21. Message from an Absent Cousin
She saw his eyes open. 'Welcome back to the world,' she said softly. 'Do you feel like having any breakfast?'
He tried to sit up but was too stiff and sore. Rosie looked beyond him and suddenly Samwise was there to help him sit. 'Careful, Mr Pippin,' he said. 'You've cracked some ribs.'
'Is that what it is?' Pippin asked wryly. 'Help me up, Sam. Where's Merry?'
Sam's eyes were sorrowful. 'They couldn't keep him abed. He insisted on sitting by the lass. He won't leave hold of her hand.'
'Help me up,' Pippin said again. 'Or are you going to make me crawl to him?' Sam took the hint.
Stiff and sore did not begin to describe it. Pippin did his best to stifle a groan as Sam helped him to his feet. He felt as if the orcs had taken hold of him again and beaten him over his entire body. He caught Rosie's look of concern. 'I am all right, Rosie-lass,' he reassured her. 'I felt far worse the day after your wedding supper.' She tried to smile.
Sam walked him to the room with the big bed where he had watched through those dark days with Merry an eternity ago. Lying atop the blanket were the two lost in the Branch the previous day. They had been lovingly prepared for burial; Thom in his finest suit, Ruby in the dress she would have worn today under happier circumstances. Merry sat beside the bed, holding Ruby's hand.
Pippin stopped at the doorway and motioned Sam to stay. He limped into the room. At his step, Merry looked up. 'Don't wake her,' he said. 'It's early yet.'
'Mer,' he breathed. The other did not answer but began to croon low, a song he had sung so many times with Ruby.
Pippin limped to the dresser, where someone had laid brushes and a gold hair clasp in a butterfly shape that he recognized as one Merry had given to Ruby some weeks before. He picked it up, gently stroked the finely wrought wings, delicate, and beautiful, like its owner, and slipped it into a pocket.
He walked over to his cousin. 'Here, Merry,' he said, holding out his hand. 'Ruby wanted me to show you something, but you've got to come with me to see it.'
Merry tenderly kissed the cold hand and laid it gently on the bed. 'I'll be right back, Ruby love,' he murmured.
'Come along, then,' he reached out to take Merry's uninjured arm, nearly overbalancing, but catching himself at the last minute and helping his cousin out of the chair. 'Come this way,' he encouraged. Samwise carefully took Merry's other arm and they walked him to one of the chairs by the hearth.
'Sit down here, Merry,' Pippin said lightly. He took the gold butterfly from his pocket and pressed it into his cousin's hands. 'Ruby wanted you to hold this, until... she's done doing up her hair. Can you wait here?'
'I can wait,' Merry said softly. 'I've waited this long, I can wait a bit longer.' Sitting quietly in the chair, clasping the gold butterfly, he slipped away, Pippin saw, his look becoming unfocused as if he gazed into a far distance. He didn't seem to notice when the sorrowful hobbits came to bear away the bodies.
Ruby and Thom were laid out in the pavilion that would have hosted music and dance. Ruby looked beautiful in the dress she had helped make for her wedding this day, and Thom in his fine suit might have been lying down to play a trick on his brothers; they expected at any moment he would jump up with a gleam in his eye and shout with laughter at their surprise. A long line of mournful friends and relatives shuffled past to pay their respects to the family and take their leave of the departed. The remaining north-Tooks and the Brandybucks stood quietly to receive the broken words of condolence.
When the last of the line had passed, Farmer Took put his hand around his wife. 'It's time, Pearl.' He tried to lead her gently away, but she broke from him with an exclamation. 'Pearl!' he said, grieved.
'No,' she repeated. 'Let me,' she said. 'It's my place.' He stepped back silently. She went to the still forms, gently drew up the shroud on each, kissing the cold cheek before carefully tucking the shroud around the beloved face. 'Good night, my darlings,' she crooned. 'May your dreams be peaceful ones.' She turned away and sought her husband's embrace. Grim faced hobbits picked up the poles and led the procession to the family burying ground. A song arose from the following crowd, song of present sorrow and future hope. The hobbits gathered around while the white shrouded forms were laid to rest, continuing to sing until the last of the earth had been carefully mounded over. Then silently, they walked back to the funeral dinner.
Merry had gone through the day like a sleepwalker, walking where Pippin led him, standing when Pippin left him alone, barely acknowledging the soft words of condolence spoken to him. Now he stood by the side of the grave, still clutching Ruby's butterfly clasp in his hand.
Pippin put a guiding hand on his arm. 'Come on, Merry,' he said softly. 'It is time to go back to the house.' They walked back past the dinner tents to the silent farmhouse, where Pippin eased him into a chair by the bedroom hearth. 'Merry?' Pippin asked. 'Merry? Do you hear me?'
Finally his cousin let him alone, and he gratefully sank back into that place where the pain was dull and far away.
He was dimly aware of the door opening and people coming in. Someone said, '...been like that for hours; he neither moves nor speaks.'
He heard Sam's voice say, 'Leave me alone with him, a bit?' and then the door closed and it was quiet again.
Sam's voice spoke in front of him, quite close. 'Merry? It's Sam. Do you know me?' He sat staring at nothing, feeling nothing, thinking nothing, except in a place down deep inside himself that merely wished everyone would go and leave him be.
Sam's hands closed around his, much the same way Frodo's had in this same room, only instead of Frodo's white jewel he held a gold butterfly.
Sam's voice spoke again. 'Merry? I have a message for you from Frodo.'
Frodo stared down at the few words he'd managed to write with a vague sense of dissatisfaction. There was more, so much more, that he wanted to say, but the pen was too heavy and the nagging pain behind his eyes had returned with a vengeance. He slowly sprinkled the blotting sand over the glistening ink. After it had done its work he gently picked up the paper and blew the sand away. Even the paper felt heavy.
He sighed and wondered how he would ever be able to finish Bilbo's book. Ah, well, one line at a time, if need be. He folded the paper carefully into fourths, then reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose between his thumb and fingers, willing the headache to subside. He heard Sam's soft step, and then a gentle hand was laid on his shoulder.
'Lie down, Mr Frodo, why don't you? I'll bring a cool cloth for your head.' Sam helped him up from the desk and eased him down on the bed. 'Are you feeling poorly, Mr Frodo?'
'No, I'm fine,' he lied. 'I just got a little too much sun by the River, I think.' As Sam started to turn away Frodo called him back.
'Yes, Mr Frodo?'
'There's a paper on the desk, I want you to put it in a safe place and keep it for me.' He went on to tell Samwise what to do with the paper, and obtaining his constant companion's promise, he lay back and closed his eyes, confident that Samwise, though not understanding why, would be faithful to complete his commission.
The hands were taken away and he heard the sound of paper rustling as if being gently unfolded and smoothed out. Then one of Sam's great, work-hardened hands clasped his again.
'Merry? He left this with me, he said to give it to you when you needed it. He said I would know the right time...'
Sam began to read, and it was as if Merry could hear Frodo speaking through him.
'All we can do is our best. You just keep walking in the Light, Merry, no matter what happens. Promise? Keep walking in the Light.'
He couldn't explain it, but warm sunshine seemed to be breaking through the icy chill that held him in its grip. He found himself answering, 'That's a promise, Frodo.'
'Merry?' Sam asked hopefully. Merry's eyes lost their faraway look and came into focus on his face.
'Sam? When did you get here?'
'Oh, just a little while ago,' the gardener answered easily. 'Now, you need some rest, Merry. Here, let me help you,' and as carefully as he might have cared for his beloved Mr Frodo, he helped Merry out of the chair and into the bed, pulling up the covers and patting them down smooth. 'There you go, Merry. Have a bit of a rest and I'll be here if you need anything.'
Merry nodded his thanks, his eyes closing as he took a deep breath and slipped gently into sleep.
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.