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"Wake up, sleepyhead, it´s your turn to help Sam with breakfast." Pippin was shaking Merry awake, gentle calling and stroking of his curls hadn´t done the trick this time. Neither had tickling or tapping his nose. Merry was deep in slumber and Pippin finally peeled the blankets off him. As was his usual wont, Merry had burrowed down under the blankets, and curled up on his side. The only visible parts had been a few strands of golden curls.
"All right, I’m awake!" Blearily Merry sat up, rubbing his hands over his face and through his curls. "Ugh. I feel as if I haven´t slept at all" he muttered before a cough was released, surprising Merry as much as the rest of them. Pippin’s sniffles were worse too, and he looked a little flushed. Merry reached out to check for fever. "I’m all right Merry, just stuffed. My head hurts a bit though"
Merry dragged himself up and ordered Pippin back under the covers. "You stay there until breakfast, Pip."
Without saying anything, Aragorn made a tea for Pippin, to ease his airways and his head. When it was ready, Pippin drank without complaint.
The Nine Walkers set out once more. The landscape was still not changing much and the mountains looked just as far away as they had the previous day or previous week. It had been almost two weeks since they had left Rivendell. The tension that had been hovering over the company the last few days was thankfully gone. Frodo and Sam were happily but quietly talking as they walked side by side in the middle of the company. Aragorn and Gandalf were at the fore as usual, and Boromir brought up the rear, keeping the hobbits in the middle. Legolas and Gimli were not bickering and walked in companionable silence.
Merry watched as Legolas walked past them, keen eyes and ears alert for any signs of danger. The howling wind had dwindled down and they didn’t feel so cold any more. Actually, when he came to think about it Merry felt rather warm. His head had started to hurt too, and he felt tight in his chest besides the tickle in his throat. He tried to act as if nothing was wrong, chatting with Pippin and trying to answer his incessant questions, even singing along in a soft voice when Frodo started a song sometime before lunch.
Merry thought that if he joined in the making of their meal, he might get hungrier, but as of now, he wasn’t interested in food. His cranky feeling from the previous day hadn´t disappeared, but he had been trying not to think any more about it and to be pleasant. He could do with a rest though.
Sam was happy to have an extra pair of hands to help him with the chopping, and welcomed Mr. Merry with a smile when he offered to help out. Sam drew forth carrots and dried meat, wild onions and a few potatoes to make a stew. He even found a few spices left and added a pinch of salt.
"Oh, this is delicious, Sam!" The Fellowship chorused when the plates were emptied and Boromir and Legolas set to clean up after them.
“Yes, it was” Gandalf said. “I think we have time for a little rest also. We are making good progress.”
When hearing this, immediately Merry found his bedroll and burrowed down under his blankets.
"What`s wrong with him?" Pippin asked quietly.
"I don´t know. He´s still gloomy, try to hide it as he might. Maybe you should take some rest too. You still have a bit of a cold you know." Frodo said. Pippin, his ever present energy not at its usual high level because of the cold, gladly complied and lay down beside where Merry was already sound asleep, snoring.
They all drowsed and rested for an hour or two and when Gandalf called them to start walking again, a light drizzle had started. The rain wasn’t heavy, but it soaked them quickly. Pippin dragged himself up, and took stock of his condition. His nose was still clogged, his breath a little short, but otherwise he felt all right. Strider`s tea had helped, and his head was better too. Merry though, was another matter. He was even harder to wake now than the previous afternoon, and Pippin shook his cousin for quite a long time before he got a muttered complaint from Merry to show for his efforts.
"A few minutes more please?"
"No, Merry, get up you, you lazy heap of a hobbit!" Pippin was desperate now; thinking maybe teasing would get his cousin up. "Gandalf is impatient and everyone else is ready. Really, Mer, what`s the matter with you?"
"All right." Merry pushed himself up on his elbows and coughed. He sat fully upright and coughed a little more, the cough coming from deep within his chest and rattling up through his throat. Before he could stifle it he uttered a moan and found himself surrounded by three hobbits, a wizard and a man. Gimli, Boromir and Legolas were still breaking camp, but turned to look at the hobbits when they heard the sound of coughing.
"Meriadoc" Frodo said sternly. "Why didn’t you just say you weren´t feeling well."
“I`m sorry…I suppose I didn’t really realise...” Merry`s bedraggled looks made Pippin crawl closer and pull him into a hug.
"Merry" Pippin said, his head resting on Merry´s shoulder "you’re burning."
"Let me have a look, Pippin." Alerted by Pippin`s statement and by the sound of Merry´s coughing, Aragorn was concerned and knelt by the hobbit, taking Merry´s face in his hands. The blue eyes were a little watery and he looked flushed and strained. He felt a bit hot to the touch too.
"Does your chest hurt Merry? That cough doesn´t sound good."
"Yes, it feels kind of tight. But I’m all right."
"No you’re not." Frodo said, sitting down by his side too and feeling Merry´s brow for himself. "Now, be a good lad and do whatever Aragorn deems best." Sometimes the only way to handle Merry was to be stern with him.
Gandalf laughed at this, knowing these four hobbits only too well. "He´s right you know Meriadoc. You don´t look too well."
"All right, all right!" Merry gave in, but didn’t find any amusement in the situation, oblivious to his own stubbornness. "It´s true, I don´t feel so well. My throat tickles, my chest feels tight and my head hurts. And I feel tired. Everyone satisfied now?"
"Oh, Merry!" Pippin said, trying to hide the amusement despite his worry.
"Now, as everyone agrees that Merry isn´t feeling well, how about letting me have a look at him and see what we can do to make him feel better?" Aragorn said, looking at Merry. After listening to the hobbit´s breathing and feeling his throat, Aragorn deemed Merry fit enough to walk further, and they set out again. "Take it easy Merry, and if you feel any sign of getting worse, please come straight to me.” The hobbit had no real fever, but he was on the brink of it and he had some rattling sounds in his chest.
"I will." Merry answered obediently.
By dinnertime they were wet through from the light rain, and Merry had started shivering. If only the rain would let up. Maybe that dip in the stream had chilled him too much after all. He hadn`t really got the warmth back into his bones, and it had given Pip a cold after all. He didn’t feel like having dinner, but ate a little of what was put on his plate. Thankfully Legolas had found shelter for them just before Gandalf called the halt, and Merry was relieved that he didn’t have to sleep in the rain.
While waiting for dinner, they changed into fresh clothes, that weren´t as dry as they had hoped. The packs sheltered the contents from the rain, but as the packs themselves got wet, some moistness reached the contents too, and the clothes the Fellowship donned were a little damp. Merry coughed again, deep and wetly this time. He was getting more and more exhausted with each bout of coughing, and after a particularly rough fit he sat down hard on his backside. "Oof!" He complained before he crawled over to his bedroll and burrowed down in it.
"Strider!" Pippin said, watching his cousin´s actions.
"I know Pippin, I´ll make him some tea."
Thankful that the Ranger knew what to do for Merry, Pippin went over to his cousin´s bedroll and sat down beside him, putting Merry`s head in his lap.
"That´s good thinking Pippin, it will ease his breathing."
Merry hadn´t fallen asleep yet, but lay with his eyes closed, letting Pippin`s rhythmic stroking of his hair lull him into slumber.
Frodo tried to sleep, but the sounds of Merry´s difficult breathing just by his ear and the heat from his body, left him awake and worried. It was a strange thing. Both his younger cousins had been soaked; Pippin caught a cold, but seemed all right already. At first, Merry didn’t seem anything but grumpy and a little cranky, but now he was ill. Frodo felt sleep take him at last, and his thoughts became slow and muddled. He reached out to stroke Merry´s flushed and hot face, and tucked the blankets in around them. Hopefully Strider´s tea would make his Merry-lad better. He usually jumped back quickly if he caught anything at all. Frodo prayed that this would be the case now too.
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