WWI Poets Challenge

Whisper of Thunder, A

1. A Whisper of Thunder

   
   
   
Now light the candles; one; two; there’s a moth;
What silly beggars they are to blunder in
And scorch their wings with glory, liquid flame—
No, no, not that,—it’s bad to think of war,
When thoughts you’ve gagged all day come back to scare you;
And it’s been proved that soldiers don’t go mad
Unless they lose control of ugly thoughts
That drive them out to jabber among the trees.


* * * * * *


"Pippin, Pippin. It's all right, it was only thunder."

Pippin gradually became aware of Merry’s hand on his shoulder, shaking him back into the world, a world without battle or blood or a Ringwraith’s screams. He sat up in the rumpled bed and stared at his cousin. “What was it? Another nightmare?” he asked hoarsely.

“Afraid so—you were yelling loud enough to wake the dead. It’s almost dawn; you might as well get up.”

Pippin climbed out and stuffed his legs into yesterday’s breeches, leaving his nightshirt on, and then stumbled towards the front door of their house in Crickhollow. Merry had opened it to let in the fresh breeze from the coming spring storm blow through, and two chairs were perched there. Pippin threw himself into one, while Merry sat down with considerably more sedateness. Pippin rubbed his eyes and looked over at Merry, already dressed.

“I’m terribly sorry if I woke you up—” Pippin began hesitantly, but Merry cut him off with a shake of his head.

“You didn’t,” he said tersely. “I woke up an hour ago. You’re not the only one who has bad nights, Pip.”

Pippin sighed. “I know. But it’s harder to bear, now that Frodo’s gone.” He felt his heart clench up, tight as a drum. Nearly seven months since his beloved older cousin had sailed from the Grey Havens, and still he sometimes fancied that it was all another dream, that Frodo would come riding along the path that led from the Brandywine ferry and everything would be as it had been before. He stole a glance over at Merry to see what reaction there was to his admission.

Merry was staring at the line of dark clouds on the horizon, his face expressionless. He picked up a mug beside his chair, took a long swig from it, and handed it to Pippin. “Try this—I find it helps dull the pain.”

Pippin spluttered a little as he drank. “What is this?” he demanded.

“An apple brandy Eowyn sent to me about a year ago, Edoras’s finest. She assured me in her letter that it soothes the soul marvelously. But of course she also was certain she’d shipped enough to last us for a couple of years at least. I’ve been drinking quite a lot of it since autumn, to be honest.” He took back the mug and swallowed another draught.

Pippin realized how little the two of them spoke of their losses, of the buried griefs that shadowed them despite the sparkling display they masterfully put on for the rest of the Shire most days. It was strange, he reflected, that he and Merry could not speak of such things. They were like brothers, they lived together, and they talked endlessly to each other about anything and everything but their war memories. It was more Merry’s doing than his, Pippin knew, for sometimes he had tried to bring up old incidents in conversation. But Merry always got a queer, closed look on his face when Pippin did that, and since Frodo had fled to the West, it was like part of Merry was permanently shuttered off, incapable of open word or feeling about his experiences. It was as though Merry, his witty and high spirited companion in life, was dying, to be replaced by Meriadoc Brandybuck, the heir to Brandy Hall, a grim and efficient hobbit who did his duty and took no real joy in living. As Merry drank again, Pippin decided the time had come to force his cousin to vent some of the turmoil that clearly was consuming him. After all, Aunt Esmie had always insisted that pent-up feelings were the cause of half the illnesses in the world, and surely she would approve of Pippin applying that reasoning to her own son.

Pippin coughed and tackled matters head-on. “Why don’t we ever talk about Frodo leaving, Merry? Nor do we speak of what we suffered in battle, even after we have nightmares. Don’t you think it might help us, to remember a little?”

Merry snorted. “You’ve listened to Mother one too many times, Pip.”

“Maybe, but it has to be better than the other choices on offer,” Pippin retorted. He did not utter the word drunkard, but flicked his gaze to Merry’s near-empty mug. The silent reproach made Merry bridle, but he did not reply until another rumble of thunder echoed across the sky.

“Even if you’re right, Pip, I can’t. The words get stuck in my throat and it’s easier to swallow them down instead of choking them out. There’re lots of reasons why that is.”

“I’m sure there are, but it hurts that you can’t talk to me.” Pippin dropped his head to hide his trembling mouth. “I’m sorry, I suppose I sound like a spoilt child begging for attention, and I’m not. But we’ve always been so close—I can’t believe you can’t share this with me. And the worst part is wondering if you have talked to someone else.” He couldn’t keep the resentment out of his voice, the suspicion that Merry had been willing to speak his innermost thoughts to Frodo and Eowyn, but not to him.

Merry took another gulp of apple brandy while lightening flashed brilliantly against the black clouds. He put the mug down slowly, almost reluctantly, and leaned back into his chair. “You really want to know the truth, Pip? The whole and ugly truth?”

“Yes, I do, Merry. I need to know,” said Pippin, his heart hammering like the thunder around him. “I need to know I haven’t offended you, that you’re not shutting me out. And I can’t imagine that you’ve done something so horrible that it would make me feel any differently about you.”

“You’ve not offended me at all, Pippin-lad.” Merry kept his eyes focused on the patch of black sky visible through the doorframe. “But I’ve changed, in ways that might offend you.”

“That’s impossible,” Pippin said with deep conviction, “I’ve changed too, we all have. How can yours be worse?” He faced Merry squarely, holding his breath as he waited.

Merry did not speak for a long moment, but he finally turned to Pippin. There was a look in his eyes that Pippin had never seen before, something dark and bitter and beyond healing. “Because I learned to hate, Pip—really hate, the kind that makes you kill for revenge and enjoy it. I didn’t realize until too late that hate poisons you, drips into you and taints everything.”

The thunder muttered darkly in the distance as Pippin struggled to absorb Merry’s confession. He frowned while he pondered its meaning, and asked, “When did you think you killed for revenge, Merry? You always defended yourself, but didn’t raise your sword otherwise, I’ll be bound.” He leaned forward and scooped up the flask of brandy, forcing a grin onto his lips. “Come now, coz, sounds like you’re exaggerating your supposed crimes to me.” He gulped a bit of brandy, welcoming its quick heat.

Merry did not respond immediately. The thunder rumbled again, far closer than before, before he spoke. “No, I’m not. Remember Grima Wormtongue?”

A vision of colourless skin, red-rimmed eyes and a twisted body entered Pippin’s mind, and he swallowed down his revulsion at the vivid memory. “Yes, I remember him, even though I’d rather not. So? He was a murderer who deserved to die, and yours wasn’t the only arrow that killed him.”

“Maybe so, but when I shot at him, I was little more than a murderer myself considering how much I hated him.” Merry’s voice was very quiet and full of stifled pain. A crack of thunder burst above their heads as the rain started pattering on the roof. “I knew how badly he’d hurt Eowyn, making her miserable. I wanted him dead, wanted him to suffer as much as she had. I was sorry he died right away—I hoped he’d linger for days, screaming. I even thought about cutting off a finger or ear to send to Eowyn when I saw his body later that day.” He reclaimed the brandy bottle from an unresisting Pippin, and drank deeply. “I wasn’t very proud of how I felt that day, and swore I wouldn’t give in to hating again. But since Frodo sailed, I’ve felt nothing but hate—for everyone who wouldn’t take away his burden, including Gandalf. And above all else, I hate myself because I didn’t do enough to help him.” Merry paused, and then murmured, “Do you understand now, Pip?”

Pippin, feeling utterly overwhelmed, cried out passionately, “Yes, I understand how much you’ve been hurt too! Why didn’t you tell me this sooner? I wouldn’t have turn away from you, I would’ve tried to ease your pain! Did you think I was a baby who couldn’t help?”

“No, Pip,” said Merry. He stood up and cupped Pippin’s face with his hands, his face weary but gentle. “It was because I love you so that I didn’t dare share what I was feeling. You see, you and Sam are alike—you both have fought, even killed, without losing your innocence. You still believe this world is a good place, Pip, and I never want to see you stop believing that.” Merry patted Pippin’s curls as the rain began to pour down. He walked to the open door and gave Pippin a piercing look. “Try to forget what I’ve told you—you’ll be happier if you do.” He vanished into the still-dark house.

Pippin continued to sit at the doorway, watching the raindrops fall with glazed and unseeing eyes. He could hear the faint clatter of dishes in the kitchen underneath the storm’s noise. Tears slid down his cheeks—salty, reluctant tears that stung and burned. Oh, Merry . . . He stood up and slowly stepped onto the grass, his head tipped back and his arms stretched out as he willed the cold rain to wash his tears away; and in that moment, the only thunder he heard was the beating of his own wounded heart.

* * * * * *

Now light your pipe; look, what a steady hand.
Draw a deep breath; stop thinking; count fifteen,
And you’re as right as rain...
Why won’t it rain?...
I wish there’d be a thunder-storm to-night,
With bucketsful of water to sluice the dark,
And make the roses hang their dripping heads.


"Repression of War Experience," Siegfried Sassoon

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.

   
   
   

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Regina

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Rating: General

Last Updated: 06/15/04

Original Post: 05/26/04

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