1. When Last We Met
The Last Homely House – he’d heard Bilbo’s stories, as had they all, but as with most things in the world, the reality was a far cry from the story. If he hadn’t been so pleased to see him, Merry might have taken Bilbo to task a little for his kinder fabrications. But then, Merry laughed a little at himself as he thought about it, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t already realised that. The world was a dangerous place. And so big. And Rivendell was so very Elvish.
It felt good to laugh again. Merry put his chin into his hands and sighed a little. Now that Frodo was well on his way to recovery perhaps the urge to sing and dance was not so strange. The relief of it flowed through his veins even now, like strong wine. Sam had finally been persuaded to take a rest away from Frodo’s side and, since they’d heard the news, Pippin hadn’t left the dining hall. The Elves had seemed delighted to help him celebrate in his own fashion. Indeed they had laughed and talked among themselves in that musical language of theirs, and then a steady flow of delicacies had kept Pip’s plate full. It was a wonder he had any corners left to fill, given he appeared to be attempting to become as round as a ball, but Merry had no need or desire to object. The release of the tension that had held them all these past days was too great for anything but indulgence, and he smiled a little. Just think, Frodo could give up the Ring now to those of greater stature and wisdom in the world, and in just a little while they could all go home. No wonder he felt like singing. Or weeping.
It was the firm tread along the stone terrace that caused Merry to turn his head. The heavy tramp of boots on stone was a rarely heard phenomenon here, where elves wore light slippers and floated as though dancing, and the hobbits own unshod feet felt the stone cool and comforting beneath them. Was it Strider? He was never usually so loud. Merry turned with a jest on his lips, prepared to tease the Man about heavy footed rangers, when he caught sight of the thickly set stranger and the words died on his lips.
He could kick himself. Why not just hand over Frodo and the Ring to all and sundry? Why not just give away how he felt, and be done! Merry recalled his scattered wits and drew himself up, and then bowed as his father had taught him he should do to such folk.
“I’m sorry, you startled me. Meriadoc Brandybuck, at your service.”
“Gimli, son of Glóin, at yours and your family’s.”
The Dwarf’s voice was as deep and rumbling as Merry remembered it. He looked up wonderingly at the heavy figure, not that much taller than himself, but more than twice as wide, with arms like tree roots, and a coat of mail shining in the sun. The Dwarf had a beard that was thick and brown, and his eyes glinted like bright buttons from amidst all that luxuriant hair. Merry thought how hard it was to read a person all covered in hair like that, how easy it was to hide things within it, like motives and secrets, and the true purposes of things.
“You are a long way from home, Master Gimli! You could have knocked me down with a feather when I saw you standing there. I don’t know if you remember me at all…”
It was better than being knocked down with the massive axe Merry could see poking out from behind the Dwarf’s shoulder. The thought of that unpleasant possibility made him shiver.
“Of course. And I could say the same for you, Master Brandybuck. It’s a long way for any of you Shirefolk to have wandered abroad, is it not? Ha! But somehow, I thought to find you here.”
Merry felt surprise temper his wariness.
“Really? You expected to see me? Here in Rivendell? I did not know I had given that impression when last we met, for then I did not know myself what the future held.”
There was another faint rumbling, like thunder in the hills, and Merry jumped a little, before realising the startling sound was the Dwarf laughing. He had never heard such a thing from one of that people, and he marvelled at the deep, rich timbre.
“Oh no! You were as close as a shut door, Master Brandybuck. Do not fear you gave your cousin away to me. Led us a proper chase indeed you did, and I blame you not for it.”
Merry felt his heart quail – did he mean Bilbo or Frodo? If this Dwarf knew all about Frodo then what hope did he have of concealing their Quest? This Gimli, Glóin’s son, had already come asking once after Bilbo and the Ring, his manner inquisitive and grasping. And well Merry remembered Bilbo’s tales of the Battle of Five Armies and the greed of the Dwarves that had begun it. His suspicions beat painfully hard in his breast as he contemplated the convenience of the timing that allowed this Dwarf to greet him here in Rivendell not three days after their arrival. Had every sinister thing in the entirety of Middle Earth been chasing them these last weeks? Merry’s skin crawled as it had when the insects and other creatures of the earth had squirmed out onto his skin in their eagerness to be away from the Black Riders.
“Just so – your cousin! Whom I was enquiring after when I saw you last, if you recall.”
Gimli’s eyes twinkled a little as he took a stand beside Merry and looked out over the balcony, tucking his thumbs into his belt as he did so. Merry was fascinated, as mail jingled, then settled, and the smell of oiled leather, and hot metal came drifting to him. He rubbed his sweating hands a little on his trouser leg as wild thoughts came into his mind of pushing the Dwarf off the terrace, to save Frodo, as if he had a hope, when it came down to it, of even being able to move such a solid mountain of flesh and bone.
And yet surely they were safe here with the Elves? Master Elrond wouldn’t let anything happen to Frodo, would he? But how did he know what story the Dwarves had given for their arrival? Would any of the Elves be at all suspicious, given the secrecy of the Quest? He thought he had heard that Elves did not trust Dwarves very much, but he couldn’t really remember why. Still and all, Gimli might know less than Merry supposed, and he found that just the thought of the Elves had put a little of the heart back into him that the shock of the Dwarf’s appearance had taken away. Perhaps he could test the waters, and draw him out a little, if he was careful and clever.
“How long has it been, Master Gimli? It must be, oh, almost a year?”
“Is it as long as that? But, aye, you have the right of it, I think. Nigh on Yule, it was, that I last had the great pleasure of visiting the Shire.”
“And you were a welcome guest, of course, particularly in such a festive season. The skill of the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain is justifiably famous. I think at home I still have a clockwork bird of your kinsfolk’s make that has worked perfectly for years. Since Bilbo’s party in fact. I hope your last trip proved as profitable to you.”
“Our trading was most lucrative, thank you, Master Brandybuck. But as to profitable? I cannot say our journey was the success I had hoped for.”
“I am sorry to hear that.”
“Are you really? Ha! And here was I thinking you were the boulder on the path and very deliberately too. Do not fret, I hold it not against you.”
Merry turned to lean once more on the solid stone of the terrace, glancing sideways at Gimli as he tried to remember what his father had said about dealing with Dwarves. It was in his mind that they were cautious and canny traders, not much for bluffing but as solid and tenacious as bindweed when they scented reward. At least this one didn’t seem upset at his deceptions so many months ago.
Warily he said, “My cousin was away from home at the time of your visit. So I could not direct you to him, as you asked.”
“And would not, I warrant, had I asked a hundred times. Your loyalty does you credit.”
This Gimli, son of Glóin, was a very polite discourser, whatever else he might be. Merry felt his fear diminish a little, though he knew well that sweet words could hide evil intent, somehow he did not feel an air of evil from this person, his intimidating manner aside.
“It is a bad time to bear the name of Baggins, when dark messengers ask for you by name…” he muttered, as though to himself, rumbling into his beard. Merry could scarcely hear him, but what he did hear was not at all reassuring, and his worries came rushing back in a flood.
“Do I understand you have been visited by messengers, Master Gimli?” And to his own ears his voice sounded high and frightened.
The Dwarf seemed to rouse at that, as though he had been thinking long and hard on matters of importance. He almost seemed to shake himself, and then stared at Merry from under great beetling brows.
“That’s right. Of course – I did not explain myself fully at the time, did I, Master Brandybuck? No wonder you are wary, and with good cause, I’ll warrant.” He cleared his throat and settled his thumbs more firmly in his belt. “It was a year ago, scarce more, when the first messenger from Mordor came to us asking for hobbits, of what manner they were, and where they dwelt.” He paused a little and cast a severe eye on Merry, who swallowed, his throat dry. “I hope you do not need to ask, we did not tell him, no, not a word. You are not the only one who can stay close-mouthed at need. Instead I was sent, in a hurry, and with a trading party as my excuse, to warn Bilbo – who has long been our friend, as I’m sure you know – that horsemen in the night might come calling, and not for his good. We did not know he had long since left his homeland. We only discovered that later, and much heartache might have been saved thereby.”
His solemn voice took Merry spiralling back in memory to that day, cold and crisp with frost, and the sudden knock on the door. He remembered the chilling shock of the large stranger looming at the comfortable green door of Bag End, how he had seemed to bring a touch of ice with him, breathed it in from the cold world Outside. Merry remembered his fear then, and his fear now, they were one and the same, and a sudden ache stabbed him, full of foreboding, and he abruptly wished with all his heart that he had been better able to protect Frodo, and that he could have somehow shielded him from his destiny. Almost involuntarily he caught the sober yet understanding eyes of the Dwarf and sudden kinship struck him. They both had their own to protect, they both had their duty, and he felt a pang of guilt that he had not been able to be more trusting so many months ago.
In a faint voice Merry replied, “I did not know that you asked for Bilbo as a friend, Master Gimli, for you asked only for Master Baggins and you mentioned a Ring, that I thought none knew of, and that was reason enough to dissemble.”
“Indeed it was, and I hope to have a greater understanding as to why, soon, when we can ask counsel of the great that have gathered here.” He looked again at Merry. “But I hope you can also see why I was circumspect with you, Master Brandybuck? I had come calling at Bag End with a dark warning, there was no Bilbo in sight, and a young hobbit of whom I knew nothing was answering the door and my questions too, with a smiling face and watchful eyes. I did not know what to do.”
“And I, for my part, had never spoken with one of Durin’s folk before, and did not know what to make of it either. It put me on my guard, though, Master Gimli. I watched Frodo like a hawk after that.”
And he had too. That cold breath of foreboding had stayed with him long into spring, long after he had managed to send the Dwarf away, and the snow that had blown in not a day later had finally melted, and the land was burgeoning again. Somehow the World had come calling and he had known it wasn’t going to let any of them go without a price…
“So some good at least came from the misunderstanding. I am glad of it.” Gimli’s mouth creased upwards in a smile that made his beard twitch, and Merry watched, fascinated in spite of himself. “Telling us to try our luck in Tookland, that he had relatives there he might be visiting, that was a clever ruse! We chased all over the West Farthing to no avail and returned empty-handed to the Lonely Mountain in the end. I would have cursed your name, Master Brandybuck, if I could have given it breath in the severe weather we met upon returning.”
Merry laughed weakly, and felt his guilt anew, that he had been the cause of such a wasted journey.
“I am sorry for it – now. But how was I to know? And I did not exactly lie, although it would have been fairer to say that the relatives were visiting him – my other cousin, Pippin, was out walking with Frodo on the day of your visit.”
“So that was the way of it. Well, I will forgive you – this time! But do not be in such a hurry to mistrust others of my folk in the future, Master Brandybuck. Our beards are long and our memories longer, and we make better friends than enemies. Come, will you shake on our new understanding?”
The Dwarf stuck out his great fist then, all armoured in a leather gauntlet, and the mail bright on his arm, and Merry stayed still and poised for just a second, the strangeness of it striking him afresh. How alien was the world compared to everything he had known before. How full of large concerns, and dangers untold – it was a wonder hobbits were not swallowed up in it without a trace. Instead, here he was being offered a hand by one of the great, by the son of a hero out of tales, no less. As though he were an equal. His eyes pricked a little, and he felt ashamed of ever doubting him – this Gimli, son of Glóin, who forgave such mistrust so freely. So he took a deep breath of the Elvish air of Rivendell that made him feel like weeping and singing both, and grasped the offered hand, wringing it hard. And Gimli laughed and clapped him on the back.
“So now we have dealt with that, let’s get on with more important matters,” he said gruffly, staring up at the delicate stonework of the roof above the balcony as though eyeing it for enemies.
“Yes?” Merry answered, slightly breathless, visions of noble councils and important tasks dancing in his mind’s eye.
“Food, laddie. Whereabouts in this misbegotten Elvish labyrinth do they keep the food..?”
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.