36. As Evening Falls
He started in alarm as the hobbit swung off the bench to his feet, all traces of weariness gone. The Ring-bearer did not seem to be aware of him and the man was growing concerned. Boromir knew that the little one had almost died of his injuries upon arriving in Rivendell, and his healing had been slow and marred by setbacks since. Had the strenuous exercise of sword-play been too much, and he was falling ill again?
Then Frodo was running, running with astonishing swiftness for one so small, past the still-seated man and out of the garden. Unsure of what he should do, Boromir followed, his long strides quickly becoming a run as he strove to overtake the accelerating hobbit.
He emerged in a small clearing some good way from the garden, catching his hands on a nearby sapling to steady himself. Before him was confusion. There seemed to be one of the little people on the ground, and one bending over him. Another was cradling the downed one’s head, bright curls mingling with the bronze curls of the other as he couched over him. The Elf was kneeling beside the still form, and Frodo was just skidding to a stop before the small scene, shouting, “Pippin!”
Boromir propelled himself into the little glade, falling to his knees just as the Elf was rising. Their eyes met for a moment, mortal hazel and immortal blue, both wide with fears unnamed. “It was ill chance,” whispered the Elf. “I will go for help. Will you do what you can?”
Boromir nodded wordlessly, his hands already tearing at the little one’s clothing. In a breath, the Elf was gone. Samwise had pulled back Pippin’s cloak and loosened his scarf. Beside him, Merry seemed in shock, his face utterly without color, trembling violently. He was stroking the tweenager’s face, murmuring over and over, “Wake up, Pip dear. Wake up. Please wake up!”
Frodo caught his cousin’s arms and pulled him away from the unmoving figure, giving Boromir room to work. Merry struggled, hardly aware of his cousin’s presence, unhearing of the comforting words Frodo sought to murmur in his ear. Unobstructed now, Boromir ripped the small jacket apart and slightly grubby white shirt beneath it, flipping the youngster’s scarf out of the way. Sam crouched beside him, more collected than either of the youngster’s cousins. “Mr. Merry threw a knife,” he explained to Boromir softly. “It hit Pippin by accident. Master Pip was sitting in a shaded hollow before the tree an’ we didn’t see him.” Boromir nodded, his attention on recalling what he knew of treating battle-injuries. Where was the wound? There was no great gout of blood staining the pale skin anywhere that he could see.
Suddenly the little one’s face creased up and his eyes opened. “Owwww!” wailed Pippin.
“Pip … Pippin?” gasped Merry, tearing himself from Frodo’s restraining grasp with the sound of ripping cloth.
“Ow,” repeated Pippin resentfully. “Merry, why did you hit me?”
“I … I hit you?” Merry said stupidly. Pippin sat up and commenced to rub the crown of his curly head. Boromir fell back, hands raised, uncertain if he should forced the hobbit down again. Pippin’s slightly unfocused eyes completed the circuit of anxious faces and he stared at them.
“Hullo, Frodo. Hullo, Boromir. What are you doing here?”
“Are you all right?”
Pippin’s gaze shot back to Merry, startled. “Of course I’m all right. You needn’t have hit me though, Merry. I was just watching.”
Merry’s small hands were suddenly burrowing through Pippin’s curls. Pippin, having his head forced down, emitted a series of loud, “Ow! Ow! Ow!” interspersed with “Merry, stop that!”
The hobbit’s hands parted the thick hair on either side of a growing bump almost directly on top of the tweenager’s head. Merry’s gaze traveled to a small tree limb that lay, rocking slightly, to the side. Then up to the white scar on the bark, bleeding beads of fresh sap. His knife quivered there, driven deep into the trunk, having parted the last remaining strip of bark that had held the branch from falling. Merry stood up and abruptly fell over in a dead faint.
* * * * *
Legolas was still fighting to even his breathing. Elven-swift, he had run back to the garden to find it deserted, the Master of Rivendell and Mithrandir long departed. He had flown then to Elrond’s study, calling frantically to the Imladris Elves for the whereabouts of their lord. The lord’s secretary had instructed him to go to the Library and shoved Elrond’s medical kit into Legolas’ hands. It was here that the young Elf found the two, pouring over Elrond’s gem-encrusted topographical map. Gasping out his news, the three had hurried back to the scene of the accident at quite an undignified pace. They (and what seemed half of Imladris) had arrived just in time to here a petulant Pippin announce, “I want to get up! Will you get off me, Merry!”
Pippin had been difficult about having the bump examined and not at all pleased at being told to hold still while Elrond cleaned it and applied a plaster. After having the little one follow his finger and examining his pupils carefully, Elrond rather thought that young Meriadoc was more in need of his skills. Elrond stood back and watched as Boromir carried the young hobbit away, the other three clustered around the Man’s tall form and getting in his way. Legolas walked beside him, endeavoring the keep the three from tripping the Man as they pressed close in their concern. Pippin peered back over his shoulder, still looking surprised at all the commotion, but also rather pleased at being carried and enjoying the high vantage point.
“How can four such small beings create such an uproar,” the Elf-lord asked rhetorically.
“My household has not known a moment’s calm since they arrived. After they leave, it will take at least a millennium of peace and quiet to restore my shattered nerves.” He raised a slender, fine-boned hand and rubbed at his high brow. “The ancient philosophers spent much time in pursuit of the mythological perpetual-motion machine … an everlasting, self-sustaining source of energy. I submit they examine hobbits.”
Too out of breath to respond, Gandalf had merely leaned against his staff and chuckled.
* * * * *
As further practice was out of the question for the day, Elrond had directed the hobbits off to the bathhouse to wash and rest themselves in preparation for the feast the Elf-lord had called in gratitude of Merry and Pippin’s saving of his sons’ lives. Pippin had greeted this suggestion with such enthusiasm (except for the bath) that Elrond dismissed any further concerns for his health.
Frodo and Merry kept a close eye on their younger cousin as the tweenager paddled happily in the steamy, frothy bath, making sure that he did not overexert himself. Pippin was deriving entirely too much enjoyment out of teasing the apprehensive Sam, who was clinging like grim death to the side of the wall, refusing to respond to the youngster’s assurance that he would not drown should he venture out past the benches on which they stood.
The two elder cousins leaned back comfortably in the warm water, reveling in the easing of their aches. Frodo watched Merry’s eyes following Pippin’s every splash. Finally he leaned over and nudged his cousin gently. “Relax, Merry,” Frodo said softly. “He’s all right.”
Merry nodded jerkily. “I may drown him myself if he doesn’t quit tormenting Sam.”
Frodo laughed and inhaled deeply to plunge his head under the water. Shaking the water out of his ears, he floated comfortably for a moment. “How is your wrist?”
“Much better, thank you,” Merry replied inattentively.
Frodo regarded his cousin’s abstracted face for moment. “And your bruises?”
“Uhm. How’s your butter fingers?”
“Fine, thank you.” Then Merry’s brows drew down and he focused on his cousin. “My… What are you talking about?”
“Got your attention, did I?” Merry looked exasperated but Frodo ignored his expression.
“Meriadoc,” he said softly, below the energetic splashing on the other side of the great, wood-walled tub, “He’s fine. He wasn’t hurt.”
Merry swung to face him and Frodo almost stepped back at the barely-contained fury on his face. “This time. This time! What about the next time? What if he does get hurt? What do I say to his father, his mother? His sisters? To all of Tookland if the heir of the Thain doesn’t return?”
The Ring-bearer was silent for long moments. Then he said, “Merry, haven’t you thought that I’ve asked myself those questions? About the heir to the Thain and the heir to the Master of Buckland.” Merry looked at him, surprised. Frodo nodded. “Oh, yes. And would you like to know how I answered myself?”
At his cousin’s wordless nod, Frodo continued, “I asked myself if they would not be safer if they returned to the Shire. I asked myself if they would go home, if I asked them to. I asked myself … how long they would have, they all would have, if this Quest doesn’t succeed. I asked myself if there were anyone else I would rather have go with me. The answers, Cousin, were ‘yes, for a while.’ Then ‘probably not.’ And then ‘most likely not long, if the darkness falls.’ And lastly, ‘no one else.’”
Merry stared at the Ring-bearer cautiously. “We may not be of much use to you, Frodo.”
Frodo shook his head, scattering droplets of water from the limp curls. “You and Pip and Sam being there, Merry, is enough. Enough reason to do this. Enough reason to endure this. Enough reason to keep me from running screaming from this place and hiding in some dark hole.” Merry smiled and Frodo echoed it faintly. “C’mon,” the Ring-bearer said softly. “If you can convince Pip that Sam doesn’t want to learn to swim, we might have time for a bite to sustain us until the feast.”
* * * * *
The hobbits had barely finished dressing and consuming a little ‘something strengthening’ when a light knock sounded on Frodo’s door. Shrugging into his jacket, Sam went to answer it. He returned a moment later with the Master of Rivendell at his side. “Good eve, little masters,” Elrond said with bow. The hobbits bowed in return.
“I hope I am not interrupting you,” the Elf-lord remarked, “but I thought you might wish to accompany me to a small ceremony before the feast. It will not take long.”
“Of course, my lord,” replied Frodo, puzzled. “We are at your disposal.”
Elrond led them out into the cooling night air, the aromas of roasting meats and baking and other delicious scents drifting on the breeze. The hobbits raised their faces and sniffed appreciatively. Smiling to himself, the lord led them to the stables, to their amazement, then to the corral that stood outside them. In the corral waited Inmara, her pale coat shining and flowers woven into her mane and tail. The stable master stood holding her harness, otherwise she was unencumbered.
The old mare whickered upon seeing her two small riders, and Merry and Pippin rushed up to her, stroking her nose and patting as far up her graceful neck as they could reach. Inmara responded by butting them gently with her great head, whiffing their hair with her sweet breath.
“We have come,” said the Elf-lord, after greetings had been exchanged, “ to bide Inmara farewell.” The hobbits looked at him. “She has demonstrated her bravery in bearing you and returning you safely to us, Meriadoc and young Peregrin. She saved your lives more than once, Estel has told me.” He reached out and ran a long hand along the elderly horse’s spine. “It is time for her to be retired, to spend the rest of her days running free in the meadows of Imladris.”
At a nod from his lord, the stable master gently pulled the harness from the old mare’s head. He paused for a moment to cup her muzzle, stroking the hollows beneath her eyes. No doubt he had bred her and trained her, her and her sire and her dam and their sires and dams, for untold generations.
The mare bowed her head before Elrond, and he returned the gesture with an elegant nod. “Go,” he told her. “You have served long and well. You have my thanks.”
She turned and trotted slowly from the corral, pausing once to look over her shoulder at them. Then with a sudden, joyous whinny the old mare kicked up her heels and broke into a gallop, heading for the green grasslands where her kin waited.
Elrond put a hand on Pippin’s shoulder, then on Merry’s. “Come,” he told them all gently. “It is time to attend the feast.”
* 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.