Aftermath: 1. Merry

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1. Merry

Dusk-the first day

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I watched them take you down from the backs of the eagles, and I knew then that you were both going to die.

There was no way you could possibly survive.

I stood off to one side, numb past all bearing, and watched as Gandalf took Frodo from Gwaihir. I watched as Aragorn touched Frodo's face, his eyes shimmering like jewels, then turned away and reached up, pulled Sam into his arms as if he were a feather from the eagle's shoulder, held him desperately close. Sam just squinted up at him, tried to speak then fainted dead away. Frodo pulled from his stupor to fixate upon the white being holding him, clutching to Gandalf with one bloodied, swollen hand from which the ring finger was gone...

My stomach clenched, revolted. I spun from it all and ran. Ran. I still had trouble walking with any strength yet I vaulted several flights of stairs before pain and reflex took over and I fell to my knees and heaved what was left of my breakfast onto the third-story landing.

And now, here I crouch, no longer panic-stricken yet cowering beneath the enormity of it all. First Pippin. oh, Pippin! Now Frodo, and Sam...

Will I be the only one of us left?

I fall onto my side, gasping and gagging, and roll onto my back as my injured sword arm clenches stiffly against unforgiving rock. The stench of panic, of sweat and vomit and old, damp stone fills my nostrils, almost making me sick again. But I fight it, gritting my teeth and clenching my lips and taking deep pulls of air through my half-clogged nostrils. Tears leak from my eyes, over my temples and into my hair as I lie here shaking, eyes wide open. For when I shut my eyes I see it all too plainly; details that I refused as I ran.

How gaunt they were. Sam, a pale, shrunken copy of his former, robust self- I remember him as all shaded umber and brightest, bronzed gold, round and soft yet solid and firm as the very earth, strapping arms and a broad back that could shoulder almost anything, his heart even mightier than his frame. And Frodo-once cinnamon-dusted ivory, dark russet curls, a warm autumn's promise of cool winter and always whipcord slender, never enough proper flesh on him at the best of times-I could all but hear his bones rattle as Gandalf had picked him up. Both of them, filthy and battered, tattered and... small. So small, held with the care and tenderness of fragile porcelain by the men who'd carried them. And Frodo's hand...

I feel sickened once more; instead I focus on the ceiling above me, on the vast, intricate woven arch of chiseled white stone. It is incredibly beautiful, an amazing thing certainly to a hobbit who has spent his life with simpler architectures of earth, with wood and uncarved rock and low, comforting ceilings. But it nevertheless does not erase the memory of that horror-that mangled, bloody thing that used to be my cousin's fair, freckled hand. There was a callous upon that finger that no longer exists, risen and rubbed into place by too many pens held against it, a permanent ink-stain coloring it slightly darker than his flesh. You could tell so much about Frodo by just looking at his hands. And now they tell me even more. This signature of his being is all ruined and twisted, not only by the physical reality of such a wound, but what it means. What it *means*...

It means that he was wearing that dreadful thing in the midst of its evil birthplace. It means that he didn't want to take it off. It means that something-someone!-had to take it from him.

Ah, Sam! How did you bear it? Your own hands have their tale to tell: sinewy and strong, hands which would without remorse and with immense practicality destroy a weed or stab tools into the rich earth. Those hands would have not have found it so easy to perform such delicate necessity upon your master's flesh. It would have been easier for you to strike off your own hand than to take anything from Frodo's. Was he so far gone? Did he fight against you? But how could he have? There was nothing left of him, Sam! He would have been no match for you; never was. In all the wrestling matches we engaged in as children, he never gave up the humorous hope of besting you-but then he never won, either. How could he have fought you, as frail and fragile as he's become?

Did you *both* go mad from the pull of that cursed Ring? Did you try to take it from him? Did it give him some kind of furious strength and so you engaged in a sickened, possessive struggle? Did you writhe in the rubble of hopeful dreams that Mordor had turned to nightmare-chasing malignancy until there was nothing left but rage and despair and the necessity of cutting it away before it destroyed you both?

But it has destroyed you both, I fear. And if you live, will I even know you anymore?

My thoughts choke me; air thumps painfully in my still-healing side and I continue to stare wide-eyed and tear-spasmed, at the ceiling. I am surprised that it does not shudder, move, come spinning down about me-for surely my world is doing so. The only constants I have known in life are slipping from my grasp, but one thing remains and wounds me deeper than I think even the Witch King's breath.

Sam, I would have done the same thing. Without hesitation. If I had seen evil gain hold of Frodo, I would have cut it from him without a qualm. More-and my heart clenches within my breast--I would have killed him outright had I seen him taken so, seen evil reshape and twist into vile servitude his gentle, earnest spirit. For there are worse things than death...

So who now has changed? I talk so blithely of murdering my own cousin and in another breath wonder that I will not know you both? More likely that you will not know *me*.

I groan and lurch upward, hands to my face, and frantically try to wipe the assumptions from my gaze. I don't know any of it-I don't know what happened. It's just my own bleakness, an umbra of despair that has walked hand in hand with me this past sevenday and I cannot seem to halt it. I should not just blindly envision these things. Not while their lives hang by such a thin, fragile wire...

But I do. I sit in the dark recesses of the stairwell and I realize that the only hope that I shall be set free of all this lies as still, as near death as Frodo and Sam. My breath heaves within me with such violence I wonder I do not burst from it. I keep my hands over my eyes, feel the scar upon my forehead throb and burn with my heartbeat. I cannot bear it. I cannot bear it any more...

Pippin, I need you. Stars, but I need you! I want you to smile at me, hold me, remind me by your mere presence and breath and being that there is sweet-hot illumination behind all these shades that wind themselves about me. I want to hear your voice lift high and plaintive in question or low and murmuring against my ear, your Tuckborough accent a lilting, sweet reminder of new-mown, warm grass and crystalline waters and brilliant sunlight.

I want to feel the pain of living again! I am undermined by the quiet emptiness of all this dying...

Even you. I never thought that one so heedlessly bright could be suborned into shadow, but it lies along you, shroud and terminus. Crushed as surely as Theoden, but at least his end was quick. I saw him to his death; no doubt I shall see you to yours. Until then your enormous will betrays you, keeps you struggling against that most final of questions, keeps you entrapped in a deep well of pain that I cannot pull you from. I've tried- oh, how I've tried! I've sat by you, spoken with you, implored and demanded, yet you will not hear me. The shadow has all but eclipsed you, taking revenge upon you for your ability to hold it so at bay. And suddenly I wonder if by my own darken presence I but enfold you deeper in it.

The deeps rise before my shut eyelids; I lower my hands slowly, force open my eyes, stare down the cavernous stair. But still it cannot erase the memory of you lying in that wide, white sickbed...

Once you were sunny and sharp: dappled bronze curls, summer-gold running along your skin, vivid prisms in your eyes. Small and lithe, your body quick as your thoughts, your nerves traced along tensile moments, reflections of the keen intellect and instinct within. But those brilliant reflections lay quiescent, now, dulled and muted. Your narrow-angled face is made even moreso by confinement and fever, with scrapes and bruises that I count every hour to see if they have by some miracle vanished; your sharp nose blunted and broken, your sharper eyes sunken, blackened, closed. Your hands, miraculously untouched, browned and slender and toughened by the sword, are all I dare to hold of you. Your body is no longer that of a half-grown 'tweener but lengthened from the ent-draught even as my own, thin and hard from battle and journeying, all gangliness gone. One leg lies twisted and blocked into place; your ribs are bandaged tautly so that I no longer hear the grind and creak of shattered bone, yet they must be but poorly knitted for when the healers come in to tend you, you moan and quiver. Wherever you have mercifully escaped to, you still feel pain.

I heard Aragorn speaking to the healers. He said when you thought me dead, when you thought Frodo and Sam in the clutches of the Black Tower, you rode into battle with flat eyes and a dead heart. That you no longer cared. That something within you had stilled, that some light had gone out. That he feared it had broken you past mending.

And since then I have rarely left your side, talking to you sometimes in murmurs, sometimes in hoarse entreaty: I'm here. I'm here, Pippin. Wherever you are, please come back...

I curl about my knees, rocking in the dimness of the landing, closing my eyes. I want to see it, this time. I *want* these memories:

Apples in the basket, rose and gold and green. All of us in the orchards, readying the harvest for the vats and you hiding the tiny, sweet ones in your pockets and the wilding glimmer in your eyes as you lock me into complicity with one daring glance...

Swimming in the Brandywine, brown and lithe and graceful as the otters we found on the bank-otters amazingly outswam as the female chased you from her babies with tiny growls and large teeth. How I just watched you speed by and she turned on me, bit me in the knee...

Cheeks flushed with too much sun, too much dancing and too much hard cider as you and the harvesting lasted into the night to meet the dawn. I gave up trying to keep up with you, though there were a lot of pretty girls who did...

So many memories. Most of them encompassing you. Bright as a shaft of sunlight, piercing me to marrow, then twisting and gutting and emptying me at the thought of life without you.

And another one: all four of us-impossibly young but you the youngest of all-sprawled on the roof at Bag End. Sam on his belly digging meticulously in the dirt, Frodo's head pillowed on Sam's rear as he stares sleepily up into the sky, me leaning against Frodo's upthrust knees and watching with a growing smile on my lips as you simply refuse to sit still: bending straight-legged over Sam to find out what treasures he might have miraculously mined in one inch of earth, trying to get Frodo's attention and failing then sitting practically on his head to gain it, crawling into my lap and asking questions of me so complex that I still can't believe they came out of your mouth and mind.

You were so young. You were so old. You were always, always there. We knew, all of us, that you would always *be* there. It was impossible to imagine otherwise.

But now I must imagine it. I must walk with it in the dawn, lie with it in the gloom. Pippin, you lie so close to death, and Sam, and Frodo...

No. *No*.

Where can I go when there is nowhere left to turn?

And I can't even begin to comprehend the possibility that, of those four laughing hobbit children, of those little boys who were so fiercely and uncompromisingly alive, only I shall remain.

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.

Story Information

Author: Willow Wode

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 07/29/02

Original Post: 07/25/02

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