23. Bitter and Sweet
Merry soon got tired of walking and wanted to sit, but Aragorn would not let him rest yet. When he sank to the floor the ranger would lift him back up onto his feet and push him on again. "Come on Merry, just a little longer. Would you like something nice to eat? You must be hungry." The ranger tried to coax him along and Pippin tugged anxiously at him each time he faltered, but it was hard going.
"I'm too tired Aragorn, please let me sleep. Don't want to walk, please… sleep … stop now…" Merry stood still once more but this time Pippin, who seemed less affected by the effects of the opium pulled him on.
Éowyn led them down to the kitchens as Aragorn had told her the one thing that could always hold a hobbit's attention was food and Merry certainly should be hungry by now as he had eaten nothing since he had been rescued and possibly not for a while before that.
The chief cook was not only a very tall but also an enormously fat man with big ruddy cheeks and thick bulging muscles. Pippin was overawed by what might very well have been the largest human he had ever seen. Merry was not too sure of him either as the man had a voice to match his size. "Hello," he boomed, "what have we here? Two hungry lads?"
"No, two hungry Holbytla, that is to say, hobbits." Éowyn pushed Pippin forward and Merry of course followed. "Pippin and his cousin Merry. I thought maybe, Yomyn, you might find something tasty for them?"
"Hobbits eh? I am sure I can find something they would like, what do hobbits eat?" Yomyn rolled his sleeves up and came towards the pair.
Pippin backed up, bumping into Merry as he did, making them both sit down on the floor rather hard and suddenly. "Ow!" Merry complained. Still on his backside, Pippin grabbed Merry's shirt and pulled his cousin a bit further away from the, to the tiny hobbits, large and intimidating cook.
Éowyn quickly explained in low tones, so that Merry could not hear, "Pippin is unable to hear or speak and Merry is blind." She added quickly, "Pippin is recovering from injuries and Merry has been badly mistreated and has also consequently been very ill. Also, they have both accidentally taken more opium than is good for them. They need to be kept awake and I am sure they are both very hungry."
Yomyn nodded that he understood all of these complicated facts, although he was puzzled as to why anyone would mistreat such charming little ones.
He went to a large earthenware jar with a lid and took out two flat brown cakes shaped like little people. "Here" he stooped down and held one out to Pippin, "A gingerbreadhobbit, you will like it."
Pippin glanced up at Aragorn, who nodded and the small hobbit reached out and took the sweetmeat with a half smile. He took a bite and the smile grew to a wide beam. Quickly he reached out and took the other gingerbreadhobbit and put it in Merry's hand.
Merry did not know what it was, so Éowyn first traced his hand around the shape and then lifted it up to his mouth. "Take a bite," she said, "it is good, Pippin likes it."
Merry took a tentative bite and then, like Pippin, his whole face lit up. "That's wonderful." he smiled. "Thank you."
Yomyn beckoned to Pippin, "Come and sit here," he patted a wooden bench at the long scrubbed table, "I expect you would like something to wash that down with."
Pippin tentatively took Merry over to the bench and sat them both down. Yomyn gave them each a mug of warm milk sweetened with honey and Pippin put a mug in his cousin's hand before tasting his own. "It’s sweet milk!" Merry was surprised at the taste. "It's delicious."
"So now I know one thing that hobbits like to eat," Yomyn smiled at them "and one thing they like to drink," Yomyn opened his well-stocked larder so that Pippin could see inside "Now, while you finish that, tell me what else you like."
Pippin's eyes widened at the abundance of good things he could see, but he could not quite work out what he was supposed to do. His silent world was most confusing at times. He then remembered that Merry could talk even if he could not see and this whole situation seemed to need words. He reached up to his cousin's lips with his fingers and moved them up and down. Merry caught hold of his hand as that was quite annoying and he was still trying to eat. He traced some letters in Pippin's palm, but the hobbit found it hard to follow. Then Merry tried a different approach. He held the first finger of Pippin's right hand and guided it to write on the tabletop, as if Pippin was writing for himself. Pippin found this method was much easier to understand.
'w-o-t - d-o - U - l-y-k - 2 - e-a-t?' Merry decided to use the Peregrin Took version of spelling, he knew it as well as the regular method and also knew that Pippin would understand it better. Then he realised he did not need to ask and wrote, 'i - w-y-l - t-e-l - h-y-m - w-o-t - U - l-y-k'
Merry began, "Pippin likes mushrooms, 'taters, carrots, strawberries, bread and honey, bread and butter, bread and jam, bread and cheese, porridge with sugar, apple tart, cake sometimes, custard always, treacle pudding, treacle tart, crumpets, dumplings, toffee, stew, sausages, bacon-and-eggs, tomatoes, cabbage, ham, some beans, gravy, pickled onions, pickled beetroot, apples and plums, ale, cider, mead, tea-with-milk-and-sugar, buns-with-currants, not tapioca, not rice pudding, never-ever sprouts and that's all." Merry was quite breathless at the end of this, so added for simplicity. "…and I like the same."
"That is quite a list, young master," Yomyn raised his eyebrows at Pippin who had been watching Merry's lips intently but not really following it all. "Is that everything?"
"Think so," Merry took Pippin's finger again. "I'll make sure." He wrote, 'e-n-y-f-i-n-g - e-l-s?'
Pippin wrote in Merry's palm, 'i - d-o-n-t - n-o-w - w-o-t - U - t-o-w-l-d - h-y-m.'
Merry wrote 'e-v-r-y-f-i-n-g'
Pippin thought. Then wrote, 'd-y-d - U - s-a-y - p-o-p-y-s'
Merry wrote, 'w-o-t?'
Pippin wrote, 'p-o-p-y-s! - l-y-k - s-t-r-y-d-r-s - g-o-t!'
Merry frowned, "Strider?" The hobbit was not sure if the ranger was still there.
"I'm here, what is it Merry." The ranger came over to sit on the table by the hobbits.
"Pippin is asking for poppies to eat," Merry turned his face towards the ranger now he had located him. "He says you have them. What does he mean? Flowers? Do you give Pippin flowers to eat?"
"Yes, ground-up poppy paste," Aragorn sighed, sincerely wishing he had never started all this, "but it was only while he was ill. When you don’t feel well it can help make you better by making you sleep but it's very bad to have it all the time and Pippin is not to have any more. It's what he gave you Merry that made you so sleepy."
"But if all it does is make you sleepy…" Merry could be very persistent sometimes. "…why is it so bad?"
"Well," Aragorn decided Merry was awake enough now to know what was happening. "He fed you a lot and we were frightened for you. If you or Pippin had had too much you might never have woken up again."
"Oh." Merry didn't quite know what to say to that. "So I shouldn’t ask for it then."
"No, certainly not!" Aragorn folded his arms and frowned at Pippin but the impudent hobbit knelt up on the bench next to the ranger and, having taken his sling off once more, carefully unlaced Aragorn's arms and then put his fingers either side of the ranger's mouth and attempted to pull it up into a smile.
Aragorn was finally won over and in spite of the seriousness of the situation could not help a small grin. He was also amazed at how astutely Pippin was adjusting to his silent world. He caught Pippin's wrists gently and replaced the sling, shaking his finger at the hobbit in warning against removing it. Pippin cheekily caught hold of the finger and made as if to bite it, then grinned back up at the ranger.
Aragorn chuckled slightly at Pippin's high spirits, but his thoughts turned back quickly to Merry's question. "I think, Merry we have to try to stop Pip having any more of my special paste."
Merry turned to where he thought Yomyn was and added to his list, "…and not poppies, either."
The next day both the hobbits were feeling much more lively although Merry was still very stiff, sore and weak. Also he had very little appetite. Éowyn had brought them both food and set it at the table, but Merry did not want to leave the bed and even when she brought some bread and milk to him he would barely touch it.
"Merry is not eating," Éowyn told Aragorn when he came to see them, "he still seems anxious and upset."
"Yes," Aragorn agreed, "Yomyn tells me he didn't actually eat very much yesterday. He tried a bite of everything offered but didn't finish anything." Aragorn drew out a cloth package from his doublet. "He sent these as Merry seemed to like them best." The package revealed two gingerbreadhobbits and the two healers smiled at each other and took them over to Merry.
"Come on Merry," Aragorn reached down and sat the hobbit up as he had snuggled down under the coverlet, "I've got some more gingerbread for you from Yomyn, will you come to the table with Pippin to eat it?"
"No, I want to stay here!" Merry said pulling away from Aragorn and lying down again. "I'll wait for Pippin to come back."
"Merry, your fever is down now and it would be better for you to move about a little." Aragorn put his hand on his shoulder to try and coax him up. "At least eat the gingerbread."
"No thank you." Merry pulled the coverlet over his head. "I'd like to sleep please Aragorn, I'm really tired."
"No you're not." Aragorn pulled the cover back off again. "You've only just woken up. Merry what's wrong?" The ranger sat down on the bed and spoke quietly. "Are you worrying over having to talk about what happened?"
The night before, when Aragorn had finally brought the hobbits back to the bedchamber and decided they were well enough to be allowed to sleep, he had gently explained to Merry that the next day Éomer would be coming to talk to him about what had happened on the road and how Spandif had put him in the cage. Aragorn had told the hobbit that in order for the man to be brought to trial successfully he had to give his version of events to Éomer so that hopefully he would not have to give evidence in the courtroom himself.
Merry had gone very quiet although he had agreed to tell his story when Aragorn had argued that they could not just let Spandif go, in case he did the same thing again to someone else.
"Yes," Merry finally admitted. "But I don't like thinking about it even and to talk about it… Aragorn. Do I have to? It was so horrible."
"You are so brave Merry," Éowyn whispered to him. "Éomer is my brother. He will not harass you or make you say anything you do not want to, I promise it will be all right. Now come and eat the gingerbread before Pippin has it all."
Merry looked rather downcast at having to admit he was anxious at the prospect of having to give his version of events, but tried to push his feelings to the back of his mind and resignedly lifted his arms up so that Aragorn could lift him off the bed to go and join Pippin at the table.
He was half way through the gingerbread, eating very slowly with sips of milk, when Éomer arrived, accompanied by Legolas. Éomer joined the hobbits at the table and began talking to Merry about the wonderful gingerbread Yomyn made. He playfully broke a small piece off Pippin's and ate it with a grin. Pippin good-naturedly offered him another bite but Éomer smiled and pushed it back to Pippin's mouth and patted his stomach to show he was full.
During this diversion Aragorn drew the elf to one side. "Legolas, there's something very important you have to do." Aragorn whispered urgently.
"What is it?" Legolas narrowed his eyes, "What's Pippin done now?"
"He's been in the opium again." Aragorn sighed at the admission. "And this time he fed a large amount to Merry. Yes it was probably my fault, but I can't watch him every moment. Could you explain to him just how dangerous it is and that he must stop taking it?"
"I'll try," Legolas agreed, "although I get the sensation from his mind that he's becoming so fond of the feeling the opium induces that he may already be addicted." Legolas held his hand up to silence further exhortations from the ranger, "but I will do what I can."
The elf went over to the table and smiled at Pippin and wished Merry 'Good Morning'. He sat next to Pippin and waited until he had finished his gingerbread before putting his hands on the hobbit's face and calling to him.
'What have you done? Aragorn tells me you stole poppy paste and that you gave it to Merry.'
'Pippin! You must not just eat poppy paste – it's very dangerous.'
'it nice legolas… make pain go stop… make my mer go bettrer…'
'Make your Mer go dead!'
'not say that legolas! that bad thing say at i…'
'But it's true Pippin. I'm not just trying to scare you. Why do you think Aragorn took it out of your mouth before?'
'not want i go have it much… i go take… then he not go have lot and lot…'
'No Pippin! It's because it's bad for you and too much can kill you!
'not! legolas why you say that bad thing? why strider give i medi-iseren… medit-ten…not say word…'
'…is – give i medi-iseren go kill i?'
'A little can help you, Pippin. Aragorn wouldn't hurt you, he gave you a little to stop the pain and help you sleep. Too much can kill you, that's why you have to stop taking it and never try and give it to Merry again.'
'oh legolas! what i go do at my mer? …oh i not… not… please say i not go do so bad… sorry… sorry…'
Legolas lifted Pippin's slumped head up with his hands still clasped around his cheeks. Tears were running down his face now and he looked a picture of abject misery. Legolas was grateful that Merry could not see him. He drew him in and hugged the grief-filled little hobbit to his chest.
'Don't cry Pippin, you are both all right. Just promise me you'll never take it again unless Aragorn or a healer gives it to you.'
'… hic… promsis… will do not… promsis …'
Legolas rocked Pippin to and fro a little while, until he could feel the silent sobs that were wracking his little body subside. When Pippin lifted his head up and looked tentatively over at Merry, seated on the other side of the table, he could see that he was talking to one of the King's soldiers and that he too was trying to hide some tears. Merry brushed his face surreptitiously with his long sleeve and seemed to sniff a little.
Pippin was mortified. Was Merry being told about how he, Pippin his own dear cousin, had nearly killed him? Surely Merry knew he did not mean to hurt him. The younger hobbit brushed past Legolas and frantically scrambled onto and over the table, sending cups and plates flying, to throw his arms around his startled cousin's neck and hug him.
Éomer was more than a little surprised at this sudden display of affection and Aragorn gently tried to disengage Pippin as, not only had he dislodged his own arm from the sling again, but he was in danger of aggravating Merry's hurts at the same time.
Legolas came to the rescue, although he was a little worried at the increasingly long periods of time he was spending in Pippin's mind, he could see no other solution to explaining things to the confused hobbit.
'Pippin, Merry's all right, don't squeeze him so, you'll hurt him.'
'not go hurt mer… go hug at he… he go make cry face…'
'He's just a little upset, Pippin don't fret.'
'why he? what say he? sad i go giveded bad medi-iseren at he?
'No, he's telling Éomer how he was put in the cage.'
'ohhhh my mer….'
Pippin scrambled out of reach of Legolas and Aragorn once more and ducked under the table to pop up and sit next to Merry. Éomer smiled at the little hobbit as he took his older cousin's hand and kissed it gently to let him know he was there.
Merry had paused for a moment in the telling of his story and was trying to gulp back his tears as the telling felt almost like reliving the dreadful pain of being tortured with the frightening prod and crammed into the tiny cage like a rat or some sort of vermin. Pippin's sudden demonstrative behaviour made him think his own distress was upsetting his cousin. He held Pippin's hand tightly and bit his lower lip a little before taking a deep breath and carrying on with the nightmare tale.
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.