1. Spring ride
It is March, the year is still young, and a cold wind blows. But the riding warriors are used to cold winds – instead their thoughts are busy with what lies before them: fighting and war, the greatest, so they say, of this age. Some are proud being allowed to find glory thus, be it even in death, some look forward to hearing sword-clashing and shield-breaking. But some are afraid, for they have left behind loved-ones, far away now, and fear pain and death.
Merry is cold and afraid, but nonetheless he still believes not all may be lost. With Gandalf and Pippin in Minas Tirith – perhaps it all will turn out good in the end? He huddles closer to the horse's neck to draw some small fraction of warmth from it, for Dernhelm's iron shirt is so cold on his back. Clinging to so large an animal this high above the ground for hours without end is very wearisome for a Hobbit and he is exhausted even now. But still, he does not regret his decision. Even though he surely won't win honour and doesn't look forward to war, he knows this is his way, Minas Tirith far away his destination, because his friend is there, awaiting him. Merry is afraid, but – strange as it may be – not afraid of death. His Hobbit heart cannot cease to hope, however desperate the situation seems to be. Do they not ride to the rescue of Gondor and will not Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli join them, with auxiliary forces? How could all be lost then? No, Merry doesn't believe it.
Most soldiers use what short breaks they make over the day for relieving themselves or eating a little of their provisions, or taking a nap to gather new strength. Little is spoken. But Merry's strange comrade does not sleep and does not eat and does not talk at all; only that he nods or shakes his head for a sign that he hears when he is spoken to – so Merry has given up on talking to him. While they are pausing, he goes away and Merry does not know where. The other soldiers seem to avoid them - both are tolerated in a strange way, but they do not belong to any Eored, even if they ride with Elfhelm's men. But perhaps he only imagines all of this, little does he know – Theoden was right, Hobbits do not belong at war.
When they are still one day's ride away from Minas Tirith – around them only plains until the horizon, during a break Merry discovers something that deeply touches him and strengthens hope within him, for he is a hobbit and none of his folk would be left unmoved by such a thing.
Flowers they are, blooming. Few, delicate, a little group – not more than a handful of them. Unhoped-for they surge through the hard grass, untouched by the horses' hooves. Violet and purple they brave the cold wind, proud and beautiful and upstanding, flower-cups so big as if they have no need for green leaves. It is March, Merry reminds himself, and the plants do not know about wars or of the sorrows of people. They only know that spring is coming and it is time for them to bloom, just like last year, when Pippin played his best prank on farmer Maggot, and the year before, and back when Merry was little and heard their name for the first time, and all the years back to the beginning of time and every year forward, on and on, until the end of the world. There will be flowers blooming, Merry thinks, even if a dark Lord is reigning, until, perhaps, in many a hundred years there will be an end even for him.
A sudden stray ray of sunlight falls on the flowers and lets their colours shine in splendour, and Merry delights in the sight of it and in the warmth of the sun that brings a promise of springtime, and he believes that all has to be good in the end – these flowers prove it.
He can hardly wait for Dernhelm to return, to show them to him, to bring him some small joy, for Dernhelm sure has need of it. Merry is no fool, and he never was one that does not care about other people, and so he knows his companion is a man whose last remaining hope is only death, Merry has no illusions about that. Dernhelm, or whatever his real name may be, does not wish to gain glory, he does not look forward to the battle, he does not want to go back to Rohan, he does not even fear anymore. This war is his chance to lose his life without losing his honour, and Merry wants to make him see how much he is mistaken, that there is always some beauty in life, that there is always a hope.
Dernhelm is a long time coming, the other soldiers already beginning to make themselves ready for departure, and with a meaningful face, though his joy well hidden as to not spoil the surprise, Merry waits for him, and when he comes, takes him by the hand, and leads him to the flowers.
Dernhelm stands there for a while, gazing at the bunch of flowers, unsmiling. Even though his young, beardless face is hard to read under the shadow of the helmet, it seems to Merry that he frowns. Then he nods, determined, takes two steps to the soft blossoms stretching out for him and tramples them down. One of them rears up for a last time, as if in dying, Merry thinks aghast, towards the sun – but there Dernhelm treads on it again with his heavy boot, hard, unrelenting, and keeps treading, until all the delicate petals mingle tattered, and crushed, and killed with the clay of the ground. Then he grabs Merry, not ungently, lifts him on the horseback, jumps behind him in the saddle and off they go, without a word, riding with the others, away from the killed flowers, towards Minas Tirith.
The weather grows dull. Unreal darkness covers the land. The wind becomes stronger.
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.