1. The Last Time
And now his heart pained him, for the hobbit that wore it did not. Merry was slightly stooped and thin with age, his curls ivory streaked with faintest grey. Suddenly he spoke. His voice was thick and rough and the contrast from the clear, high tones he’d unconsciously been expecting startled Aragorn badly. “Do you see a pattern, Strider?”
He had not been called that in years. Aragorn’s disquiet grew as he took a step closer to the small, aged hobbit. “What are you talking about?”
“Again. It’s happened again.” Merry nodded to the thing that rested in the center of the room, the thing that held his attention.
Now he felt his throat closing, his eyes burning with tears. Aragorn shut them, not wishing to upset his dear friend. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s been a long time, but again.” Merry laughed once. It was harsh. “I suppose I should have gotten used to it.”
He opened his eyes and took a step closer, resting his hand on the hobbit’s shoulder. It was bony and it shook under the elven cloak. This time tears ran down his face; Aragorn was unable to check them. He took a shuddering breath—it was so hard, so hard to speak in this room. “I don’t understand, Merry.”
“I asked Legolas about the others.”
Aragorn’s eyes turned of their own accord to the thing that sat before them. It was cold and terrible to him suddenly. This place was not fit; again he felt his grief rise uncontrollably. There were no trees, no laughter or song, nothing but lifeless stone and darkness. This was no place for a hobbit. “Please, can we just go back—”
“No!” It was almost a cry; it sounded torn from his very soul and Aragorn fell silent. Merry began again. “He said that they were mortal, nothing could change that.” His shoulder shook with a sob. “They, too, are gone—Bilbo, Frodo. Sam, perhaps not yet, but soon.” Merry paused, then added, “He would not have wanted to be alone, either.”
Even after so long the names were arrows to his heart and he could not imagine the grief that gripped the hobbit before him. Aragorn begged, desperate to leave, “Please, Merry...”
“Éomer released me before he died. He said those in the service of Rohan went to the halls of their lords when they go—he was afraid I would too and be unhappy. I will miss him, but I hope his ancestors honor him as well as he deserves.”
Aragorn could not bear this. It was torment and his voice cracked, “Please…”
“I don’t think you understand.” Merry’s voice was angry and final. “I’m not leaving.”
“You must. You can’t stay here—it’s cold and damp.” His healer’s training rebelled at the thought of the old hobbit staying in the room. It was not made for prolonged visits. “Merry, you can’t, you’ll catch your…”
“Death?” The laugh distressed him. “I only hope so.”
Aragorn prepared himself. If he could not talk Merry out of this he would be forced to carry him away no matter what. The elderly hobbit could not stay here, the very thought both frightened and saddened. He glanced unwillingly at the thing in the middle of the room. No, Merry could not be allowed to stay. “Merry—”
“This is the last time, at least.” He sighed, almost contentedly, obviously not listening. “The last time ever.”
“Merry, please.” There was no reply, so Aragorn stepped closer, bending slightly. He was still quite strong enough to lift and bear the thin, old hobbit away as though he weighed nothing. But Merry’s hand twitched at his side and there was the low scrape of steel as he drew the first few inches of his sword. Shocked, Aragorn took a quick step back. He hadn’t even known Merry still wore it.
The hobbit’s voice was flat. “Don’t try.”
“You must…you must come with me, Merry.” Aragorn tried to get back control of the situation. “You can’t stay with—” He fell silent, appalled at himself and looked at the cold thing that lay in the center of the room.
Merry’s hand went limp on the hilt of his sword as his shoulders slumped. The word sounded as though he’d ripped it from his own flesh—bought in terrible pain. A choked sob escaped him. “Pippin?”
Aragorn bent his head, his chest tight, his own tears trickling warm and salty down his face. “That’s not Pippin in there Merry.”
“I know.” Merry put his face in his hands. Muffled, he said it again, weeping. “I know.”
Aragorn let him grieve with his own breath coming in shuddering gasps as he, too, wept. Finally gaining control, he begged, “Please, you must leave.”
“There is no where to go.” The old hobbit finally turned and Aragorn recoiled at the fury in his eyes. “Do you want me to go back to my room?” His voice rose steadily, growing and shaking with rage. “Sit quiet in my empty room, by the fire and just wait? I can’t, I can’t…” The last was a wail of pain. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could do. Aragorn was silent as Merry spoke again in a ragged whisper. “They’ve all left me behind again.”
He knew it was useless. “I’m so sorry.”
“If—If you ever loved us, ever cared for us—” Merry gazed up at him, begging, pleading.
He shook his head slowly. “You know I can’t let you stay.” Aragorn gazed at the pale, shaking hobbit before him and realized he hadn’t seen him in many, many hours. Had Merry been in this chilly and damp place for that long? How could he have been so lax in his care? Bracing himself for a struggle, Aragorn stepped forward again, ready to bear him away. “You can come back tomorrow. Don’t make this difficult…”
Merry moved away, closer to the tomb. “He’ll be alone—he, he never liked to be alone in the dark. He had nightmares.”
Aragorn could not stop the pain that lanced through his heart at the words—they were the protective result of years of loving guardianship that still would not rest, even knowing it was no longer needed. It hurt him terribly and he stopped. Merry would fight, he knew; already the hobbit’s thin, old hand was clenched around his sword hilt again. He did not want to hurt him, nor get hurt himself. Aragorn gazed at him helplessly, it should not have come to this—after all they’d survived and done it should not have come to this: misery and struggle in the cold, dark Hallows. An idea occurred to him and Aragorn asked softly, “If I have them bring torches…will you leave?”
The hobbit’s eyes were wary. “They will burn all night?”
Hot tears ran down his cheeks again as Merry touched the sarcophagus. He stroked it gently and Aragorn swallowed his anguish. “Yes.” Merry nodded in agreement and turned to the great stone box that held the remains of his friend.
“It won’t be long. You won’t have to wait long for me, Pippin.” Aragorn turned to the doorway, his head bent to give him a moment’s privacy. “I promise.” The last was broken, pained. “I know…how…how impatient…you are.”
As they left, Aragorn’s hand resting lightly on the elderly hobbit’s shoulder, Merry said softly, “Do you think they will be waiting for us, Strider? On the other side?”
He looked down at the white curls and Aragorn clenched his jaw to stop the sobs that wanted to wrack his body. He remembered chestnut locks, laughing eyes, a pipe jauntily hanging from his mouth and leaning back precariously in his chair as Merry smiled and jested. He remembered another hobbit altogether and for the first time wondered if he remembered too much, had lived too long. “Yes, I do Merry.” He squeezed the hobbit’s shoulder, love and grief filling him. “I do.”
As they left the dark Hallows and entered the warm sunshine, Aragorn swallowed and looked down again at Merry’s head. I did my best, but this I can’t defend. I can’t fight death—I can’t chase it down, can’t out maneuver it, outthink it, can’t do anything to stop it. One by one my little friends have died or shall die and it is I who will be left behind to mourn them.
“Can we see Legolas?” The old hobbit sighed. “I don’t expect I’ll see him again once I die, his being immortal and all. I’ll miss him a great deal.”
A tear slid down Aragorn’s cheek as he said slowly, trying not to betray his misery, “We can do whatever you want.”
Merry kept his promise and it was not long before there were two great, cold stone boxes lying side by side in the House of Kings. Aragorn stood silent before them, his head bent as he thought. Yesterday my little grandson sat in your lap, pulling at the white hair on your feet and laughing. He took his shoes off and ran without them for hours—he wanted to grow hair on his feet as well.
Today he asked where you were. I…I didn’t know what to say. He’s just a lad, after all and too young to understand.
I fear a death without hobbits, an afterlife in the Houses of Men without my little friends. I do not belong there, truly. I beg you, wait for me Merry—wait as Pippin, Frodo and Sam no doubt waited for you. …Please Merry bid them wait a while longer. Please, this time it is Strider who will follow and the little ones his guide…
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.