26. Fear Unspoken
--old Shire proverb
Several of the families who lived at the Hall were sharing second breakfast when young Heartsease Brandybuck came in search of the Mistress.
'Please, Aunt, Mamma asked that you come,' she said, her little face worried.
Esmeralda rose smoothly from the table, nodding to Saradoc. Merry rose as well. 'I'll come with you.'
Cousin Merimas called his daughter over. 'What did she tell you to do, Heart? Just to fetch your aunt?'
The lass twisted a handkerchief in her hands. 'No, Father, she said to get Aunt and then the healer.'
Merimas met his uncle's eyes as the latter started to rise. 'Stay, Uncle, finish your breakfast. I will get him.'
'Thank you, my boy.'
Merimas nodded as he rose from his own chair. 'I will come for you if you're needed.'
Esmeralda kissed her husband's cheek. 'I will meet you in your study.'
Saradoc cursed the weakness of his heart that made him accept their molly-coddling. In truth, he was tired, and there was the business of the Hall to see to. Ah, well, at least he could keep the rest of them from rushing off to young Peregrin's bedside and plaguing the lad.
'Doderic,' he called down the table. 'How many crews can you put together to get the roads cleared on the morrow?'
Pansy Brandybuck's worried face looked up from the bedside as Esmeralda and Merry entered.
'At first I was glad he seemed to be warming up at last, he'd got a bit of a chill,' she said, 'but he's gone away past that now.'
Esmeralda bent to her nephew. 'Have you tried to rouse him?'
'No.' Pippin did not respond to his aunt's soft repetition of his name, his breathing was faster than it ought, and his cheeks were flushed. She lay a hand to his cheek only to draw it back again in dismay.
'He's burning up!'
Pansy put her own hand against his cheek. 'He's much hotter than he was when I sent Heartsease to you!' she exclaimed. 'Fever's going up fast.'
'Merimas is fetching the healer. I want you to get basins of cold water and some cloths. Chip some ice from outside, add it to the basins. We might at least get some use from this weather.' Pansy rose at once and hurried from the room.
Esmeralda sank into the chair beside the bed to place a cool hand on her nephew's forehead. 'Peregrin? Lad?' He moved restlessly under her touch.
Merry took up one of his cousin's hot hands, and met his mother's eye. 'What is it?' he asked.
She shook her head. 'I don't even want to think it,' she whispered. The word hung unspoken between them. Pneumonia. It had swept the Hall the previous winter and carried off several of the old aunties and uncles, and some of the younger cousins as well.
The healer arrived and stood at Pippin's other side. He touched a hand to the cheek, lifted an eyelid, pulled down the coverlet to listen at the ailing hobbit's chest. Straightening, he said, 'Right, then. Let's get him propped up.'
Merry helped to place the pillows and settle his cousin back against them. The healer picked up the hot wrist and watched the rise and fall of the chest. Putting the wrist down again, he turned sober eyes to the Mistress. 'We're in for a fight.'
Merry looked down at his cousin and said with a confidence he didn't feel, 'Well, Peregrin's a fighter.'
The healer smiled. 'If sheer stubbornness can pull him through, he's got plenty.'
Pippin opened his eyes. His aunt bent to him. 'Young scamp,' she said. 'It seems your cold has got a bit worse. You'll have to stay abed a few days.'
'I'm fine,' he managed to say. 'I can get up. I promised young Heart I'd teach her how to beat her brothers at Kings.'
'I'll tie you in the bed if I have to,' Esmeralda jested. Merry smiled as Pippin continued to protest. He held tighter to the hot hand as a shaking chill wracked his cousin.
Pansy brought the water, chunks of ice floating, and his aunt wrung out a cloth and put it to Pippin's forehead. In the background, Merry could hear the healer instructing Pansy in what he'd be needing, 'And quick.'
Pippin breathed his thanks, took a deep breath, and began to cough violently. Merry supported him through the coughing fit, eased him back on the pillows.
The healer turned to Esmeralda. 'You'd best go about your business, Mistress,' he said. 'It is going to be a long day.'
The Mistress of Buckland protested, but her son arose and moved to her side, gently urging her. 'I will walk you to the study, Mother. Let's not worry Father just yet. Peregrin's not going anywhere.'
Her eyes on the bed, she allowed her son to help her to rise. 'No, he isn't, young scamp. When I think of the nights I couldn't keep him in his bed, no matter how many stories we told or lullabies we sang. What I wouldn't give...' Her voice trailed off as she fought back tears.
'I know,' Merry said soothingly as he escorted her out the door. He had no more comfort to offer. He had seen what the pneumonia had done last winter.
He returned to Pippin's room in time to help the healer coax some bitter tea down his cousin's throat. Though it was well laced with honey, Pippin made a face as the cup was held to his lips.
'What did you put in this,' he gasped, 'bitterroot?'
The healer smiled. 'No, young master, I'm fresh out of bitterroot today. But I can try to get some later if you'd wish.'
Pippin shook his head weakly. 'No, I'll just settle for gall, if I have to. Boneset's good and bitter, too.' He tried to smile but the coughing took him again. The cloth on his forehead was already warm and dry, and Pansy wrung out a fresh one for his forehead.
The next morning the bright Sun turned the ice in the yard to glittering jewels and fire, and each breath brought a stab of pain to Pippin. He opened his eyes, and looked puzzled at Merry. 'Did I crack my ribs again?' he asked. 'I tell you, if this keeps happening I'd rather do without them.'
The healer straightened up from listening to the rasping in the chest, and motioned the young master and Mistress to join him in the hallway. 'It's gone into pleurisy. The pain'll wear him down pretty quick, I fear.'
Crews of workers strapped spikes to their feet to go clear the roads on either side of the Hall. Saradoc ordered that they haul the wood back to the Hall and pile it for later cutting when the ice melted off.
By noontide the Sun had gained such strength after her rest from the previous days that she was melting the ice away at a rapid rate. The hobbits shook their heads at the vagaries of the weather. Like as not there'd be a blizzard later in the week, the way things were going.
For three more days, various aunts and cousins took turns sitting with Pippin, wringing out in the ice water the cloths that were only too quickly warm again. The healer forced bitter herb drinks down him, and syrups which did nothing to ease the coughing. Hot poultices redolent of onion were applied to Pippin's chest, alternating with mustard plasters. On the evening of the fourth day since Pippin had taken to his bed, the healer left Pippin's bedside long enough to seek out the Master of the Hall.
'I'd send for The Took right away, if he'll bother to come. If he hurries he might get here in time to take leave of his son.' Saradoc nodded soberly and sent for Cardoc to dispatch a fast pony and rider to Tuckborough.
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.