22. Don't Let Me Go!
"How much do you think they've had?" Éowyn was listening carefully to Pippin's breathing and monitoring his pulse. "This little one doesn't seem so well."
"At least half of what I had is gone." Aragorn was checking Merry in the same way. "Certainly enough to kill two halflings. We're going to have to try and wake them up and then keep them conscious.
"Why do you think he took so much himself?" Éowyn had never encountered drug taking for the sheer pleasure of it. "Is Pippin ill as well?"
"No, it's my fault I'm afraid," The ranger admitted. "First of all I started giving Pippin opium to ease his pain when his wrist was so badly broken. Then he got a little too fond of it and started begging for it and then he stole some." Aragorn clamped the lid tightly down on the half empty wooden box. "I should have been more careful and not left it where his little fingers would be tempted. He obviously thought he was helping Merry by feeding it to him, but he would have had no idea how much to use."
"Perhaps putting them in a bath would wake them sufficiently." Éowyn suggested, "The water would probably revive them."
"Indeed, and it would clean Merry's wounds at the same time, the dressings are soiled with blood now and if it is fairly cool it will bring Merry's temperature down as well." Aragorn mouth quirked up into a half smile, "and perhaps, if no one is looking, I could drown Pippin!"
Éowyn laughed at the obvious joke, she could see how fond the surly ranger was of these odd little halfling people. She requested that a bath be brought to the bedchamber and filled at once. In the meantime Aragorn attempted to rouse both the unconscious hobbits. He patted Merry's cheeks gently and called to him, "Come on, Meriadoc, wake up now. You've slept enough and you have to wake up now. Merry! Merry!"
The ranger sat him up but Merry just slumped forward onto the man's chest. Aragorn lifted him back by his shoulders and shook him a little. Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief as Merry finally opened his unseeing eyes and tried to push himself away from the ranger.
"What did you put in my mouth?" Merry worked his jaw around and made a face. Obviously there was a residue of the opium taste still there and so Aragorn gave him some water and bade him rinse his mouth and spit out. Merry did as told, spitting several times into a basin that Aragorn held for him. "Can I drink some?" He asked gripping the cup tightly, his thirst growing following the unpleasant taste.
"All right you can swallow a little water now." Aragorn let him take a small sip.
"What happened?" Merry asked still very bemused, "why did you make me spit the water out?"
"Pippin was trying to help you." Aragorn explained as he started to loosen the bandages from Merry's neck. "He gave you some medicine, but it was too much and so I had to take it out of your mouth. He thought he was doing the right thing."
Éowyn returned from organising the bath and took over removing Merry's bandages while Aragorn roused Pippin. The ranger was slightly rougher with the younger halfling, almost letting his exasperation with the opium stealing hobbit get the better of him. He held him up by the scruff of his collar and took hold of his chin and shook the little face from side to side until two bleary eyes eventually opened and peered at him.
The bath was filled now and so Aragorn took Pippin's sling off, followed by his oversized shirt that was still his only garment and unceremoniously plonked him into the warm water. The tub was very deep for a hobbit and Pippin slid straight under the water, so the ranger quickly reached in and grabbing a handful of curls pulled the half drowned hobbit to the surface, spluttering and rubbing his eyes. He looked so bedraggled and sorry for himself that Aragorn felt very guilty at his rough handling of the miscreant and carefully dried his face with a cloth.
Merry was added to the bath, and as he was still very sick as well as drugged, Aragorn lowered him very carefully into Pippin's arms. When he was undressed, Merry had kept a tight hold on the scrap of Gandalf's cloak and nothing could persuade him to let it go. Éowyn held a candle in front of Merry's eyes and scrutinised his dilated pupils. "Do his eyes normally look like this, or is it the opium?" She asked the ranger.
"I'm not sure," Aragorn moved the candle closer. "It’s possible that the pupils are that wide because of his blindness. Pippin's are not as dilated as Merry's, but that may be because he didn't eat as much paste as he gave his cousin."
"What's the matter with my eyes?" Merry asked fearfully, "I know I can't see but is something else wrong?"
"Don't worry, Merry," Aragorn put the candle back on the table. "We were just trying to see how awake you are, but as you can hear us you obviously are alert enough."
Pippin by now was also fairly alert and had got hold of a bar of soap and started washing Merry's hair rather too vigorously. He managed to get soap in his cousin's eyes but was oblivious to Merry's complaints until he caught hold of Pippin's hand and made him stop rubbing the soapy curls. Éowyn rescued him by taking the soap away from the overly helpful hobbit and pouring clear water over Merry's face to wash the stinging suds out of his sore eyes.
Pippin then just contented himself with holding his cousin's face above the water while the others soaped and washed Merry's hurts.
As soon as they were out of the water and wrapped in towels the ranger spent a long time examining Merry's wounds and putting salve on the bruises or ointment into the cuts that were infected. He bandaged any open wounds and carefully rebound his neck and wrists while the whole time Pippin was his willing helper, holding things or leaning Merry up against him.
Both hobbits were sleepy again once the ranger had finished, but Aragorn did not want to let them doze off yet. The opium was still too recent and he decided it would be better to keep them both conscious until it wore off; just to be sure they were both sound.
As he had worked Éowyn also helped and was further impressed with the ranger's skill in healing. She was also curious about the halflings, having never come across one before, let alone two together. "How did they come to be so hurt?" She asked. Then added almost teasingly, "you must have been very careless with their care."
"Don't be deceived," Aragorn smiled at the beautiful woman, whispering so that Merry could not hear, "they are stronger than they look. Although Merry has had a particularly hard time, he is very brave and valiant, even by full-grown men's standards. And Peregrin!" The ranger actually laughed out loud, "he is a tenacious imp as his persistence in stealing my opium has probably demonstrated."
Éowyn fetched the clothes they had sorted out and as she brought them over saw that the hobbits had actually fallen asleep again. "They are very close, but if Merry cannot see and Pippin cannot hear or speak," Éowyn began to lay the clothes out on the bed "It is almost like keeping them apart."
"It seems very little could separate these two." Aragorn held up a shirt Éowyn had laid out, trying to decide if it would fit Pippin. "Look at them."
Pippin was snuggled up to Merry, the fingers of his good hand entwined in his cousin's hair and Merry had both arms tightly wrapped around the smaller hobbit as if his life depended on it.
"But now I have to be cruel to be kind," Aragorn shook Pippin and unlaced him from Merry's grasp, "and wake them both again. It's still too close to them eating the opium to let them sleep."
All the things that Drâmym and Ŭnomer had brought were children's clothes but still a little big for the hobbits. Aragorn stood Pippin up and gave him a pair of breeches and a shirt and while he dressed himself, Éowyn and Aragorn manoeuvred Merry into a similar outfit. Merry still would not be parted from the scrap of cloak so Aragorn tied the tatty, damp piece of cloth about his shoulders.
"Come on Merry you have to walk about," Aragorn told the hobbit. "Lady Éowyn, if you take Pippin, Merry can come with me."
The woman first replaced the sling on the smaller hobbit's arm and then took his right hand and led him towards the door. Pippin looked anxiously back towards Merry.
Aragorn stood Merry on his feet but he immediately sank down to the floor. The ranger lifted him up again and steadied him. "Come on Merry you have to stay on your feet."
"Where are we going?" Merry whispered fearfully, "where's Pip?"
"He's over here," Aragorn turned Merry's shoulders towards the door. "Just walk ahead."
Merry took a couple of tentative steps, but then caught his toe in the rug and stumbled. Falling forward he tried to catch himself but grabbed hold of a table covering, which fell with him and brought the contents of the table crashing to the floor. The cloth twisted over his head and as he tried to turn he collided with the solid wooden leg of the table, banging his head with a loud thump.
Aragorn stepped forward to pick the shaken hobbit up, but Pippin was there first. He had pulled away from Éowyn at the first sign of Merry's accident and reached him just as he sat up from hitting the table leg. He dropped to his knees, pulled the cloth off his cousin and put his arm round him and kissed his brow where a bruise was appearing. Merry brushed at his face with his sleeve, not wanting to show the tears that had sprung to his eyes. He would not normally cry at such a silly thing, but the culmination of events, particularly being unable to walk without his sight, was overwhelming.
"Come on Merry," Aragorn squatted down beside him and took his hand. "That was just unlucky, you'll get used to it. Stand up and try again."
Merry stayed rooted to the safe piece of ground that he was now on. . "I-I can't…" he faltered. "I don't know wh-what's there… I'll fall."
"Come on Merry," Aragorn tried to coax him, "There's no real damage done."
Merry shook his head "I'm sorry," he whispered, "did I break things?"
"It's all right," Éowyn assured him, "just as long as you're not badly hurt. Try again."
Aragorn picked the shaken hobbit up once more. "Hold my hand this time." The ranger took the small hand in his large one and tried to gently pull Merry forward. But he steadfastly refused to move and grabbed hold of Aragorn's hand with both of his and pulled back.
"Don't make me, please." Merry was getting very distressed and his tears were starting to fall once more. Éowyn felt tears of sympathy start to well in her own eyes, Merry seemed so vulnerable and beaten.
Pippin, however was less fearful for his cousin. He found it hard to contemplate that there was anything in Middle Earth that Merry could not cope with. He looked up at Aragorn indignantly with his hands on his hips and then took Merry's hands out of the ranger's large one and, holding his cousin's hand in his own, set off towards the door again.
Perhaps because it was Pippin's familiar feel or because his cousin never doubted he would follow, Merry suddenly felt as overwhelmed with confidence as he had with fear and let Pippin lead him along. Aragorn and Éowyn just watched in amazement.
When they reached the door, Pippin let go of Merry's hand to stand on tiptoe and open the latch, but Merry lunged out in panic and grabbed Pippin's arm as if suddenly dizzy. The smaller hobbit turned in surprise. He could see Merry was saying something and, although he could not hear, the message was clear. "Don't let me go!"
He took Merry's hand again and together they reached up for the latch so his cousin knew what he was doing, after which he touched Merry's nose with his finger. Merry then waited patiently while Pippin opened the door and grasped his hand once more.
Aragorn and Éowyn followed at a discrete distance as the pair set off, hand in hand, to explore their new surroundings.
Aragorn raised his eyebrows at Éowyn, "Well that seems to have solved that problem."
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.