It always came back to Merry as a series of flashes. That day. Whenever a flash came, he would stop his work, and clutch his arm, his eyes dimming into darkness just for a moment, feeling the cold once more. And then it would pass. Until the next time.
The horn sounds in the pale dawn light. The horses stamp, steam and sweat rises off them, rich with the smell of leather and metal, horseflesh and fear. There is the warmth of Éowyn’s body behind him, despite the armour. She is like a furnace, but pale as snow when he glances up at her, before quickly looking away.
“Courage Merry. Courage for our friends.” Her arm around him offering comfort, or taking it? He cannot say.
The stir of blood, as Théoden-king starts speaking, the eagerness of the riders, barely leashed. The lump of terror over his heart, like a stone, it weighs him down, and his mouth is dry. But Théoden-king rides nearer now and Éowyn shifts to hide her face. Merry does not know how he may hide so he does not try, only gripping the saddle pommel tighter, his fingers cramping, he holds so tight. But Théoden-king does not see, he rides past, and Merry releases the breath he has held unknowing.
“A sword day… a red day… and the sun’s rising!” Théoden-king’s words gird the spirit, the riders around him stir, it certainly gives them courage, Merry thinks, if not hope. But Théoden-king has never offered hope, only honour, and Merry loves him for his honesty.
A soft voice from above him, snatched away in the dawn-light. “Whatever happens, stay with me. I’ll look after you.” And Merry is grateful for even that crumb of comfort, knowing she is comforting herself as well, and knowing that if he falls from Windfola in the charge, he will be utterly lost. His fingers are white on the pommel, and he longs to take her hand, for the soft comfort of warm flesh, but knows he cannot.
The clack of wood on metal, like a hobbit-child running a stick along a fence, and Théoden-king rides along the line. The horses stamp at the noise. Windfola tenses under Merry, the great muscles shifting.
“…Ride! Ride for ruin and the world’s ending!”
“Death!” And the Rohirrim answer him, a roar of sound, and suddenly Merry feels his heart beating in great thuds.
“Death!” The blood pounds in his ears, and a shiver forces itself down his back.
“Death!” And he is screaming back, as Éowyn is above him, and the terror and the loneliness, the worry and the helplessness, are forced out of his heart and into the scream. He is wild with it, and his small sword is in his hand, and Windfola is moving, is pounding down the hill, and the horn is blowing…
One year, Estella asked him to check the ponies in the Spring, to see if they were fit after the long winter. Merry went to the barn and stood in the warm dimness listening to the soft movements, hearing their breathing. Then he jumped, as a hoof kicked out into a stall door. He shut his eyes, blinded for a moment to the plain wooden stable.
How can they live? How can they not? The charge is never-ending, it lasts forever, as arrows hiss above and riders fall on either side. Merry holds to Windfola’s mane now, his pounding hooves sending shock after shock jarring up into Merry’s shoulders as they gallop swifter than thought, and yet the moment still stretches. They will never reach the line.
The orc hordes are like a dark tide ahead as Merry stares through tears drawn forth by the wind, they blur and shift; they are not real. There is screaming all around him, defiance and rage in equal measure, and he is distantly surprised to find he is also screaming. He tries to stare past them, to the White City, to Pippin, but it is as a dream, this is all there is, the pounding of hooves, the twisted knot in his belly. Pippin may as well be a world away.
And then they hit. Windfola does not slow, they will not stop for anything, they will never stop. The charge will go on forever, he will feel it in his bones forever. But now there are dark and evil shapes flashing by on either side, they go down in front of Windfola’s hooves like wheat in the field, and still they do not stop. Éowyn shifts behind him, her sword stabbing down, and Merry looks to his left, only to his left. He shall be her shield-arm, her protection, he will not be a burden. His small sword thrusts at faces he does not see, at limbs and weapons raised, and still they pound on. His teeth are bared in a rictus he hardly notices, black blood flies off his blade, a drop lands on his tongue and burns. There are snarling fangs, he cuts at them, red eyes, and he stabs again and again. His arm and shoulder are burning, but he cannot stop, they will always be riding, and there will always be another orc, Windfola will run forever. How can they live? How can they not…
At Winterfeast, it was tradition for the Master of the Hall to carve the meat, and Merry always carved and served all his friends and relations with a will. It was only Estella who sometimes noticed that amid all the toasts and songs, and the revelry of hobbits celebrating, her husband was sometimes silent, and then, beneath the table, she would gently hold his hand.
The world slows, and stills. They are still moving but they are not charging any more. There is grass now below Windfola’s hooves, trampled and blackened from blood and filth, there is space between the orcs. Merry can hear his own breath, panting harshly in his ears, and feel Éowyn behind him, her chest rising and falling in great gasps. There is the taste of metal on his tongue. Faintly Eomer’s cry comes in the wind, “Drive them back to the river!”
Then another horn sounds, deeper and further away, ominous in the stillness. Merry looks up, his nerves still singing, the sudden cessation of battle leaving a faint tremble in his limbs that he distantly hopes Éowyn will not notice. His eyes widen, and unbidden, the sound of Sam’s voice comes into his mind, reciting his favourite poem when he was a lad, and Merry’s throat closes and his eyes sting at the memory. His lips shape the words, but no sound leaves them. ‘Grey as a mouse, big as a house…’
“Re-form the line! Re-form the line!” Théoden-king brings him back to himself, here to the Pelennor, as Éowyn wheels Windfola and the warriors are raggedly re-formed. The horses are nervous, as they were not on the hill, Windfola tosses his head and snorts. It occurs to Merry that the horses can smell them, their alien scent, from sun-warmed spicy lands, from evil and cruel masters, the horses can smell them and the scent makes them as uneasy as he feels.
And then they are charging again, but it is slower than before, like riding through treacle, the impact cannot be the same. The orcs flow away like oil between the beasts’ legs as they advance, and Merry looks up and looks up. Bigger than ten houses they must be, these oliphaunts, and covered in warpaint of scarlet and gold, with spike bound tusks, and scything chains between their legs. And of a sudden the charge is a weak thing, and they are all tiny beneath the sky and the oliphaunts’ bellows split the world, and Merry shakes with it, trembling like a sapling in a wind. He is conscious of an awe that he has seen this sight, under the overwhelming terror, and pride remains, that they will not flee, that the Men of the Mark will fulfil their oaths, and ride these monsters down, and so will he. His hand is slippery on his sword, orc blood or sweat he does not spare the time to tell, only clenches it more tightly in his grasp.
Then they are among them, and Merry winces but does not cease to look, as men and horses are tossed skywards like leaves, to fall with horrible crashes and screams. He feels their death, as he feels their impact on the ground, but he stares ahead wide-eyed as Éowyn urges Windfola to ever greater speed, steering him hither and thither, the hiss of arrows close by their ears. Now, more than ever, Merry feels his helplessness, he is the smallest here upon the field and the oliphaunts tower above him, as Éowyn steers them close past lumbering legs larger then the ancient trees of Fangorn. He has given up breathing, as they miss death by a hair’s breadth again and again, and his guts squeeze tight upon themselves.
“Take the reins! Pull left…” Éowyn’s voice is high and wild in his ear, and panic grips him, even as he grasps the reins so abruptly thrust into his hands. Windfola shifts under him, turning slightly, as though sensing his uncertainty, as Merry is sure he has not pulled the reins with his fingers frozen with dread. What is she doing? How can she trust him? He has never ridden a horse before, and this is a stallion of the Rohirrim, and they are pounding now between the legs of a giant oliphaunt, and he will kill them both unless… He forces his hands to relax, as though this is his own dear pony, and they curl automatically round the leathers as he gently steers Windfola. Then before he has time to understand, his sword is dragged from his grasp, and he cries out in pain as his thumb is wrenched, his grip upon it has been so tight. He understands now, too late, what is in her mind, and he wants to shout, no, it is madness, you cannot, we will die, I shall never see Pip again... But there is no time, the oliphaunt is here above them, and all he can do is keep Windfola steady and hold on.
Éowyn lets him go to wield both swords and for achingly slow seconds he is truly flying on the back of this magnificent animal. Then there is one, no two, jarring impacts that knock Éowyn back in the saddle as they sweep through the oliphaunt’s underbelly into clear sunlight again. The beast bellows behind them as, hamstrung, it comes crashing to the earth with a noise like thunder. Merry’s ears are ringing, and he is dizzy for a moment, relief coursing through him. His sight dims and there are spots before his eyes, but piercing terror forces his head up, and he strains to see, even as Éowyn drags the reins from his faltering hands.
“Bring it down! Bring it down! Bring it down!” Théoden-king’s bellow sounds much too close, and Merry’s sight clears at last, to see they are almost on top of another oliphaunt, and it is rearing on its hind legs, trunk raised in pain and agony and fear. Its riders in their houdah are screaming, high and thin, as they fall clutching at the air, tipped from the contraption as it strains and gives way. Bound bundles of reeds scatter like straws, falling as heavy as trees cracking in a storm. The oliphaunt paws at the air, like to a horse in that moment as it tries to escape its torment, only to stagger sideways and collapse, its unnatural action unstable and doomed.
Desperately Éowyn attempts to turn Windfola’s course, but there is not time. Merry snatches back his sword, attempting to free her hands, as Windfola throws up his head at the sudden signal and turns, but not fast enough. The oliphaunt’s bulk is bearing down upon them, like a grey wall of flesh, and people and trappings rain like bloody blossoms. Something slams into Windfola, Merry cannot see what but the impact is sickening, there is a scream, high like a girl’s, and he realises it is Windfola making the unbearable noise, before it is sharply cut off. And suddenly Merry is falling, the sky pinwheeling above him, and he has no time for any thought, except for tasting the acid of fear in his mouth as he yells, before hitting the ground hard and rolling. There are starbursts of pain, like lights in his head, his teeth click shut, and the breath is knocked from his chest. His mind scrambles after itself, incoherent thoughts of Pip mix with jagged flashes of horses and men falling from the sky. Éowyn, he screams, but it is only in his heart, as the sky dims, and the world slows, and is still.
His son was a marvel to Merry. The lad was always into everything from the time he was able to walk. “A handful.” Estella said. “Just like you at his age.” His mother said. All Merry knew was that he needed to protect him, needed to so hard it was like a weight in his chest at times. And then he would fall silent and watch his lad play, and force himself not to interfere, in case he never let him go again.
Dust in his mouth. Merry comes to, and lies blinking, stupefied, in the glare from the early morning sun. Where is Pip? It must be time for breakfast soon. There is grit on his tongue and something more, so he reaches up and takes the sharpness from his lips. It is white as bone. One tooth is jagged now, he probes it delicately as noise swells, as from a great distance, the roar of… The battle! Desperately Merry rolls over, and realises he is lying in the shadow of the downed oliphaunt. He will not let himself think how close he has come to being crushed, it is not the time, there is no time – where is Éowyn? A cough grasps him, and he shakes with it, tears of pain coming to his eyes, everything aches, but he cannot let it matter. As his eyes frantically search the battlefield, his hair blows in his eyes, matted and dirty from days in the saddle, and he realises he has lost his helm, somewhere, no wonder his head rings like a bell, he is lucky it is not worse.
Then he sees her. Glorious she is, and his heart swells at the sight of her, such a small doomed beautiful thing, like a butterfly, facing down a shadow, the death of all hope. It hurts Merry to look at it. She dodges its huge spiked mace, and feints, and then once again dodges a blow that would crush her utterly if it landed. She is light on her feet like a dancer but the deadly game cannot last forever, she is gasping from the strain of it even now. There is the debris from the battlefield all around, a fell beast lies still, with its head separate and gaping in death like a discarded mask. There is a white horse lying behind her, its shining trappings limp and dull, and Merry feels his heart squeeze in his chest, as he recognises it. Théoden-king! Théoden-king! That is why she faces down the beast, that is why her blood does not freeze in her veins at the sight of the shadow, it is hot for vengeance, bleeding with pain, she is fire and ice and she will not let him fall unavenged. Oh Théoden-king, now I will never ask forgiveness that I came to war when you forbade it. Now I will never talk herb-lore, or show you my sword, sharp now and anointed in black orc blood, to have you shake your head at me and smile.
And Merry feels tears gather and fall, hot on his cold face, trailing down his cheeks as silently as though they belong to someone else, someone who can afford the time for tears, as he cannot, as he takes up his sword in numb fingers, and dashes the tears from his eyes, all the while staring and staring at the doomed duel in front of him. He watches as Éowyn has her shield smashed into flinders, and as her arm hangs limp and broken, as she kneels on the cold earth with no strength left to stand, and the fear she has forced away until now glimmers in her eyes as the shadow reaches out with mailed fist to grasp her pale throat and lift her from the ground.
It is in him, a wail that he dares not let out from behind bared teeth, a whimpering Shire-lad that does not understand how he comes here now, on this field, at this moment, and a lad that Merry dares not listen to as he grasps his sword and moves silently, elf-quiet, hobbit-quiet forward towards the fray. I promised to protect her, shield arm am I, and her shield is broken.
It is a litany that runs through him like a trickle of silver water, nourishing him, and freezing him all at the same time. For cold pours off the creature in front of him and Merry’s teeth are chattering with it, and he is less than a worm on the ground before the fallen evil that gloats there, but he cannot stand aside.
“Fool, no man can kill me… Die now…”
And with all his strength Merry thrusts his small sword into the foul creature, in the sinew above the knee, above its greaves, all he can reach, and he hopes it is enough, even as the cold pours into him, down the blade, freezing his heart and bitter is its bite. He cries out, his voice blending with the harsh scream of the shadow, and he falls back, not dropping his sword, but no longer holding it, so numb has his arm become, and yet stinging a thousand times worse than any chilblain. And he stares up from his helplessness on the ground, and horror is in him, and despair, even as the Witch-king falls to its knees in agony. Like to a white flame is Éowyn then, so it seems to Merry, for all the world is in shadow and only she burns clear and bright, as she drags her helmet from her head and her hair flies gloriously free, a golden candle to light the darkness.
“I am no man!”
And she thrusts her sword deep into the black cowl, and there is a high keening noise, like bees beyond hearing, and then the crumpling of armour, metallic and harsh, and the Witch-king falls in upon itself, shrinking and folding, and Merry can feel the sound in his bones, in his broken tooth, and it stabs him in the midst of his frozen heart like a needle. It is too much, despair takes him, he cannot think, and the ground rushes up to find him and he also crumples, and his last thought is a childish cry, a hobbit-lad calling for his friends, for he is lost in the wood and he cannot find his way. The earth rushes up to meet him, and there is dust in his mouth, and he knows no more.
Winters in the Shire were mild, a little snow for hobbit-children to play in, a little ice for skating upon. The nights were dark but inside Brandy Hall the fires were cosy, and Estella would hum before them as she knitted or darned. Merry loved to watch her in the light from the fire, and she never asked, never complained, even when he would not just take a candle to light their way but also kept a night-light burning, all night, on the bedside table by his head.
Darkness and oblivion, and Merry struggles tight in its embrace. Sound comes back to him first. Metal on metal, and the roar of men. There is a shudder in the ground, and he thinks, oliphaunts! Opening his eyes is a battle that brings sweat to his brow, but the fear of being crushed lends him strength. The world is a grey and cheerless place, men and orcs struggle far away, it seems to him, and there are dim green shadows fighting all around. Everywhere he looks there are bodies, and blood on the ground, black and thick like treacle, and the smell of it hits him then, thick and sweet like a butcher’s shop, with an acid tang that must be orcish. He cannot stay here, he will drown in it, drown in the smell, and Pippin will never find him, and he will be lost forever, here on the Pelennor, and it will never end. So he begins to crawl, he does not know where, it does not matter, all the roads are dark and cold, and he is mewling in the dark. He cannot feel his arm, but that does not matter, he can still crawl, he has lost his sword, but he can still hide, his cloak slips from his neck, but he cannot care, it means his burdens are lighter, and he crawls still.
There is a sound from above him, leather creaks, and the blood smell is replaced with sour sweat and acrid breath, rattling in a panting throat. Merry tries to see, he stares up at the figure, but the shape is blurred. It is dark, but all is dark now, man or orc he cannot tell, not even friend or foe. Then there is a dull pain, a distant agony, as the person kicks him, and Merry is almost pleased, for it means that he feels something, something more than the cold and the ice. Another blow lands, this time in his guts and he tries to roll away from the impacts, but he does not know where they will land next, for he cannot see. His face this time, a sharp pain, as his head rocks back on his shoulders – he feels his nose begin to drip warmth, and he tastes blood on his lips from the where the skin has split. So this is it, this is how it ends. He will never leave the Pelennor. He will die with Théoden-king. His mind distantly swirls with the thought of not being, of letting it all go, surrendering to the dark, and it is not entirely unwelcome - after all he has done his duty, he has upheld his honour. Boromir would be proud of him, he thinks then, and the cold stab of loss tugs at his vitals once more. Almost he lets go thinking that he will see Boromir again soon, and Théoden-king. Such a little thing is honour, but so important, he hopes he has proved worthy to drink in the same halls, he is only one small hobbit, surely it will be enough?
Then the world comes back to him in a roar, as the distant figure above him screams and falls as green smoke with a man’s face reaches inside and tears out his guts. All Merry can see is the grin of a skull lit in livid shadow, and he knows he is already dead, already with the shades, and he will not be drinking with Boromir after all. He will be here on the Pelennor forever. The weight of his death falls on Merry then, despair drags him under, and he drowns in it, even as the body lands on him, and crushes him, pressing him into the earth. Merry tries to think of Pip, to say him goodbye, but even as he tries to shape the words he slips away, drowning, into oblivion and darkness.
The trees in the Shire grew back well, they cast dappled shade over the boys as they played beneath them. Sometimes Merry liked to take the lads into the shadow of the old forest, to teach them respect for the ancient trees. But they never went too far, or too deep, Merry was always careful to know the path back, and they never, ever stayed past twilight.
The light is very far away. Merry thinks he dreams but the light grows and is stronger now. There is a beloved voice, just on the edge of hearing, and it is calling his name…
“Merry! Merry, it’s me…”
The heavy weight of death rolls off his chest, and he takes a breath, shallow and feathery, but he can feel the air that passes his lips. The cut on the corner of his mouth stings in the cool draft, and he licks at it with tongue gone numb and clumsy. Is this how it feels in the country of the dead? Should there still be pain? Then the voice that calls him registers in his slow and dreaming mind. It is Pippin. Why is Pip here, is he also dead? Merry finds he cannot be sad, although he knows he should be, but he is too grateful to find he will not be alone here in this dreadful place. He struggles to open his eyes, as he dimly feels small fingers turning him and gathering him up gently. Ah, there is his Pip, looking anxiously down at him, although all else is in grey shadow. He looks so worried. Merry can’t have his Pip looking so worried, not even in the country of the dead, and so he struggles to speak, to use his teeth and tongue and breath, as they are designed to do.
“I knew you’d find me.”
It is harder than he thought possible, even to speak those few words, but Pippin’s face lightens a little so Merry is glad that he tried. They must stay together now, they must never be separated again, they must look for Boromir and Théoden-king together, here among the shades. It is very important for Pip to know that and so he struggles again.
“Are you going to leave me?”
Pippin is dressed in black, not a colour for hobbits, but then, they are both dead. It is fitting that here, in these lands, he should wear the colour of night. Merry strains to hear his answer, but the world is dimming once again.
“No, Merry, I’m going to look after you.”
There is tenderness in Pippin’s words, and the promise of peace. He can rest now, Pip will watch over him. Merry doesn’t need to do anything more. All oaths are fulfilled, all service ended. Pip will guard him here in the darkness, and he can sleep. Merry feels himself start to fade, but it is better than it was, the cold is not so harsh, it is like slipping into a snowbank back in the Shire, and that is not so bad. With his left hand, he reaches out and clutches small fingers, and strains to see Pip’s beloved face, but it is as though a veil of shadow draws itself across the sky, and he cannot pierce the gloom. His eyesight is fading. He may never see Pip again, but if they are dead does it really matter all that much? After all, the light is so very far away.
It always came back to Merry as a series of flashes. That day. Whenever a flash came, he would stop his work, and clutch his arm, his eyes dimming into darkness just for a moment, feeling the cold once more. And then it would pass. Until the next time…
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.