1. Memories of Trees
Memories of Trees
The noises from the street reached up to the hobbits' upper-storied quarters in the fair house. Huge wooden wheels turned with a groan and creak as they rolled up to the fifth circle of the White City. Men's dark voices shouted at the oxen pulling the heavy carts. Goods were offered at the stalls below, and little brass bells jingled amidst the chatter of Gondor's women and children who had returned to the City.
A rich golden light filled the balcony where the four of them had been telling each other their adventures – for hours, it seemed. Pippin sat on top of the broad outside wall, his feet dangling dangerously high above the busy street. Merry felt himself checking on him ever so often, biting back a warning of caution. But Pippin was all relaxed, propped up on his elbows, eyes closed and his face turned towards the sky as if he did not want to miss one single beam of the afternoon sun. He had shifted his weight back towards the balcony and seemed well aware of the dangers of the sunny spot he'd chosen. He is safe. Tears sprang to Merry's eyes, out of the blue. Their time in the White City was all rest and good food and wine and stories, but so often Merry felt himself on the brink of tears, for no reason at all, or only for how good it was to be here, with his friends, alive, healed or well on the mend …
He is safe without you holding him. Merry forced his gaze away from Pippin and looked towards the stone roofs of this great city. Towers and gables spread as far as he could see, the walls and ledges all different shades of grey and white. Further down the fields of the Pelennor shimmered a bright green.
They had started to talk about their separation at Parth Galen after lunch. Pippin had grown quiet when the tale reached the cruel moments of Boromir's death. He had left it to Merry to tell as much as they knew. Then Sam had asked about the Ents, and there was no stopping Pippin when he could speak about Treebeard. Frodo almost had to command the young hobbit to pass the tale on to Merry.
"We've heard all about your adventures, Pip. Now I want to listen to what Merry has to say." Frodo cast a meaningful look towards the sheets of paper, the quill and ink waiting expectantly on a small table in his and Sam's quarters. Merry had not yet seen Frodo scribble one word or even just take notes, but they all knew it was Frodo's job to write up their adventures for Bilbo's book.
"But it's the same story," Pippin responded with Tookish stubbornness. "We were together all the time. What can Merry tell you that you haven't already heard from me? I'd rather have Sam tell us again how you met Faramir, and about Gollum catching fish in that pool where no one is allowed to go."
Pippin the tween resurfacing when just moments ago he had talked and acted like a hobbit twice his age. It was all part of the pains of growing up, Merry assumed. And Pippin had to grow up so fast, more quickly than any of them. They all knew, Frodo as much as Aragorn and Gandalf, and Merry was grateful for their respectful patience when Pippin was taken by one of his childish moods.
Frodo spoke seriously, like he would to a hobbit his own age. "It's not the same story, Pippin, and you know it. Each tale comes with its teller, and no one's story is ever quite like another's."
Pippin shrugged and for a moment it looked as he would stomp off into the room, but then he turned away, pretending he was interested in nothing but the view and the sun. Pippin could never resist a story, even if it was his own.
"Tell us about Treebeard, Merry. Tell us about your time in Fangorn forest." Frodo leaned back towards the wall, a red cushion propped against the thick stone.
Frodo would listen intently to all the members of the fellowship, with a peculiar expression of curiosity and an air of expectation that made you want to tell the best of tales. Even back in the quiet days in Bag End it had drawn them irresistibly to the fireside or under the old apple-tree to listen to Bilbo's stories and songs. Not for the first time Merry thought that some of the splendour and magic of Bilbo's tales was owed to Frodo's gift of listening. He thought he understood now the joy in Bilbo's face whenever he'd laid eyes on his young cousin.
He looks more like himself every day. And it was true, the colour was returning to Frodo's cheeks and the lively spark was back in his eyes. He was wearing breeches tailored in the Gondorian fashion, covering his legs all the way down to his ankles, where seven stars were stitched with golden thread onto the cloth. When the Steward's tailor had come to them and brought a selection of rich materials, Frodo had chosen the blue, just as Pippin had. But Merry had been drawn to the dark green with its silvery sheen which would flash white in the light. It was the colour of the tall firs up in the Northfarthing where the woods stood thicker and darker than any other place in the Shire.
"There's no woods like Fangorn in the Shire," Merry started. "Deep within the Old Forest such trees might grow, but I was never afraid in Fangorn. Not like I felt under those dark old trees when my father would take me to the Bonfire Glade. Fangorn feels so much older. The trees are ancient, like they don't belong in our age. You can feel how deep their roots stretch underneath the land. All of Middle-earth must have been covered with them at one time." He touched the expensive cloth clinging smoothly to his thighs. Stripes of Rohan's rayed suns were embroidered along its seams, just as Pippin's new clothes were marked with the White Tree in a fashion Merry had seen Men wear in the City.
"The air in Fangorn was dusty, sticky even, I could hardly breathe. We had to stop after a couple of miles, to catch our breath. But even when the air was close, it was not like the trees would suffocate you."
Pippin on the balcony wall nodded without turning his head, but obviously listening eagerly. Frodo shook his head with a barely noticeable smile, and Merry smiled back at him.
"In the Old Forest," he said, "it's like the trees come closer and get in your way. They don't want you to be there. It feels like they take away the air, draw it to them, suck it away. They don't want hobbits walking among them. But in Fangorn … " He recalled the few hours he had spent alone with Pippin when they'd fled from Grishnákh and entered the forest in a hurried tangle, and later when Treebeard had carried them deeper and deeper into the woods. "In Fangorn the trees don't care if you're walking underneath them and across their roots. It's like they know you're here, but somehow they don't notice you at all. I felt like the forest was all ours to roam and wander. And at the same time it felt like we were trespassing where we shouldn't be." He looked up to see Frodo watch him with an intent gaze. The thought struck Merry that Frodo was indeed taking notes. In his mind he remembers. He was certain that Frodo would recall everything the members of the Fellowship told him, word for word, the most conscientious keeper of their tales.
"You were free to walk the whole forest, but you could not leave a trace of your presence there," Frodo said. "Nothing you did would matter to the old trees. Is that how it felt?"
"Yes …" And still Merry wondered if this was truly what he'd felt. They had left a trace in Fangorn, after all. Without them, the Ents would not have been roused. Saruman would not have been destroyed. Not so fast, at any rate, not so terribly and not so utterly. And the Ents had put a new line into their ancient lists, even when Treebeard had never heard of hobbits before Merry and Pippin had shown up on his favourite hill.
"… and no," he continued. "We left a trace of our kind. 'Half-grown hobbit, the hole-dwellers'. We are in the old stories now and have a place in the lists of the Ents."
But Frodo spoke of another kind of trace, Merry understood as much. A mark to be left in the memory of those trees. And perhaps Frodo was right, maybe this was what Merry had felt when they'd moved through those endless woods: that the trees would not remember them. A momentary breeze on a sunny day ruffling the leaves of a high branch, that's how he had felt in Fangorn, maybe, or a tiny animal tripping over the ground, its steps a faint shiver which barely reached the strong roots below. But the water … the Entwash would remember two weary hobbits cooling their feet in the stream and drinking from the clear sweet water until their bellies were round and full. Merry wondered if the water had taken that memory with it, over rock and stone, out of Fangorn through the grasslands of Rohan and into the Westfold until it joined the Great River and moved towards the Sea. Somehow it seemed to him there had been magic in the water passing through Fangorn itself, and not only in the draughts Treebeard had offered them.
"We came with Treebeard to his home, and the sun was just about to disappear behind the trees. Wellinghall, he'd said, the place was called. But that was just a short word for hasty halflings. I am sure it takes days to say the proper Entish name." Merry saw Pippin nod again, a smile on his lips, as he listened with closed eyes. "It was getting dark and Treebeard brought out two great basins, and they were filled with water … well, it looked like water to me. But then he held his hands over them, just like this …" Merry moved both of his hands over the coloured glass in front of him, where water shimmered cool like the Anduin far below. Pippin shifted on the wall and turned around. He was watching him now, as Merry looked at his own hobbit's hands. They were so much smaller and rounder and softer than Treebeard's gnarled long-limbed fingers. "There was golden light coming from one basin, and a kind of green light from the other, bright and shady still. Like when the light shines through the leaves of the beech trees in the back of Brandy Hall's gardens."
"You spent many summers under those trees," Frodo said. "I remember." He looked out over the City, a shaded expression in his eyes. Merry wondered whether there was still pain. Or maybe what he saw was something akin to the sad joy which sometimes had shone through Frodo's voice when they had found themselves under a night sky sparkling with stars on their tramps around the Shire.
"I didn't know you liked that place," Pippin said from the wall. "Those beeches are nice big trees."
"That was before you came along. After that I spent my summers chasing after this little Took cousin of mine who wouldn't be satisfied until he knew all the chickens and had jumped onto each and every bale of straw up in the barns."
Pippin winked at him, and for a moment Merry only wanted to reach over and touch him.
"I was with Berilac and Merimas then," he explained.
"I remember the beech trees," Frodo said. "And the smells … the air was full of thyme and dile and targon and Cook's onions."
Cook's prize-winning onions. A red kind with a sweet sharp flavour, Buckland's finest. How could he have forgotten their brothy summer smell when the memory brought such happiness to Frodo? Merry noted the relief, too, in Frodo's voice, his eyes showing it frankly, so full of it, as he looked to Sam who sat on a low stool at his side. They exchanged a wordless glance as they often did since they had come back. It brought them together in the blink of an eye, so that nothing could come between them, like a shield raised between them and all others. They were quick to return to the normal flow of time and talk, but never all the way, never like they had been before. Pippin had seen it, too, Merry could tell from the way he glanced at them and then lowered his head, as if he'd stumbled into something too private to watch.
Merry tried to imagine how it must have felt when Frodo had forgotten what the smells of the Shire tasted like. When the Ring was burning into him and all he could see was fire. He shuddered and at once caught Frodo's questioning look.
"We were little," Merry said with a shrug. "I don't remember much but lying in the shade of those trees."
Frodo seldom talked about what had happened in Mordor, and Sam never said a word about that last stretch of their bitter journey. Not to Merry anyhow. Sam must have talked to Gandalf about the days of which Frodo had no recollection, the times Sam had to remember for the both of them. Pippin never asked about such tales as those grim days could tell either. Not even amongst themselves did they speak about what little they gathered. But Merry would never forget the look on Pippin's face when Frodo had told them how Sam had carried him all the way up Mount Doom. Later Pippin had gone over to Sam and held both of his hands in his, saying nothing, which was a rare thing for Pippin, but no words were needed. There had been tears in Pippin's eyes, and Merry had seen the sheen in Sam's, too, when he had nodded briefly towards him. Frodo would have died without Sam. They all would have died.
"Must be some nice old beeches." Sam gathered the tunic that he was mending in his lap. Shire-made, the simple garment made Merry think of quiet winters in Brandy Hall, when his mother would patch up his torn clothing, sitting before the fire. The linen shone white against the dark green of Sam's breeches where the same seven stars glinted golden as on Frodo's.
"I'd love to show you Brandy Hall's gardens, Sam, when we are back home," Merry said quickly.
"Oh, I'd like that, Mr. Merry." Sam nodded, then returned to his needle-work. The tunic was torn at one sleeve, and Sam closed the rent with quick stitches. I bet it's one of Frodo's, Merry thought, then remembered that Frodo had lost all his garments in that dreadful dark tower. But surely he had seen Frodo wear this very tunic with the red-threaded pattern at its sleeves and collar – wear it here, in Minas Tirith.
"I remember the light. Shade and sunshine all at once." As Frodo spoke, Merry realised that this was not only about Frodo's joy over a memory he might have lost to the Ring, but that he truly remembered, just as Merry did. The golden patches amidst the green shade, the coolness hidden within the heat of those summers, the sound of the crickets and the rustling of the wind in the leaves all wrapped into that shivering quiet …
"Like sunlight, but stored amongst the green of the trees, yes." And then Merry remembered it all. "And the red of dawn and sunset, too. Wellinghall … the whole place was shining in gold and green and copper red, once Treebeard had lighted the basins. I think …" His voice broke as he felt a prickle of tears welling up inside him. There was no reason for tears now, and he did not want the others to notice, least of all Pippin. Already Pip moved his legs inside and was watching him with something that might well be concern. "I think its name ... the Entish name of the place. It must be about how the trees are lit in such colours in the dark of the night."
There seemed to be an echo to his voice, reverberating from the thick stone walls of this city, making the words take shape in the air before him. At least it felt like that to Merry. He sensed Frodo's gaze on him, and Sam was sitting still, his hand with the needle resting on the cloth, a distant look in his eyes. It made Merry wonder whether there had been trees in the wasteland of Mordor. Whether there had been a bit of colour amidst the stones and ash, whether …
Pippin slid down the balcony wall and sat on the honeycomb tiles covering the floor. Merry looked over to him and was surprised at Pippin's wide-open eyes, his brown skin all flushed.
"I've forgotten all about the trees," Pippin whispered.
"You must have been half asleep …" Merry stopped when Pippin shook his head.
"No, I remember now. There was the light and the cave was all green and gold. The water from the spring, it sparkled like … like jewels or –" Pippin raised his right hand, and for a moment looked at it curiously, almost as if he wondered whether his skin held a better memory than his mind. And maybe his hands do remember, Merry thought. They had stepped through the water often while they'd stayed at Wellinghall, and a couple of times Pippin had held his hands into the spring as if he was opening a curtain so Merry could follow him and not get his feet wet. And he had laughed with such joy when the icy water had run through his fingers that could not stop the glittering rain even if they'd wanted to.
"Like silver pearls in the star light," Merry said.
Pippin smiled. "Like tiny pearls, yes. Little cymbals that tinkled all through the night. And the wind was singing in the trees. I remember now." He leaned back against the sun-warmed stone, a contented look on his face, his eyes sparkling at Merry.
The song of the trees. Hid grandfather had told him about what the wind was singing when it blew softly through the tree tops out at the edge of Brandy Hall's gardens. Once he had taken Merry with him into the Old Forest, just the two of them. Old Rory himself and Merry, who could have been no older than twelve at the time. It was an odd memory, one that Merry had not thought about for years. Odd, too, that Pippin mentioning the wind of Wellinghall would bring it out, in a clarity that Merry hadn't thought this particular memory possessed. But right in front of his mind's eye, he could see the portly figure of his grandfather, his dark green vest with the horn buttons and the antler embroidery on cuffs and collar. Grey curls, his face all wrinkled, but such a keen gaze. Merry remembered having been afraid of Rorimac Brandybuck.
But he had not been afraid that evening when they both had passed through the Hedge and into the forest. That evening he had been in awe of his grandfather, of the ways in which he commanded the trees. The gnarly old roots which had made so many strangers stumble and lose their path, had retreated into the ground when Old Rory came their way. The tall dark trunks that would ever stand right in the path of hobbits wandering through the woods lined Old Rory's way like guardians, a protective canopy of branch and leaf. All his childhood Merry had heard the tale of the trees attacking the Hedge, threatening Brandy Hall and all who lived in the shadow of Buck Hill. The Bucklanders' victory against the trees was celebrated every year with a huge bonfire at the outskirts of the Old Forest.
But that evening, trying hard to keep up with his grandfather's long strides, Merry had heard another tale. Rorimac told him about how long ago, when the first hobbits claimed Buck Hill and the country east of the Brandywine and west of the Old Forest, the Master of the Hall had met with Old Man Willow. The heart of the great willow had been young then and not yet filled with envy of all moving things. A mighty singer, his grandfather had called him, much as later Tom Bombadil had said. And Merry and Pippin and Frodo had been lulled to sleep by the willow's singing. Not Sam, Merry remembered. No, Sam had stayed clear-minded and awake, just as Rorimac Goldfather was not distracted by the voices of the trees.
Sitting in the sun-filled balcony and remembering, because Pippin had made him do so, the night wind mastered by the high trees surrounding the glade of Wellinghall, Merry wondered about the songs the Great Old Willow could sing, if he had a mind to, and if there was someone who could bear to listen and not fall asleep. Someone like his grandfather. Someone like – Sam Gamgee.
Merry watched from under lowered eye-lashes, watched Sam who was talking to Frodo now. Watched Frodo who turned, eyes filled with joy, towards Sam. His body, his entire being, was focused on the gardener, like he was the sun Frodo's world revolved around. Frodo Baggins, Master of Bag End. Sam Gamgee, his loyal servant. They would never return to how things had been between them, before they all set out on this adventure. Mordor had changed them forever. Merry could see clearly now what he'd suspected for weeks.
They would return home, return to the Shire. He'd be Meriadoc Brandybuck again, sole heir to the Hall and all of Buckland. Merry, Holdwine to King Théoden, would stay behind in the green rolling plains of Rohan. And what would he take with him from this great and terrible adventure?
Merry looked over to where Pip sat on the tiles, his head leaned back against the balcony. His throat was pale against the dark stones, his curls glistened like a marten's sleek fur. A stranger with a face that Merry had known for most of his life. Cousin, friend – lover. Would he be allowed to take this home with him? This love between brothers in arms that had no place in the Shire?
Abruptly, Pippin turned to him, laughter on his lips because of something Frodo had said. He cocked his head at Merry, a question in his eyes.
And Merry tried, he tried so hard, to hold on to this moment in time … the warm afternoon sun slanted onto the honeycomb tiles, the subdued noises from below in the street, the soft breeze which enclosed them, held them safe, high above the Pelennor fields, the bittersweet smell of sage, tinged with a faint memory of rose petals and dust. The four of them, together and alive. Pippin, Frodo and Sam, and he.
Merry tried to hold on to it, but he was so tired. His eyelids felt heavy as lead, and a drowsiness like molasses crept through his body. All he wanted was to lie down on the sun-warmed stone, curl up against Pippin and fall asleep. He would dream then, of high trees, their uppermost branches touched by a red sunset, their leaves green and golden in the dimming light. And amidst the colours, he would hear a soft pattering tinkle, drops like pearls falling forever. And he would hear Pippin's voice, full of mirth, saying, "This is what we have."
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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.