Pippin turned around just a moment after Merry had left the tent, and suddenly felt weak and helpless. He was tempted to call him back, after all Merry had offered to stay by his side, but he mastered himself and made up his mind. He had wanted to do this alone and alone he would, yet the iron grip of fear clutched his heart so tightly Pippin almost felt physical pain. The fingers of his right hand, still half-raised from the attempt of calling Merry back, shook so hard Pippin needed to concentrate to ease the trembling as he let his arm sink.
It had been twelve days now. For twelve long days and countless more before them, he had been anxious to see Frodo and Sam again. Countless days where he had not known whether they were still alive or not and could only cling to what little hope still remained. There had been times when he had put his concerns aside, for there had been other pressing concerns too, but there was not a single moment when his heart was not with them. In most unexpected moments he would find himself thinking of them, asking himself if they were all right, if they looked upon the same sky, if they had achieved victories like the one the Ents had at Isengard or if they still had to hide in fear of unfriendly eyes. The thought that they might be dead was on his mind too, but he had abandoned it before it could take shape and would not pursue it even in his most desperate of moments.
Only after Sauron's ghastly servant presented Frodo's belongings to him and the armies of the West had he given up. At that moment, all his hopes and fears had come crushing down on him, burying what little light remained in darkness and swallowing every tear he would have shed. There he had given up and embraced death when it came to him. The moment of pain seared all consciousness from his body though many things were on his mind. Pictures of a long forgotten past emerged before his closing eyes - images of the Shire, of his home - and his heart formed the last wish it would ever form; if only I could see those dear ones again, his parents, friends, family, even sisters. And there was Merry, there was Sam and there was Frodo. Frodo, who, by then, was dead for him.
And yet he had lived. They had both
lived, though in Frodo's case, living was not what it should be. For Pippin, living meant consciousness even if you were forced to stay in bed. Frodo had stayed in bed for twelve days now, just as Pippin had done, but he had not woken a single time. Merry had told him that he had moaned in his sleep, as he had on their journey to Rivendell after the Witch-king's blade had stabbed him, but apart from that there, had been no sign of life. Frodo's eyes remained closed, his lips sealed and his body motionless. As did Sam's.
Pippin had been disappointed when he had woken up some seven days ago and had found he was not allowed to see them, but he begged Aragorn and Gandalf and even Merry, who came here only days ago, to tell him everything. Yet he had not entered their tent himself, not until today. This was the first day he had been allowed to be up and about. Though he was sure he could have been on his feet before that, Aragorn had remained strict, no matter how he begged and tried to convince him to let him to get up.
Now he was finally up and actually made his way to Frodo and Sam's tent and yet he could not make himself and walk to their beds. No matter that he was glad to see them, he was also frightened. While he rested, he had wondered what the journey to Mordor had done to them. Had it left only traces of its evil on his friends, or changed them entirely? Mordor was, after all, not the easiest road one could take, especially not with the One Ring around your neck, a thing perilous enough on its own account. He would have liked Frodo to have remained as he had always been: a cheerful, thoughtful, queer fellow who had as much a sense for mischief in his forties as Pippin had in his tweens, but he worried it would not be so.
Taking a deep breath, Pippin slowly turned to face the beds Frodo and Sam lay in. He had to get this over with now or he would never find the courage to do so.
"You have slept away your birthday," he said with a scowl in his voice as he approached Sam's bed. He was careful to avoid looking at Frodo just yet. Shaking his head, he even managed a smile. "You silly hobbit. Probably only wanted to get out of giving mathoms. Well, I can tell you, you won't get around my
present and don't tell me you had not thought of a little something for me because I know you have." The smile on his face faded and his cheerful voice broke. "What else could you have thought of during the long nights you were away?"
Sam had probably not even known his birthday had come and gone. He had looked after Frodo just as he had promised, probably better than anyone else could have. Still, he was a cheerful hobbit and birthdays were a cheerful topic so he could not help pulling Sam's leg a bit even though he was still unconscious.
The sight of Sam's face gave him a start of fear. His usually chubby cheeks had lost their rosy colour and were pale, cavernous, with healing scratches all over them. Deep lines of worry and sorrow now marked his brow and, though he looked peaceful, his face told of many hopeless hours and great pain. Sam had never been one to give up hope easily, just as Pippin would remain cheerful if he could, even in the darkest hour, but he knew, somehow, that this time, Sam had given up. Perhaps on the very same day he had.
Gandalf had told him how he had found them and Pippin somehow knew that they had waited for death there. What else could they have done? They had no hope of being rescued amidst ashes and flames. Pippin suddenly found himself wondering whether they would have welcomed death more than the eagles that had born them away. He abandoned the thought immediately and lifted a trembling hand to brush back some of Sam's golden curls. Sam certainly would not have welcomed death more than rescue and Frodo would not either. Pippin would not allow him to.
"I want to thank you, Sam," he whispered almost voicelessly, "not only for following Frodo, but also for taking care of him. Though I haven't looked at him yet, your face tells me a lot of what you have been through together and I want to thank you for being his strength. Frodo is tough, but I have seen the Ring gnawing at him ever since we left the Shire and its effects grew worse the further we travelled. I don't even want to imagine what it did to him in the end. You will have to tell us of it, you know, because Frodo will never speak about such things. He has never been one to speak about anything that has troubled him, fearing we would worry. But we worry because he is dear to us, as you well know, and we want to take care of him."
He placed a gentle kiss on Sam's forehead as a token of his love, gratitude and a multitude of other feelings words failed to describe. Pippin gazed at the sleeping face before him for a long moment studying the fine lines time and troubles had carven into it and dreading to look at the other face he had ached to see and prolonging the moment he would finally turn around for as long as he could.
He remembered Frodo's face in Rivendell, worn and white as a sheet. He had been unconscious then and Pippin had thought long about what the journey from the Shire had done to his cousin. He had sworn to himself that he would never allow Frodo to go through anything like that again. And yet he had. Frodo had recovered and had volunteered to take the Ring on an even more perilous journey than the previous one, a journey on which he and Merry had initially not been allowed to join him. He remembered Merry's words that if Frodo had to go, then it would be punishment for any of them to be left behind and he could hear his own voice echoing in his ears. "We hobbits ought to stick together, and we will. I shall go, unless they chain me up." And he would have, even if he had not gained Master Elrond's permission.*
Pippin had tried to keep evil from Frodo, but in the end, even a whole fellowship could not protect his cousin. It had been Frodo's fate to go to Mordor alone and Pippin was convinced that it had also been his
fate to go through the things he had experienced.
Taking a deep breath Pippin shook his head. He was being far too pensive for a fine spring morning. He would soon become as broody as Frodo.
At last, Pippin turned to look at his cousin, but even Sam's condition had not prepared him for the sight. It struck him like a mortal blow. For an instant, he swayed, clutching the mattress of Frodo's bed with both hands and gasping as if the very breath had been taken from him.
And even as he stared at the pitiful body, an image came to his mind of a night long forgotten. Standing at the bottom of the Hill in the Shire, laughing and joking with Frodo and Sam as they adjusted their straps. "He's been quite slack lately, and he'll feel the weight less when he's walked off some of his own,"
he had teased when Frodo moaned about the weight of his pack. The memory of the merry laughter that had answered him filled his eyes with tears. It had been so long since he'd last heard that bright, clear sound. "I shall be as thin as a willow-wand,"
his cousin had joked. **
Frodo had changed much since Amon Hen where Pippin had last seen him. In Rivendell, he had already been thinner than he had ever been before but now… Thin as a willow-wand he had become indeed.
His face seemed that of a stranger, yet there remained about it something that was familiar. Pale skin that even the sunlight streaming through the tent could not brighten showed many blood-crusted scratches and swellings that seemed unwilling to heal. Cavernous cheeks accentuated pallid, chapped lips and a chin made stronger by the hollowing of the jowls. Though Frodo looked peaceful in his slumber, fine lines had carved the traces of pain, strain and sorrow deeply into his face. Ebony curls that once glimmered in the light of a new morning were dull and strands of silver among them gave the tousled mop an uncharacteristically aged look. To Pippin it seemed as if the Ring and the journey to Mordor had sucked all youth out of Frodo's body.
Pippin's legs turned to jelly and he knelt beside his cousin's bed. His eyes filled with tears that he tried his best to blink away.
"My dear cousin, what has this journey done to you?" he whispered in a broken voice. Frodo looked so fragile Pippin was afraid he might break, but he needed to touch him, to prove to himself that this was real, that this was
his beloved cousin. He reached out a trembling hand and lightly stroked the wan cheek. The skin was warm beneath his fingers and soft and the young hobbit could not help smiling, though Frodo showed no reaction to the caress.
The touch was enough to ease Pippin's fear. Frodo looked terrible and Pippin could see much of what he had been through in his wretched face, but he was alive and Pippin could feel the soft light shining from him. It was the light of love, compassion, mercy, goodwill, curiosity and understanding. It was Frodo's light; a radiance Pippin had first seen as a child, snuggled close to his elder cousin on his first visit to Bag End, his first night away from home. He had forgotten about it and yet the light had always been there, emanating from Frodo like an invisible essence.
He sighed with relief. The light meant Frodo, and it meant that whatever he had endured, he was still Pippin's dear cousin. The wounds would heal, the deathly pallor be cured. He leaned forward to place a soft kiss on Frodo's cheek. "I'm sorry I could not come earlier, Frodo, but I was hurt too and Aragorn would not let me up. He is King Aragorn now, I'll have you know, but he is just as stubborn as he ever was."
Pippin's his gaze fell upon Frodo's right hand. It was bandaged but Pippin could see the gap where Frodo's finger once had been. Merry had told him about the injury, but no-one knew how he had lost the finger. Pippin lowered his eyes, sadly.
"You have paid dearly for this journey, cousin. I once thought we were only going on an adventure," He lifted his head to Frodo's worn but peaceful face. "Do you remember when you asked me if I were willing to follow you? To be honest, I would not have come had I known what would come to pass, and I think I would have tried to stop you too, somehow. Our adventure was not quite like old Bilbo's, but an adventure we've certainly had." Pippin reached to caress Frodo's cheek again and his smile returned. He suddenly felt like an old nanny telling stories to a child in a sickbed. "Wait until you hear of the Ents and Isengard and how we came to meet the King of Rohan. Merry is his esquire, you know. He has the same shiny green and white mail every knight of Rohan wears. But he doesn't look half as handsome as I do in the silver and sable of Gondor. I am an esquire too, but in service to the King of Gondor, Aragorn. I offered my service to Denethor, who was the Steward of Gondor but--" Pippin paused, realising suddenly that he was babbling again, and snickered, shaking his head. "Just wait until you hear all the tales, Frodo. Merry and I can tell a great many and I don't doubt you and Sam have a few yourselves. You had better wake up soon so we can both hear all that has happened since our parting at the Anduin." Pippin still smiled though unshed tears shimmered in his eyes and his voice, exuberant from story-telling, grew low again. "Just wake up soon."
A hand lay upon his shoulder and Pippin jumped, startled to find Merry standing behind him, his face grave and sorrowful. "He will wake up," the older hobbit assured and Pippin nodded scrambling to his feet but not taking his eyes from Frodo. Sam and his cousin would wake up; it was only a matter of time.
"Let them rest now," Merry said softly. Pippin kissed Frodo goodbye and Merry led him slowly out of the tent. "I heard that bit about the livery, you rascally Took!" he said. Pippin grinned. "Don't you dare think you look better than I do! What's that tree compared to the white horse of Rohan?" Merry tried not to smile. "Frodo will agree with me, you shall see!"
Pippin nodded feeling he would agree with anything Frodo said if only he could hear his voice again. Merry put an arm around his shoulders, smiling compassionately at him. "He'll be all right," Merry assured him, and, though his voice remained cheerful, Pippin could see his sorrow reflected in his cousin's eyes. Though Merry might not show it and seldom spoke of them, his cousin shared the same fears and worries about Frodo as he did.
* The Fellowship of the Ring – The Ring Goes South
** The Fellowship of the Ring – Three Is Company
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