20. Mid-year's Eve, Afternoon into Evening
'Tad,' Ruby screamed as the water hit the wagon and everything began to move with agonizing slowness. Merry watched in horror as the boy was swept away, crying for his father, but he had little enough time to think as he was now fighting to kick his feet hard enough to drive them to the surface without losing his grip on the arms he held. He blessed the fact that he'd left his mail behind this day. Even without its weight he despaired of reaching the surface... when suddenly his head broke into air, he took a great gasp, shouted, 'Kick your legs!' before they were pulled under again.
They came up again near a great broken-off branch and with a terrible effort he managed to push Ammy towards it. 'Grab hold!' he shouted again, 'Ammy! Get the branch!' Ammy reached out a desperate hand, and then she had it. She managed to pull herself over, then Merry reached the branch and pulled the rest of them to its dubious safety. Merry got hold of Thom to let Ruby grab for the branch, then Merry worked his way around her to secure Thom and Emmy. Their weight caused the branch to bob in the water, but kicking his feet, he was able to get his weight off enough to keep the others afloat.
He had begun to hope that somehow they might come out of this, when they slammed against an obstruction and Thom lost his grip. Merry reached for him but missed, losing his own grip on the branch. He heard Ruby scream his name as he went under, something struck his head and he saw stars, he tried to swim but arms and legs had turned to lead and the effort did not seem to matter so much anymore. He fetched up hard against something, but no longer felt the current that was pushing against him. Everything was dim and far away as the roar of the rushing water closed over him.
Merry came to himself later, he didn't know how much later. He was being rolled on his stomach over a log, back and forth, until he vomited water and coughed himself sick. Hands pulled him upright and sat him with his back to something hard, he felt something soft and dry envelop him, something was pressed to his aching head, but he was feeling too vague to put a name to any of these things. He felt a sharp pain in his arm, heard his mother's voice say, 'It's bleeding bad, we must bind it up tight until it can be stitched.'
He had a pressing need but his head ached so that it was hard to remember. Then he did remember, and tried to sit up. Hands pressed him back and he fought them, trying to get up. 'Ruby!' he called. 'Ruby!' He had to find her.
His mother tried to soothe him but her voice broke, and then he knew... somehow he knew that it was too late.
He heard Farmer Took's deep voice, sounding weak and broken, saying, 'Can he walk or do we need to carry him?'
'I don't think he can walk,' his mother's voice answered. 'He's taken a bad blow to the head, and lost much blood, I think.'
'Come on, lads, let's see if we can lift him--not you, Peregrin, not with those cracked ribs of yourn. Don't be a fool, lad!'
'I can walk,' he protested, but could hardly hear his own voice in his ears.
Hands took hold under his arms, and the farmer's voice sounded in his ear. 'Easy, lad. If you can get your legs to move it'll be a great help.' He was lifted to his feet and staggered blindly, supported on each side, until they stopped and the farmer's voice came again. 'Help get 'im into the wagon, now.' He was lifted, hands laid him down, his head pillowed on something soft... a lap? His father's voice sounded close to his ear, his father's hand stroked his wet hair back from his face. Several voices were softly sobbing, then the wagon gave a jerk and they were in motion.
Time had no meaning. The wagon creaked and jolted slowly over the road, the journey took forever, the journey was over in an instant. The wagon was stopped. More voices, shocked exclamations, hysterical weeping, the farmer's voice making explanation, the sound of a pony being ridden out of the yard at a gallop. Merry felt himself being lifted out of the wagon by more hands than just Farmer Took, Jotham, and Tim. He opened his eyes to see Samwise and other hobbits who were due to arrive that evening, he couldn't quite remember why... They were lifting two blanket shrouded forms out of the wagon and he knew it was important but his head ached. He closed his eyes, welcoming the Darkness, and gratefully slipped back to that place where there were no thoughts to trouble him.
Pippin staggered as he was helped down from the wagon. Hands reached out to steady him, and he looked into the shock-bleached face of a cousin come from Tuckborough for the wedding. 'Ferdibrand?' he said.
'Oh, aye,' the other sighed. 'We'd just drove in when Regi shouted that he saw the wagon coming. We saw the ponies all decked out in their ribbons, and we heard the jingling bells. We thought--' He broke off and wiped his sleeve across his eyes.
Reginard came up to them and took Pippin from the other side. 'Come on, let's walk him to the house.'
'I can walk.'
'You can barely stand on your feet, lad. Give me some credit for having two eyes I know how to use.'
He allowed them to walk him to the house and lower him to a chair by the hearth. In truth, he wasn't sure he'd be able to get up again. Breathing was painful. He remembered that feeling from Ithilien. Reginard lifted his shirt to prod gently along his ribcage. He sucked in a breath, and that hurt too.
'Looks as if you've cracked some ribs.'
'Oh, aye, and don't I know it...'
'I can bind them for you. Might make you more comfortable until the healer gets here.'
'Thanks. That will be a help,' Pippin replied.
Someone spoke softly at his side. 'Master Pippin? I have a cup of tea here for you.' He looked up to see Rosie Gamgee, a steaming cup between her hands. He reached for it with his right hand, which brought another twinge of pain from his side. 'Do you want me to hold it for you?'
'No, I will just make believe I'm left handed for the moment,' he said, trying to smile. The tea was hot and oversweet, but sipping it seemed to steady him, and the room did not threaten to tilt and whirl as much as it had done.
He heard voices in low conversation, '...earthen dam gave way upstream. They didn't have a hope...'
Hopeless sobbing came from the bedroom, and Mistress Pearl was heard to cry out, 'Oh, Ruby lass! Oh my poor Thom!'
Merry had been laid on the long table, and soon the healer came in with the farmer and went right to him. 'He's the worst of the lot,' the farmer said.
'No, we don't think so. Blow to the head, and the left arm is a bit banged up. We had to bandage it tight, it was bleeding so. On top of it he's half drowned; we had to force a lot of water out.'
Pippin watched the healer unwind the bandage as the farmer spoke, probe with gentle fingers, shake his head. 'Yes, that will have to be stitched. Head's not bad but we don't know what is going on inside, of course.'
The cup fell from Pippin's fingers as the room began to swim. 'It's all right, Master Pippin, I've got it,' Rosie's voice came. She caught him as he started to slide from the chair. 'Sam!' he heard her call sharply.
'We've no more beds,' he heard Diamond say wearily. 'You'll have to lay him on the floor. Let me get some blankets down first.'
'Easy now, Mr Pippin,' Sam said in his ear. 'We're just going to... ease... you... down, so,' and Pippin felt action suited to word.
The kitchen was silent save the crackling of the fire on the hearth, the sound of several voices softly sobbing, the occasional murmur from the healer. It did not seem possible that it could be the same place which had seen such merriment--dancing, song, laughter--scant hours earlier.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.