Handkerchiefs & Mushroom Soup: 3. Three

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3. Three

I had not intended to fall back asleep, but I must have because a fresh bout of Pippin's violent coughing jolted me suddenly upright. I struggled with the blanket that had somehow twisted itself around me before I could get out of the chair and cross the few feet separating me and my younger cousin. Pippin had curled onto his side, clutching his ribs tightly in a vain effort to still the wracking coughs that shook his little body from head to toe. Even in the dying candlelight, I could see his face was red, and I was shaking myself with fear.

"Easy, Pippin, easy," I said, rubbing his back, pleased that I sounded calm, at least. I did not know what else to do, at least not until the fit stopped. "Do you want to sit up?" I asked.

He managed to shake his head no and reached for my arm, gripping it for support and comfort as the coughs emanated from somewhere deep within him. His skin was hot and damp against me, and his fingers clenched me fiercely, and not for the first time in his life, I was amazed by the determination housed in that small body. I wrapped my free arm about his back to try and give him additional support and we rode it out together.

When the fit finally passed, Pippin was as limp as a ragdoll in my arms, his breath coming in wheezing heaves and his slight body trembling. I rubbed his back and stroked his wet curls, but could do nothing else but murmur soothing nonsense while I still held him. Slowly, his breathing grew less labored and he was able to hold himself up. He struggled weakly, limbs moving jerkily, and I helped him sit up and balanced him with an arm. This at least freed my other arm to refill the cup and press it to his lips. He drained the cup and then whispered, "Thank you."

I kissed the top of his head and his fever met my lips. His nightshirt and the bedding was soaked, and even my shirt was damp from holding him. Pippin hunched over, still breathing heavily and with ominous rattles coming from his chest that made my own breath catch in my throat.

'Foolish Baggins,' I berated myself silently. 'You have made a mess of this.' I saw clearly all of the now-glaring signs of Pippin's impending sickness that had been striving for my attention since he had arrived: his flushed features, the sneezing, the sniffling, his achy legs, his headache at the Smials, his hot face at bedtime. But I had trotted about obliviously and done nothing but wear him out with talk and ply him with food -- I mentally groaned when I remembered the thick, creamy potato soup and the buttermilk I had provided for Pip's dinner, both bad for a chest illness. And then, when the lad first woke up coughing, I neglected to send immediately for a healer, and finally, I fell asleep at my post. I leaned my forehead against the side of Pippin's bowed head. He still clutched his sides, but was holding himself upright now as his breathing eased somewhat.

"I am so sorry, Pippin," I said, remorse and pity striving within me. "There is no one else here -- will you be all right alone for a few moments while I run down to the Gamgees and get someone to fetch the healer?"

But Pippin was shaking his head. "Frodo, don't go out in the rain . . . and wake the Gamgees . . . in the middle of the night . . . just to send Sam out in the rain too," he said in a shaky voice punctuated by heavy breaths. "I'm not so sick that I need . . . a healer this very moment."

I lifted my head and frowned at him, not convinced. "Pippin, that cough is horrid, and your fever is back up. I know nothing of caring for someone who is ill. What if you suddenly become worse? I could not --" I halted, unable to say aloud that which I feared. "Pippin, I cannot let anything bad happen to you." I remembered Pippin's parents after the not-so-long-ago near-call, the grim set to Paladin's mouth that did not go away for months, how Eglantine could scarcely bear to let her youngest out of her sight. I thought of Merry, drinking in Pippin's every word, every smile, every gesture with the manner of one who had thought that dearest to him lost forever, but found it unexpectedly returned. I thought of myself, devising endless amusements for the recovering patient, and then lingering to watch him sleep, following each precious rise and fall of his chest.

But now Pippin was shaking his head at me. "No, Frodo, really, it's all right. It's not bad sick, just a nasty cough." He was speaking without gasping for air, though his voice was still rasping. "I can hear it raining. Don't go running around outside in this weather." He frowned back at me, looking remorseful. "I guess it was silly of me to go running around in it from home to here, wasn't it?"

I gave his shoulders a little squeeze. "Probably. I guess it was silly of me to not realize that you were taking ill and send you straight to bed, wasn't it?"

"Ung." Pippin was sniffling hugely, and I fumbled about the chest of drawers for another handkerchief. When I found one, he blew his nose (a wet and noisy process) and then moved to lie back down.

"No, not yet!" I cried urgently, not wanting Pippin to lie back on the sweat-soaked sheets, and he froze in place, but then began to giggle. The small, phlegmy coughs that interspersed his laughter rather ruined its joviality, but the fact that he was laughing eased my anxiety somewhat.

"Frodo, calm down," he gasped. "You sound as if you need someone to put you to bed and wash your brow."

I joined him in laughing at my reaction. "I am new to the nursing practice," I said. "Have some patience for an old hobbit. And do not lie back down -- I am going to wash you up again, and then get you into a fresh nightshirt and onto fresh sheets. If that is acceptable to you, oh Master Healer Peregrin." Then I sobered and looked at him seriously. "But I am sending Sam out for the healer as soon as he arrives in the morning, and I don't want an argument about it."

Pippin yawned and nodded at the same time. "No Nurse," he said. "No Mamma."

Oh, his parents. I did not tell him that I probably would have forgotten to write them in all my fluster if he had not just reminded me.

"Well," I answered, "I must write to them, but I will say that you are not seriously ill and may, of course, stay with me until you are fully recovered. Provided the healer tells me such." I tweaked an ear at the last, then added, "And, Pippin, you must tell me if you feel you need the healer during the night. I could not bear to write to your folks and tell them that you have taken dreadfully ill because I neglected you."

He nodded, but I decided it wasn't good enough. "Promise me," I said firmly.

"I promise, Frodo," he said, and I felt easier about the whole situation.

I repeated the earlier routine of washing him down with cool water, then drying him off, putting him in a clean nightshirt, wrapping him in blankets in the chair, remaking the bed, and then getting Pippin back into it. He fell soundly asleep in the chair, and although he stumbled the few steps to the bed when I prompted him, I do not think he was awake. I lit a fresh candle and resumed my watch. This time I did not sleep, but tracked the rise and fall of my young cousin's chest, remembering long nights during a grim winter spent doing the same.

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.

Story Information

Author: Baylor

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 04/28/03

Original Post: 04/07/03

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