22. The Morning After the Battle
Merry was still snoring on the other bed and the sky outside the window was pale grey with Earendil still shining brightly, not yet quenched by the rising sun. Pippin realized he could only have been asleep an hour or less but there was no point in trying to catch a few more winks. Somebody'd be knocking on the door to wake them at any minute.
Instead he got up and padded down the winding stone stair to the great hall. The long trestle tables were full of Men eating and talking quietly. Few if any of them would have slept at all, yet they looked none the worse for it.
Pippin rubbed his own gritty eyes, yawned, and headed for his companions seated at the high table, greeting them with: "It's disgusting how bright eyed you Big Folk can be after a long night with no sleep!"
Gimli, Legolas and Boromir just grinned, Arandil looked a little confused. *1 There was no sign of Aragorn or Faramir.
"Where's Strider?" Pippin asked, climbing onto the bench next to Arandil and grimacing at the scanty - by Hobbit standards - provender on the table. "No tea of course."
"I'm afraid not," Boromir answered him, "and Aragorn is hearing reports from the scouts."
"Have a mug of ale," Gimli recomended, pouring it out, "it will get your blood moving, Young Hobbit."
"Not so young any more, and getting older all the time." Pippin grumbled, filling his plate with what the Rangers regarded as an adequate breakfast; flat, hard waybread as sustaining as Lembas but far less savory, (though *much* better than the Cram of the Dalesmen); cheese, dried apples and pears and a fruit Pippin didn't recognize, and cold meat. "No tea, no eggs, no bacon, not even toast! and you Men of Westerness call yourselves civilized!"
This time Arandil grinned too. He'd heard Pippin, and Merry and even Sam, in this strain before. "We must conceed in matters of the table the Shirefolk are far ahead of us."
"Too right!" Pippin said emphatically around a mouthful of cheese.
"You're not eating, Arandil." Legolas observed.
"I'm not very hungry." the youngster admitted, adding rather shamefacedly. "I was sick after the first attack."
"So was I when I saw my first blood shed." Boromir told him quietly. "Killing - even of Orcs - should come hard, Arandil. I wouldn't want any Man who took it lightly under my command."
"That's what King Elessar said." the boy's eyes glowed with sudden enthusiasm. "He was - incredible! I'd heard the stories of course, and believed them! but actually seeing it..."
"I know what you mean." Pippin agreed. "I'll never forget Strider fighting off those Nazgul on Weathertop, or the way he and your Uncle Boromir waded into the Watcher in the Water when it grabbed Frodo outside Moria."
"You and your stones." Boromir shook his head. "Anybody'd have thought we were a picnic party the way you and Merry behaved."
"We learned better," Pippin said ruefully, "the hard way." then. "Here's old Merry now."
The Master of Buckland climbed up next to his cousin on the bench and looked at the board. "You call this breakfast?"
"Yes!" Elf, Dwarf and Men chorused.
He shrugged resignedly and started tucking in.
Faramir appeared next, greeted the Hobbits with a nod then drew his son, Gimli and Legolas to the far end of the table for a low voiced conference.
Realizing it must concern Boromir, and it was up to the two of them to distract him from it, Pippin turned to Merry. "You're looking better than you did last night anyway. What in Middle Earth happened to you?"
"He killed an Uruk," Boromir explained quietly, "who was about to shoot me with an arrow."
Pippin shuddered. "Oh, no wonder. My poor Merry!"
"I don't think you understand how hard it was for us to watch you die that way." Merry said to his half empty plate.
"Now, Merry, that's not quite fair," Pippin said hastily, "I don't suppose it's one of Boromir's favorite memories either."
"No indeed." the Man agreed. Seeing the Little Ones carried away by Orcs, still struggling to reach him, had easily been the second worst moment of his life. "I do understand how you feel, Merry. I've watched Men die for me too. I was sorry to lay such a debt on you - but I had no choice."
Pippin stared at him, a bite of apple unchewed in his mouth as he suddenly realized that last, uninterpretable look Boromir had given them twenty years ago had been one of apology.
A hand on his shoulder made him jump. "Faramir would like a word with you and Master Merry, Pippin." Gimli told them.
The Hobbits obediently headed off to the far end of the table while Gimli and Legolas took their places across from Boromir, who hid his smile at the transparent machinations of his friends and behind a mug of ale.
"You should see Moria today, Boromir." Gimli said enthusiastically. "King Durin has restored it to its old glory - even Legolas here admits it is a fair city."
"King Durin has banished the darkness, Moria is no longer a place of evil." Legolas agreed seriously but added with a sidelong twinkle at his Dwarf friend. "Splendid and impressive it is, but cold stone can never seem fair to Elven eyes."
"No, they prefer musty, dusty old forests," Gimli replied, rolling his own eyes upward, "full of walking and talking trees!"
Raised voices at the far end of the table drew the attention of all three companions. "Merry and Pippin seem upset." Boromir frowned, wondering what his brother could have said to them.
Elf and Dwarf exchanged a look. "I feared they would take it ill." Legolas sighed.
"Wouldn't you?" Gimli snorted.
"Take what ill?" Boromir demanded.
"Aragorn wants them to stay behind with the reserve." Legolas explained. "They are weary from the battle and have had little sleep. He has no mind to risk their lives unecessarily."
"They more than did their part last night." Gimli growled. "The garrison here will form the reserve for the same reason - they are not Dunedain, nor Elf nor Dwarf to laugh off a lost night's sleep."
At the far end of the table Faramir was making the same point to the Hobbits. "And you are not being left out altogether I promise you. Aragorn has plans for his reserve and you will fight all the better for a few more hours sleep."
"What about Boromir?" Pippin demanded. "He still needs watching!"
"You may safely leave my brother to me." Faramir replied. "And to Gimli, Legolas and Arandil." ****
1* Elves of course rarely sleep at all, and Dwarves can 'endure great weariness' as Bilbo says. Dunedain powers of endurance easily match both, as we see when the three friends chase the Orcs with Merry and Pippin. Eomer's astonishment at their feat suggests it is not one other Men could match.
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