1. How Merry Misses Pippin
"But Pippin found that for the first time he was close to Merry."
(The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Uruk-hai")
Crickhollow, May 1427
The hobbit looked up from his book, a voluminous leather-bound book that lay heavy on his thighs. He leaned forward in his armchair, like he was on the verge to rise, and looked at the other who was standing in the doorway.
"Do you need help now?" he asked. His voice was quiet, though not by nature—there seemed to be something that was forcing him to keep a low tone, whether it was in the air or something in the face of the other.
"Yes," said the hobbit standing in the door in not much more than a whisper. He looked down.
Merry laid the book on the small, wobbly round table beside the armchair, carefully testing if it would carry the load. Then he stood up and followed the other into the hall, ducking his head as he crossed the threshold. As the hobbits went into the next room to the right, no sound was heard, so carefully did they set their large furry feet onto the parquet floor.
The bedroom was in a state of messiness that could only mean somebody was moving out, or in, or that a reordering of the wardrobes was taking place.
As Merry's eyes scanned the floor, moved over the countless shirts, the pipes, mail coats and the sword lying carelessly dropped on the ground, for a second it seemed like his eyes were filling with tears. But it must have been a reflection of the sun shining in through the window because one moment later he was smiling and shaking his head.
"Oh, Pippin," he said in the tone that is mostly used by kind-hearted big brothers confronted with some misdeed their little sibling has done. As a matter of fact, the two hobbits Merry and Pippin were often mistaken as brothers, even though they looked nothing like each other outwardly. Merry had brown eyes, Pippin's were green. Merry's hair showed a touch of copper that could be seen in the sunlight, while Pippin's was of a very dark brown. Merry was lanky and tall, and Pippin, though little less in height, was of a stronger and broader build.
What made them so similar in appearance was something that was in fact barely discernible, but that distinguished them from any other hobbit that might have walked into this room; something in the way they bore themselves. On first glance, one got under the strange impression that they were ducking, walking with their heads slightly bowed, their shoulders turned up. But when inspected thoroughly, it became clear that they were in fact walking perfectly straight and upright, like any other hobbit.
Merry knelt down in the middle of the mess on the floor and picked up a mail shirt. He seemed to recognize it, looked at it for a moment and then put it down again, quickly piling a black overcoat with a silvery embroidering on top of it, as though he didn't want to face the shiny metal rings again.
"Let's get some organization into this," he said. "Let's put all of your armour and guards' apparel here, and the winter shirts here…" He snatched up a long-sleeved shirt, held it up in the air and folded it—not neatly, but he folded it—and laid it down beside the black overcoat. "Those towels can go here…"
In the middle of doubling up a towel on his knees he seemed to realize that, though Pippin was standing behind him, he was painfully alone in his attempts to bring some order into the mess. But rather than turning around and telling Pippin, with the voice of an understanding but slightly annoyed big brother, to get a move on and help, he silently stared down on his hands clutching the towel his lap, while his shoulders slumped just a trifle forward.
Pippin finally did move, though not to kneel beside Merry or to pick up a pair of pants. He slowly went over to the window, walking close to the wall, avoiding the paraphernalia strewn across the floor both with his eyes and his feet. Once he had reached the window, he lifted his hand and, as though that had been the only intention behind his walking over, brushed some dust off the window sill. Dust that wasn't even there, as a matter of fact.
Then he opened his mouth, taking in a long breath.
"Don't," said Merry. "Don't even start."
Pippin whirled around. "Don't you tell me what to do, Merry Brandybuck! It's not like that anymore." Almost as abruptly, he turned to face the window again.
Merry began to run his hand across the towel, slowly, almost caressing it. "I know," he said. "That's why you should be happy."
"I am happy," said Pippin to the window pane, "in every way that I should be."
"You aren't," said Merry simply, stroking the towel.
"Oh heavens!" Pippin slammed his hand flat onto the window sill. "Will you never stop worrying about me? It shouldn't be like that anymore. We're equal."
"Equal," said Merry, "in that we worry about each other now."
Pippin said nothing.
"Don't think it will ever stop," said Merry. He finally folded the towel and put it down, then proceeded to do the same with a few others.
"I'm selfish," said Pippin.
"Stop it," said Merry. "Honestly now." He picked up a pair of pants and laid the ground for a new stack.
"But I am."
"I said stop it!" For the first time, Merry raised his voice.
Pippin turned around and looked at him. Then he went and knelt down, not to face Merry, but beside him, so that their faces were turned in opposite directions. He began collecting the various different pipes, some short and stocky, some long and thin.
"What will she think," said Merry, "if she finds you feeling guilty over your marrying her?"
"She will understand," said Pippin. "That's the reason I'm marrying her. Don't you know that yet?"
He looked at one of the shorter pipes. It had been broken and glued together again in the middle.
"Remember this?" He sat back on his heels and showed the pipe to Merry. "It was broken on the only occasion that Gandalf and I took a rest on the way to Minas Tirith. I dropped it among the stones by the river."
He looked at it for a moment, then made a movement as if to put it with the other pipes. But instead he put it into the pocket of his waistcoat.
For the next few minutes they both piled up Pippin's stuff, heap upon heap, stack upon stack. Pippin's movements were hasty and slovenly now, as if he urgently wanted to get over with it. But then he stopped again.
"Look at this," he said. He held up a book with a green cover. "The Elf-maid and the Man. Beren and Lúthien as Bilbo told it. Frodo's script. They'd done it for you, and you gave it to me for your birthday, your thirty-first, I think. Said you had no use for it anymore. Do you remember?" Pippin let his hand sink down on his knee and looked at the book. "Do I have any use for it?" he said quietly, as if speaking to himself.
"What's the matter with you, Pippin?" asked Merry.
Pippin sighed and laid the book on the floor. He folded his hands in his lap. "You see, Merry, I—"
"Don't start again!" said Merry. "Just don't!"
"Merry!" cried Pippin. "Don't you see I need to? You may like to keep a lot of secrets and try to forget about them instead of talking them over and trying to find a solution, but I'm not like—" He broke off and covered his eyes with his hand.
Merry leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. There was a set to his jaw that made his chin seem even squarer than it was.
"Then talk, for heaven's sake, if it makes you happy," he said.
But Pippin didn't talk. He sobbed.
Merry started as though Pippin had let out a shout. He looked at his friend, who was still covering his eyes with his hand, and slowly lifted one of his own hands and laid it on Pippin's shoulder. He gently shook it. "Hey there."
"I'm sorry," said Pippin.
"What's wrong?" asked Merry quietly.
"Do you really want to know?" asked Pippin, and now he was sounding more like a child than like a hobbit who had come of age, travelled thousands of miles and fought battles of men. "Or do you only want me to say it so I stop crying like a lad of five?"
As Merry opened his mouth to speak, his lips trembled. "Tell me, Pippin. Tell me."
"I'm afraid you won't miss me." At last Pippin lowered his hand from his eyes and looked at Merry. His eyes were red and there was a tear-streak down each cheek.
"Not—miss you?" Merry repeated.
Pippin sniffed and nodded. At the same time, there was a sense of remoteness appearing in his eyes, as if he was looking through Merry instead of at him.
"Not miss you…" Merry stared at Pippin, motionless. Then his hands balled into fists. A short, high-pitched laugh escaped him. "Not miss you…I don't believe it! I thought you had grown so much on that journey of ours, I thought it had beaten some sense into you. And here you are—crying because you think I won't miss you!"
Pippin seemed to shrink back a little more with every word, even though he was not physically moving away.
"Won't miss you." Merry snorted and grabbed a small leather bag from the floor and shook his head at it. He threw the pouch away, not minding that it landed on the clothes stack. "I'll—I'll—" He kept on shaking his head as though it was being pulled by a string. Then he jerked around, grabbed Pippin roughly by his right shoulder, seized the back of his neck with his other hand, and kissed him on the mouth.
Pippin in his surprise stopped crying. And Merry didn't let go. He kept a firm grip on the hair above Pippin's neck and pressed Pippin's face into his own. Then he opened his mouth and bit.
Unintelligible sounds were all that could be heard of Pippin's protest. He tried to push Merry away, but Merry was far stronger than he looked. Just when Pippin stopped pushing did Merry release him.
They both turned their heads away from each other at the same time. Pippin sniffed. He dabbed his bleeding lower lip with the back of his hand. Merry ran his tongue across his own lips and shuddered a little. Pippin sniffled again and again, and at last Merry pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and gave it to Pippin without turning to look at him. Pippin took it and blew his nose, timidly, like he was afraid to make a loud sound.
Merry placed his hands on his knees. "See," he said, speaking to his fingers. "That is how I'm going to miss you. See? Is that what you wanted?"
Pippin didn't answer. He gave Merry back his handkerchief, also without looking at him. Then he wiped his eyes with his sleeve and got up. He swayed at first and barely caught his balance, then he stood for a moment and looked out of the window again. It was spring in Buckland, one of the warm late spring days when the sun has lost all its wintry coolness and yet not gained summer's rich golden colours. Pippin squinted at the bright light and flicked his tongue across his lips again. Then he went, almost ran, out of the room.
Merry sat there with the handkerchief in his hand, and slowly the muscles in his face relaxed. He put the handkerchief back into his pocket and with calm, steady movements started to fold Pippin's scarves, one by one.