29. A Different Kind of Darkness
The Master and Mistress greeted them warmly, exclaiming over how the children had grown since the previous spring. Four year old Elanor stood solemnly by her father's side, and two year old Frodo clung tightly to his mother's skirts, two fingers in his mouth, gazing wide-eyed at tall Merry.
'But you mustn't stand out here in the yard,' Esmeralda exclaimed, taking Rose's arm. 'Come inside, dear, we must sit you down and put your feet up! These husbands of ours could stand out here all day, talking of seed and harvest, with not a thought for anything else!'
Rose protested, colouring prettily, 'I'm fine, really!' At the Mistress' smiling insistence, she allowed herself to be guided into the parlour and settled in a comfortable chair by the fire, wee Frodo towed behind, firmly gripping her dress. He settled by his mother's feet, fingers still in mouth.
In the yard, Merry crouched low to see Elanor eye to eye. 'And how was your journey, young mistress?' he asked solemnly.
'I 'member you,' Elanor said softly. 'You're Uncle Merry.' Merry laughed and swung her up to his shoulder. 'That's right, my lass, I'm your favourite uncle, aren't I?' She laughed to see the world from that dizzying height.
'You're her tallest "uncle", anyhow,' Samwise chuckled, 'Next to Mr Pippin, that is. What's the news from Tuckborough?'.
Merry sobered abruptly. 'Pippin's here.' At Sam's questioning look, Merry explained as they slowly walked into the Hall.
'I'm glad to hear he's out of danger.'
'Yes, but he's got a long road ahead,' Merry muttered.
Sam thought it a good time to change the subject. 'That ice storm did a fair amount of damage in Hobbiton,' Sam remarked.
'It tore up the trees around Buckland pretty badly,' Saradoc said.
'Aye,' Sam said. 'Perhaps I can help you out here, give your foresters some pointers in trimming the damaged branches, try to save some of the trees that would otherwise die.'
They entered the parlour, where Esmeralda was asking Rose, 'And what is this one to be?'
Rosie answered shyly, glancing up at her husband, 'Well, if it is a girl, Samwise wants to name her Rose, and if it's to be a boy...' she blushed and reached down to tousle little Frodo's curls.
Samwise spoke up, 'If it's a boy, we want to call him Merry, that is, if it would be all right.'
Saradoc laughed and slapped his son on the back. 'Well, Meriadoc, you're to have a namesake!'
'I would be honoured,' Merry answered Sam, who was staring at the picture of Frodo on the wall.
'Young Peregrin brought us that last spring, just after you visited last year,' Esmeralda said gently.
'It's very like him,' Sam replied. 'Very like.' He turned away to pick up young Frodo from the floor and carry him over to the picture.
'Look there,' he told his tiny son. 'His name is Frodo, too.'
While Samwise was out with the Hall's forester, Rose visited Pippin. She expected him to look bad; there'd been pneumonia in the Shire as well this past winter, but it grieved her to see him brought so low.
He had not yet been allowed out of bed, and she expected to find an impatient hobbit chafing to be up and about, with half his relatives sitting on him to keep him abed. The listless, dull eyed Pippin she found grieved her sadly.
She sat down beside him and told him all the news of Hobbiton, and he listened politely but had little to say. Pippin's cousin Pansy, who was sitting by the bed when Rose arrived, kept the conversation from lagging.
Finally Rose could bear no more, and got up from her chair. 'I must see to the children,' she said. 'Merry took them off and there's no knowing what mischief the three of them have got into.' Pansy laughed but Pippin barely smiled. 'I'm sure Samwise will be up to see you soon,' she said, and left.
Samwise found her later in their room, weeping. She quickly wiped her eyes when she heard his step, but he was not deceived. 'What is it, Rosie lass?' he asked, tipping up her chin with a gentle finger.
'Oh, Sam,' she said.
'You've been to see Mr Pippin,' he said softly. 'He's that bad, then?'
'Oh, Sam,' she repeated. She forced himself to meet his eyes. 'I'm sorry to say this, but he minds me of Mr Frodo before he went away... His eyes...'
'What about his eyes?' Sam asked when she did not continue.
'Oh, you'll laugh at me, Master Samwise, and say my condition is giving me fancies!'
'I won't laugh, Rosie,' he said, pulling her close.
'Well, then... his eyes look like a pony's, who's been asked to pull a load that's too heavy up a hill that's too steep.'
Sam smiled to think of Mr Pippin as a pony, but he kept his promise and did not laugh.
'Ah, Rose,' he said, rubbing her back reassuringly, 'Don't you remember Mistress Proudfoot last winter? You helped your mother to nurse her.' She nodded against his chest. 'That "Old Gaffer's Friend" sucks the life out of a person, whether it kills him or no. Mr Pippin just has to get built up again, is all.'
'You're right,' she whispered against his shirt. 'Of course you are. I'm just being foolish. I cry so easily these days.'
'Come, let's sit you down and put your feet up,' Sam said gently. 'I'll bring you some tea.'
Sam understood Rose's concern when he made his own visit to Pippin. He seldom thought of Mordor anymore, at least not in his waking hours, but Pippin reminded him much of Frodo near the end of their journey, and again that last summer before he went to the Grey Havens. He had concealed his illness from Sam as well as he could, but Rosie had known, she told him later. Mr Frodo had not told her, of course. His Rose was a special lass, with eyes in her heart.
Merry met him outside Pippin's door. He gazed searchingly into Sam's face, then nodded to himself. 'You see it, too,' he said. He put an arm on Sam's shoulder and began to walk towards the Master's study.
'It's like he's lost himself,' Sam said slowly. He stopped, and Merry met his eyes. 'But how do we help him find himself again?'
Merry shook his head. 'I wish I knew.'
'What about that letter of Mr Frodo's?' Sam asked. 'It helped you. Couldn't it help him?'
'No,' Merry said quietly. 'He is walking in a different kind of darkness, I'm afraid.' He sighed deeply. 'I can't seem to reach him. I had hoped...'
'You'd hoped that somehow I could, like I reached you with Mr Frodo's letter.'
'Perhaps all he needs is some rest and feeding up.'
'Perhaps,' Merry agreed, but Sam could see he didn't believe it. Sam didn't believe it, himself.
Esmeralda watched her nephew anxiously. She'd expected him to shake off his depression after the Thain departed for Tuckborough; she'd found her brother's departure quite refreshing, herself. But Pippin did not perk up when his father's oppressive influence was removed. He remained quiet, speaking when spoken to, eating the food put before him, sleeping a great deal when nothing else was required of him.
Consulting the healer was unsatisfying, for he told her it was natural when recovering from pneumonia to have no appetite and little energy. She couldn't put her concern into words, the closest she could come was to ask, 'Does it never worry you that he is such a cooperative patient?'
The healer laughed, 'I am glad to see it while it lasts! He'll be back to ignoring my advice in no time, I'm sure.' When she left, he stared after her thoughtfully.
Ten days later, he sought her out. 'I owe you an apology,' he said. At her questioning look, he continued, 'I told your nephew that he might get up tomorrow, to spend a little time in a chair. I expected him to jump up and ask why it could not be today, and whether the chair might be in the great room.'
'And he didn't?' she knew very well how unlikely it would have been.
'No, he just thanked me and said no more.'
Pippin was allowed to go to the great room for the feast to celebrate the breaking of the ground for that year's planting. He leaned on Merry for the long walk from his room, and sank into a chair with relief when they arrived. He picked at the feast, and Merry was once more reminded of Frodo, that last visit, with an important difference. Frodo had made peace with his circumstances, his eyes were serene, he enjoyed watching the dancers and talking with his relations. Pippin was polite but indifferent.
Families from Buckland and as far away as Bridgefields had come to the celebration. Fatty Bolger came up to them, slapped Merry on the back, thought better of slapping Pippin's back, said, 'Good to see you! Wish we could see more of you! Don't you ever stir from the Hall anymore?'
'We are certainly seeing more of you,' Merry returned acidly. Fatty had made up for his long stint in the Lockholes, and more. Fatty turned away with a hearty laugh to refill his plate and cup.
'Why don't you go dance?' Pippin asked Merry. He didn't really care one way or the other if Merry danced, but it would be nice to be left alone for awhile without a nursemaid.
'No, I'm fine,' Merry smiled. 'Would you like me to get you anything?' Pippin shook his head and lapsed again into silence, watching the dancers go by in a blur of colour and motion.
The music ended and the breathless dancers collapsed upon the chairs and benches that lined the walls, panting and laughing. Merry became aware of one lass in particular, with delicate features that reminded him somehow of Ruby, though her cascading curls were a deep black as opposed to Ruby's rich brown. Pippin followed his gaze. Something like bleak amusement crossed his face.
'That's Fatty Bolger's little pest of a sister,' he drawled.
Merry was thunderstruck. 'That's Estella Bolger?' he breathed.
Pippin's eyes dropped. 'Oh, aye,' he sighed. 'And there's more... that's the lass my father has picked out for me to marry.'
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.