'not! not! leave at i! not hear you!'
'MERIADOC, LISTEN TO ME. I'M NOT TRYING TO HURT YOU – I'M TRYING TO HELP YOU!'
'grrrr… not be at i here wisssarrd…'
Gandalf tried to modulate his tone a little. 'MERRY YOU MUST LISTEN, I WANT YOU TO COME WITH ME – I HAVE TO SHOW YOU SOMETHING.'
'try more hardrer i gandalf… where pip?
'HE IS BY YOU, BUT YOU MUST COME WITH ME NOW.'
'can't not come i at you… wisssardsss… he pulls at i… not finded pip… big mastrer hold i and pull at i…''
'I KNOW MERIADOC, IT IS THE CALL OF THE WRAITHS AND THEIR MASTER, THE DARK LORD – YOU MUST FIGHT IT!'
'not know how do it… aaaiiieee! pull i… pull i…'
'REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE MERRY! REMEMBER EVERYTHING THAT YOU ARE!'
'not know… it black… not see i… not see no things…'
'OPEN YOUR EYES – OPEN THEM! NOW TELL ME WHAT YOU SEE!'
'no things… black… black road… verra long it… verra dark it…'
'GIVE ME YOUR HAND – WE MUST GO THIS WAY.'
'not see way… not see hand at you wisssarrd… got go this way i… not touch i… go back from i… '
'COME MERRY, YOU REMEMBER ME. GIVE GANDALF YOUR HAND – AS YOU DID WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG – DO YOU REMEMBER?'
'not membrer you wisssarddsss… get way i… hate you talk at i… go…'
'MERIADOC BRANDYBUCK! HOLD OUT YOUR HAND!'
'big scare i… mmmuuu…'
'THEN GIVE ME YOUR HAND.'
In his painful, cold darkness Merry reached out and suddenly felt a warm, comforting hand wrap around his. 'g-gandalf? it go be you?'
'YES, IT GO BE I.'
Gandalf gave an inward chuckle, partly at his hobbitspeak but mostly at the tiny success of getting Merry to hold his hand, even though it felt very cold. 'LOOK NOW WHAT DO YOU SEE?'
'black long road… not else things…'
'CAN YOU NOT SEE TWO ROADS AHEAD OF YOU?'
'not…see one… it black…'
'LOOK BEHIND YOU – WHAT DO YOU SEE?'
'THERE IS A LONG ROAD BEHIND YOU MERRY – IT IS THE WAY YOU CAME HERE.'
'not see he road came i…'
'LOOK WITH MY EYES MERRY – I'M GOING TO SHOW YOU.'
'aaaiiieee! it mist come at i… fall down i … not… it… see things far and far…'
"Well Master Gandalf, it's a long time since we saw you in Buckland." Saradoc Brandybuck was always hospitable to the wizard, although like many Shirefolk, he was somewhat apprehensive at his visits. But a wizard was a wizard and not to be denied.
"You didn't think I would miss the Welcomefest for the new heir to the Master of Buckland did you?" Gandalf handed his hat to the doorman but kept his staff, "Now where is the young chap?"
The wizard ducked down as he was ushered into the nursery. The room itself was large, which was as well, for there were already many visitors. Esmeralda Brandybuck was already up and about and holding court by the crib. The nurse was getting increasingly anxious about her new charge, trying to shoo hobbits that had seen the baby out of the door.
Gandalf peered into the crib and smiled. "May I?" He rested his staff against the mantle and raised his eyebrows to Saradoc who in turn looked at Esmeralda.
"Of course," she turned a sharp look to Saradoc's worried expression. "They say it's good luck for a new baby to be held by a wizard."
Gandalf reached down and scooped the tiny baby up in his large hands, marvelling again, as he always did, at the minute size of newborn hobbits. The body of this little one fit snugly in his cupped palms and fingers, its head rocked from side to side and its tiny legs kicked over the side of his hands so that the wizard tilted him up to rest the bootee clad feet on his arms.
"My but he's a little fighter," the wizard chuckled. He looked up at Saradoc and Esmeralda, "and a daunting combination if I may say so; half Brandybuck and half Took!"
"Now don't you go leading this one off on any of your crackpot adventures, Master Gandalf," Saradoc warned. "They say that Bilbo Baggins was never the same after he came back."
"Don’t' fear, Saradoc, I'm sure he will be equal to whatever the future brings." Gandalf laughed and placed the baby carefully back in the crib. Then the wizard brought forth from his robe a beautiful tankard, fashioned in silver and mithril and handed it to Esmeralda. "My little gift for your son."
"Oh but that is beautiful." She gasped, "Thank you Master Gandalf. Is it dwarvish? It looks as if it is."
"Indeed," Gandalf nodded, "Nothing but the best for the young Master. "Oh but it is not complete. You did not tell me what you have named him."
"Meriadoc," announced Saradoc proudly. "Meriadoc Brandybuck."
An excellent name." Gandalf took the tankard from Esmeralda once more and, turning from the crib, muttered, "Now where's my staff?" The wizard took up the innocuous looking piece of wood and, placing the tankard on the floor, pointed the staff at it and muttered an elvish sounding incantation, followed by the baby's name. There was a small flash and a spark sizzled from the staff to the mug. Esmeralda and the nurse exchanged worried looks.
"There," said Gandalf retrieving the tankard and placing it in the mother's hands once more. "That's better!"
The tankard now had engraved upon it:
may fortune guide your footsteps
wherever they are driven
and may your heart remain as pure
as when this gift was given.
"One boon I ask," said Gandalf as he reached down and touched the baby's finger, smiling as the little one grabbed hold of his smallest digit, "that you charge this tankard with ale on his 33rd birthday and bid him drink my health."
'did… gandalf… i do go drink health at you…'
'THAT'S VERY GOOD MERIADOC. NOW CAN YOU SEE THE OTHER ROAD?'
Gandalf's hand stayed tightly round the hobbit's and he felt a little warmth tingle in the small fingers at last.
'not see – it mist is all…'
'MERRY YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! THAT'S HOW YOU WILL RETURN.'
'but not go get pure heart i like sayed you gandalf…'
'YES YOU HAVE, MERRY.'
'no i make bad lies and de-de-seess… deseeses… tricks make tricks i…'
'WHAT DO YOU MEAN? YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN DECEITFUL MERRY!'
'do… make bad tricks and liesss i did…'
'well… err… time pip go not get writted he…'
'I BEG YOUR PARDON?'
'pip not do he pen good and i make he and you go do...'
'MERIADOC, MY LAD, EVERYONE LIES. WHAT MATTERS IS WHY YOU LIE. LOOK AGAIN AT WHAT YOU DID.'
'how i go look?'
'KEEP HOLD OF MY HAND AND WATCH.'
"Pippin? Pippin, are you in there?"
"No, I'm not – go away Merry."
Merry smiled at what he thought was Pippin's teasing, but then realised there was a note of anxiety in his voice – almost panic. He opened the door and went into the bedroom without waiting for an invitation. Pippin was seated at his desk, perched on the high stool. His feet did not touch the floor and he leaned over his work with great concentration, sweat on his forehead and ink round his mouth.
"What's wrong Pip? What are you doing?"
"Go away Merry! I have to do this tonight!" Pippin was breathing hard and Merry could detect a slight catch in his voice. He walked over to the desk and peered over Pippin's shoulder.
The youngster immediately threw his arm protectively around his work and looked worriedly up at his older cousin. Merry could see that he had been crying. "What is it Pip?" Merry gently turned Pippin around and took the quill from his inky hand and set it on the stand. He drew out his big pocket-handkerchief and wiped the tears, fingers and then, placing his arm round his little cousin, covered his nose with the hankie and ordered, "blow!"
"That's better," Merry declared as he wiped the sniffy nose and gave Pip the handkerchief to keep. "Now tell me why you're in such a state. It can't be that bad?"
"Oh Merry, it's worse," Pippin had stopped crying, but he could feel his throat closing up again, partly at his panic and partly because Merry was being so kind to him. "Y-you know how I h-have to go t-to the sch-school now, s-since I had my b-birthday?"
Merry was well aware. Once Pippin had turned seven his father had decreed he should attend school in Tuckborough, rather than be tutored at home with his sisters and the other family children. The Thain had decided it would be an excellent experience for his son to mix with people outside the Took clan and the school had a good mixture of merchant's, wealthy farmer's and other well-to-do hobbit's sons. In addition the current schoolmaster, Mr Penawl, was very highly thought of, with excellent qualifications.
"I-I can't do it." Pippin sniffed, "the letters get all… all sort of jumbled up and then… then I get blots on the page and… and…" Pippin broke off, too distraught to explain further.
"Well we all have to learn Pippin, my love." Merry lifted his little cousin down from the high stool and pulled him over to sit on the bed, cuddling his head into his chest and rubbing his back. "You'll get the idea of using a pen eventually. I know you practice hard enough."
"But I won't!" Pippin sobbed, the tears renewing themselves, "I can't, because I'm stupid, selfish and lazy!"
"Pippin!" Merry pulled the crying youngster back to look him in the face, "You most certainly are not! Why would you say such a thing?"
"I am! I am!" Pip wailed, burying his head in Merry's chest once more. "I… huppp… sss…butttbb…"
"What Pip?" Merry pulled his face up again, "I can't hear you. What did you say?"
"Sir said I was." Pip gulped a breath, "Mr Penawl says I am lazy, selfish and very, very stupid."
"Well… well… you're not!" Merry could not imagine why this schoolmaster should say such things about his dear little cousin. "Would you like me to go and tell him so?"
"No Merry! You can't!" Pippin was panicking again. "All the other lads would laugh at me and he wouldn't take any notice anyway – because he's right and I am."
"Just because your writing isn't very good, does not mean you are stupid Pippin." Merry was getting angry now, not with Pippin, but with the schoolmaster that had upset him so. "Besides, as long as you do your best, what can he say?"
"Well last time," Pippin hiccupped and swallowed another sob, "he caned me in front of the whole school. He held up my work and everyone laughed at how bad it was and then he pulled down my breeches and… and… oh Merry, it was so terrible and I tried so hard to get it right and now I know it'll happen again."
"Poor little Pip," Merry cuddled him closely and stroked his trembling body. "Well it's not going to happen again – I'll see to it."
"How can you, Merry?" Pip pulled away from his cousin and stood shakily up. "I've got to try and do it again or I'll have no work to show."
"How many times have you tried, my Pip?" Merry caught his hand and drew him back.
"Don't know, I wasted a lot of paper," Pip looked at the screwed up balls of the precious material under his desk. "About ten times I think."
"Well that proves one thing," Merry said in a lighter tone as he led Pip back over to the desk. "You're certainly not lazy."
"Oh Merry do you think so?" Pippin looked puzzled.
"Of course. Now then." Merry sat himself down at the desk and drew a fresh piece of paper and dipped the quill in the ink. "What do you have to write? Do you know? We'll do it together."
"But he'll know it's not me."
"No he won't, I'll make my writing look like yours." Merry raised his eyebrows, "Promsis."
Pippin managed a half-smile at the baby word he had always used and Merry had adopted. "I had to write a poem about the best thing in the world. I've got it all in my head Merry and it's a quite long one."
"Well that proves something else then." Merry stood up and lifted Pippin to sit on the desk before perching on the stool again and resuming his writing stance. "You're not stupid either."
"Oh Merry," Pippin actually managed a giggle this time.
"So tell me the poem," Merry smiled as Pippin resumed his happy face in spite of his red eyes and tear and ink stained cheeks. "What is the best thing in the world?"
Pippin began to recite, slowly at first and then, as he saw how quickly Merry scratched the words onto the paper, marvelling at how much the writing resembled his own – only much neater, with a little more speed.
"The Best Thing in the World is:-
A Friend by Peregrin Took
A friend is who,
Looks after you,
And is always true,
Whatever you do.
A friend makes you glad,
Whenever you're sad,
Calls you good lad,
When you feel bad.
A friend is a smile,
Not once in a while,
But through every trial,
Mile after mile.
A friend's big and tall,
Helps when you call,
Picks you up if you fall,
Pippin suddenly trailed off as he came to the last line, muttering incoherently at his feet.
"What's that Pip?" Merry looked up expectantly, "I couldn't hear the last bit."
Pippin said the line again, only once more, it was so quiet Merry couldn't hear it. He was obviously embarrassed about something.
"Come on Pip," Merry cajoled, "Don't be shy, the poem's very, very good. Did you write it all on your own?"
"What's the last line then?" Merry shook Pippin's arm a little and then lifted up his chin so he could see his face properly. "Spit it out."
"And my best friend Merry, is the best friend of all!
"Oh Pip! That's… that's the nicest thing." Merry stood up so he could hug Pippin tightly. "And it proves something else."
"What's that Merry?"
"You're certainly not selfish."
Merry quickly finished off the poem with it's long last line, admiring the rather stylish way Pippin had completed the verse. "There," he said. "Your schoolmaster will never know the difference."
"But Merry," Pippin quailed again, once more filling with doubt. "Won't that be a bad lie?"
"No Pip," Merry patted his cousin's curls, "It will be a good lie."
'THERE MERRY, DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOU DID AFTERWARDS?'
'do… i lie at unc paladin… say i got go see frodo…'
'THAT'S RIGHT, AND REALLY YOU CAME TO SEE ME BECAUSE YOU KNEW FROM FRODO'S LETTER I WAS IN HOBBITON.'
'not know what you go say gandalf at school… what you did do?'
'I TOLD MR PENAWL THAT IF HE EVER SO MUCH AS LAID AN UNJUST FINGER OR UNFAIR HARSH WORD ON PEREGRIN TOOK AGAIN, I WOULD TURN HIM INTO A BLUE EARED TOAD AND GIVE HIM TO PIPPIN TO KEEP IN HIS POCKET.'
'it go workded… he not crueld at my pip more time!
'I'M NOT SURPRISED.'
'i nevrer sayed thank you at you do that for pip…thank you gandalf…'
Suddenly the wizard felt Merry's cold hand become a little warmer and the hobbit mentally reached up and put his arms around him and hugged him tightly.
'THAT'S BETTER MERIADOC. ARE YOU NEARLY READY TO COME BACK YET?'
'think can try…'
'DO YOU SEE TWO PATHS YET?'
'is see littlel bit… but…oh … it still go hurt pull i…aiieee! gandalf hold i… not let it take i go way bad…'
'YOU HAVE TO SEE YOUR WAY MERRY. YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT.'
'not knowed it… do what gandalf?'
'MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE, WHICH, SADLY, IS OFTEN THE HARDEST CHOICE.'
'how i do that?'
'YOU'VE DONE IT MANY TIMES IN THE PAST.'
'HAVE – LOOK WITH ME AGAIN, ONE MORE TIME.'
"Pippin stay there or go home!"
"Please Merry, I want to climb up too."
"No, you'll fall and then I'll get into trouble."
"I can do it, please Merry."
"No! Now wait there till I come back."
Merry growled to himself a little as he started to climb up the willow that grew over the Brandywine. It was a very tempting tree, as it forked quite low down and gave a good start to any adventurous lad who wanted to see how far over the river he could reach. Five-year-old Pippin always wanted to go with Merry and his big cousin had not minded, but just lately, instead of doing what he was told and watching Merry do things, Pippin wanted to copy everything he did. Merry was beginning to find it a little tiresome.
Merry clambered along the outstretched branch, clinging tightly as he looked at the fast flowing current below, wondering if he dare let go long enough to snap a twig to drop in the water to watch how quickly it would get swept away.
Suddenly there was a great splash as something fell from beneath him into the water.
"Pippin!" Merry yelled and immediately jumped off the branch and into the river, just managing to grab a hand to the youngster's cloak as the current swirled them both out into the middle of the river.
Pippin splashed and fought frantically, his head submerging every so often as Merry tried desperately to reel him in, but all he could do was hang on to the cloak and thrash to keep them both afloat. Finally he managed to catch the hood of Pippin's cloak in his teeth and, clenching the material tightly in his jaws, tried to strike out for the shore, but still the current was too strong.
Merry was aware of three things as they buffeted along in the fast flowing river. The first was that there were rocks about half a mile ahead on which they would almost certainly be crushed to death. The second was that he could easily reach the shore if he let go of Pippin. The third was that he would rather die than let go.
Pippin had stopped struggling now but was, fortunately, on his back. Merry made another frantic effort to swim for the riverbank but knew he was not going to make it. He shut his eyes and asked the Valar to spare little Pippin, it was his fault he had fallen in and he would take whatever punishment they gave without question, but please don't let Pippin die!
Suddenly they stopped moving. Merry opened his eyes again and saw that they had collided with several branches caught up in the old jetty. He grabbed on with both hands to stop them from being swept on, then flipped over onto his back and manoeuvred his little cousin up onto his chest, still keeping hold with his teeth on Pippin's cloak.
Unable to climb out without letting go of Pippin, Merry struggled in the water for a while until mercifully he heard the sound of ponies' hoofbeats coming closer, hobbits from Brandy Hall, on their way to Buckleberry Ferry. Merry squawked through the material then tried to let go with one hand so that he could hold on to Pippin and shout out loud. But he could feel the pull of the water would be too fierce and they could get swept away again. Already Pippin was free of the branches and the only thing keeping him still was the hold of Merry's teeth clenched on his cloak.
"Hey look there! In the water, it's Master Merry!" Danlo the stable boy had spotted them. Soon Merry could see two hobbits on the bank pointing out to where he was.
"Master Merry, can you grab a rope if we throw it to you?"
"Mmmuummm!" Merry replied.
"Wass he a' saying?" Mab asked scratching his head. "Master Merry I'm gonna throw you a rope – you catch hold of it."
Merry realised that they obviously couldn't see Pippin, he was the other side of Merry and quite low in the water. He of course couldn't shout, for that would have meant opening his mouth and letting go of Pippin. The rope snaked out to Merry and landed across his arm.
Quickly he grabbed on with one hand, spinning it round his wrist until it caught tightly. At last he could release his other hand from the branches and grab a tighter hold on Pippin and let go with his aching teeth. Mab and Danlo quickly hauled the half drowned pair to the bank and out.
"What was you doing in the river Master Merry?" Mab asked with concern.
"I fell. How's Pippin?" Merry pushed past Danlo who was bending Pippin over to ease the water from his lungs. "Pip! Are you all right?"
Pippin blearily opened his eyes and gave Merry a sheepish look. "S-sorry M-M-Merry I didn't s-s-s-stay where you t-t-told me."
"Never mind, Pip." Merry breathed again, "I should have stayed with you, I'm the one who's sorry."
Merry turned shamefacedly to Mab, "I'm sorry Mr Mab, thank you for pulling Pip and me out of the river and you Danlo, thank you. You saved our lives."
"That's all right Master Merry, just so long as you're both all right." Mab was helping Pippin out of his wet things, planning to wrap the little one in his own cloak. "What I don't understand is why you didn't call back when we first saw you in the river."
"Oh," Merry remembered and then sighed and ruffled Pippin's soggy curls, "I had something very precious in my mouth."
"What was that?" Danlo asked trying to imagine what he could possibly mean.
"Pippin!" Merry smiled.
'YOU SEE MERRY, YOU MADE THE HARD CHOICE.'
'it not hard choice, it onlely choice gandalf…'
'NOT EVERYONE WOULD AGREE. YOU BOTH COULD HAVE DROWNED.'
'not leave my pip drownded and i go live…'
'HOW MANY OTHER TIMES HAVE YOU INVITED DEATH RATHER THAN BETRAY YOUR FRIENDS?'
'i not knowed that…'
'WHEN YOU LURED THE URUK-HAI FROM FRODO, WHEN YOU THREATENED TO JUMP OFF ORTHANC, WHEN YOU AND PIPPIN TRIED TO KILL YOURSELVES IN BARAD-DÛR. MERRY WHAT SEEMS LIKE SIMPLE CHOICES TO YOU WERE IN FACT VERY NOBLE, TRUE AND PURE.'
Merry was silent, but Gandalf gradually felt the little hand in his grow warmer and warmer.
'yes, gandalf… i think i go see now…'
'COME THEN. YOU WILL KNOW WHICH ONE TO TAKE.'
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.