20. Poor Merry
Spandif and his son spotted the commotion going on in the menagerie and both hurried over just as Pippin was leaving with Aomor. "What are you young ruffians up to?" He admonished the remaining boys. "You been teasing my animals?"
"No," Ionmer protested. "But we had another one, like that." The boy pointed at Merry's cage.
"Did you now?" Spandif was interested but doubtful. "Well where is it now?"
"It ran off with Aomor." Omie pointed to the gap in the canvas wall. "It was very angry that you got this one."
"Can you get it back?" Spandif concluded that if there were more of these creatures around, he would make more money if he could corner the market in them. "I'll give you a good price."
"Sell it to you?" Omie said with surprise. "I don't think so. It belongs to those new people that came today, with the King."
"Belongs to them, does it?" Spandif remembered his earlier negotiations with Drâmym and Ŭnomer when their chief objection to selling the hafin' had seemed to be that it was not theirs to sell. "How do you know?"
"I saw when they arrived." Omie remembered. "That tall man, the one with the dark hair and beard and the big sword, he had it on a lead - a piece of rope. So it must be his."
"Thank you boys." Spandif smiled at them. "Go with my lad here and he'll give you some toffee. You've been most helpful."
The boys followed Spandif's lad out of the menagerie to claim their reward and the zoo owner wandered over to Merry's cage and, picking up the stick that was lying there, gave the sickly hobbit a poke with it. "Come on, move blast you!"
Merry lay quite still, too wracked with fever and grief to even be aware of anything any longer. He thought for a brief moment that Pippin had been there, but it must have been a feverish dream. He was thankful for this as he would not want Pippin to suffer such appalling pain and indignity.
Spandif shook his head in disappointment. He was glad he hadn't actually paid for this one. Maybe the other one would be in better condition.
He wandered out to the front of the show and was surprised and pleased to see plenty of paying customers coming to see his little entertainment. Then he spied a large group of important looking people walking purposefully from the main Hall. There seemed to be about a dozen of them and at the head was the King himself. Spandif could tell by his impressive purple cloak that almost reached the ground. 'Aha!' he thought 'that is the man with the beard the boys spoke of. He has the other hafin' with him. Now I can strike a good deal.'
Spandif hurried forward to meet them. "Welcome Masters. Welcome to the most famous travelling show in all Middle Earth!" He bowed low with a sweeping gesture. "I am delighted you have come to favour my peripatetic establishment with your esteemed custom."
"There is no need for that." Théoden brushed his submissions aside with a wave of his hand. "I wish to inspect your show at once."
"Of course, My Lord, step right this way." Spandif snapped his fingers at the gatekeeper and he opened the rope for the King and his entourage to pass through. "If I may show you first some of the wonders of Middle Earth, for the first time this side of the Gap of Rohan." The showman indicated towards the side-shows of jugglers, fortune-tellers and oddly shaped people. The King, Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli began surveying the people, thinking that Merry might be on display as a curiosity in a booth, but Pippin pulled Aragorn's hand, leading him towards the menagerie.
The ranger saw where they were going and held Pippin by his shoulders, kneeling down to look at him quizzically with his head on one side. Pippin understood what he meant and nodded his head vigorously and pointed into the zoo.
"Ah yes, about that." Spandif caught Aragorn's arm as he let Pippin go again. "How much would you take for this one?" He pointed at the hobbit. "I'll give you a good price."
Luckily for Spandif Aragorn's jaw dropped in disbelief, delaying his anger long enough for him to control it. "This one!" His voice dropped dangerously low. "You have another?"
"Er yes, I found it." Spandif suddenly realised he might be on shaky ground. "On the road, it was lost. No one wanted it."
There was a dangerous silence of 5 seconds, broken by a terrifying roar from Gimli who lifted his axe as if to wield it at the showman. Before he could bring the weapon down on the man's head, Legolas stepped in behind Spandif, a deadly knife at the man's throat and a quiet threat-filled voice in his ear. "Yes they did."
Gandalf lifted his hand to stay the rage of the dwarf and elf. "No Gimli, Legolas, let us find Merry first."
Pippin led the way into the menagerie, ignoring the small pay booth, and ran to the cage at the far end. He climbed up again to reach through the bars and caught hold of Merry's limp hand. The others were close behind him.
Aragorn reached into the cage over Pippin's head and felt for a pulse in Merry's neck. Satisfied on that account, he moved his hand to the fevered brow and sighed. He walked round to the cage door and tried it, rattling the lock. "Get this thing open – now!" The ranger growled at Spandif who had followed them at an obsequious distance.
"Never mind!" roared Gimli "Stand aside." He smashed his axe down on the metal lock and the cage door swung back.
Aragorn reached into the cramped cage and scooped his large hands underneath the small bruised body. Pippin was still holding Merry's hand through the bars, which was effectively stopping the ranger from lifting him out. "Legolas, tell Pippin to let go." He nodded towards the problem.
Legolas reached in from behind Pippin and attempted to gently prise the hobbits' hands apart. 'Let go of Merry for a moment, Pip.' the elf told him.
'You have to, or Strider can't lift Merry out of the cage. Only for a few seconds, while you count up to 10.'
'merry hold i too.'
Legolas saw then that Merry did indeed have almost a death grip on his cousin's small hand. "Aragorn, Merry is holding on to Pippin, you'll have to try and undo his hand from there.
Aragorn laid Merry down again on the floor of the cage and attempted to unlock his small hand from Pippin's. "Let go Merry," he stroked the hobbit's sweat-soaked brow, "just for a moment. We have to get you out of here. Come on, let go."
"No, not let go – don't leave me P-Pippin – please, please Pippin, d-don't let go." Merry had barely any voice left but he whispered the words deliriously over and over. "Don't let go. Please don't let go."
"It's all right, Merry." Aragorn tugged at the little hands again. "It's Strider and Legolas and Gimli and Gandalf, we are all here and you've got hold of Pippin. You're safe now. I promise nothing will happen to you. Let go of Pippin now, just for a second. Trust me, Pippin won't leave you, it will be all right."
"Dog's teeth!" Gimli swore. "Let me do this!" He lifted his axe once more but did not bring it crashing down, but rather chipped a small nick out of the bar next to where the hobbits' hands were joined. Then he made another nick parallel to the first on the other side. He put the axe down and spat into his hands and rubbed them together, then grabbing a firm grip on the bar of the cage pulled the whole thing out, breaking it in two at the point of weakness he had made. There was then a wide enough gap to lift Pippin through and into the cage with Merry.
Aragorn scooped Merry up once more and Legolas lifted Pippin down at the same time. "Very well done, Master Dwarf." The elf nodded with appreciation at Gimli's skill. "I think your next task is quite clear."
"Yes, indeed." Gimli lifted the manacles that were still on Merry's wrists and neck. The metal had started to rust and in places the metal had chafed the skin so badly that the orange-coloured grit had eaten into the flesh. This was probably another source of infection.
King Théoden took his robe off and laid it on the ground so that Aragorn could wrap the almost naked hobbit in it. He still had the scrap of cloak that Gandalf had given him but that covered very little now as it was torn and almost in shreds.
As Merry lay on the ground Gandalf sat down beside him and very carefully but firmly lifted one finger at a time placing them on to the back of his own hand, until Pippin's hand was eventually freed. At the same time the wizard whispered reassuring words. "No one is going to leave you, Meriadoc. You can let go of Pippin now. He'll be with you all the time."
Aragorn lifted Merry up again and the hobbit let out a little whimper of fear. "Please don't. D-don't put me in there. No, p-please d-don't. No!" Merry was in a panic of delirium.
"It's all right, Merry." Aragorn told him. "We're not going to put you anywhere you don't want to go. We're going to put you in a warm, comfortable bed and make you better."
"Please where's Pippin? D-don't put Pippin in a c-cage." Tears ran down Merry's grubby cheeks as he sobbed, "don't leave us in there. don't want to be in a c-cage!"
Gandalf lifted Merry's limp hand up and placed it on Pippin's curls. "He's here Merry, don't fret, Pippin is safe and so are you now."
Aragorn could see how sick the little hobbit was, "We must take him somewhere to be cared for quickly." he cradled Merry close and looked anxiously at Théoden.
"Yes of course," The King was most concerned. "Take him to my own apartments." He turned back to the circus owner. "I will deal with this villain."
Aragorn carried Merry swiftly from the circus wrapped incongruously in the King's purple robe, with Pippin bobbing along beside him trying to keep up and see Merry at the same time. People parted on either side to let the group pass, whispering in amazement at the strange sight. Legolas caught up to them and lifted Pippin onto his shoulders so that he could watch his cousin as he walked alongside the ranger.
Théoden turned to Éomer and, pointing at Spandif, ordered, "arrest that person! We'll hear his account of his misdeeds later. Let him spend a little time locked up himself first."
Merry was taken to an opulent bedchamber that had a fireplace and a magnificent four poster bed with luxurious hangings and covers. Aragorn turned to Legolas, who was just putting Pippin on the ground, "Can you place those cushions so that I can sit Merry upright." Aragorn could tell the hobbit was not breathing well. "He has a high fever and his lungs are sorely congested."
As Legolas arranged the cushions the ranger placed Merry on the large bed still wrapped in the purple cloak and Legolas lifted Pippin up so that he could sit beside his cousin and showed him that he must hold him up.
"How fares the little one?" Théoden, together with Gandalf entered the bedchamber. "Whatever you need for him will be supplied," the King promised.
"I have first to reduce his fever," Aragorn took a dampened cloth and soothed it to Merry's forehead. "I fear his wounds are badly infected and his breathing afflicted with bubbling fluid in his lungs." Aragorn stood to leave. "I will fetch some medicinal herbs and bandages if you will keep watch over him for a while."
Gandalf sat on the bed and took Merry's wrist. "Yes, go Aragorn and get what you need. Gimli also has gone to fetch the wherewithal to release these appalling chains." Merry whimpered at the wizard's touch and tried to pull away. "Merry? Meriadoc. Don't be afraid. We're going to take care of you."
Merry recognised the wizard's voice. He croaked, his throat almost too sore to speak, "Gandalf? C-can you let us out? Please, p-please… think we will d-die in c-cage, please, p-promise I won't tell anything."
"Merry, my dear little hobbit, the cage is gone," Gandalf stroked the fevered forehead, shaking his head in anxiety at the raging fever, and replaced the damp cloth with another newly steeped in cold water. "Pippin found you, then Aragorn lifted you out of the cage. and King Théoden arrested the man who kidnapped you."
"W-why is it st-still s-so d-dark?" Merry in his traumatised state could not remember all the events of the past few days. His voice sunk even lowered in volume so that the wizard had to bend close to hear him, "G-Gandalf, why doesn't Pip talk to me?"
Gandalf exchanged a concerned glance with Théoden and Legolas at Merry's questions. "Saruman cast a spell on your eyes Merry." Gandalf said as gently as he could, "that's why you can't see." The wizard drew a deep breath, "and he made Pippin not able to talk or hear – but he can see you."
Merry let out an anguished sob at this and then began to cough, sounding almost as if he would choke. Gandalf eased him forward and Pippin rubbed his chest, anxious to try and help. The coughing was obviously painful and exhausting and, when it finally subsided, Merry hung limply forward in Gandalf's arms, too spent to speak now as he gasped for each breath.
Aragorn returned then and, seeing the hobbit's plight, gently eased him over to lie on his front, several cushions wedged around him to hold him in place. Pippin sat near Merry's head and had taken charge of soothing his cousin's face and forehead with cool, damp cloths. Aragorn removed the purple cloak now and carefully examined Merry's back. Many of the whip wheals were open and suppurating, obviously painful and undoubtedly adding to the infection. Pippin looked anxiously up at the ranger, large tears in his eyes. Aragorn could not smile reassuringly, he was too worried, instead he patted Pippin's shoulder and handed him another cool cloth. "The next twenty four hours, I fear, will be critical for Merry," he told the others, "he is perilously ill. It is beyond reason that that animal could not have seen the state of this little mite."
After Gandalf, Théoden and Legolas had left the chamber, leaving Aragorn with Pippin to care for Merry, King Théoden's own niece, Éowyn came to offer her assistance. She was a skilled nurse and healer herself and was anxious to help these strangers who were obviously having such an impact on her Uncle, also the mysterious ranger, Aragorn, particularly fascinated her.
Hot water and towels were brought at Éowyn's request and also more clean, cold water in a large stone jug.
Aragorn and Éowyn together began to carefully wash Merry's wounds, starting with his back and around the cruel collar on his neck. There were badly swollen patches where the metal had gone rusty and chafed into Merry's soft flesh and he whimpered and twitched in spite of their attempts to be gentle.
Pippin concentrated on keeping cool damp cloths on the fevered brow and Éowyn wiped his body down with cold water to reduce his temperature, while Aragorn steeped infusions of rosemary and lavender in boiling water together with an oil provided by Éowyn that she said came from a tree in the south called eucalyptus. Every so often he would lift Merry up and hold his face over the scented steam, which would ease his breathing somewhat, although sometimes it would produce a rib aching coughing fit. After a while Aragorn realised it was not just pain that was distressing his small patient, Merry was so very wracked with fever and was caught in a turmoil of nightmare and fear which was emphasised by his blindness.
Gimli arrived to remove the manacles and, although Aragorn did not want to disturb Merry too much, he felt the chains had been there far too long for any further delay.
However, as soon as Gimli laid his hand on the hobbit's wrist, Merry reacted by pulling away and frantically whispering, "No! Leave me alone, n-no c-cage. No p-please!"
"We need to try and let him know where he is." Aragorn turned Merry over and lifted him up a little and put a large pillow behind him as a prop. He took Merry's hands in his and spoke slowly and clearly. "Meriadoc, listen. It's me, Strider. I'm not going to hurt you and I'm not going to let anyone else hurt you. Put your hands on my face and feel who I am." The ranger moved the little hands over his own eyes, nose and beard. "You remember what I look like, the man in the Prancing Pony who you didn't trust. Well you do trust me now, don't you?"
Merry seemed to come to a little, so Aragorn manoeuvred Pippin and sat him up opposite his cousin. He then guided Merry's hands across Pippin's face. Pippin seemed a little surprised by this treatment and caught hold of his cousin's hand and kissed it. "Now, who is this? You tell me, Merry."
The hobbit's temperature was down a few degrees for the moment, thanks to the cooling water. "Pip," he said. "Pippin."
"Yes, and who is this?" Aragorn beckoned Gimli forward again and guided Merry's hands over the beard and ever-present helm.
"Gimli s-son of Gloin?" Merry croaked.
"That's right, little hobbit." The dwarf patted him on the head, "and I'm going to take these horrible chains off you, if you will let me."
"Chains off?" Merry repeated in a whisper, still very disorientated. "No cage?"
"No, no cage," Gimli confirmed. As Merry seemed to understand, Gimli set to work at once, starting with the wrist manacles. Pippin watched with concern, flinching every time his cousin did. As Gimli was obviously finding this a bit disconcerting, Aragorn encouraged Pippin to resume his job of placing cool cloths on Merry's forehead.
As the evil manacles were finally removed both Aragorn and Gimli gasped in horror at the abraded skin beneath. Merry's flesh had been rubbed raw and bleeding and the orange rust was embedded in the wound, in places visible even under the still unbroken skin. Aragorn hardly knew where to start.
Gimli frantically commenced work on the neck collar while Éowyn began by soaking both Merry's wrists in warm fragrant water, gently teasing at the rust infected skin with her fingertips, watching as the water gradually turned the colour of blood and rust.
Merry whimpered with the pain, he could not help himself and eventually slumped forwards so that Gimli had to catch him, unconscious and out of pain for a merciful respite.
Merry awoke to the sound of different voices in the room. He was lying on his front with his head turned to the side and still in a great deal of pain, his back throbbed with agony and his wrists and neck were sore beyond reason. Each breath had to be found and painstakingly dealt with and his chest felt so tight it seemed it would almost be easier to give up bothering to breathe altogether. He reached out his hand feeling for Pippin, but when he moved, his wrists felt lighter and the hateful clink was gone. Someone must have removed the manacles. He felt his right wrist with his left hand. In place of the dragging chains was a tight binding. Merry reached his hand up to his neck and found a bandage there as well instead of the heavy, painful collar. He reached out again, but failed to find Pippin, there was a moment of panic and he began to gasp for breath, panting shallow mouthfuls of air and whimpering in anguish. Aragorn was at his side in a heartbeat.
"Calm down Merry, try to breathe slowly." Aragorn lifted the hobbit up to a sitting position and, putting his arm around him, soothed his hand through Merry's curls. "Your lungs are very sodden and you must try not to distress yourself."
"Wh-where? Where…" Merry could not quite manage the question.
"Pippin is just over at the table." Aragorn did not doubt for a second the cause of his patient's concern. "Legolas brought him some food, he was very hungry."
"Is he…?" Again Merry was unable finish, but his breathing had slowed and was regaining some depth.
"He is quite all right. Worried about you of course." Aragorn said, but kindly. "As is everyone and you have some visitors."
"Sorry, I-I…" Merry gasped, worried that he was not really in a fit state to be seen by anyone. Aragorn silenced him with a finger to the hobbit's lips.
"Lie quietly Merry and save your strength. You are very weak just now." Aragorn laid him back down slightly on his side with cushions to bolster him into the right position. "Drâmym and Ŭnomer have come to see how you are. They were both very concerned about you."
"Oh!" Merry remembered now. Losing Ŭnomer, pulling the arrow from Drâmym's back and how cold and ill the man had been. "Are th-they w-well?" He managed to ask, feeling slightly guilty that he had not thought of them until now.
"Hush little one." Drâmym was anxious that Merry did not suffer any more stress on his account. "We are both well, my wound will heal because of your brave actions." Drâmym leaned over Merry and touched his face lightly, speaking slowly so that the hobbit would understand his words, "I came, not just to see how you are, but to give you my deepest thanks Master Meriadoc."
Drâmym had in fact risen from his sick bed to visit the ailing hobbit when he had heard that his charge had been found and was dangerously ill. By chance it was his own son Aomor who had befriended Pippin and had breathlessly related the story of the rescue to his parents as his mother tended the wound in Drâmym's back.
Drâmym's wife, when she heard from her son that the little one had even been robbed of his garments, had collected suitable clothing for the hobbit and Drâmym and Ŭnomer had brought these, together with the carefully cleaned fleece that Gandalf had wrapped Merry in, to the chamber where the hobbit was being cared for.
Both he and Ŭnomer were mortified to have lost the little one and felt directly responsible for his dire condition. It had taken a very stern talking to from their éored commander to prevent them from removing Spandif from the dungeon, before removing his head from his body.
"Drâmym's son Aomor was the boy who helped Pippin to find you." Éowyn explained as she sat by Merry to cool him once more with damp cloths. "They have brought enough clothes for you and Pippin, with some to spare."
"Thass ver…" Merry trailed off, too weak now to attempt more conversation. He half lifted his hand up in thanks and Drâmym caught it and, bending over the bed, pressed his lips to the back of the Merry's hand and then tucked his arm back into the bedclothes. Merry's unseeing eyes drooped shut and his laboured breathing evened out as the hobbit drifted back into unconsciousness.
"Will he get better again Father?" Aomor had crept quietly into the room and was peering anxiously at the poor little creature that had been rescued from the cage.
"Let us all hope so." Éowyn answered the boy's question. "But for now why don't you say hello to Pippin and we'll let Merry have some peace."
Drâmym and Ŭnomer waited while Aomor ran over to the table where Pippin was still eating, slowly and thoughtfully, having learned of late to make every morsel count. He looked up in some surprise at seeing the boy again.
"Hello, you're Pippin aren't you." Aomor knew the little one couldn't hear, but he was not sure how else to greet him. "Do you remember me?"
Legolas was sitting by Pippin and the hobbit shook the elf's arm and pointed in excitement at Aomor. Pippin stood up and, removing his sling, took hold of the boy's hand in both of his, then, nodding his head towards Merry, kissed Aomor's hand, then carefully, so as not to hurt his bad wrist, hugged him closely.
A little overwhelmed, Aomor glanced up at a smiling Legolas, "I think he does remember me."
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.