41. Painful Words
“So he did,” his cousin agreed equitably. “But he said nothing about the bed staying here.”
“What are you thinking?” asked Sam cautiously. The three had awoken not long ago and in the absence of visitors and activity, were growing more bored with each passing moment. Even the dwarven puzzles Gimli had made them could not hold their interest. None of the three felt bad, actually, just rather achy and sniffy and still congested. The sun streaming in the balcony doors looked so inviting…
The young Brandybuck’s eyes lit up. “We could each take a corner of the mattress and push -”
“No!” rang out Samwise’s and Pippin’s voices together, then hushed as they remembered the still-sleeping Frodo. When Merry opened his mouth to argue his idea, Pippin shoved a handful of loose feathers in his cousin’s face. Merry accidentally inhaled some. Samwise withdrew to the safety of the headboard and watched the ensuing tussle with resignation.
Older and heavier, Merry had succeeded in pinning Pippin to the mattress in question when their elder cousin’s weary voice interrupted them. The wrestling match (interspersed with coughs) ceased immediately. “Lads,” repeated Frodo tiredly, “what are you doing?”
“Pippin pushed -”
“Well, Merry said we should -”
“I did not!”
“Lord Elrond told us -”
“He should have been more specific, then!”
“He meant -”
“Lads,” groaned Frodo a third time. He was now sitting up, arms wrapped tightly around his sore ribs. Sometime during his passage down the river, a rock had given him a hard knock on the right shoulder, and the bruise was beginning to flower spectacularly. He was profoundly glad it wasn’t the left – that shoulder and arm were still somewhat tender, and he suspected they always would be. He reached up and massaged the bruise absently, pulling at the silver chain around his throat under his nightshirt. Then he rubbed his aching forehead.
Sam crawled down off the bed and padded to the washstand, pouring out water from the pitcher and wetting a cloth in the basin. The younger hobbits watched him worriedly. “Sam,” Pippin ventured hesitantly, “Lord Elrond -”
“I’m not afraid o’ him,” replied Sam doggedly, “nor his nasty potions.” A slight quaver in his voice gave his words the lie. “Mr. Frodo needs me ‘ta take care of him, and I can’t do it from over there.” With that he walked to his master’s bed and pressed the cold cloth to Frodo’s forehead. Frodo sighed in relief. “How are you feelin’, sir?”
“I’ve felt better, Sam. How are you doing?”
“All right, sir. It’s just a head cold. I wouldn’t even notice it, back home in the Shire.”
“The Shire,” echoed Frodo quietly, easing himself back under the quilts. He patted the side of the bed and Sam sat himself down, keeping the cool cloth pressed to the hot forehead. Frodo pulled the top quilt over him, tucking it in to make sure it covered Sam’s feet. “What is happening there, I wonder?”
“They’d be planning the Yuleday feast in the Great Smials,” said Pippin softly.
“And at Brandy Hall,” added Merry, blue eyes distant. “I wish we could take back all the things we’ve learned and seen here. I’m sure the kitchens could make those cream-puff swans, with a little practice.”
“I’ll eat all their mistakes,” volunteered Pippin selflessly.
“Me Gaffer would be fattening the goose,” contributed Sam. “He picks one when it’s just a gosling, and raises it special. Cornbread and fat scraps, not scratch and bread crusts like the rest o’ the duck yard. It follows ‘im around like a chick. Half the time he can’t bring himself ‘ta kill it. He’s got four o’ them that trails after him, now.”
“I remember,” said Frodo. “No offense, Sam, but your Gaffer makes quite a sight with all those geese waddling after him, single-file, honking at him to slow down.”
“Aye,” chuckled Sam. “O’ course, the Gaffer’s not so swift himself, now. His joint-ache was giving him fits when we left.”
Frodo noticed that Pippin was knuckling his eyes, and the others had fallen silent, strained and pale. He cursed himself for allowing this mood to overtake them. They were so young, all of them… With mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers at home, wondering where they had got to, and even if they were still alive. And in Sam’s case, a certain young flower who would not understand his leaving. And responsibilities to the lands that they were born to inherit, folk they were born to govern.
He had none of those things. Not family or home or the obligations of birth. Bag End was no longer his and the little house in Crickhollow only a ruse, with no real hold on his heart.
“Meriadoc,” the Ring-bearer said gently. “Peregrin and Samwise, friends of friends…” his throat closed in pain and terror but he forced the words out, struggled to keep his voice even and calm, “you don’t have to go with me. You can go home. I will be safe enough among the Big Folk. There is no need for all of us to wander into exile -”
“No need?” Not surprisingly, it was young Merry’s voice that rose above the others’. Frodo tried to hush him, waving his hands placatingly, mindful of the Elf posted at the door but Merry did not lower his voice. “Frodo, we love you. You know that. Do you think we would let you go alone into danger?”
Merry had more to say but Sam could not keep silent. “Aye, that’s right!” he almost shouted, then blushed when they turned to him in startlement at his uncharacteristic outburst. “Me Gaffer would take the hide off me back if I ever left you, Mr. Frodo. Not that I would.” Arms crossed over his chest, Sam delivered the last with such a fierce glare that Frodo stared at him in astonishment.
Merry shook his head at his elder cousin’s foolishness. “Sam is a brave fellow and would jump down a dragon’s throat to save you, Frodo, if he had to. So would Pip and so would I. Cousin, you said in the bathhouse that our just being here was use enough to you. Enough to remind you why you are doing this. Enduring this.”
“Yes, but -” began Frodo, but Merry cut him off.
“I don’t think you’ve considered this from our point of view, Cousin.” Blue eyes stared into blue. “Say Sam and Pip and I do return to the Shire. We soothe ruffled family feathers and settle down and hope you’ll come back to us. Maybe get married.” Merry darted a wicked look at Sam and the stocky hobbit blushed. “But what if our not being there at some crucial moment causes you to falter? What if you need that reminder of why you are doing this, and we are not there to give it? What then?”
Frodo would have responded but again Merry did not allow it. “I’ll tell you what then. The darkness would roll over the Shire like a wave. We’ve seen the outside world now, Frodo. We no longer hold the illusion that hobbits could defend themselves against Men and Orcs and evil things that shriek and attack in the night. We are small folk, Frodo, all of us. The Shire would be overrun in days.”
Pippin had remained quiet during all of this, his green-gold eyes flitting anxiously among his elders, hands alternately pulling the quilts into little mounds then smoothing them out. His eyes jerked to Merry’s face when his cousin continued, “But Pippin, I think, should go home.”
Frodo’s and Sam’s mouths dropped, shock on their countenances. It was inconceivable that the two cousins be parted. Ever since Pippin had been deemed old enough to toddle about under his nurse’s watchful eye, his older cousin had been there to care for him. In the Shire, one hardly spoke of them separately; it was ‘Merry and Pippin’ as if the two were somehow linked. Even when they were not together, it was always ‘Merry and Pippin.’
“Merry!” cried Pippin.
“It’s not because you are so young, Pip. Well, not entirely. There are innumerable cousins who could succeed to the office of Master of Buckland,” said Merry almost coldly, “if I do not come back. But there are no other possible heirs to the Thainship than Pippin. He should return to the Shire.”
“Merry! You can’t mean that!”
Merry swiveled to face his younger cousin slowly, as if reluctant to look into that pale sharp-chinned face. “I do mean it, Pip. There will be no chance to turn back after we leave Rivendell. One of us should go back and tell everyone that we are all right and what we are doing, and why. They won’t understand, but they’ll accept it. And maybe someday, we’ll get home.” Merry grinned at Pippin weakly. “Then we’ll make a night of it in The Green Dragon, eh?”
No one responded to the weak jest. Frodo seemed stunned, unable to force coherence upon his thoughts. Sam was silent, leaving this battle between the cousins to them. Pippin’s face was shiny with tears. They cascaded down his sharp face in a steady stream. “I can’t believe you would say that,” he whispered. “How could you be so cruel?”
“Cruel?” Merry tilted his head, his own emotion held under such tight control that he wondered he did not burst with it. “Is it cruel to want you to be alive, Pippin? Cruel to want you to go back to your mother and da and sisters? Cruel to want to spare you the hardship and danger and pain that’s surely coming?”
“Why are you doing this?” whispered Pippin. “How can you think that I would go back, when you and Frodo go on? Why, Merry?”
Merry opened his mouth but no words came out. He shook his bright head. “Pip, I’m thinking of you. And your family. And -”
“Is it because of the accident with the knife? I know you didn’t do it on purpose. I wasn’t hurt, Merry.”
“You could have been!”
“Ah, that’s it, then,” murmured Sam. Seeing his master’s eyes upon him, Sam flushed and ducked his head, distancing himself from the family drama.
“Pip, we love you. All of us. You can’t be angry that we want to spare you?”
Frodo was looking from one to the to the other, dark head turning from side to side. Somehow, this had passed beyond his control. He had to stop it before words were said that could never be unsaid, words that would fester in the heart forever. But his head had begun to ache fiercely, pounding so hard that his vision was affected, bright flashes of light sparking behind his eyelids. He felt like someone had shoved a sharp stick into the back of his skull. Through slitted eyes, he saw Sam looking down at him in consternation.
“Yes, I can!” Pippin flung back at Merry. “Spare me? I call that cruel. I may not be of age, Merry, but I’m not a child.” A great gulp threatened that statement but the tweenager mastered it and forced it down.
Frodo turned his head away from the sunlight streaming in the balcony doors. With a glance at his master, Sam went over to the doors and pulled the drapes shut, darkening the room as much as he could. Frodo put up a hand to his head, rubbing distractedly at the stabbing ache. He was beginning to feel nauseous.
“Mr. Frodo?” asked Sam worriedly.
Frodo shook his head, then was very sorry he did so. The room tilted sideways and moved around him. He latched onto the mattress and held on for dear life.
Pippin was continuing and Frodo tried to force himself to pay attention to the words. They seemed to slither through his mind, their sense just beyond his grasp. “How do you think I would feel, left back home in safety, knowing that you and Sam and Frodo were out there somewhere, trying to save the world? Whatever I can do to help Frodo, I will. I can gather firewood and set snares and use a sling as well as you.” Pippin paused and scrubbed the tears from his face, raising a dry face but one set and pale. “I won’t be left behind.”
“Pippin,” Merry pleaded.
Merry was silent for several long moments. Then he said, “You understand I had to try?”
Pippin nodded. “I understand. You said what you had to, and I’ve said what I had to. It’s over now, Merry. We’ll not discuss it again.”
Surprisingly, Merry nodded and dashed a tear from his own face.
“Well, that’s settled,” said Sam decisively, relieved that it hadn’t been worse. He’d had his own reservations about the tweenager accompanying them, but it wasn’t his place to say anything. “That is, if it’s all right with you, Mr. Frodo.”
The two cousins realized that it truly wasn’t their decision. They turned to the Ring-bearer apprehensively. Frodo was lying in the small bed with his hand over his eyes. Merry thought he was weeping. “Frodo?” he said softly.
Frodo shuddered and the hand dropped from his eyes. Instead of coming to rest on his chest, the hand continued its fall and swung limply alongside the bed.
* 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.