14. Lessons Learned and Lessons Needed
Sam had given the tweenager strict orders not to disturb Frodo during his nap, which offended Pippin mightily. Accidents like the armor rack just seemed to happen to him. He certainly didn’t set out to cause a disaster. That trail of thought reminded him to pay more attention to the last tray of dishes he was carrying, just as they were sliding towards the edge. Returning, Sam met him at the door before he could knock. Bilbo had returned to his room for his own nap (Pippin suspected) and after a final check on the sleeping Frodo, the two hobbits decided they could enjoy a quiet smoke in the courtyard.
Sam and Pippin sought out the warmest bench in the deserted enclosure and filled their pipes, leaning back against the wall in contentment and engaged in a lazy contest to see who could blow more smoke-rings from a single puff. The wan October sun imparted little warmth and they pulled up their hoods and drew their legs up on the bench, wrapping their cloaks around their feet, resembling nothing so much as those conical mud-pots from which steam emerges in winter.
* * * * *
A casual observer would never have guessed that young Master Brandybuck was apprehensive about speaking to the Lord of Rivendell. As the future Master of Buckland, Merry had learned early the importance of holding a public visage. Expression resolutely cheerful and curly head held high, Merry requested admission to the Lord’s study and within minutes found himself under that inscrutable, immortal gaze.
“Good afternoon, Master Meriadoc,” Elrond greeted him graciously.
“Good afternoon, Lord Elrond,” Merry returned, determined to uphold his end of the courtesies.
Then he had no idea what to say. ‘Did you tell folk to alter the terms of our bets so that I lose, no matter what?’ seemed rather too blunt. So did ‘Have you instructed your people to take advantage of me?’
“Ahhh…” he tried valiantly. Those dark ageless eyes bored into him and made it impossible to think. Merry started to perspire profusely. Elrond closed the book he had been reading and sank gracefully into a chair, his fathoms-deep gaze never leaving his guest. Even seated, he was taller than Merry and suddenly Merry was very aware of the fact. And of the fact that his clothes could use a good brushing and his hair probably needed combing. Was he missing a button on his waistcoat?
The Elf-lord said nothing but waited with the patience of one who has watched the earth turn under him for thousands of years. Merry could feel his face growing hot. The Lord only regarded him unwearyingly, sitting with the stillness of one of the statues that graced his gardens. Merry’s brain demanded that he ask the questions burning in his mind but under that ageless gaze, his throat locked. Stifling a groan, the hobbit gritted his teeth and stammered out a lesser query, “My lord … my lord, may Frodo and Sam have your permission to attend the feast tonight and go to the Hall of Fire afterward?”
“I believe your cousin is sufficiently recovered for such an activity, Master Meriadoc. He has my permission. Samwise could have joined us at any time, of course, would he leave his master. Shall we see them this evening?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Excellent.” Elrond dismissed him with a nod, the barest lowering of his chin.
Merry paused in the doorway and made one last attempt. “My lord? Did you … did you…” The Elf-lord’s immortal gaze centered on the little one, the laughter lurking there too deep for the hobbit to see. “Will you also give permission for Frodo to visit the Library?”
“Granted,” said Elrond in a gentle voice.
Defeated, Merry trudged out the door.
* * * * *
Sam’s sandy head jerked up. Then he was on his feet and running back into the House before Pippin had really registered the cry. With the quick reflexes of the young, Pippin snatched up Sam’s fallen pipe before it set something afire and was after him, arriving just a moment later to see Sam dash to Frodo’s bedside and slide his arms around him. Frodo was sitting up in bed, not awake but no longer sleeping, caught in the throes of a nightmare so terrible that he had screamed out in his sleep.
“No, no sir, they’re not here. You’re safe, Frodo. You’re safe. Easy, me dear. They can’t get ‘ta you here…” Sam’s voice continued on in meaningless reassurances as he continued to cradle his sweat-soaked master. Frodo clutched at his arms desperately, his eyes wide and blank, utterly terrified.
“Master Pippin, will you hand me that bottle over there?” Sam continued to hold Frodo tightly, rocking him slightly and murmuring to him. Frodo was shaking violently, his face absolutely without color except for the enormous morning glory eyes, focused inward on the half-remembered terrors of his nightmare.
Pip scooped up the phial of rose-colored liquid and Sam tried to get him to drink it. Frodo refused, burying his head in Sam’s chest and continued to tremble, his gasping breaths painful to Pippin’s ears. Unable to really help, Pippin crouched by Sam’s side where his cousin could see him and added his soft voice to Sam’s.
“Shall I get Strider or Lord Elrond?”
“No – no…” Frodo visibly fought to collect himself. “I- It- It was … just a dream. A dream.”
Pippin cautiously eased himself up onto the bed where he could rub Frodo’s back. Frodo stiffened, then relaxed and the shaking started to subside. At Sam’s quiet suggestion, Pippin brought his cousin a cup of water and saw Sam quickly pour in the rose-colored liquid and swish the cup before giving it to Frodo. Frodo needed both hands to hold the cup, swallowing the liquid without really being aware of it. He choked on the last sip and Sam gave him a couple of hard taps across the back to help it down.
Strangely, that settled Frodo more than their soft-voiced reassurances. Perhaps it anchored him to the waking world, where nothing stalked him and sought to take that which he had been entrusted. Shuddering, he handed the cup back to Sam and dropped his face into his hands, the racking tremors diminishing into shivers.
“I think I ought to get Strider, Frodo. I’ll be right back.”
Sam nodded vigorously but Frodo caught Pippin’s arm as he started to rise. “Pip, no. I’m all right. Truly.”
Pippin sank back down, unsure of what to do. That Frodo was not ‘all right’ was excruciatingly obvious. “How long have they been getting worse?” he asked Sam softly over Frodo’s bowed head.
“The last week or so,” Sam replied, equally softly. “He won’t let me tell no one.”
“I can hear you, you know,” Frodo pointed out, recovered enough to be annoyed. “It was just a dream, Pippin. Don’t fuss. I’m sorry I startled you and made you run in here like that.” Frodo stopped and tried to rein in his irritation. “Out in the courtyard, were you?”
“Aye, sir. Mr. Pippin an’ me was just having a smoke – my pipe!”
Pippin silently handed it to him. Sam grasped it then darted a look out the balcony windows, probably expecting to see all of Rivendell in flames. Seeing the look of relief on his friend’s face, Frodo laughed shakily. “I doubt Lord Elrond would appreciate you burning down his home, Sam.”
Less inclined towards seeing the humor of his close call, Sam nodded. “All this old wood would go up a treat,” he commented.
It was that last remark which Merry heard as he rejoined his fellows in Frodo’s room. He had sat for a while in the garden, trying to figure out a way to shorten the distance his cousin had to walk and so increase his chances of winning The Wager. Unable to come up with anything plausible, he had abandoned the attempt and sought out Pippin, only to find the rooms they shared empty. That minor irritation – Pippin not being where his cousin expected him to be – added to the sound trumping he had received from Elrond. “I’ll vote for that!”
When the others turned to him, shocked, Merry said contritely, “All right, all right, I didn’t mean it.” In his mind, he added, ‘Pity we can’t burn down just a wing or two, though.’
“What put you in so sour a mood, Cousin?” Frodo asked him.
Merry plopped himself down in a chair near the others and shook his head, struggling to sweeten his temper. “Nothing, really. Nothing. Frodo, I spoke with Lord Elrond and you may attend the feast tonight and go to the Hall of Fire. And you may go the Library, too.”
The last of Merry’s aggravation disappeared in his cousin’s delighted thanks. Pippin and Sam were both looking at him carefully, no doubt trying to work out his conversation with the Elf-lord. Well, they could just keep working on it. Merry wasn’t going to recite the details of that humiliating experience to anyone.
“Ready for a few turns around the courtyard, Frodo? You’d better get dressed.” Merry leaned forward and fingered the sleeve of Frodo’s nightshirt curiously. “Why are you all sweaty?”
Immediately he knew that something was wrong. Looking from one stiff face to another, he ventured a guess. “Nightmares?”
Frodo scowled at him and Merry knew that he had guessed correctly. “Frodo,” he said softly, “we’re your friends. Talk to us.”
His cousin averted his gaze, suddenly finding the pattern on his coverlet very interesting. “There’s no need, Merry, really. They’re just bad dreams. No doubt they’ll stop soon, when I have something to occupy my mind. I can go to the Library the day after tomorrow, then?”
Frodo turned the conversation skillfully but Merry knew his older cousin too well to be fooled. But pressing Frodo would do no good, it would only awaken that Baggins stubbornness. Meeting Pippin’s miserable eyes, Merry shook his head.
* * * * *
This time Sam escorted his master around the small enclosure to an audience of the other hobbits. Frodo insisted on walking by himself, without the support of Sam’s sturdy arm - which meant that Sam watched his every step, ready to catch him at the slightest wavering, much to Frodo’s annoyance. Sam’s hovering greatly amused Frodo’s three cousins, and also the wizard and Elf-lord who had again gathered on the high balcony to chart their patient’s progress.
“Are you sure it isn’t too early for this ill-advised ‘walk’ of Frodo’s, Elrond?” Gandalf leaned over the railing, his sharp eyes on the small pair below.
“He grows in strength every day, Gandalf. Very soon we must begin preparing him for the journey you will undertake. There are things these little ones must know; the route, survival in the Wild, concealment and stealth. The Ring-bearer should learn to defend himself, to use a bow if possible, to paddle a canoe and to be ready, as much as we can prepare him, for what dangers we can foresee. He must grow to know the other members of the Fellowship that will accompany him … learn their characters, their strengths and weaknesses and learn to trust them. And,” the Elf-lord added with a twinkle in those ageless dark eyes, “if young Meriadoc does not see his Wager through very soon, he will surely burst.”
Gandalf snorted and leaned back from the railing. “A lesson in patience would do that young hobbit good,” he muttered and Elrond laughed.
“He had one this afternoon, Gandalf,” the Lord replied to Gandalf’s raised eyebrows. But he refused to elaborate further and the wizard’s curiosity went unsatisfied.
A shout from below drew their attention back to the courtyard. Frodo had stumbled and was on his hands and knees. Elrond moved forward, his glance suddenly keen. Merry cried out again as he reached his cousin and assisted Sam in raising Frodo to his feet, holding him between them until he was steady.
Elrond’s hands relaxed on the railing, their white-knuckled grip easing. “So much depends on the strength of that little one,” he said softly. “All the world, and every life within it.”
* TBC *
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.