45. Gathering Strength
Cooks from the kitchen were wheeling a large kettle of soup down the line of workers at the wall; when it reached Merry, he took the cup between his hands a moment to warm them before gulping the still steaming contents. Nodding his thanks, he stood again to reach for another sandbag. The water had climbed partway up the protective wall. He thought it had been higher in the predawn darkness; he hoped so, for that would mean the River was starting to recede.
He placed the sandbag, rested on it a moment, caught himself, for a wonder, nodding off. He felt a hand on his shoulder, looked up to see his uncle Merimac. 'Go on in, lad, get some rest. The water's starting to go down. We just might have it licked.'
Too tired to reply, he nodded and trudged back to the Hall through the shallow water that had seeped through the sandbags. One of his cousins met him at the door with a blanket. He nodded his thanks, wrapped it around himself, stumbled to the rooms he shared with Estella. She lay sleeping, still curled as he had left her when the call went out to defend the Hall from the rising River. Too tired to undress, not wanting to inundate the bedclothes with the water that saturated his clothes, he fell into the chair by the bed and was instantly asleep.
He awakened a few hours later, stiff and cramped. Estella was stroking his hair. 'My poor lad,' she whispered. 'You're a sight! You look worse than I feel...'
He shrugged off the blanket, reached out, tenderly gathered her to himself. 'Oh, my lass,' he whispered against her hair.
She let herself sag against him, but when she had taken strength from his embrace she pushed herself back. 'You slept in those wet things? I swear... Diamond was saying the other day that husbands have no sense and I'm finding myself agreeing with her! Now you change and I'll find you something hot...' she staggered and he caught her and eased her back onto the bed.
'It's all right, love. You have taken care of me for so long... now it's my turn.' He quickly changed into dry clothes, kissed her forehead, said, 'I'll find us both something hot. You stay there. Rest.'
The following days found Merry busy about the re-ordering of Buckland after the flood. The Brandywine Bridge had withstood the River's assault, but damage had been done and repairs would be needed before any heavy traffic could be allowed to cross. The ferry moorage on the western side of the River had been washed away. Roads were gone in places, and too many hobbits were left homeless.
By the end of each day he and Pippin were weary enough that they nodded over the evening glass of brandy in the Master's study, going over the work of the day and plans for the morrow. Merry arose in the mornings after little sleep, for Estella slept restlessly and their nights were broken by nightmare and lingering grief.
One night late, a soft knock came at the door. He had just soothed Estella back to sleep after another sad dream. Merry opened the door to find his mother, hair down as if she'd been asleep herself, wrapped up in a shawl against the chill of the spring night.
'I'll watch with her awhile, lad. You've had no rest these past days. Why don't you go take a walk, or ride Jewel for a bit? The stars are thick tonight.' She knew the comfort he drew from riding under the canopy of stars; it made all his problems seem small, insignificant by comparison.
He kissed her cheek and drew on his cloak.
Jewel knew his step and greeted him with nods and whickers, head thrust over the stall door. 'Do you never sleep, lad?' he asked, stroking the soft nose. It seemed that no matter the hour, day or night, he came to the stable to find the pony ready to go.
They did not ride far. Somehow, Merry found little comfort in the stars this night. Estella's sorrow and despair, so well hidden during the day, haunted the nights, lately. He found himself weeping for his own loss, their first child, a promise and a hope, cut short too soon.
After returning Jewel to his stall with a thorough grooming, net full of hay and soft bed of straw, he retraced his steps to the Hall. It was sometime after middle night, and he was tired to the bone. Perhaps a glass of brandy would help him to sleep.
Merry found the Master's study quiet, dimly lit by a lamp with the flame turned low. He poured himself a glass, sat down in the chair by the desk, sipped. The weight of sorrow descended upon him again. Slowly, he reached into his pocket for Frodo's note, laying it out on the desk, smoothing the creases, tracing the letters in the signature with his finger.
'I wish you were here, Frodo,' he sighed to the flickering lamp. 'I could use some of your good advice right now.' He put his hand down upon those phrases that he knew by heart, as if to gain strength from his cousin's words, and his thoughts went back to that sunny day by the River.
'I'm doing my best, Frodo ... but I don't know if my best is good enough.' He rubbed his stinging eyes. 'How do I keep walking in the light when the wind's blown out the lamp and all around is dark? I can't seem to remember anymore...' He put his head down on his arms on the desk, and his father found him there, still asleep, when he entered the study in the morning.
'Meriadoc?' He touched the icy right hand, looking up as Pippin entered. 'It's starting early this time.'
Pippin nodded. 'He's worn out. I'll build up the fire.'
They soon had Merry in a chair close to the hearth, well wrapped in blankets, heated bricks tucked about him. Saradoc looked up at Pippin from where he knelt by his son's side. 'He's not responding at all. I can't even get some of this tea down.'
Pippin's face was drawn with worry. 'I haven't seen him this bad before, not since...' he didn't want to finish the thought.
The study door opened softly, and Estella came to kneel before her husband. 'It came to me, what day this is,' she murmured to the two watchers. She cupped Merry's face between her hands and spoke softly. 'Merry? My beloved? Please come back to me. I'm here, beloved.'
She took the steaming mug from Saradoc's hand, holding it to Merry's lips. 'Come, love, take a sip. Just a little sip. Will you, for me?'
Saradoc sighed and his face fell. Pippin placed a hand on his shoulder as Estella continued to plead gently. 'Come, Merry, just a little sip?'
Slowly, so very slowly, Merry's left hand rose to touch the mug. He sipped, swallowed, lowered his hand again. Estella laughed. 'Yes,' she said joyfully, 'yes, beloved, that's right!' She caressed his hair with her free hand. 'Everything is going to be all right, now. No matter what happens.'
So softly that it might have been a mere exhalation, they heard Merry whisper. 'That's a promise.'
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.