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Disclaimer: Middle-Earth and everything in it belongs to Tolkien, I just get to visit from time to time.
2nd Disclaimer: I know nothing about herbal medicines and healing. I did a brief search for medicinal herbs and used them in a completely uninformed manner. Don’t try this at home.
Merry stared down at Pippin in a panic. They had been traveling from the Great Smials, where they had spent Yule, back to Crickhollow. The weather, grim and threatening all week, had finally fulfilled its promise yesterday. Cold rain and sleet had begun lashing at them midmorning and they had both been soaked and shivering by the time they stopped at Frogmorton for the night. During the night the wind had come up and blown the storm away, but the temperature had dropped below freezing.
Merry and Pippin had left the inn at Frogmorton fully confident of their ability to navigate the road to the Brandywine Bridge. The road was passable, if icy in places, and the sun was shining. They had set out after an early breakfast, full of high spirits, singing songs of travel and adventure. They had not even reached Budgeford yet when the disaster had struck.
There was a dip in the road about a mile outside of Budgeford where water had gathered during the rain yesterday. This water had developed a crust of ice during the night, which looked more solid than it was. Pippin had been in the lead and his pony had put her hoof through the ice before he’d seen it. The mare had been startled more than hurt, but she’d stumbled and thrown Pippin, who landed and lay, unmoving, half in and half out of the puddle.
“Pippin!” Merry cried, throwing himself down in the mud beside his friend. “Pippin, can you hear me?”
Pippin’s only response was a faint moan.
“Pippin?” he called softly, pulling himself together and checking his cousin for injuries. Pippin’s eyelids fluttered but he didn’t reply as Merry ran gentle hands along his limbs, making sure no bones were broken. When he’d been reassured on that account, he turned his attention to his cousin’s neck and then his head.
Pippin moaned again when Merry carefully lifted his head just slightly in order to feel the back of his skull. There was a sizable lump there that would need closer examining once Pippin was somewhere warm and dry.
“Pippin,” he called again, louder this time. “Pip, wake up.”
Pippin’s lips moved silently and his eyelids fluttered again before finally opening. His eyes wobbled about a bit before coming to rest on Merry’s face.
“Oh, hullo, Merry,” he whispered.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” Merry demanded, holding his hand in front of Pippin’s face.
Pippin’s gaze wavered as he stared at Merry’s hand but he answered with a certain amount of confidence, “Two. You always hold up two fingers, Merry.”
Merry, who was indeed holding up two fingers, smiled at Pippin’s answer, but changed the number of fingers. “How many now, Pip?”
“Merry,” Pippin protested, his voice sounding weaker, “I…don’t…” His eyes rolled back and he went limp in Merry’s arms.
“Pippin!” Merry shouted. “You have to wake up,” he continued in a calmer voice. “Come on, Pip, you can do it.”
After a moment, Pippin stirred and his eyes flickered and opened again. “Don’t wanna be awake,” he mumbled unhappily. “M’head hurts.”
“That’s alright, Pip,” Merry answered as cheerfully as he could. “Pain lets you know you’re still alive. It’s a good thing.”
That caught Pippin’s attention. He looked up at Merry with the best approximation of a glare that he was currently capable of. “Doesn’t feel like a good thing,” he protested woozily.
“Well, you might want to change your thinking, then,” Merry answered, “because I’m going to help you sit up and you’ll probably feel rather more pain when I do.” He was feeling much calmer, now that Pippin was awake and coherent. He hated having to move his cousin, but they couldn’t very well spend the rest of the day in this freezing mud puddle, and Merry refused to leave Pippin alone here while he went for help.
Moving as slowly and gently as he could, Merry slipped his arm under Pippin’s shoulders and carefully levered him up. Pippin turned an unfortunate shade of green at this movement and closed his eyes in dismay.
“Are you going to be sick?” Merry asked in concern.
“Mm,” Pippin mumbled through pinched lips, before leaning forward and retching violently for several minutes.
Merry held on to him, supporting him and rubbing his back until the spasms stopped. As unpleasant as this was for Pippin, he’d known it was likely to occur if he moved him. As soon as Pippin had got his breath back, Merry lifted him the rest of the way to his feet, supporting the younger hobbit as he swayed dizzily.
“I think you’ll do best up on Hanna, with me,” Merry commented as he walked Pippin over to the ponies. Pippin’s pony hadn’t gone far, standing close beside Hanna and grazing on the winter browned grass that stood beside the road, but there was no way Pippin would be able to ride by himself in his condition.
As they approached the ponies, Merry wondered, just for a moment, how he was going to get Pippin up on Hanna’s back, but here Pippin surprised him. He gripped the pommel of Hanna’s saddle and pulled himself up as Merry gave a push from behind. He managed to swing his leg around and settle into place before the dizziness overwhelmed him. He closed his eyes and hung on as the waves nausea and dizziness washed over him, and his consciousness ebbed and waned.
Merry quickly swung up behind Pippin and held on to his faltering cousin with one arm, grabbing the reins with the other hand. Tapping his heels into Hanna’s flanks, he urged her forward, with Pippin’s pony following behind. As he came into contact with Pippin’s body, he cringed, just a moment, away from the icy cold water soaking through Pip’s clothes. Gritting his teeth, he pulled his cousin closer, trying to provide some warmth with his own body.
By the time they reached the outskirts of Budgeford, no more than a quarter hour later, they were both shivering violently. Luckily, it was only a few minutes more before they reached the Swinging Goat, the inn situated at the southern end of the Budgeford Bridge. It was nearly , and the inn had a crowded look. Merry was very relieved when Tatty, the innkeeper’s son, came out to take his pony.
The lad took one look at the situation and saw that something was wrong. “D’you need some help, Mr. Merry?” he asked in a hushed tone, looking anxious.
Merry nodded. “That would be most kind of you, Tatty. Just move round to the other side, there, and hold on to Pippin for me, so he doesn’t slide off while I’m getting down.”
Tatty did as he was bid, and Merry carefully slid down to the ground. Pippin muttered something at the movement but didn’t open his eyes.
“Pippin?” Merry said softly. “I’m going to move you again. We’re at the Swinging Goat, now and we’re going to take you inside and lay you down for a bit. Do you think you can manage that?”
“Don’t like the Swinging Goat,” Pippin mumbled. “Ale tastes like swill.” He smiled slightly, “innat right, Tatty?”
“That’s what you always say, Mr. Pippin, sir,” Tatty grinned, “but you seem to drink enough of it anyway.”
Merry felt a strong sense of relief that Pippin was alert enough to joke. Being as gentle as he could, he helped Pippin down off Hanna and onto his feet. The younger hobbit swayed dangerously and turned a slighter greener shade of green than he’d been before, but after a moment, he raised his head and looked around.
“Ready?” Merry asked as Tatty came around Hanna and slipped his arm round Pippin’s waist, adding his support to the unsteady hobbit.
“Whenever you are,” Pippin replied.
They took it slowly but Pippin was trembling and leaning heavily on the other two by the time they reached the entrance of the inn. There was a bench along the wall of the corridor right inside the entrance, and Merry helped Pippin to sit down while Tatty ran for his father.
“Mr. Merry, Mr. Pippin, Tatty says you’re in need of assistance.” The innkeeper, a particularly fat hobbit by the impressive name of Fastolph Bridgewater, hurried over to their side.
“Do you have any rooms available?” Merry asked urgently, barely aware that he was shivering in his wet clothes.
“Aye,” Fastolph replied, “We’ve one or two left. Let me help you with Mr. Pippin, here, and we’ll get him situated nice and fast.” He smiled reassuringly at Merry. “I’ve sent Tatty for the healer and he should be here soon.”
Half an hour later, Pippin was wrapped up in bed, reclining against several soft pillows. A blazing fire in the hearth warmed the room nicely and Merry, who had changed into dry clothes, was beginning to warm up nicely, himself. He was worried about Pippin, though, as his cousin was still shivering unhappily under the heavy covers.
There was a knock at the door and Merry looked up as Tatty came into the room.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Merry, sir,” the lad said, looking unhappy, “but t’healer’s gone off to Scary. There was a right big fire up there and their healer sent for ourns. He’s not expected back for a coupl’a days.”
“Thank you, Tatty,” Merry replied automatically. His heart sank at the news, but he put the best face he could on the situation.
“Well, I suppose that means we’re on our own then, Pippin.” Merry turned back to Tatty. “Could you bring in a tub and heat it, please. I think what Pippin needs most right now is a hot bath.”
“O’course, sir,” Tatty replied. “I’ll get that in here right away. Shall I bring you anythin’ else, sir?”
“Some tea would be nice. I doubt if Pippin is hungry, but I am, rather.”
Tatty hurried away and Merry turned back to Pippin. “I’m going to have to take a look at that bump again, Pip,” he said matter-of-factly, “but we can at least get you cleaned up first.”
After depositing Pippin in the tub and getting all the blood washed out of his hair, Merry examined the lump as best he could. The cut had already scabbed over and while the area had swelled up alarmingly, there didn’t seem to be any indication of a fracture underneath. Greatly relieved, Merry let Pippin stay in the tub until he’d finally stopped shivering, and then got him back into bed.
Finally warm, Pippin was feeling drowsy and despite the thundering headache, he wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. The only roadblock to this plan was Merry.
“I’m sorry, Pippin, but you need to stay awake for a little longer,” Merry said soothingly when Pippin complained.
“Why?” Pippin demanded crankily. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t just sleep this rather awful headache off.”
“Because you know very well the danger of sleeping with a head injury like yours,” Merry answered, slightly less soothingly.
“I’m fine,” the younger hobbit protested. “Just a little nap, that’s all I need. I promise I’ll wake up in time for supper.”
“Instead of talking so much, why don’t you drink your tea?” Merry urged.
“Not thirsty,” Pippin muttered petulantly.
Merry raised an eyebrow and just looked at Pippin, who flushed under the gaze.
“I’m sorry, Merry,” Pippin said quietly. “Of course I’ll drink my tea. I’ll even try to stay awake.” He accepted the mug Merry handed him and sipped it cautiously, making a face at its taste. “What did you put in this, by the way?” he asked, as casually as he could.
Now it was Merry’s turn to colour. “I put a few herbs in, just to help you feel better quickly. Some lemon balm, marigold and dandelion.” At Pippin’s expression, he hurried on, “They’ll help the cut on your head heal without infection and they should also help your headache feel better.”
Pippin looked sceptical, but drank the rest of the tea without protest. He lay back then, and stared out the small round window that looked out at the stable yard. He’d promised Merry he would stay awake, but it was difficult. He found his eyes drifting shut and forced them open, trying to think of something invigorating.
“Talk to me, Pip,” Merry said, sensing his friend’s struggle. “Tell me a story.”
“Don’t know any stories,” Pippin replied sluggishly.
“Of all the…now you’re just being lazy,” Merry said in an outraged tone. “What about that party you went to last week? The one you’ve been so coy about.”
A slight smile curled Pippin’s lips. “Um, that was nice.” He was quiet for a long minute and Merry was just preparing to prod him when he started up again. “Mother invited all the North Tooks to an early Yule party. You’d gone on to the Cottons to fetch Frodo but Mother insisted I stay and mingle.”
Speaking slowly, with frequent sleepy pauses, Pippin spun out the tale of how he’d met a lovely young lass by the name of Diamond, weeping behind the punch bowls, and how he’d spent the evening doing everything in his power to make her smile. Whenever Pippin started to drift off a bit, Merry would ask a question and get him back to the story.
“All in all, it was a much more delightful evening than I’d expected, but Mother almost never invites the North Tooks down, so I don’t know that I’ll ever see her again.” Pippin said this last in a rather mournful tone and Merry looked at him closely. He’d suspected that Pippin had met a lass at that party, but hadn’t realized how taken he was with her.
“You know, Pip, if you said something to your mother, I’m sure she would find her way clear to inviting them down again for something or other.”
“Mm,” Pippin mumbled, eyes closed.
“Pippin!” Merry said, rather sharply
“Look at me.”
With a deep sigh, Pippin dragged his heavy eyelids open and forced his eyes to focus on Merry. “S’alright, I’m awake.”
“Why don’t you ask Aunt Tina to invite Diamond and her family down for your birthday this spring? I’m sure she’s already planning a big party.”
There was a knock on the door just then, and when Merry called out permission to enter, Fastolph entered with a laden tray.
“I thought you might be getting hungry,” the innkeeper explained. “It’s getting on towards suppertime and all.”
Merry thanked Fastolph as he took the tray, and then thanked him again when he noticed that the innkeeper had prudently included a bowl of thin soup for Pippin, as well as heartier fare for Merry. Setting the tray down on the little table by the hearth, Merry returned to the bed, to find Pippin asleep.
“Time for supper,” he announced in a loud, cheerful voice.
“Go ‘way, Merry,” Pippin mumbled, “’m sleepin’.”
At least he was responsive, Merry thought with a worried sigh. “Have some soup, Pip, and then you can sleep for a bit,” he said determinedly.
“Promise?” Pippin asked without opening his eyes.
“Yes, I promise,” Merry answered.
With a heavy sigh, Pippin opened his eyes and blinked at Merry.
“Alright, I’m awake,” he declared after a moment, “what’s for supper?”
They ate in silence, concentrating on the food. Pippin wasn’t terribly hungry and only managed to finish about half his soup, setting the rest aside. “It will make a lovely snack, later on,” he insisted when Merry pressed him to eat just a little more. “Honestly Merry, I’ll finish it later, I promise.”
Having disposed of the bowl, Pippin closed his eyes and was asleep within minutes. Merry sat and watched him sleep long enough to be reassured by Pippin’s deep, even breathing before getting up and moving about the room, tidying things up a bit. Wet muddy clothing, both his and Pippin’s, was lying in a soggy heap on the floor. He found a laundry bag in the wardrobe and put the wet clothes in there, then stuck that out in the hall.
He was in terrible need of a bath – a hasty wash was all he’d had time for earlier and he was becoming very aware of the dry, itchy mud that still covered a large part of him. One glance at the cold, scummy water in the tub convinced him that new water would have to be fetched. He knew the inn had a common bathing room, but that would entail leaving Pippin alone and Merry wasn’t ready to do that, as yet. There was a thin braided bell pull in one corner of the room and Merry gave it a gentle tug, hoping it wouldn’t take too long for someone to come. While he waited, he mentally composed notes to be sent off to Pippin’s parents at the Smials, and to his own parents at Brandy Hall, letting them know what had happened.
An hour later, freshly bathed, with the letters written and handed over to Tatty for delivery to the Shire Post, Merry decided it was time to wake Pippin. He hated to do it, but it had to be done. Head injuries were tricky things and required monitoring. First, he warmed the rest of the soup and prepared a fresh pot of tea, making sure to include the various herbs that had so caught Pip’s attention earlier. Only when it was brewed and had cooled off enough to drink did Merry wake his cousin.
Pippin responded sluggishly, but after a moment of coaxing, opened his eyes reluctantly. “It can’t possibly be morning yet,” he muttered thickly.
“No, it’s not,” Merry replied, “but it is time to finish your soup and have some more tea.”
Under Merry’s stern eye, Pippin ate the remainder of the soup as well as a bit of bread Merry had saved for him. He then drank the tea, grimacing at the taste, and gratefully accepted the glass of water Merry handed him in exchange for the empty mug.
It was a long night for Merry. Pippin slept deeply for a few hours but by his sleep was growing restless. It was hard for him to find a comfortable way to rest his head so that he wasn’t constantly putting pressure on the sore spot. It was no longer necessary for Merry to wake him every few hours, as he woke himself every time he turned his head. But neither could Merry sleep well, himself. His throat was sore, he had an achy head and his nose was getting progressively more stuffed up. With a sinking feeling, he realized he’d caught a cold and hoped that Pippin would not get it as well.
No such luck. By morning, Pippin was sniffling and sneezing repeatedly. His headache was slightly better, at least, and his thoughts were clearer, but he was decidedly uncomfortable. The two hobbits decided to stay put for the day, resting in the warmth and comfort of the inn. They would set out again on the morrow, if they were feeling up to it.
In mid afternoon Pippin’s mother, Eglantine Took, arrived to check on the status of her injured son. She swept into the room, still wearing cloak and gloves, and went straight to Pippin’s side.
“Pippin dear, how are you feeling?” she asked, kissing him on the brow and checking for fever. Satisfied with the coolness of his skin, she settled herself in the chair that Merry had drawn up by Pippin’s bed.
“How was your trip, Aunt Tina?” Merry asked, wondering anxiously what sort of mood she was in.
“Cold,” she responded bluntly. Then, noticing the weariness written across Merry’s face, she relented. “You look exhausted, Merry dear. Why don’t you lie down for a little while, now that I’m here? Pippin will catch me up on everything that’s happened.”
Feeling slightly overwhelmed by Eglantine’s briskness, and feeling also rather unwell, Merry was more than happy to turn things over to his aunt and rest for a bit.
It was nearly dark in the room when Merry woke up with a tremendous sneeze. Yawning and attempting to clear his head, he waited for his eyes to adjust to the lack of light. He sniffed and began to wonder where he might find a handkerchief, when he spied a whole stack sitting on the small table between his bed and the wall. The table also bore a lamp, turned down low, a covered plate, and a mug that still had steam rising from it. Scooting up so that he was leaning against the headboard, he twitched the napkin off the plate and eyed the lamb chops, carrots and mashed potatoes smothered in mushrooms and gravy hungrily.
He ate quickly and neatly, and then slipped quietly out of the room in search of the privy. When he returned, he noticed Eglantine asleep in the chair by Pippin’s bed. Touching her shoulder, he woke her gently.
“Why don’t you lie down for a little while, now, Aunt Teenie,” he said, using his childhood name for her.
“Thank you, Merry, I think I will, in a moment,” she answered, looking up at him tiredly. “Pippin told me how you helped him when the healer wasn’t able to come, and I’m very grateful.”
“I didn’t really do all that much,” Merry protested, feeling uncomfortable.
“Nonsense,” Eglantine responded in a no-nonsense tone, “you knew enough to get him warm, keep him awake and talking, and you were able to make up a tonic to fight off fever. I know he has a cold, but he might have been much sicker if you hadn’t done everything you did.”
Having said this, Eglantine stood up and stretched, unkinking muscles that had been cramped from sitting for too long. Moving gracefully around the room in the dim light, she lay on the extra bed and was soon deeply asleep. Merry sat in the soft chair she had just vacated and allowed her words to sift through his mind. He’d been so frightened when Pippin had fallen, and he’d been so vividly reminded of that other time when Pippin had been badly hurt. But then, he’d just blocked it all from his mind and done what needed to be done, and now Pippin was well on the way to being fine. He was suddenly very grateful for all the herb lore and practical healing skills he’d picked up in Minas Tirith and Rivendell, and for the pouch of herbs he’d taken to carrying around with him.
In that moment, Merry decided that it might not be such a bad thing to do a little further research on the various herbs and other plants to be found in the Shire. After all, you never knew when a little knowledge would come in handy. With that resolution in his mind, he put his feet up on the edge of Pippin’s bed and settled deeper into the chair. Within minutes, he was fast asleep, his light snores the only sound in the room.
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