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To Tell a Tale  by Lindelea

Chapter the Ninth: Turnabout is Fair Play
in which Pippin tells a story of his own
contributed by ansothehobbit

'I am so very tired of being cared for and cosseted and told I must stay in the bed until further notice!' Pippin grumbled. 'I'm well! I'm well! I'm--' This series of hopeful sentiments was interrupted by a cough, that invited another and yet another, eventually a whole host to take up residence, until the young hobbit was bent double and turning blue in his effort to breathe.

Faramir, his visitor of the moment, slapped the hobbit's back and tendered sips of water, to no avail. Cursing under his breath, he allowed the onrushing healers to thrust him aside, watching helplessly as they battled the onslaught of coughing.

At last it was under control, and Pippin was eased back against the freshly-fluffed cushions, sipping at the tumbler of sweet syrup concocted to fight tickles in the throat.

'I swallowed wrong, that's all it was,' he protested in between wheezes, his voice raspy from the battle. 'Just swallowed wrong...'

'Of course, that's all it was,' Faramir defended his young guardsman stoutly, waving the healers out of the room. 'He's fine, now, and he has a goodly supply of sirop, and he will endeavour not to make the same mistake, but to swallow carefully...' He eyed the young hobbit, adding under his breath, '...though how such a folk, who spend a great deal of their time eating, should ever experience such trouble, evades me.'

Pippin laughed, nearly choking, but quickly controlled himself, repeating his original sentiment. 'I'm so very weary...'

'Then lie yourself down,' old Ioreth said, 'poor lamb, so very weary, and no doubt the Captain is tiring you with tales of battle and bloodletting...'

Faramir was ready to protest, but he never could get a word in when old Ioreth was well started. Dealing with the old woman always made him feel much younger than his age, made him want to roll his eyes, but that would be beneath his dignity, of course. All he could do was hold onto his temper and hope for an interruption.

Just then Merry skidded into the room, eyes wide with alarm. 'They told me...' he panted, 'you...' Frodo was not far behind him, Sam trailing in on his master's heels.

Pippin glared. 'I'm...' he said, putting space between each word to give them weight, 'fine...'

'You don't look fine,' Merry said worriedly, putting a hand to his young cousin's forehead, only to have Pippin strike it away.

'I don't need to be taken care of!' he said through gritted teeth.

'Of course you don't, cousin,' Frodo said, sympathy plain in his eyes. He knew all too well what it was to have people hovering over him, counting his every breath, urging food and tonics on him, following him about and never giving him any peace.

'Is there anything I can do for you, Master Pippin?' Sam said.

'Yes!' Pippin nearly shouted, hoarse though his voice was.

'What is it?' Sam said, starting forward in his eagerness to serve.

'You may fall ill and let yourself be badgered for a change,' Pippin said. Faramir suppressed a chuckle.

'Now, Pippin,' Merry said sternly. 'You've given us no end of trouble, when all we want is for you to rest and recover...'

'As if you're the patientest patient there is to be found in all of Middle-earth!' Pippin said.

'I--' Merry began, but Pippin turned to his Captain.

'Honestly, you ought to see how he carries on...'

'He seemed remarkably well-behaved after the battle of the Pelennor,' Faramir said, sitting down once more in the chair beside the bed, now that it seemed the crisis was over.

'Hah!' Pippin said. 'He was not himself!'

Merry was about to contradict, but a glare from his younger cousin silenced him.

Taking a sip of the soothing syrup, Pippin swallowed and cleared his throat. 'You ought to have seen him in Rivendell, for example,' he said. 'Trying to give the impression that nothing was at all the matter with him, as if he always wakens blinking like an owl in the light of dawn...'

'Too much to drink?' Faramir said with interest. He'd been frankly amazed at the Halflings' capacity for food and drink.

'Not half!' Pippin said. 'He'd've been better off, for a few glasses of wine, I warrant, instead of worrying through the nights and days when there was nothing more worth worrying over...'

Faramir settled himself more comfortably. It seemed as if Pippin were about to take his own turn at storytelling.

“Merry, wake up!” Pippin said, shaking Merry's shoulder eagerly. It was one of those extraordinarily beautiful days in Rivendell – where the sun made the leaves shine like gold and copper and the air was crisp and clean and all you wanted was to run out into the beauty of it all. That was what Pippin wanted now and he wanted Merry with him.

They'd all been too anxious for Frodo to manage much more than to watch and to hope since they arrived, but now Lord Elrond had said he would be all right! Pippin thought it felt like the whole of Rivendell breathed a loud and long sigh of relief. That is, all except Merry. Merry'd been worrying more than usual, and was working himself into quite a state. Pippin had tried all the tricks he knew but whatever he did, Merry just brushed them away. Mock anger, teasing, jokes and downright childish attempts to make his Merry smile and laugh and stop worrying: Nothing seemed to work. He talked to Gandalf and Strider, and Sam and Bilbo, but whatever anyone did, the effects of it didn't last long, if it worked at all. Bilbo was the one who seemed to manage best but when their old, beloved relative took a nap or wrote in his book Merry started to worry again.

Pippin wanted to talk to Frodo and had decided upon doing it this very day if Merry didn't stop worrying. It was a wonder Frodo hadn't commented upon it already, knowing Merry as well as he did.

“Merry! Get up! It's a beautiful day and I know the cooks are making pancakes and they have apple syrup and mushrooms and freshly baked bread just waiting for us. Merry?”

Merry tried to make believe he was still asleep but Pippin's chattering felt like a whole group of people shouting inside his head. As soon as he opened his eyes the sun stabbed him mercilessly. He moaned and covered his head with the blankets. For a moment he tried to think back, to see if he could remember having drunk too deeply of the dwarven ale Gimli had introduced them to, or perhaps the fine elven wine, but however much he tried to believe it, no memory of such activity surfaced. Pippin was talking about breakfast now and as much as Merry loved pancakes and apple syrup the thought of it made his stomach churn. He hastily curled up into as tight a ball as he could manage, hugging his middle. Those movements made his head start to throb in earnest, though, and he moaned again.

Waiting for Merry to come awake, Pippin padded about their room, doing his morning ablutions and thought about that day's plan, not hearing Merry moan or seeing him curl up tight. He knew Merry needed his time to wake and didn't rush him. Merry would be a much happier cousin to have around if he could wake in his own time. That didn't prevent Pippin from pressing just a little though. When Merry didn't wake as fast as he usually did, Pippin walked over to the bed again and looked down at him.

Merry lay still for a moment or two, trying to keep Pippin's chatter out of his mind while he assessed his situation. The problem was that his head was hurting so much, he couldn't think. He could only remember having had such a horrid headache once before, and that one had lasted for a week. It had been around the time he came of age and started to feel the responsibility of being the son of the Master of Buckland weigh more heavily on his shoulders. His parents had warned him then to watch for the signs of too much worry, but it didn't look like he'd managed that now, now did it?

Merry turned over on his back. The acute nausea was reduced to a slight feeling of sickness now. He experimentally opened his eyes to see Pippin looking worriedly, even anxiously back at him. The younger cousin had stopped talking now and was just watching Merry wake up.

“Are you all right?” Pippin asked as soon as Merry's eyes opened.

Merry nodded, but immediately regretted it. He clenched his eyes shut and put his hands over them, trying to rub the sleep and headache away. “It's just a little headache,” Merry answered. There was no need to make Pippin start worrying over him too; they'd had enough with Frodo.

“Don't even bother, Merry,” Pippin said, perturbed, and gently but persistently pulled Merry's hands away to get a closer look at him. Merry was pale, and from his squinting, the light was evidently hurting his eyes. “By the looks of things, your head hurts a whole lot. Am I right?”

“How…?” Merry managed, surprised. Pippin had seen him indisposed of course, but nothing as bad as this.

“I've three sisters and a mother, Merry; they get bad headaches once a month. It's something they have from the Bankses.”

Merry just gaped in surprise. He tended to forget that Pippin knew more about the world than he sometimes let on. He hastily shut his mouth. Growing up in a smial full of lasses certainly gave you a different perspective on life!

Pippin didn't give Merry time to answer. “How bad is it? Do you feel up to eating something?”

Merry started to shake his head, then remembered himself just in time. “No. But I could do with some tea.”

“All right,” Pippin said, but in that moment there was a knock on the door and two elves came in with trays laden with pancakes and bread and mushrooms and all good things a hobbit could want for breakfast – the cooks quickly having learned that a bit of bread and fruit and water doesn't make a hobbit happy if it was considered to be a proper meal. Seeing Merry still in his nightshirt and in bed one of them stopped briefly in the doorway. He looked out on the sunny morning, then back at Merry, and arched an eyebrow in query, but didn't say anything.

Pippin was occupied with the food and didn't notice, but Merry did. He held the elf's gaze, forcing a smile as he slowly sat up and slid down the side of the bed, feeling for the floor with his feet. The door shut behind the elves, and Merry moved to the washstand. He managed to pour water into the basin and dip a cloth in the cool water before Pippin managed to tear his attention away from breakfast and the tea he was pouring for Merry.

“What do you think you are doing?” Pippin said, immediately hurrying to Merry's side and taking the cloth from him.

“Getting up, of course,” Merry said, taking the cloth back and starting to wash his face, letting the cool wet fabric rest over his eyes for a moment. “What did you think?”

“Merry,” Pippin said in his sternest voice, hands on his hips and his mouth in a thin line. “If I'm reading you correctly, with this kind of headache all you want to do is curl up in bed in a quiet, cool room and not be disturbed by anything. Am I right?” Again Pippin took the cloth from Merry.

Merry paused in pulling the nightshirt over his head and pulled his head back into it. “Yes. But what I want and what I can are two different things. Although Lord Elrond said Frodo will be well, he did also say that Frodo would need quite a bit of time to recover. It might be weeks before he'd be well enough to take a proper walk or do anything that could remotely look like exercise. And if there's something all the Big Folk say we need before we set out on this journey, it's exercise!” Merry winced as he stopped speaking. He'd been too loud for his own ears.

“Yes. And what are you thinking of doing? Did you plan to exercise for him?”

“Pippin…” Merry started to protest.

“No, Merry. Listen to me. You can't do that. You can't hold off a whole army of orcs or evil men or protect Frodo all by yourself. Why, it's not even certain that Lord Elrond will let us go!” Pippin paused as Merry winced again. “Enough of that,” Pippin said in a softer voice, seeing Merry's face turn even paler. “Let's get you back to bed, Merry.” Silently and gently he manoeuvred Merry's arms back into the nightshirt and led him back to the bed, and as Merry climbed up, Pippin gave him a boost to propel him into the bed. He fluffed the pillows and with a hand to Merry's chest leaned him back against them.

Merry wanted to protest but involuntarily sighed in relief as his body rested against the pillows. A heartbeat later Pippin was there with a cup of tea. “Drink this now,” Pippin whispered. “Do you mind if I eat something? I'm awfully hungry, Merry.” As Pippin knew, with this kind of headache the mere smell of food could make one sick. He didn't want to make things worse than they were.

“No. You eat something, Pippin.”

Pippin had barely managed to start on his second helping of breakfast before Bilbo and Aragorn entered. Merry had slid down in the bed as soon as he'd finished his tea and was lying with a blanket over his head to keep out the light. He would've asked Pippin to draw the curtains if he had the energy. Perhaps Pippin could light a single candle, placed just so that he didn't see the source of light but still could make use of it if he needed.

“Good morning, Pippin,” Aragorn said as he entered. “Where's Merry?”

“Oh, he's here.” Pippin peeled the blanket away to reveal Merry's head.

Merry clenched his eyes shut again as the blanket came off and turned so his head was buried in the pillow. He heard soft footsteps come closer and soon Bilbo's familiar hand was stroking through his curls before softly calling his name. “Merry? Are you awake?”

“Yes.” Merry turned and sat up.

Seeing the hobbit sit up, Aragorn came over to the bed and stood behind Bilbo. “Then why are you still in bed? This isn't like you, Merry,” the old hobbit said. “We were waiting for you and Pippin in Frodo's room but when none of you showed up we started to worry. Is everything all right?”

Merry opened his mouth to answer but Aragorn beat him to it. “I think not. One of the elves who was here to deliver breakfast told me that he didn't know that the Periain were so slow in rising. He mentioned that one of them looked unwell.” Aragorn kept his gaze on Merry as he said this.

“It's true,” Pippin said. He'd stopped eating as soon as the others came in, but now he absently picked up his fork. “Merry has a headache, and a bad one at that, but he won't admit it.”

“Pippin!” Merry's protest came out as a whimper. Bother! He didn't need this.

Pippin quickly abandoned his food and reached out to gather Merry in a soft hug. “Sssh, Merry.” Holding Merry close and laying his head to rest on his shoulder, Pippin looked fearfully from Bilbo to Aragorn.

“Help me up!” Bilbo urged and Aragorn lifted the old hobbit up to sit on Merry's bed. Both lads looked exhausted, something Bilbo didn't find strange at all after everything that had happened. Pippin drew Merry closer to make room for Bilbo on Merry's other side. Bilbo crawled up to the head board, and leaned back against the pillows Aragorn fluffed. Finding a good position to sit, he gently took Merry from Pippin's protecting embrace and leaned him against himself. “Can you manage to scoot down a little, Merry-lad?”

When Merry was positioned just so, Bilbo turned to Aragorn. “Close the curtains and light a candle, but put it out of Merry's line of sight.” Bilbo gestured to a table on the far side of the bed. Pippin, by his position, would shield Merry's eyes from the candle flame. Before Aragorn could ply Merry with some herbal tea that likely would make the lad throw it up for the foul taste, Bilbo decided to try something else. He reached out to ruffle Pippin's curls before starting to gently rub Merry's shoulders. “There, there. It will be all better soon.”

Merry's only answer was a low moan as Bilbo's fingers found muscles he didn't really knew had been so tense.

“There,” Bilbo said a little while later, patting Merry gently on the shoulder. “All better?”

“A little,” Merry said and sat up. “Thank you.” He started to slide out of the bed again but Aragorn stopped him when Bilbo gave him a meaningful look.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting up, of course,” Merry said, sliding off the bed. “It's a glorious day and Pippin wanted to explore, and I want to see how Frodo is doing.” Merry turned to look at Pippin who looked more scared than eager to go out and enjoy the day.

“Not so fast, young hobbit,” Bilbo said, managing to catch hold of Merry's sleeve. “Come back here.”

Knowing that disobeying his dear old relative was the last thing he'd want, and wanting to make Pippin happy again, Merry willingly climbed back up and sat down between his cousins once more, putting an arm around Pippin and squeezing encouragingly. “It's all right, Pip. I'm better now.” He tried to smile but his head hurt too much to manage a proper one.

Bilbo lifted the blankets and sternly eyed Merry until he crawled under them. With a satisfied smile, Bilbo tucked the blankets nicely in about the younger hobbit. “The massage might have released the tension a little, my lad, but the way you're squinting in this almost-dark tells me that the headache is not at all gone. Am I right?”

“Yes,” Merry said quietly, looking from Pippin to Bilbo to Strider and back to Pippin. Pippin had been awfully quiet since Bilbo and Strider had come in and even in the dim light Merry could see he was fighting to hold back tears, so he reached out again and gathered Pippin in a hug. “Don't worry, Pip. I'll be fine.”

“Don't worry?” Pippin said, pulling out of Merry's embrace and failing to hold back the anger and worry that he had worked up since he discovered that Merry was unwell earlier in the morning. “Don't WORRY? Merry… Oh, you're a fine one to talk!”

Pippin's voice, shrill as it was with anger, felt like piercing needles in Merry's sore head. With his head feeling as if it were about to explode, he wasn't going to try to talk reason with his cousin. He covered his ears and slid down in the bed, hoping that the pillows would muffle Pippin's voice. Merry loved Pippin dearly but when he became too excited with something he forgot that he didn't necessarily have to raise his voice.

“Stop!” Bilbo said. “The both of you. Stop now.”

Merry peered out from under the blankets again and Pippin snapped his mouth shut.

“A lot has been going on since you all arrived and you're both exhausted. We're all tired.”

“I'm sorry, Merry, for yelling at you,” Pippin said, stroking Merry's hair tentatively.

“I'm sorry too, Pippin. I should have known I was starting to worry too much.”

“Yes, you should,” Aragorn said quietly from the foot of the bed, where he still stood. He thought he knew hobbits after travelling with them a month. He'd known Bilbo from the years he'd spent in Rivendell, but shaking his head he found that he still had much to learn about them. Gandalf had once said that you could learn all there is to know about hobbits in a month, but after a hundred years they could still surprise you. Well, these five he'd come to know had surprised him many times over in the short while he'd known them.

Merry sat up. “What do you know about it?” he said, exasperated.

“I've lived among the elves for many years, Merry. And we mortals worry a lot more than is necessary. The elves have at least taught me that. Now I know your head hurts, and seeing how Frodo has responded to the various herbs and tonics given to him, I fear that what I have to offer you is not something you would relish but it would help with the pain. Then I think we shall all leave you to try and sleep. I know that sleep is hard to come by when your head hurts, but try anyway.” Aragorn sat down on the side of the bed and looked at the hobbits. “Are you willing to let me help you, Merry?”

Merry nodded. He had seen for himself how Frodo reacted to the medication he was given, but he'd rather take a foul-tasting tonic than have this horrid headache any longer. The tension was starting to build up again and he was feeling definitely unwell.

“There's a good lad,” Bilbo said, and he patted Merry on the cheek before sliding down of the bed with Aragorn's help. “You do as he says now and I'll go check on Frodo-lad for a while. No doubt he and dear Sam are wondering where everyone is. I'll come back and check on you later. And I'd better find you still abed, Meriadoc, unless I hear that our friend the Dunadan here or Lord Elrond himself has released you. Good-bye, my lads!”

“Yes, Bilbo. Good-bye,” Merry said meekly, and then wearily he lay back against the soothing softness of the pillows.

“Now then,” Aragorn said, “let's see what we can do about this headache. Pippin, would you fetch me a bowl of cool water and a cloth?”

Pippin scrambled off the bed and ran to the washstand, pouring water in the washing bowl and fetched a fresh cloth from the stack on a stool beside it. Aragorn took a little phial from his pocket and poured a few drops of it into the water before stirring with his finger and wringing the cloth out in it. He folded it and placed it over Merry's eyes.

“What is it?” Merry asked, lifting the large cloth a little. The fabric smelled nice and soothing. “It smells of lavender.”

“Yes. It's a mixture made of relaxing herbs and flowers from Rivendell's garden,” Aragorn said. “I was going to take it to Frodo. He too needs to rest after the surgery so that he can heal properly.” Aragorn rose. “I'll go prepare that tonic now. Why don't you finish your breakfast, Pippin? I'll be back shortly.”

“All right.” Pippin had forgotten about his meal and it had gone cold now, but he didn't care. As soon as he put the first forkful into his mouth, his stomach rumbled and he ate hungrily, watching as Merry lay still on the bed.

Merry turned onto his side when Aragorn stood back up. He raised his hand to hold the cloth in place. Lying this way, he faced the covered window with his back to Pippin and the single lit candle. The smells of Pippin's now-cold breakfast still made him nauseous and he curled up further. He couldn't ask Pippin to cover it up and stop eating! A hungry Pippin was not a happy Pippin, and Merry wanted more than anything for his Pippin to be happy. He felt a little ashamed though, over worrying so much that he made himself sick, but he couldn't help it. It had been so close for Frodo and he was still not well…

“Merry. Stop thinking,” Pippin's voice suddenly said from beside him. He'd finished eating then. “You'll only worry yourself worse. Try to sleep.”

Merry turned to lie on his back again and unerringly reached out to take Pippin's hand. “All right. I'll try. Stay with me?”

“Of course, Merry. I won't go anywhere. Why, in this dark I'll probably sleep some myself.” Pippin lay down beside Merry and within a few moments he was asleep.

“My poor Pippin.” Merry tugged on a blanket and covered Pippin up. Now, if he could only manage to fall asleep himself…


But Aragorn returned quickly and kept his eyes on Merry until the hobbit had taken the tonic, stalling his questions about the drink with a raised hand and a quick glance to Pippin's sleeping form.

“It's something to make you rest and take the pain away,” was all he'd say.

When Merry was finished, Aragorn gave him a mug of fresh water and Merry gratefully drank from it, making the foul taste go away sip by sip. At last the water was gone as well, and he lay back. Aragorn tucked him back in and soon Merry also was asleep.


The next time Merry woke up, his head felt better and he immediately sat up. Pippin lay on the bed beside him, watching him wake up.

“How's your head?”

“It's much better now.”

“Good. Because Strider was in just a moment ago to see if you were awake, but since you still slept he went out again, promising to come by later.” Pippin looked searchingly at Merry. Merry'd been sleeping for several hours and it was nearing lunch time. He did look better, though. “Are you hungry?”

Merry thought about that a little. He didn't feel hungry, but he didn't feel nauseous at the thought of food, either, so he nodded, suspecting that he would be able to get something down.

“Good. Because Strider said that if you were able to eat and you felt better he might let you get up to go see Frodo for a bit, but then you would have to go back to bed and rest for the rest of the day.”

Merry pouted a little at that. He did feel better, so why should he go back to bed then? He looked at Pippin, wanting to voice his questions.

“Ah. Don't even think about it,” Pippin said firmly. “Strider said that even if you feel better now, you aren't well yet. The headache can come back with greater force if you don't do as he says.”

Merry nodded slowly. He wasn't sure if he liked this mature, stern Pippin as much as he liked the "old" Pippin. But then, Pippin – all of them – had grown quite a bit during their journey so far. Deep down, he was really happy to see more of this side of Pippin too. It was, after all, inevitable; he had to grow up some time. Better to do it now than later, Merry thought, and smiled before climbing over to Pippin's bed and gathering his cousin in a hug. “Thank you, Pippin-dear, for looking out for me and telling me what's what when I can't see it for myself.”

“Oh. You're very welcome, Merry-mine. You did, after all, teach me all the tricks I could ever want to learn about how to look out for someone.” Pippin hugged Merry back and looked at him closely again. “If you're ready for some food then, I'll go alert the cooks that they have some hungry hobbits to feed and then we'll go see about Frodo. And maybe, if you're good and go back to bed, Bilbo will let you read some of his books. By his leave this time!” Pippin nudged Merry and winked.

“Was he here, too?” Merry said as he climbed down from the bed to wash and dress.

“Yes. And Sam. We've all been worried about you, and no doubt Frodo will have a thing or two to say if he's up to it.”

“I don't doubt it, Pip.” Merry said and laughed heartily, for it was good to be a hobbit in Rivendell, and to have cousins and friends who loved you and looked out for you when you didn't have the wits to do it yourself.

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