Aragorn and Éowyn both sat with Merry throughout the night as his fever grew worse and both the healers knew there was now the danger of muscle spasms caused by the infection from the metal and rust eating into Merry's skin. "There is danger to his breathing if his chest contracts too tightly, or even to the heart." Éowyn said as she gently massaged Merry, checking carefully for any tightening.
"His body is very stiff," Aragorn gently felt the halfling's limbs. "But that may be from being cramped in such a small space." Merry was still very confused and, in spite of constant reassurance, he was fearful and anxious.
"Please I d-didn't tell. Don't let them l-lock Pip and me up, please, no. Gandalf please, help me, don't send me away from Pip." Merry murmured his nightmare pleas over and over, struggling against Aragorn's strong arms as he sat him up again and, holding him gently, leaned him forward over some hot steeped herbs to help him breathe better.
Pippin had eventually curled up at the end of the bed as the two healers busied about and fallen asleep. In an effort to calm his cousin, Aragorn, without waking the exhausted hobbit, had lifted him to lie next to Merry so that he could touch him and know he was still there. "Pippin is here Merry," the ranger whispered. "Touch him softly, he's asleep." He lifted Merry's fingers and brushed them across Pippin's peaceful face.
Pippin had only dozed and woke again suddenly as he felt Merry's touch. He gazed at his cousin, relieved after that first moment of waking panic, that he was still there and stroked his curls, looking worriedly up at Aragorn each time Merry shuddered.
Aragorn felt Merry's brow, "His fever shows no sign of abating," he whispered to Éowyn. Then listening to his heartbeat and chest, carefully laid him back down, turning him onto his front.
Pippin moved round so that he could see Merry's face and hold his hand. When he looked anxiously from his cousin to the ranger, Aragorn patted Pippin's shoulder to let him know he was doing the right thing.
"He drifts in and out of consciousness and it is hard to tell whether he is awake properly or just delirious." Éowyn was still rubbing Merry's arms and hands helping to restore his circulation and feeling for rigidity. "How is his chest?"
Aragorn just shook his head, indicating that it was not good. "He needs to sleep, but the fever is giving him nightmares and keeps him from rest." He placed another cool damp cloth on Merry's brow. "Poor little thing, he is very weak. Merry is a fighter but there is barely any strength left in him, I fear he might lose this battle."
Legolas came back to the room at that moment and, moving quietly to the bed, took Pippin's hand in his to get his attention. "How fares Merry?" He asked Aragorn quietly, "I can tell Pippin is frightened for him. What should I tell him?"
"Tell him that Merry is very ill, just like he was." Aragorn did not want to scare the hobbit too much but he did not want to lie to him either. "But we're trying to make him better."
Legolas took Pippin's face in his hands and looked into his eyes, which grew wide with anticipation and a little fearful as he realised he was going to be told something about Merry at last.
'legolas? mer get too bad ill think?'
'He is very sickly, just as you were. But Strider and the Lady are trying to make him better. You can help too.'
'what i do at he legolas?'
'Just be with him and let him know you're there.'
'will, not go way mer evrer gain…'
'All right, little one, you don't need to, just...'
At that moment Merry whimpered in pain and nightmare, startling Legolas with the depth of his anxiety and bewilderment.
'what hear legolas? is mer? is hurt he?' Pippin looked frantically from the elf to Merry. He could see Merry was restless. Although he seemed too exhausted to move, it was as if his body would not give him peace. Then he had been aware of the unguarded memory of Merry's cry in Legolas's mind and it jolted both him and the elf.
'He is having bad dreams Pippin. Don't panic' Legolas quickly reassured and hugged him closely as he soothed his curls.
Legolas withdrew his hands and his mind gently from Pippin. He was beginning to feel more and more comfortable with the hobbit in his mind, almost too comfortable.
Pippin snuggled into Merry's side, stroking his face and hair, trying to calm him from whatever dread thing was haunting his restless fever.
It was pure heat, like the inside of a great bonfire, the sort they would light at the Winterfest at Brandy Hall. It was as if Merry had actually climbed right inside the glowing, untouchable red furnace. He used to gaze at it when he was young, that impossibly red centre of the fire, no movement there, no flickering flames or rushing smoke that always seemed to go in your face no matter where you stood. No, in the centre there was nothing but peace and calm and impossible, incandescent heat.
Merry knew that the heat would soon consume him, but he did not know how to leave. He could not move, whichever way he turned his body was pure heat and he burned from within.
Then the fire changed, although the heat of it still filled his whole being. He was in the mines of Moria and the Balrog was pursuing them. The thing not only breathed fire, it was fire, burning and raging as it came towards them, consuming all in its path and bent on their destruction. Impossibly big, it was too gigantic to even fit into Merry's dream, its presence blocked out every other image and Merry knew he would soon suffocate in its terrifying mass and burn forever in the fiery depths below the mines.
A piercing agony stabbed into his chest making him cough and gasp for breath. He was standing next to Boromir and arrows were embedded in the great man's chest, making him sink to his knees. Merry held out his hand to his beleaguered friend, feeling his pain, anticipating his imminent death, knowing he would soon join him. But then orcs, massive, overwhelming, larger than any living being Merry had ever encountered before, Uruk-hai, too big, nightmare big took hold of him and Pippin. He was lifted high in the air, too high, choking with terror and pain, trying to see Pippin, trying to see Boromir.
But then there was nothing. The wind lashed around him and he could tell from the gale that he was very high up and instinctively knew that if he stepped over the edge it would be to his death. The edge suddenly seemed very inviting. Where was Pippin? He flailed about on all fours, unable to see anything but vast acres of blackness. Here, he found him – but then he was gone again, couldn't hold him – kept losing him! Had he fallen? Had he dropped him?
"Hold on Pippin! Please hold on to me – I can't find you! Pippin! Where are you? Pippin!" Merry suddenly was sobbing out loud sending agony to his tortured lungs. "Pippin! Don't go! I can't find you! I can't see you anywhere! Tell me where you are! Call out to me Pippin – Pippin!"
"Merry, he's here. Listen to me Merry, don't cry, Pippin is here, he won't leave you." It was Gandalf's voice that calmed him, stroking his hair and patting his hand. Gradually he woke but the nightmare stayed with him.
"I can't see him Gandalf," Merry whispered. "I can't see you. It’s too dark."
The white figure loomed over him, growing larger and larger. It was all he could see and filled his whole world with fear and desolation and it wanted him – to take him, take him away from everything he knew but worst of all away from Pippin. Merry was too tired to fight anymore. He ground his teeth and set his jaw. They could not give in! He and Pippin would die first. He still had that choice – the black shadow could never have him! But where was Pippin? "Pippin where are you!"
"Pippin is here Merry! Listen to me. Give me your hand."
Gandalf sounded a thousand leagues away; Merry was lost in a burning, dark world and couldn't get out. He would have to die here and never see anyone again, he was lost, so alone, no one knew where he was, even he didn’t know where he was and he still couldn’t find Pippin. "Please, come back Pippin… please…"
Then he felt a gentle touch on his face, a small hand was in his – not a human hand, not so big – it was a hobbit hand. Merry held it tightly, his breathing ragged and broken. A cold, cloying feeling was on his brow again; it trapped him but it cooled him as well. Then he felt Pippin snuggle close to him.
"Pip? Are you there?" Merry whispered it into the little ear he felt on his face. He didn't need an answer – he knew who it was.
"He's here Merry. Try to sleep. You're a little cooler now."
The voice became dim and distant, but the fire wasn't so consuming now and he knew where Pippin was. Merry closed his unseeing eyes and fell into a cool deep chasm of sleep.
Pippin woke to find Merry breathing in his ear, the regularity of the air against his skin was much better and he felt his cousin's forehead to find his temperature was almost normal again. He let out a deep sigh of relief and kissed Merry gently on the nose.
"Pippin?" Merry barely croaked the word. His throat felt so tight he could still scarcely breathe, but at least he was cooler. Suddenly he felt large hands – human hands – lifting him to sit up and leaning him forward.
"Come on Merry lad," the ranger tipped a cup of water to his lips, "try to sip a little water, you must be very dry."
Merry clasped the cup in both hands, his frantic thirst making him gulp several mouthfuls very quickly. Aragorn pulled the cup back from his lips, "Slowly Merry, not so fast. You'll be sick again."
The ranger's words were prophetic and, almost immediately, Merry retched and brought the water back, Éowyn held a bowl in front of him just in time. Poor Merry was distressed to have vomited all the water; he was desperately thirsty so why did his body not want to keep the liquid down? He began to breathe very fast, becoming agitated. Aragorn held him closely stroking his hair to calm him. "It's all right Merry, don't fret, just try again, but very slowly."
This time he let Aragorn hold the cup and him, one arm wrapped around his shoulders, holding him upright, his head resting back against Strider's chest, feeling with relief little drops of water dribble over his parched lips.
It took a long time, but the ranger was patient and didn't stop feeding the drips of water until Merry had finished the whole cup. Then he carefully laid him back down on his side with a pillow wedged behind him so he could not roll onto his back.
Pippin had remained at Merry's side the whole time, holding his hand and stroking it. As Aragorn moved away he wriggled back into position, spooning his body into his cousin's to let him know he was there, but still careful of his broken wrist. He'd taken the sling off again, when Aragorn wasn't watching so that he could put both his arms around Merry. As he kissed his cousin on the nose he was rewarded at last by a small smile and a returned kiss.
Merry could hear talking. A woman's voice and Aragorn's, they were discussing him, he couldn't hear it all, just odd words. "…fever down… better than… Pippin needs to have…" Merry's ears pricked up at this, but he couldn't catch it all. "…very weak …something to… not much… very hungry … about the right size… too big for… "
Pippin watched from where he was curled up against Merry. He could see the golden haired lady and Strider sorting through a bagful of clothes, taking things out and holding them up. They seemed to sorting them into two piles, presumably one for him and one for Merry or perhaps one pile for both of them and one for the oversized things.
Suddenly he felt Merry tense up, his arm going rigid and Pippin could see it was hurting him – a lot. Pippin tried to rub the painfully tight muscles the way he had seen the lady do, but it made no difference. He tried to get Strider's attention, but the two were not looking, engrossed in their clothes sorting. It reminded Pippin of his sisters and mother with their nurse when they were discussing clothes and sorting through things – he had never managed to get any attention then either.
Merry was becoming more distressed by the moment, so Pippin realised he would have to climb down off the bed and fetch one of the healers, but as soon as he tried to move away he could see Merry's lips moving. He was saying "Pip!" and feeling frantically about now that he could no longer find him. It was a long way to the other side of the room. There must be something he could do himself.
He looked frantically around. There on the end of the bed, hooked over the footboard, was Strider's medicine bag. That was it! The medicine Strider gave him, that would help Merry. Why hadn't Strider thought of that – it always made him feel better.
He scrambled to the bag as quickly as possible so he could grab it and be back beside Merry in an instant, stroking his face and kissing his nose to let him know who it was. Carefully he sorted through the various herbs and remedies until he spotted the familiar round wooden box and, just to be sure it was the right thing, took a liberal fingerful himself first. 'mmmm!' This would make Merry better.
Pippin scooped up another large dollop onto his finger and, holding his cousin's jaw, teased his finger into his closed mouth. Merry, although somewhat surprised at being fed this odd tasting concoction, complied and Pippin spread the paste onto Merry's tongue and teeth, then quickly followed up with another generous scoop.
One more quick dip for himself, after all Merry had had two so he may as well keep up – no another for him – how could anything that made you feel this good be bad? He didn't understand Strider's reluctance to let him have the paste. Perhaps it was hard to come by, but surely he wouldn't begrudge Merry some when he was so ill?
He watched his cousin carefully as he sucked his own fingerful of poppy. Merry was working his mouth awkwardly, trying to deal with the strange taste. Pippin remembered that he had found it unpleasant to start…
Pippin didn't manage to finish the thought. He was suddenly hauled off the bed by a hand on his collar and the golden haired lady was, in a very unladylike fashion to his mind, sticking her fingers into his mouth and trying to scrape out the remains of the poppy paste that was there. She followed this annoying behaviour with wiping his mouth inside and out with a very soapy cloth, making him choke and eventually vomit, especially when she applied her fingers again, this time down his throat. That was what Aragorn had done last time! Why couldn't he have the medicine that made him feel so good?
Aragorn leaned Merry forward and put his fingers into the hobbit's mouth scraping out as much of the poppy paste as he could. Luckily, Pippin did not seem to have given Merry a drink to wash the paste down and Aragorn hoped most of it had still been in his mouth. But he was mortified by how much of the mixture seemed to be missing from his supply and Merry was starting to slump already and his breathing had slowed.
"Pippin, I'm going to have to cut your fingers off if you keep this up." Aragorn watched with mixed feelings of guilt, anger and deep concern as Éowyn washed the paste off Pippin's fingers and face and rinsed his mouth with soapy water and eventually made him sick, much to the hobbit's disgust.
Pippin's bottom lip quivered as he started to cry silent tears. He pointed a finger at Merry and then wrapped his arms around himself rocking to and fro.
"I know he was hurting, but you can't just give him opium, you could kill him." Aragorn was explaining more to ease his frustration than to Pippin who could not hear him anyway although he elaborated his words with actions, shaking his head and miming to help the well-intentioned hobbit understand. He would have to get Legolas to explain it properly again.
"What about Merry?" Éowyn asked anxiously as she tried to soothe Pippin after her rather rough behaviour, Pippin shrugged her off as he did not want comforting, he wanted the nice medicine. "Shouldn't you make him reject the paste?"
"I think I got most of it out of his mouth." Aragorn patted Merry's cheek to see how alert he was. He mumbled a little but then slumped forward against the ranger's chest. "Making him vomit could be dangerous, he has been too sick already and his body can ill afford to lose any more fluid."
"Did you give this little one opium to start with?" Éowyn asked astutely.
"Yes, I'm afraid I did and I think I may have done some terrible damage." Aragorn picked Pippin up and put him back on the bed, minus the paste. Pippin stuck his finger in his mouth, obviously hoping Éowyn might have missed a little, although he had certainly retained a good amount in his system and was soon sleeping peacefully, snuggled up to his equally contented cousin.
"I'm afraid he's become horribly addicted to the narcotic!" Aragorn shook his head in dismay, "next thing you know he'll be growing it in the South Farthing and it will replace Longbottom Leaf as the main crop!"
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.