44. Night Terrors and Morning Adventures
He missed a lot of things, he realized with sudden sharpness, feeling tears prick behind his closed eyelids, and pushed the thought away quickly before he started dwelling on everything he had left behind. Sighing, he wished he could shake off this grim mood. Perhaps he was overtired from the day’s demands and from their visitors, who had stayed until quite late. Now sleep was slow in coming. His arm ached dully and he massaged it carefully with his other hand. At long last, he passed into a restless doze that gradually deepened into an uneasy slumber.
Blurred images passed through his subconscious; unresolved and unexpressed anxieties drifting to the surface of his sleeping mind. He wandered, thoughts touching here and there without taking hold but finally the swirling images steadied and true dreaming began. Suddenly, shockingly, he heard a scream. Pippin’s scream, or was it his own? He ran desperately toward the sound that had pierced him like a knife in his heart. He saw Pippin as he had come running toward him, lying there at the base of the tree, silent and unmoving.
He saw with disbelief and horror that a knife quivered in the tweenager’s breast. Red blood poured from the wound, saturating Pippin’s clothes, running down his sides, spreading on the ground in an ever-widening pool. It was impossible that there should be so much blood. Only if the knife had pierced Pippin’s heart could there be so much, and if that were so … if that were so…
Pippin’s curly head was thrown back, his green-gold eyes open but unseeing, all light gone from them. He was dead. It could not be true. He could not bear it to be true. But it was and he was overwhelmed with loss and despair. No elven healing could bring Pippin back from this. No elven healing could bring himself back, either. They were both dead now for how could he live after this? Why should he want to, or deserve to? He had caused this to come to pass. Pippin would not be here, would not be dead if he had just been firm enough and refused to let him come on this ill-fated journey. He hadn’t tried hard enough to make him stay behind. He should have tried harder.
It was his fault. He was responsible for his cousin – for both his cousins. And for Sam, too. Now he saw Paladin crouched beside the body of his only son. The elder hobbit rose to point a shaking finger at him, his grief-stricken face accusing and disbelieving. Red tears rolled from Paladin’s eyes. “You were supposed to take care of him! You are older and supposedly wiser, and were to guard him from harm! How could you let this happen to him?”
Pippin’s mother, Eglantine, cradled her dead child, her youngest babe, rocking him gently to and fro. Red tears poured from her eyes too, and from the eyes of Pippin’s sisters, suddenly standing behind their grieving mother. None of them would look at him. It was his fault. He knew it was. He did not need Paladin’s accusation or Eglantine’s grief to tell him that. Pippin had been their only son, the heir to the Thain. There was no heir now. All the Shire would suffer because of his failure. Pippin was dead because he had failed… The Quest too would fail because of him, if he could not even keep this one small cousin safe. He was sure of it - it would fail because he had already failed at this and then there would be no Shire … all his fault … all his…
“Wake up!” Someone was shaking him. “Wake up, you silly hobbit!”
He heard someone weeping and realized that it was himself. He struggled to escape the bonds that held him imprisoned in the nightmare; it was like he had fallen into deep water, the weight of it holding him down and seeking to keep him there forever in the darkness of his despair.
“Wake up,” the familiar and much-loved voice demanded. “Merry, wake up!”
Merry dragged his eyes open to stare into the frightened eyes of Pippin less than two inches from his nose. A gasp of relief and joy and disbelief burst from him. It had seemed so real.
Seeing his elder cousin’s eyes open at last, Pippin gave him one more shake for good measure then hugged him, crowding up onto Merry’s bed. “Silly hobbit,” he whispered, “what are you crying about, Merry dear?” Merry raised his hands to swipe at the tears seeping from his eyes. Sobs still shook him and desperately he tried to rule himself so as not to wake the Man. A quick glance at Boromir’s bed showed him the soldier slept on, apparently undisturbed by Merry’s terror.
“I…” Merry tried, “I … I had a bad dream, Pip.” His breath ran out and he stopped and gulped, shaking with tremors that seemed to tear right through him.
“Did you, then?” Pippin asked, the question not really a question. “Want to tell me about it?”
“No!” Pippin drew back, startled by his cousin’s vehemence. “No,” whispered Merry again, struggling for self-possession. “Keep your voice down or you’ll wake Boromir. It was just a dream, Pippin. I hardly remember it, now,” he lied clumsily.
Unconvinced, Pippin tried to stare into his eyes and Merry looked away slightly, grateful for the semi-darkness that enveloped the quiet room. He could not share these fears, this guilt, with Pippin. Whether or not Pip believed him, thankfully the tweenager decided to let it rest. For now, anyway. Pip was too persistent and loved Merry too much to let this go completely. “Shall I get you a drink of water? I hid a chocolate to eat later, but you can have it, Merry. I think Lord Elrond has them sent all the way from Dale.”
Merry shuddered; his stomach definitely could not handle any more sweets. After that hideous dream, the thought made him feel ill. “No thank you, Pip. I’m fine, truly. It was just a bad dream. It’s gone now.” He smiled reassuringly, aware that he was still trembling slightly.
Pippin nodded doubtfully. He started to ease himself off Merry’s bed but his cousin’s arms wrapped around him desperately and pulled him alongside. “No!” Merry gasped, then relaxed his hold slightly. “I mean … you are here now, you may as well stay. It will be warmer.”
Pippin gave him a look that told his cousin he wasn’t the least bit fooled, but wiggled under the blankets gratefully. “Silly hobbit,” he scolded with a yawn. “Go back to sleep. And no more bad dreams, hear me?”
Shadowed in the darkness, Boromir relaxed slowly. He had awakened at the halfling’s first whimper, his warrior’s senses alerted by the unfamiliar sound of distress. Though instantly alert, he had lain indecisive as Meriadoc cried out and thrashed in his sleep, the tears streaming down his face just visible in the low light of the cold moonbeams that slanted in through the windows. He had just resolved to awaken the little one from whatever terror held him in thrall when Peregrin rolled over with a snort, raising himself up on his arms to stare across at his cousin then padded silently over to the other’s bed. He had heard their whispered exchange despite their attempts to avoid disturbing him, and listened as Pippin comforted a distraught Merry.
With a sudden pang, he realized he envied these small folk, these seemingly weak, vulnerable creatures. Such assumptions in regard to their kind were deceptive. Their strength lay not in arms, in mighty feats of battle. Their strength was in each other. In their love for each other, and for their homeland, and for their close-knit families. Feigning sleep so as to spare Merry any embarrassment, the man lay awake long after the little ones had drifted back into slumber, thinking on the many different kinds of strength that there truly were.
* * * * *
Boromir was careful to give the halflings no sign that he had overheard them in the morning. Merry was still upset; his eyes sought out his younger cousin, followed Pippin’s every move. Pippin bore this with some confusion, but sensing his cousin’s unease, stayed close so as not to cause him any further distress. Having bore witness to Merry’s understandable reactions to the unfortunate accident with the knife and watching Merry unable to tear his eyes from Pippin this morning, Boromir had no doubt as to what had caused the elder hobbit’s terrifying nightmare. Both were unnaturally silent during morning ablutions and breakfast. The soldier was surprised to discover he missed their cheerful, constant chatter. Pippin did not even press him for an “unsuitable story,” clearly worried at the way Merry was picking at his food in what even Boromir recognized was a most un-hobbitlike manner.
Watching the older cousin’s eyes begin to turn inward, Boromir decided upon a strategy. “As we all seem much better today,” he commented, pleased to see the small faces immediately fasten upon him with interest, “would you like to get in some sword-practice?”
“Our practice-swords are in the armory,” Merry said regretfully.
“And our real swords are in our own room,” added Pippin. “I could fetch them, if you like.”
“We are not quite ready to practice with real blades,” said Boromir hastily, thinking of Lord Elrond’s reaction should he allow them such. “I was thinking that we could improvise. Improvisation, after all, is a very important ability for a warrior to possess. ”
So it was that Elrond, admitting himself into the room when his soft knocks went unanswered, found himself privy to the sight of two jubilant young halflings still in their nightshirts backing a large, laughing Man into a corner. Pippin was menacing him with the business end of a mop while Merry brandished a curved stick borrowed from one of the garden’s lattices. Tendrils of vine and flowers still clung to it.
The two were taking shameless advantage of the warrior’s care not to harm them, landing solid thumps of their own with mop and stick. Boromir was defending himself with a small side table that he held by one leg, holding them off as a tamer of giant cats from the Far South thwarts his beasts. It was an ineffectual battle at best, but all three combatants looked to be enjoying themselves hugely.
“Ahem,” coughed the Elf-lord politely when his entrance went unnoticed. “Ahem. Ahem!”
Three faces turned towards him and flushed an identical shade of red. One last hysterical giggle burst from Pippin before he could stifle it, and Merry was biting his lower lip holding in his own laughter. Hiding his amusement, Elrond gathered the shreds of his famed serenity about himself and addressed them. “These seem to be unnecessary,” he stated dryly, indicating the three doses of tonic on the tray he carried. “I pronounce you all recovered. Meriadoc and Peregrin, you have my leave to return to your own quarters. Lord Boromir, my thanks for allowing them to recuperate with you. I trust they were not too much of an inconvenience?” He looked at the warrior with a raised eyebrow, the faintest hint of a smile on his lips.
Boromir’s flush deepened slightly at this gentle jibe. He lowered the side table and bowed slightly. “Not at all, my lord. We were just … just…”
“Yes,” Elrond returned. “Perhaps you would prefer second breakfast to breaking up my furniture.”
Less embarrassed than the Man at being caught in their play, the hobbits were already scrambling into their clothes. “Come on, Boromir,” said Pippin impatiently. The Elf-lord could not but laugh to himself as the two halflings towed the Man out the door, his elven hearing catching Boromir’s confused query about “…second breakfast?”
Elrond’s next stop was the Ring-bearer’s room. Two phials had replaced the three on the tray, the darker rose-colored one meant for Frodo. Elrond frowned at it thoughtfully, then added a few more drops of a bitter-smelling liquid from a tiny stoppered bottle which he returned to his robes. The Elf-lord’s time of dosing the hobbit with strengthening cordials was coming to an end, and Elrond meant for him to be as strong as he could be when he left Imladris.
Sam answered the door immediately and greeted the Master of Rivendell with a bow and a delighted smile, as pleased to see the Elf-lord as if he and Gandalf and Legolas and Gimli had not stayed so late the night before. “He’s still sleeping, my lord. Not an early riser, Mr. Frodo.” Sam regarded the tray with resignation. “Shall I wake him, sir?”
“No, Samwise. Let him sleep. But when he wakes, he must drink the cordial. This one is for you.”
Sam nodded and dutifully downed his with a grimace and a “Thank you, my lord.”
“I have released Meriadoc and Peregrin,” Elrond continued, “so no doubt you will be seeing them as soon as they break their fast … again. You also,” and Sam felt a gentle hand turn his head side to side while Elrond stared deep into his eyes, “seem quite recovered.” Sam nodded again – he was rarely ill and always got better quickly.
“I wish to examine your master when he wakes. Have him drink his tonic and eat, then send for me.”
“I will, my lord.”
It was Elrond’s turn to nod. “Thank you. I believe Aragorn wishes to take you all upon an extended camping trip … a “walking-party” as I have heard Bilbo use the term. Perhaps that will encourage Frodo to eat.”
Sam’s round face lit with enthusiasm. “Aye, sir, that’ll do it. Mr. Frodo’s been wanting to see more of Rivendell an’ the country hereabouts.”
* * * * *
A few hours later, Aragorn drew in a deep breath of the pine-scented air and felt his heart lift in response. It was good to be ‘Strider’ again, if even for a short time. ‘Strider’ did not carry the cares and woes and fears that Aragorn did. His old, worn clothes and patched cloak surpassed all the silks and velvets of Elrond’s House in comfort.
It was also good to be accompanied by four happy hobbits. He felt absurdly pleased to be on the road again, the five of them, as they had been after leaving Bree. Only this time, without the fear of pursuit or ambush. The little folk were delighted at the chance to explore and the Ranger allowed them free rein. The two younger ones were expending much energy investigating every crevice and viewpoint, exclaiming over each scenic wonder and calling to each other and to Frodo and Sam and Strider himself to “…come and see!”
Sam was enchanted with the old-growth trees, many that had been ancient before the first hobbits had crossed into Eriador. Unfamiliar plants filled his pack and pockets, leaves and blossoms to be examined and asked about later. Frodo walked beside Aragorn more quietly, but his morning glory eyes drank in the beauty of Imladris with pleasure, and Aragorn could tell that he too, was glad to be free of the constraints of the House for a while.
Aragorn carried most of what supplies he had allowed them and Sam carried his treasured cooking pots but little else. The four hobbits had been shocked beyond measure when the Ranger had refused to allow them to fill their packs with food – which normally made up the great majority of supplies for a walking-party, he was informed.
“The purpose of this exercise,” he told the four indignant faces, “is to not only enjoy a nice walk but to hone our survival skills. So we will not take much food. We will hunt and gather our dinners, and I expect you to support yourselves. And me. As Pippin has become quite proficient in setting-snares, I expect to eat well.” Pippin puffed himself up and bounced on his toes, glancing at the others to make certain they had heard.
“Can we at least take Bill?” Frodo protested. “Surely the pony needs to get used to walking again also.”
“And we could eat him if we get too hungry,” said Pippin. “Just joking, Sam!” he added hurriedly when the stocky hobbit swung around, disbelieving horror on his face. “Can’t we have any fun?” Pippin whispered to Merry. “It is going to take a great deal of work to feed all of you. You are lucky I’m along.”
“Hush!” his cousin had replied.
“I wish Boromir would come,” Pippin hissed back, undaunted. “We could get him to feed us.”
“Pippin, be quiet! Aragorn will hear you!”
The hobbits carried their bedrolls and a change of clothing, their flints and pipes and pipe-weed, a few personal items and their swords. In addition to his pack and weapons, Aragorn carried a hobbit-specific medical kit and several more doses of tonic for Frodo, which he had somehow neglected to mention to the hobbit. Elrond had drawn him aside in the courtyard as the hobbits shouldered their packs, handing him the small padded case of stoppered medicines. “Make certain that Frodo does not over-exert himself,” his foster father had told Aragorn quietly. “He and the other halflings have had no sustained exercise since their arrival here. They need to ease back into long walking and carrying their packs.”
“I will care for them, Elrond.”
“And for yourself.” Elrond was quiet for a moment, grey eyes distant. “Keep them out for several days, Estel. I have some things I wish to accomplish here without the interference of curious hobbits.” He did not elaborate. The Elf-lord put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently, a rare gesture of affection. “Be careful, my son.”
The Ranger’s attention was returned to the hobbit walking beside him when Frodo abruptly threw back his head and laughed, his so-blue eyes sparkling. Seeing Aragorn’s eyes upon him, Frodo smiled. “It is good to be alive,” the Ring-bearer explained softly.
“On this of all days,” agreed Aragorn, as the shifting breeze brought to them the scents of the woodlands and the sweet smell of decaying leaves. The hobbits shuffled their feet in the soft earth, enjoying the feel of cool grass against their bare soles.
“Where are we going, sir?” asked Sam from Frodo’s left.
“There is a place I think you would enjoy seeing, Sam. A most special place.”
“South?” Sam pursued when Aragorn did not explain further.
The Ranger nodded, teasing the hobbit and enjoying it. “The north road is still closed due to the landslide. The west road you have seen. The east road … well, we are not ready to take the east road yet.” Aragorn raised his eyes to the narrow path that led out of Imladris towards Mordor, twisting around the steep mountains until it was lost to sight. He noticed that Frodo had followed his gaze, a shadow now in his eyes, and sought to distract the Ring-bearer.
“The south road, however, is one well-traveled by Elrond’s folk. And at the end of it … is a marvel beyond words.”
“What?” asked Frodo, knowing full well they were being teased but unable to stifle his inquisitiveness. “What is it?”
“That,” replied Aragorn with irritating smugness “is for me to know and you to find out.”
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.