry turned to frown at him with a questioning glance in his blue eyes.
"Are you all right, Pip?"
A sniffle and another sneeze was all the answer Merry got before the others surrounded them.
"Pippin!" Frodo said, reaching over to touch his cousin’s face, checking for signs of fever.
"I’m all right. Just didn’t get all warmed up while we ate." Pippin had eaten his meal wrapped in blankets and sitting close to the fire, but even warm clothes and the blankets hadn’t been enough to ward off the chill.
"You know how easily he catches cold." Frodo hissed to Merry. "We should have watched him more closely."
"I know, Frodo. I’m sorry. But it’s not as if he is a child either. He knows he should look out for himself. He shouldn`t have walked into that river. There`s other methods to catch fish you know!" Merry hissed back. He felt anger well up in him, but sternly told his temper to cool down. It would only make things worse if he got angry now, at Frodo, Pippin, or both of them. They were all under stress. The Ring had to be destroyed, and that was what they had set out to do, and squabbling wouldn’t help everyone’s already frayed nerves. He could do without this crankiness that had come upon him though. He could do without having a bad night, especially now as Pippin most likely had a cold and would need looking after.
"What do you have to be sorry about lad?" Gimli`s gruff voice sounded. "He waded into that river all by himself."
"Merry?" Pippin reached for him, turning his cousin to look at him. "I can make my own decisions you know. It’s not as if you need to watch my every step."
"I know." Merry shook his head, meeting Pippin’s concerned gaze with his own determined one. He always looked out for Pippin though, always. "It’s just... I don’t know what it is, Pip. Maybe I’m just tired." Merry released himself from Pippin’s grasp and started walking again. "Well, come on then!"
As Merry reached Aragorn and Boromir who now were walking at the fore a little further away from the hobbits, Pippin shook his head. What was wrong with Merry tonight? Frodo just stared blankly after his cousin, but lines of worry creased his brow. They all needed something to relieve them of the tension. Unconsciously he grabbed for the silver chain around his neck and the Ring hanging from it. If they only could get this Quest over with…
"Don’t you worry about them, Mr. Frodo. Mr. Merry will be his usual cheery self again soon enough, and before you know it Mr. Pippin will be chattering away with his endless questions."
"I’m sure you’re right Sam, it’s just that it’s a rare thing to see Merry not thinking before acting. Especially when it comes to Pip. He knows that Pippin swims almost as well as he does himself." Frodo shook his head again and hitched his pack up higher. Maybe a good walk in the crisp, cool air and a day of sleep would put things to rights.
Merry trudged on, muttering angrily to himself. He felt out of sorts and cranky. Beside him Pippin sneezed again. Luckily, Frodo didn’t do as Bilbo and leave on an adventure without handkerchiefs, so within seconds their elder cousin was holding out one for Pippin.
"Maybe Strider should make you something for that cold, Pip. We don’t want it to get worse." Merry said.
Pippin didn’t answer outright, but muttered something under his breath. He was a bother again. And what if he got sick now, slowing the Fellowship and the Quest? He felt useless. Maybe he should have stayed back in Rivendell. Pippin’s stomach gave a growl, and he couldn’t help but laugh at the plea for food from it. Typical, just when he thought about Rivendell and the well-laden tables there.
Merry was acting oddly though, Pippin thought. Pippin loved his cousin dearly, and knew him well, and it was not normal for Merry to have plunged in the river after him when he had just uttered a little yelp. It wasn’t like that was the first time he had fallen into a bit of water. Normally Merry would take stock of the situation before acting, seeing whether Pippin was actually in any sort of danger before acting. He wasn’t even a little hurt. Not a cut or a bruise in sight. Pippin sighed heavily but walked on, one eye on Merry, the other on the rocky path. He sneezed again, trying not to let the tickle in his throat develop into a cough.
The mid-march meal came and went. The Fellowship was subdued and tense through the brief repast and as they continued their journey. The night was clear and both stars and moon shone down at them, giving enough light to easily see where they walked. Pippin gave an occasional sneeze, but seemed all right otherwise. Aragorn decided that he would see how Pippin fared throughout the night before making an herbal tea when they stopped in the morning. Merry was gloomy and silent. Aragorn could almost see the rain cloud over his head, but otherwise he seemed unharmed from his own dip in the water.
It wasn’t common for the hobbits to be so subdued and grumpy, Boromir thought. He had come to like the little people, and he was attracted by their merry and easy way of life. Now he wondered if he should regret joining the Quest and perhaps head for Gondor by the fastest route. He hoped that somehow this mood that had fallen upon all of them could be broken, and soon.
Finally the sky gave way to the coming of dawn, and the Fellowship set to making dinner, or breakfast, or whatever it should be considered. Gimli and Merry took the water bottles to the nearest stream, and filled them with fresh water, while the other hobbits, helped by Aragorn, made a dinner of sausages, potatoes and onions. The landscape didn’t provide them with much as they walked, but Pippin had found some strange berries. Sadly, they were not edible, and reluctantly he threw them away. If there had only been a nice stand of mushrooms he could pick. But they had seen no place where the fungi grew for several days.
"I believe today, Frodo, you have first watch, Merry the second, Boromir the third and Legolas the last." Gandalf announced when they set about making up their beds.
The day went silently by, Frodo’s watch was totally uneventful, and he was glad to think of burrowing down in his blankets when Merry came to relieve him of his duty, waking up on his own without Frodo‘s urging.
"How are you?" Frodo asked as he jumped down from the rock he had been sitting on. "You seemed a little out of sorts last night. Feeling any better?"
"I’m fine. I’m just a little tired I think. Of walking and walking and nothing happening. But of course you know that." Merry cast his eyes down, why did he say such ridiculous things? Of course Frodo knew, he was walking just beside him.
"I’m sorry Frodo..."
"Merry" Frodo whispered. "What is it?" He eyed his cousin searchingly. Merry looked just as cold and filthy as the rest of them, but he was not acting like himself. Merry was not an easily startled person, and Pippin`s little fishing trip last night should not have resulted in the reaction it had if Merry was well.
"I’m sorry Frodo," Merry sniffled a little. Angrily he drew his hands over his face, removing the tears that had started to run. "I just feel… I`m just having a bad couple of days I think. Everyone has been a bit out of sorts, not just me.”
"Come here" Frodo drew Merry in for a fierce hug and kissed the rumpled curls. "Is there anything you want to talk about or do you want me to take your watch?"
Merry sniffled a little more, tears were still in his eyes, but they didn’t fall. "No, no Frodo. You need to rest. I´ll be all right."
“I know that. But if you need to talk, I`m here for you.” Frodo held him by the shoulders and looked closely at him. "All right Merry?” Merry nodded. “Boromir will take over in a few hours. Wake him earlier if you need to. He will not mind. Or wake me, and I will stand whatever is left of your watch." He gave Merry a brief hug and went to his bedroll. A few minutes after, Merry heard Frodo`s breath even out and join in with the sleeping sounds of the others.
Merry perched himself on the boulder Frodo just had vacated, and sat silently surveying their surroundings and thinking. When the time came to wake Boromir and let him take over he hadn’t come any closer to understanding why he was feeling so unlike himself, and was relieved when he could go back to sleep and stop worrying for a time. "Boromir. It´s time for your watch." Merry said, shaking the Man´s shoulder a little.
Boromir thanked him and watched Merry go back to the nest that was the hobbits´ bedding. He walked around camp a little, watching over his companions. The hobbits slept as usual in a huddle of arms and legs and curly heads. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas lay at the outskirts of the camp, each of them keeping silent watch in their sleep, while Gandalf snored close by the hobbits, sword and staff at the ready.
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