Merry noticed immediately how pale and tired his cousin looked, but Frodo seemed quite cheerful and eager to spend time with him. They spent the days taking walks or examining Frodo's latest works of translation or writing, and the evenings smoking their pipes by the fire and reminiscing over old times. It was a wonderful few days, full of warmth and companionship and the gentle familiarity of long-time friends reunited.
But on the third day of their stay, Merry knew something was wrong. Although he did his best to hide it, Frodo seemed very distracted and nervous as the afternoon drew on, and Merry could have sworn that he had seen Frodo's hands shaking as he returned the manuscripts he had been showing him to their places on the large bookshelves in the study.
After that, Merry couldn't help but notice that Frodo was keeping his hands out of sight as much as possible, either stuffing them into the pockets of his trousers or hiding them behind some piece of furniture. As supper time approached, Frodo stated rather casually that he was not feeling very well and was going to lie down for a while. Merry looked thoughtfully after his cousin as he retreated to his room, knowing that Frodo was trying to hide something but not doing a very good job of it.
The day wore on into evening, supper was prepared and eaten, but Frodo never re-emerged from his room. Now Merry was more than a little concerned. He tried to dismiss Frodo's absence for what Frodo claimed it was, just a little upset stomach, but the whole thing made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end somehow—he knew there was more to it than that. He wished that Pippin had been there with him to see it, so his cousin could confirm his suspicion, but Pip had not yet arrived from Smials. He had decided to ask Sam about it as they sat by the fire for their evening smoke, but Sam beat him to the subject.
They sat in silence for a few moments, Merry lounging on the overstuffed couch facing the fire and Sam seated in Frodo's favorite chair beside him. Before long Sam leaned forward in his chair, both elbows resting on his knees and holding his pipe before him. He fixed him with a tentative gaze and began, "Mr. Merry, I wanted t' talk t' you ‘bout something, if you don't mind…"
"Sure, Sam, anything," he replied, favoring Sam with a warm smile.
If possible, Sam looked even more hesitant as he furthered, "It's about mister Frodo…"
When Sam did not continue, Merry met his eyes and said gently, "Something's wrong, isn't it?"
Sam now stared pointedly down at his feet, but stated rather clearly, "I'm worried ‘bout him."
Now that Sam had managed to get that far, his words came in a bit of a rush.
"I think things've gotten worse for him since we been back. He's jus' not his old self…not even close! For the first time ever, I don't know what t' do for him."
"I don't know, Sam. You can't expect everything to go back to the way it was…"
Sam's eyes shifted from the floor and silenced him with the force of emotion displayed there. There was a lot more to this than Merry knew. He began to get a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Has something happened?"
"He has nightmares."
"We all have nightmares," Merry replied, eyes downcast, a sudden edge creeping into his voice.
"Sure, an' I know, mister Merry, I have ‘em too, but not like this," Sam paused again, taking a deep breath.
"They're so real, an' they take hold of him so…I have t' shake him awake. An' it happens at least once a week, sometimes more, an' I know on nights it doesn't he jus' ain't sleepin'."
Sam looked up into Merry's eyes, saw his own worry now mirrored there, continued, "And tonight…his hands shake…and on days that it's too bad he jus' disappears. An' he was sick in October. On the anniversary of Weathertop. Oh, Merry, he was in so much pain...the fever lasted for three days. An' his arm an' shoulder are still awful sore, I can see it on ‘im."
Why was Frodo trying to hide this from them all?
Merry did his best to maintain his composure, but he knew the tears rimming his eyes were betraying him.
"Oh Sam, I'm sorry…"
I'm sorry for Frodo, I'm sorry that you've had to deal with this alone…again.
"Have you tried to talk to him about it?"
Sam shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"I've tried talkin' t' him, but it seems t' pain him so. And he…jus' denies it anyway. He won't tell me what's goin' on. But I ain't blind, mister Merry, I can see him strugglin', an' it seems there's nothin' I can do t' help."
Sam took a deep breath, glanced nervously up at Merry again, and continued.
"I've been wonderin' if we shouldn't talk t' Elrond, or King Aragorn. Maybe there's somethin' they could do t' help him. I'm sure they could do a sight better than I'm doin'," Sam finished a bit shakily.
"Do you think it's that desperate then, that we should send word to them without telling Frodo?"
"I don't know, mister Merry," Sam sighed, frustration and anguish plain in his voice. "I don't want t' do it without talkin' to him, but I think he would jus' tell me I'm wrong anyway…I jus' don't know."
Sam buried his face in his hands, and the silence stretched out between them.
Could Elrond or Aragorn actually do anything? Elrond had healed Frodo in Rivendell, and Aragorn had brought him back from the Black Breath…but this was different somehow—it seemed…bigger. But where else could they turn for help? He vowed that he would talk to Frodo in the morning and see what he could find out for himself.
He glanced at Sam and noticed that the other hobbit still had not moved, his grief hidden behind those two strong, capable hands. After all they had been through, Merry still felt the need to protect both Frodo and Sam…
He reached forward and placed a comforting hand on Sam's shoulder.
"I want you to know that Pip and I are here to help, in any way we can. It'll be all right, Sam, you of all people know how strong Frodo is."
Sam picked his head up to gaze at Merry, unshed tears visible in his eyes, and rested his chin on his hand.
"But Sam, if and when you think it's necessary, send word to Crickhollow. Pip and I will set off for Rivendell immediately."
Frodo awoke the next morning, relieved that the previous day was over. He found he was feeling much better. Yesterday had been one of his worst days since October, and he was more than a little upset that Merry had been here to witness it. He hoped his cousin hadn't noticed the change in him. He had hidden it as best he could, but Merry was quite canny when it came to observing things…
When Merry greeted him at the breakfast table Frodo thought that his cousin had looked at him a little warily, but Merry said nothing.
After lunch, the two of them settled in the parlor for a pleasant afternoon curled up by the fire, just enjoying each other's company. Sam and Rosie had gone to market for the afternoon, so the only sounds in the smial were the crackling of the fire and their voices murmuring smoothly in conversation.
They talked of the news from Buckland and Merry's ever-nearing responsibilities as future Master of the Hall, and reminisced over their antics as hobbitlads growing up amidst the bustle that was the Brandybuck warren.
While Frodo was still chuckling over the time he and Merry had slicked the bathhouse stairs with soap, his cousin became very serious.
"Frodo, do you remember when I told you about my time in Minas Tirith?" Merry looked up at him with an odd expression.
"You mean in the Houses of Healing?" Frodo inquired, suddenly uneasy about the direction the conversation was taking.
"Yes, when I told you about the Black Breath."
Frodo shuddered at the mention of it, his memories of his recent battle with the phantom Witch King still vivid in his mind.
Merry noted the shudder, taking it as an affirmation, and continued on, "When Aragorn was working over me…trying to bring me back…it was as if that dreadful wraith was standing between me and the light, and the others were trying to pull me back into that deathly cold place…"
Frodo inhaled sharply as the images came unbidden.
Standing over him, chanting, pulling at him with their minds…and the Witch King above them all, towering over him and reaching out with tendrils of thought and spectral fingers for the Ring…
Merry was staring into the fire now, hardly noticing the effect he was having on Frodo as his own memories consumed him. "I made it back, and had thought that I was healed, but the pain in my arm remained and the darkness still hovered for a long time…"
His denial…the wraith's fury…the vicious thrust of the dagger…waves of piercing cold and white-hot pain…
"And it's still not over…when I'm asleep, when the night is still and quiet, he comes for me…"
Merry's voice rose in near-panic, which startled Frodo out of his own reverie to gaze at his cousin trembling before him, eyes focused on a vision Frodo couldn't see.
"Oh Merry, I'm sorry…" Frodo leaned forward and grasped Merry's trembling hands together, snapping his cousin back from his memories.
Now Merry did look up, mirroring Frodo's tear-laden eyes as he breathed in sharp, uneven gasps. He took a moment to calm himself, then very softly he whispered, "Does he come for you too?"
"I…" Frodo stammered and quickly looked down, angling his whole body away from Merry.
"Frodo, please tell me," Merry pressed gently, trying to draw Frodo back to him with his words.
"I'm fine," he replied, returning Merry's intense stare evenly.
Merry was not going to let him get away that easily, and they both knew it. Merry seemed to gaze thoughtfully at him for a moment.
"Frodo, I've known you all my life. I can tell when you're hurting. What is it that keeps you from telling me?"
Oh Merry, if only I could…if there was a way that wouldn't hurt you too…
"Merry, I can't!" he grated, softening a little as he saw the hurt in his cousin's eyes. "Just please…let it go," he finished, sorrow edging his voice as he tore his eyes away and down to the floor.
Merry got up and paced to the edge of the fireplace. He turned on Frodo abruptly, "I just don't understand. After all you've done! You saved Middle Earth, all of Sauron's evil was destroyed, and still they hunt you…".
"I didn't save Middle Earth, Merry, I almost destroyed it!" he burst out, voice shaking with the sudden vehemence of his emotion.
Merry stopped mid-stride and stared at him. "You…what?" he asked incredulously, his shock and disbelief of Frodo's statement plain on his face.
"I failed, Merry, I didn't save anything."
This galvanized Merry into motion again, but this time towards Frodo instead of away from him. He knelt down before Frodo, looking deeply into his eyes with concern and understanding. "Frodo, do you remember what happened?"
In all honesty Frodo still did not remember those moments between his struggle with Gollum and the instant he claimed the Ring, but it didn't matter…the answer was obvious.
"No…" he breathed, "but I don't have to remember to know I failed."
Tears were now rolling down Merry's cheeks, but he stoutly ignored them as he looked tenderly at Frodo.
"You did not fail, because I know you did your best. That was all anyone could ask of you, and all you could have asked of yourself. And the Ring was destroyed. I don't know what happened on that mountain, and I don't care. I know that you managed to get the Ring that far, and did all you could do. And it was enough."
He paused, reaching up to cradle Frodo's quivering chin in his hand. "And it should be enough for you, too," he whispered, as Frodo dropped his head wearily on his cousin's shoulder.
As Frodo clutched the gem around his neck, Arwen's words came back to him as if he was hearing them for the very first time:
If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed.
Maybe it HAD been enough…
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.