16. The Wrath of the Ring-bearer
Pippin nudged Sam worriedly. “Do you think Frodo’s strong enough to kill Merry?” Pippin’s green-gold eyes rounded at the thought. “Not that he doesn’t deserve it, of course,” he added hurriedly when Sam glowered at him, “but Frodo wouldn’t really, would he?”
“It would serve Mr. Merry right if my master did,” Sam returned, not willing to forgive and forget. “And you, too, Master Pippin, though it isn’t me place ‘ta say so. You knew it was wrong, bettin’ on your cousin like that.” Pippin hung his head, his expression miserable. “But you went right ahead and followed Mr. Merry.”
If the tweenager had been just a few years younger, he would have scuffled a toe in the muddy earth. “I know,” he whispered. “But -”
Sam wasn’t ready to let up yet. “There might be a day when you can’t follow him, Master Pippin. Have you thought about that? You’ve got to learn ‘ta lead your own life…”
Despite his resolve to give the youngest hobbit a good tongue-lashing, the expression on Pippin’s sorrowful face smote Sam’s generous heart. Tears were gathering in Pippin’s eyes and Sam could not bear it. He could not continue.
“Little masters?” Elrond stood before them, the grey weather seeming to have no effect on his long voluminous robes, while the hobbits were liberally splattered with mud. When the Elf-lord was certain he had their attention, he gestured gracefully towards the shut doors. “What occurs?”
Now the two hobbits became aware of rising voices, muffled by the thick wood of the great doors. Others had noticed too and were edging closer to the three at the bottom step. Bilbo had threaded his way to the fore and awarded them a look of disgust. “Listening on the bottom step!” he scolded them. “Shame on you! You can’t hear anything down here. We need to be listening at the door!” With that, the old hobbit climbed stiffly up the stairs and pushed a pointed ear against the entry.
Pippin and Sam were right behind him. Elrond inclined his long body over their heads and pressed his ear to the door, supporting himself with his long hands splayed against the wood. The faint shouts they could hear through the doors were being occluded by the rustlings and shuffling of the gathered crowd. Elrond turned around and surveyed the throng with his most forbidding, dark-eyed gaze. The crowd quieted instantly.
“Can you hear what they’re saying?” Bilbo hissed at Elrond. The Elf-lord shook his head, and pressed his ear firmly to the wood of his Library doors.
“There is a window around the corner. We could -” whatever Elrond had been going to say was drowned out by a thunderous crash from within. Instinctively they leaped back from the deafening smashing thud.
Before they could react, Gandalf magically appeared beside them on the top step. “What was that?” he demanded, his beard bristling as if he thought them responsible for the great noise. Behind him, Sam could see Aragorn striding up the steps, Arwen following close behind, holding up the skirts of her gown. “What is going on in there?”
When the others could only look at him, he rushed past them and struck the great door with his staff. “Frodo! What happened? Frodo!”
There was no reply. Then the door was thrown back and Merry appeared, fear in his bright blue eyes. “Help me!” he gasped. “Frodo’s hurt!”
The small gathering surged through the door. Merry ran before them, leading them around the corner to one of the reading rooms. A scroll-case had collapsed, scattering scrolls and pamphlets everywhere. Partially buried beneath the shattered wood and paper, the Ring-bearer lay unmoving, blood pooling beneath him on the polished wooden floor.
* * * * *
“What happened, Merry?” Now that Frodo had been carried to his room and the anxious crowd dispersed, Aragorn could spare the time to find out what had happened while Elrond examined the injured Ring-bearer.
Some of the stark whiteness had left the hobbit’s face, but Merry was still very pale and his whole small body trembled. Sam had been ordered out with the others, but he would not leave his master’s side, even refusing Elrond’s direct order. Pippin sat on the small divan on one side of Merry and stroked his hand, and Bilbo sat on the other, rubbing his back. Aragorn spared a moment to marvel at the others’ instinctive comfort, the easy affection they shared among themselves. He knelt by Merry’s side to lessen the height difference, knowing the halflings to be more comfortable when Men did not tower over them so.
Slowly the hobbit raised his curly head, only gradually becoming aware of the Ranger. Blank eyes slowly focused as Merry struggled to reply. Bilbo and Pippin exchanged a worried look behind his back and Pippin picked up his cousin’s cold hand and held it between both of his, rubbing gently.
“We … we were talking,” Merry said softly. Then his head dropped and a flush stained his cheeks. “We were fighting. Frodo was furious. I’ve … I’ve never seen him so angry.” Merry paused, his eyes swimming with tears. “I told him we didn’t mean any harm, but he called me … called me irresponsible and foolish, and said I deserved a good whipping.” A tear broke free of the others and escaped down his cheek.
“And then?” Aragorn encouraged quietly.
“I said it was just a game, that people were just having fun with The Wager. He asked how I thought I was going to arrange to meet all the terms … you know, getting Lord Elrond to agree to not sending you on that scouting trip and so forth.” Merry sniffed and Bilbo silently fished out a handkerchief and handed it to him. “When I told him not to worry, that I’d take care of it, it just made him more angry. He said that I needed to grow up … that this isn’t a game. That everyone is counting on us now – that if this Fellowship fails … if we fail, we would lose … everything…”
Merry couldn’t continue. His curly head dropped and he wailed into his hands, his whole body shaking with grief and guilt. Wordlessly, Pippin and Bilbo pressed themselves against him. Accepting strength from them, Merry raised his head again. “He started walking around in circles, waving his arms. I told him to calm down. That made him rreally angry. He spun around and … and lost his balance, I think. He staggered to the side and hit his shoulder – his hurt one – against the scroll case. I guess the pain made him fall back against it, and the wooden leg broke and it collapsed on him.”
Aragorn nodded and raised a gentle hand to tousle Merry’s curls. “How is he?” the young hobbit whispered.
“I’ll ask.” The Ranger rose to his feet. At that moment, the door opened and Elrond glided through, Arwen behind him carrying the basin used to wash the blood from Frodo’s head. The hobbits had the briefest glimpse of Frodo’s hair, dark against the white pillow, and Gandalf in the chair by his bed, talking softly with Sam.
Elrond closed the door, then carefully cracked it open a little so that he might hear instantly if the Ring-bearer suffered any distress. The three climbed off the divan to their feet, their hearts in their mouths. Elrond’s ageless eyes swept over the halflings, then he motioned Arwen past to empty the basin. Aragorn thought the water was very red. Meeting his foster father’s eyes, the Ranger followed her out, relieving her of the heavy basin and taking her arm.
Elrond turned back to the young hobbits. “Your cousin is resting,” the Elf-lord said softly. “The edge of the scroll-case caught him on the temple, right above the eye. The weight knocked him out and will result in an appalling bump. Scalp wounds bleed a great deal. He will have a headache and probably some nausea when he wakes, and must stay in bed for a few days to rebuild the blood lost, but he should recover.”
Merry made a muffled sound caught somewhere between joy and relief. The faces of the other two echoed it. “May we see him?”
Those ageless eyes bored into him. “He is sleeping now, I think. Gandalf and Samwise will stay with him. You may see him in the morning.” Then that dark gaze turned to his old friend. “Bilbo, will you excuse us? I would like to speak with your young cousins.”
The elderly hobbit met that immortal gaze for a moment then rose, old bones creaking. Bilbo grimaced and stroked both Merry’s and Pippin’s curls gently. “Don’t be too hard on them, Elrond,” he said softly. “It was just a bit of fun.”
When Bilbo had left, Elrond sank gracefully down to the divan, which put the hobbits at only slightly below his eye level. The Elf-lord said nothing for a few moments, listening to the ticking of the seconds that comprised the short lives of these small folk. Returning his thoughts to the matter at hand, he met their anxious eyes.
“I am declaring The Wager null and void,” he informed them without preamble. When Merry opened his mouth, Elrond continued, “This is not subject to discussion or negotiation, Master Meriadoc. There has been quite enough of that, I think.” Pippin and Merry exchanged a glance and were silent. The Master of Rivendell nodded approvingly. “And yet the Ring-bearer did complete half of The Wager. Therefore, half of The Wager’s terms will be met.”
The older of the two’s eyes lit up, and Elrond hurried to squash his hopes. “I will choose which half of the terms will be upheld.” Merry’s eyes fell. “You and your cousin will muck out your pony’s stall for a week, and curry him.” Two nods. “You and your cousin will scrub the bases of all of my fountains in my gardens.” Two deep sighs then two nods. “Master Meriadoc, you will copy my daughter’s songs for Bilbo, as he wishes. And as Gandalf wishes, you two will refrain from further endeavors of this type while guests in my home.”
Elrond surveyed the two bowed heads. “Lastly,” (and the two curly heads raised and regarded him apprehensively), “as I know you truly meant no ill, when all of these tasks are finished, Master Meriadoc, then you may copy such maps as you wish from my Library. The cartographer will supply you tanned hide and whatever else you need.”
“Thank you,” whispered Merry.
Though the Elf-lord did not smile, the weight of that ageless gaze lifted slightly. “And you and Master Peregrin and Master Samwise may have Second Breakfast whenever you wish, as much as you wish, for as long as you like.”
The two hobbits bowed. The Elf-lord regarded them for a moment, then returned them a half-bow and swept from the room. Merry and Pippin sagged back onto the divan and leaned back, kicking their short legs against the cushioning.
“Well,” Pippin murmured. “It could have been worse.”
“Yes, I suppose,” Merry replied slowly. They were both silent. Then Merry continued, “I wanted to show Frodo the maps. You know how he is about maps…” Suddenly Merry made a choking sound and to Pippin’s horror, the tears were finally unleashed. Merry leaned against his smaller cousin and sobbed and sobbed. Pippin flung his short arms around his kin and held him tightly, planting small kisses in his hair and murmuring reassurances.
“He’s going to be all right, Merry,” Pippin assured his older cousin. “He’s not hurt bad. It was just an accident, Cousin. He’s all right.”
At last Merry wore himself out, sagging almost bonelessly against Pippin. The older cousin scrubbed his eyes and used the last dry corner of Bilbo’s sodden handkerchief to clean his face. Pippin pulled himself to his feet then tugged Merry after him. “Come on, Merry,” he said softly. “Let’s go find something to eat.”
In the adjoining room, Gandalf looked to Samwise, who had gone to sleep with his chair tilted back against the wall, arms folded across his chest. The wizard rose and laid a spare blanket over the hobbit, then moved to the door to watch the two small forms depart, arm in arm, for the kitchens. ‘Ah,’ thought the wizard, ‘Perhaps they have both grown up this day, a little.’
* TBC *
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.