27. The Old Gaffer's Friend
--Shire term for pneumonia, which took the elderly relatively quickly and painlessly
'Do you think he will come?' Merry asked his mother.
She shook her head. 'You never know what my brother is going to do,' she answered honestly. She looked up. 'I don't think he's left the Smials since... Bilbo's birthday?' Merry nodded. Paladin had sent other Tooks to represent him at the wedding that would have taken place three years earlier, had not an earthen dam given way.
Merry did some thinking. The rider dispatched that evening would reach Tuckborough sometime just before the dawn. At the earliest, The Took might arrive the next evening. The healer didn't seem to expect his cousin to last long enough to see his father's arrival. He met his mother's eyes. 'It's moving fast.'
'Aye,' she sighed. 'It can do that. Sometimes it takes the strongest, the fastest.'
'Can we do nothing?' Merry whispered in frustration, but turned away, shaking his head. He already knew the answer. He'd seen the pneumonia take another cousin just a year older than Pippin, the previous winter. He stared out the window into the darkness, and his hand rose to his breast, to touch the paper nestled in his inmost pocket. 'I'm doing my best, Frodo,' he muttered.
By morning Pippin was breathing more easily, pain gone, and Merry looked hopefully to the healer. The latter shook his head and motioned him outside. 'It's not a good sign.'
'But he's breathing easier!'
'The pain is gone, yes, but he's breathing faster. Fluid is filling the lungs; it eases the pleurisy but it can also drown him.'
Merry had to coax Pippin to drink another of the healer's bitter concoctions. Pippin opened his eyes wide at the taste and gagged. 'You know what he's doing,' he gasped to Merry. 'He's getting back at me for the time I put salt in the sugar bowl and he salted his tea!'
'Don't you worry your head about it, lad,' the healer said reassuringly. 'I'm thinking up much worse tasting brews even now.'
'Drink it down,' Merry urged. 'It will help you to cough.'
'Oh, so now you *want* me to cough!' Pippin commented. 'I wish you folk would make up your minds.' Making a face, he forced the bitter stuff down.
By afternoon he was coughing violently again. In between paroxysms he tried to joke. 'Your bitter brew worked, I'm coughing!' Another fit seized him, and Merry saw with fear the blood that stained the handkerchief. Soothing syrups had no effect.
The healer looked intently at Daffodil Brandybuck and her tweenaged son, who sat at either side of the bed. 'Keep applying the cold cloths, support him through the coughing fits. I'll be right back.' Daffodil gasped and her eyes were frightened. The healer smiled reassuringly. 'I'll be right back.' He turned to Merry. 'I need to talk to the Master.'
Merry nodded and followed him from the room.
In the Master's study, Merry saw the healer ill at ease for perhaps the first time in his life. 'We're losing him. He's slipping away. I don't know if he'll last to see The Took arrive. I've tried everything... but...'
The Master's gaze sharpened as he detected some faint hope in the words. 'What?' he asked quickly.
'The traders brought something new up the King's highway just before Yule. It came from the eastern lands, distilled from poppies. It might give him enough rest from the cough to gather his strength.'
'Then what are you waiting for?' Saradoc demanded.
The healer's face was tight with indecision. 'I've never used it before. I know what it is supposed to do, but... it could kill him as easily as help him.'
'What will happen if you don't use it?' Saradoc cut straight to the point.
The healer took a deep breath, then nodded. 'You're right,' he said. He met Merry's gaze. 'At least if it kills him, it will be an easier death than he's having now.' He shook his head. 'I will send word to you, Master, when the time comes to take your leave of him.'
He walked over to the sideboard in the study and poured half a glass of brandy, but did not drink it. Taking the glass with him, he indicated to Merry to follow him from the room.
Back in the sickroom, he took a small silken bag from the bedside table, where other herbs and failed potions rested. He shook a few grains into the glass, then turned to hold it to Pippin's lips. 'Come, lad, just a little more,' he coaxed. 'One more potion.' Pippin's eyes opened wearily. 'Come lad, try, now.'
Pippin sipped obediently, draining the glass. He smiled weakly. 'You ran out of bitter brews?' he whispered. Another fit of coughing shook him, but as they watched the coughing fits grew further apart and then stopped. Pippin lay back against the pillows, breathing rapidly, but soundly sleeping for the first time.
Saradoc heard the clatter of many ponies' feet in the yard, and looked out to see a group of riders pulling up and dismounting. The Took had come.
He met Esmeralda as the door opened to admit Peregrin's father and mother. Paladin greeted his sister. 'Well, Essie, has that husband of yours stopped beating you yet?'
'Oh, no,' she returned, though her heart was not in it. 'I beat him nearly half the time since your son showed me some of his tricks at playing Kings.'
Paladin's forced smile faded. 'My son...'
'He's holding on. The healer didn't think he'd last the day... I think Peregrin stayed with us just to spite him.'
'Oh, aye,' her brother said heavily. 'No one ever could tell the lad what to do.'
'Where is he?' Pippin's mother, Eglantine asked.
'I'll take you to him,' Esmeralda replied.
Reaching the sickroom, she looked with dread on the still figure in the bed. They were too late after all... but the healer looked up with a smile. 'It's working,' he told the Master. 'He's resting, gaining strength. As long as he doesn't drown before we can get him to cough again, he just might pull through.' His eyes went to the other hobbits; from the air of command and the garments stained from hard travel on muddy roads, he surmised he was seeing The Took. 'Fever's going down, I think he might yet turn the corner.'
'Then I came for nothing,' Paladin said grimly, and the healer looked at him in surprise before realizing it was the Thain's attempt at humor. 'Lad always does make the most stir he can.'
'Young scamp,' Eglantine said softly, bending to take her son's hand.
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.