10. Echoes of the Past
The healer looked at her sharply. 'Mistress, your nephew has brought a chair for you; I would like you to use it,' he said with unusual sterness. Esmeralda was too shocked by her husband's attack to bridle, and when she felt the lads' hands on her arms she allowed them to guide her into the chair.
'What must we do?' Merry asked practically.
'What he needs most of all right now is rest,' the healer said emphatically. He cocked his head, 'And if he is anything like he was the time he broke his leg, it will be extremely difficult to keep him quiet as long as he needs.'
Esmeralda shook her head. She remembered the broken leg too well.
'Find something to keep his mind occupied. Not too much excitement. ...and I do not want him worrying about anything.'
'You're a good storyteller, Merry,' Pippin suggested. As all attention focused on him, he shrugged. 'Well, the only way they could get me to stay still when I had to stay in bed was to tell me stories!'
Esmeralda chuckled at her nephew. 'You young scalawag, why do I find that so easy to believe?' He grinned back at her.
Pippin turned to Merry. 'After all, you will need to take a break from your responsibilities some time! You don't want to be spending all your time running Buckland into the ground!'
Ossilan joined in the laughter, then fixed Pippin with his eye. 'I am counting on you, Master Peregrin, as well. Laughter has as much healing power as herbs. Maybe more.'
Pippin sobered. 'Oh, aye,' he said softly. 'I remember that from...' he broke off that thought and turned to his aunt with a bright smile. 'You can count on me, Aunt! I will keep things lively enough.'
'Just not too lively,' she warned with a smile, 'young scamp. Bless you.'
'But I didn't even sneeze,' Pippin blinked in mock confusion, then allowed his aunt to envelop him in a great hug.
Saradoc was riveted by Merry's storytelling, and the story he wanted to hear most was what had happened to the four hobbits who left the Shire. Unfortunately, they had hit a rough spot. '...but why would such as those Black Riders be pursuing the likes of four hobbits?' he fixed the lads with a stern eye. 'There's many as would say it's no more than you could expect if you leave the Shire, but I'd say there's more to it than that.' He frowned. 'Isn't there?'
Merry hesitated a long time, but there was no getting around it. 'Bilbo brought something back from his travels,' he admitted. 'A tiny ring of gold. A little enough trinket. It had the curious quality of conveying invisibility to the one who wore it.'
'That explains a lot!' Saradoc exclaimed. 'I knew I saw him disappear at that birthday party. The wizard's flashes and smokes didn't fool me!'
'And that rumour of young Frodo vanishing into thin air at Bree... then it wasn't a rumour.' Esmeralda stated more than questioned.
Merry nodded. 'Bilbo left that trinket to Frodo along with Bag End. He only found out later that it was no trinket.'
The healer put his head in at the door. 'That is enough for today. It is time for the Master to rest.'
Saradoc protested, but Merry promised to return the next day with more of the story. 'I have to see to the slaughter of a few pigs now, anyhow, for we already put the word out that we would have fresh meat available this evening,' he said.
Pippin jumped up, rubbing his hands together. 'I will help!' he said. 'Fresh meat for supper! ...and I know a trick or two with pigs' bladders to amuse the young ones. Do you know you can blow them full of air?' He looked about the room. 'After the pigs don't need them anymore, of course!'
'Get along with you, you scamp!' cried his aunt. 'And don't be bringing any of your new toys into the Hall!' Laughing, Pippin strode from the room with a cheery, 'Coming, Merry?'
Merry had continued the story as promised the next day.
'...and so Gandalf told Frodo that he must leave the Shire, take the Ring to Rivendell.'
'I should never have let Mad Baggins have the lad,' Saradoc murmured with a sad shake of his head. 'I should have adopted him myself. You'd have had a brother, Merry. But I was younger then, and thought I was doing best for the lad. And then you came along, and I had little enough time for one son...' He thought of Essie's dangerous illness--she had lost the child they were so eagerly anticipating--brought on by the shock of the double drowning, and how she had nearly died two years later birthing Meriadoc. He had been so concerned with his wife, and Hall business, that he had little thought to spare for his orphaned nephew.
'I heard Gandalf say once that he thought Frodo was meant to have the Ring,' Pippin said slowly. 'Perhaps it would have come to him in any event.'
The days fell into a routine. Merry would have second breakfast with his father and the steward, going over the business of Buckland. Then his mother would come in to talk about the doings of the Hall, while Merry and Cardoc excused themselves to see about their tasks. As they walked or rode about Buckland, the steward would tell Merry all the business of Buckland that he had deemed prudent to withhold from its Master.
Afternoons, Pippin and Merry would join Saradoc, share a glass of brandy, and regale him with stories. From teatime until suppertime was spent again on business, and evenings in quiet pursuit or song.
Cardoc the Steward had been right. The Hall's supply of food was dangerously low, and soon the cellars were echoingly empty. The cooks managed creatively with the spring greens, fresh eggs, meat and milk, occasionally supplemented with fish. Saradoc said nothing when first root crops, then bread disappeared from the table. The only fruit available was fresh cherries or cherry preserves, served alongside the meat since there was no bread to spread it upon. He knew they were not telling him everything, and that they wanted to keep him from worry. Meriadoc must be doing some kind of job as Master; at least riots had not broken out amongst hungry hobbits, not that he'd heard, anyhow.
'Ah, custard again,' Pippin breathed, plying his spoon reluctantly. 'What I wouldn't give for a good bowl of porridge!'
Merry looked up in surprise. 'I thought you hated porridge!'
'I do,' Pippin admitted. 'But the change would be refreshing.'
Esmeralda turned a stern eye upon him. 'We are grateful for the abundance of eggs and cream,' she reminded him firmly.
Pippin looked back at his breakfast with a sigh. 'Oh, aye,' he agreed dutifully, and stirred up his custard with pretended enthusiasm.
Day by day, the story continued, and Saradoc slowly improved. Esmeralda took to joining them to hear the stories, sitting back in the corner so that the lads would forget her presence and not leave anything out.
'...and then Pippin dropped the stone in the well.'
'You young scamp! Thought you were on a hobbit walking party, did you?'
'Funny enough, that's just what Gandalf said!' The healer stuck his head in at the door, drawn by the guffaws.
Saradoc looked up. 'Oh, it is not time, yet!' he protested.
'No, you have a few more minutes,' the old hobbit smiled. 'I was just wondering what all the merriment was about.'
'Come join us,' the Master of Buckland said slyly. If Ossilan became interested in the story he might not interrupt so soon...
Merry and Pippin alternated in telling the story of events in Moria after that stone fell. When they got to the part about the troll, Saradoc broke in. 'Was that the troll you killed, Peregrin?' Merry and Pippin caught each other's eye and roared.
'No, that troll had the advantage of surprise,' Pippin returned.
His uncle nodded wisely, and skeptically. 'Get on with the story then,' was all he said.
'We have a treat for tea!' Esmeralda sang as she brought a tray to the study. Saradoc had graduated from bed to chair, and was glad to once again have the green vista before him as he sat in his easy chair by the desk.
Pippin rose like a questing hound to hover over the tray. 'Fresh strawberries!' he exulted.
'Strawberries and cream,' his aunt agreed. 'As many as you like! The crop is coming in and there are enough to eat fresh and to make preserves and to spare!'
Saradoc nodded with a smile. Time was passing. They were making do. They were almost home free.
'Now go on about those elf boats you got from the Lady of Lothlorien. You say they were slim and maneuverable. Can you draw one for me?' His son obligingly put pen to paper.
One morning barley bread appeared on the breakfast tray. Saradoc looked inquiringly at the steward. Cardoc nodded, smiling. 'The winter barley harvest has begun. Good news, too, despite the poor bit we were able to sow under the ruffians, it grew as vigorously as all the other crops are doing this year.'
That afternoon, Saradoc said, 'Now, you were telling me how Frodo had disappeared and you ran after him.'
'Oh, yes,' Merry said, more softly than his usual storytelling wont. 'We all scattered to call him, when we ran into orcs.'
'Orcs?' his father said sharply.
'Oh, aye,' Pippin said softly. 'We encountered them other places than just Moria.'
'They didn't seem to see us at first--the elven cloaks, I suppose--but when they did see us they didn't try to hurt us, just to lay hold of us. Then Boromir came and slew many. He blew his great horn, but no help came...'
'Only more orcs,' Pippin added.
'Then a black-feathered arrow...' Merry faltered and swallowed hard. Pippin tried to speak, but couldn't. Saradoc looked from son to nephew. Both had that faraway look in their eyes that he had come to associate with long silences and sleepless nights.
'An arrow?' he prompted gently.
'He sprouted feathers like a bird,' Merry said in a dreamlike voice, 'but we were the ones to fly away.' His father looked at him, worried, then to the healer and to Esmeralda.
Ossilan was nodding. 'It's all right,' he whispered. 'The barb's being drawn, now the poison can come out.'
Merry shook himself as if he'd just come up from the bottom of a deep dive into the River. He blinked at his father, then said in a normal voice, 'Now where was I? Oh, yes. The orcs bound us and carried us off.' He looked at the scars on his wrists as if he'd never seen them before. 'Part of the time they carried us, part of the time they made us run before them.'
'Very uncouth fellows they were,' Pippin added. He had come out of his own trance. 'No concept of hospitality.'
'We ran nearly to Isengard before the Riders of Rohan came and slew them all.'
'However did you escape?'
Merry looked at him, puzzled. 'I don't really know,' he said. 'I don't think I would have, but for Pippin, here.'
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.