1. Wrong Bed
The fire was about to go out, but the hobbit who sat in the huge armchair facing the fireplace did not seem to care. The way he sat there, leaned forward on his knees instead of relaxing backward into the soft cushions, totally still, with the light of the dying embers reflected in his eyes as tiny golden spots, he looked like he was frozen in time, and his chubby red hobbit cheeks seemed lean and fallen in. The cracking of the fire was the only sound to be heard, except for a branch of the hazel bush that was being swayed by the wind and gently knocking against the small round window from outside. The hobbit, however, did not seem to notice the sounds, and his gaze was not fixed on the remains of the fire, but on a large though fairly inconspicuous envelope lying on the mantelpiece.
Suddenly, there was a noise in the hall. It seemed that a door was being opened and a bag thrown down, then there was a din like somebody had knocked over a chair. A voice could be heard quietly swearing. The hobbit in the armchair remained in the same position.
After a while, the door opened and another hobbit put his head through it, a head with lots of reddish-brown hair on top of it, a pointed nose and a distinctive chin.
"Frodo?" he said, lifting a lit oil lamp into the room. His voice seemed too loud for the room. "Are you here?"
It took the hobbit in the armchair a few seconds to answer. "I'm here."
The other came in and put the lamp down on a shelf. "Why is it so dark in here?"
He went over to the fireplace, and after looking down on the crouched figure in the armchair for a moment, he took a large piece of wood from a stack and threw it onto the flickering remains of the fire. Sparks flew.
At last, Frodo stirred in his armchair. "You're putting it out, Merry," he said with a chuckle. "Take a smaller one."
"Oh, well." Merry turned and left it to Frodo to get the fire going again. "Am I sleeping in the green guest room again?"
Frodo stacked up a few logs and blew softly into the fireplace. Then he said, "You can have my room."
Merry sat down at the small living room table, struck a match and lit the six candles on the rather grandiosely ornamented chandelier that stood in the middle. "What about you? And where is the wizard?"
"Gandalf has gone to bed. He is in the third room on the inside. It's the only one that has a bed that is big enough for him. As for me," Frodo hesitated for a second, "I'm taking Bilbo's room."
"He's gone for good, then?" Merry asked casually.
"Yes," said Frodo simply. He came over and sat down opposite Merry. "Do you want anything? There should be some ale in the cellar."
"No, thank you," said Merry and patted his stomach. "I've had my fill."
"Good," said Frodo. "I'll bring some water." He disappeared into the kitchen and could be heard rummaging through a cupboard, then there was the trickle of water, and then no sound for quite a while.
Meanwhile Merry looked around the room, his gaze moving over the polished furniture, the pictures of relatives that hung on the walls and stood on the shelves, the bunches of late-blooming flowers in vases that the gardener had arranged with so much care, until finally his eyes came to rest on a huge map that occupied the greater part of the wall between the fireplace and the door to the kitchen. With a loud scratching of the feet of the chair, Merry stood up, took the chandelier in his hand and went over to the map. It was finely drawn; there were conglomerations of little trees to mark the woods, and mountains green and grey, the tallest of which wore little white bonnets of snow upon their peeks.
"Here, Merry." Frodo had come back. "Water." He placed two glasses on the table and sat down.
Merry took his seat again as well. He lifted his glass and drained it almost in one gulp.
"What took you so long, anyway?" said Frodo. "You said you'd only say goodnight to Pippin and then come straight up here."
"Well, that's what I did," said Merry, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands over his belly. The chair was made for a broader hobbit than Merry, which made him look a little misplaced, the way he sat there, in a slightly comical way. "It can take quite a long time to say goodnight to Pippin," he said, "especially when he's all excited about something and asking lots of questions and getting angry when you can't answer them."
"He's not used to that, is he," said Frodo, "not getting answers to his questions from you."
"Can you answer them?" Merry asked.
"Not as much as I'd like to." Frodo emptied his glass. "I'm going to bed now. I'm worn out." He got up. "Aren't you?"
"No," said Merry. "Just a little puzzled. But seeing as I'm also a little drunk, I think I'll sleep like a log anyway."
Frodo smiled. "You'll find anything you need in the wardrobe. There's water in the can. Good night." He disappeared through the door that led to the hall.
The fire had long gone out, but the never-tiring hazel branch softly kept on beating against the window, when one of the doors opened into the dark hall and Frodo stepped out, fully dressed. He closed the door quietly and made no sound when he walked down the corridor. He passed two doors and stopped in front of the third, put his ear to it. Then he carefully turned the knob and opened it.
It was black dark when he looked in. He stood for a moment, then whispered: "Merry?"
There was no answer, and he was about to step back and shut the door again, when Merry said loudly: "Frodo? What? What's the matter?"
"Nothing," said Frodo. "Did I wake you?"
"No," said Merry. There was the sound of a match being struck, and then the oil lamp on Merry's bedside locker was shedding a dim light on the room. "Come on in," said Merry.
"Weren't you sleeping?" Frodo closed the door behind himself. "Sleeping like a log?"
"I told you I wasn't," said Merry. His lids were drooping, and the bags under his eyes were well discernible. "What are you all dressed for?"
"Well—" Frodo looked at his arms and legs as though he hadn't noticed until now that they were in a shirt and trousers. "I couldn't sleep," he said, "and I thought I'd go for a walk."
"Why couldn't you sleep?"
"Oh, I don't know." Frodo sat down on the chair in front of the small desk beside the door.
"Well, something feels wrong," said Merry. It almost sounded like a challenge. He swung his legs out of the bed, but didn't get up. "Doesn't it?"
Merry waited for a while, and when Frodo did not say anything, he got up and threw on a cloak. "Let's go," he said.
They went into the hall and out the door. It was cool outside and the wind was fresh, although the day had been warm.
"Where are the stars?" said Frodo, looking up. "Where are they?"
"What a question," said Merry, shaking his head, but he did not look up. "Come on."
They started down the path that led into Hobbiton. Frodo kept walking close to Merry, like his left toes were tacked to Merry's right heel. Merry moved his head a few times, as though he wanted to say something to Frodo, but he never did.
They reached the village without having spoken a word.
"There they lie in their beds," said Frodo quietly, "safe and sound, sleeping like logs. Never minding the world outside their doors." He stared at the road leading across the bridge to Bywater and beyond, his face empty.
Merry raised an eyebrow at him.
"Ah, don't mind me, Merry," said Frodo. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes. "I'm feeling a little out of sorts at the moment."
As if in silent agreement, they stopped in the middle of the bridge; Merry looked at the water while Frodo still kept his eyes on the road.
"I don't wonder you couldn't sleep," said Merry suddenly, and his eyes shone with the light of revelation as he watched the water foaming among the stones in the river. "You're in the wrong bed. I'm in the wrong bed, too." He nodded to the river, seeming pleased that he had found an answer to this riddle.
They stood still for a little longer until Merry began to shiver. Then, again without speaking, they started walking back towards the Hill.
"You know, Merry," said Frodo when they passed Bagshot Row, "coming of age doesn't have anything to do with the number thirty-three. Keep that in mind."
"I know," said Merry. "You came of age way back in your teens, Frodo."
Frodo obviously hadn't expected that answer.
They stood in front of the house for a bit, taking some last breaths of the cool September air, then went back inside and into their separate rooms without a word.
Merry was sitting in his bed, hugging his legs to himself and staring into space when he heard the faint knock on the door. He waited silently until the door opened and Frodo's head appeared.
"You're right," whispered Frodo when he had realised Merry was awake. "It's the wrong bed."
"Well," said Merry and yawned, "I'll just move into the green room again and you can…" His voice trailed off. Frodo just looked at him, and the light of the almost full moon that had managed to pierce the clouds and streamed in through the window was mirrored in his eyes.
"Well," said Merry again and looked down on his knees. "Come on, then." He pulled back the sheets and moved closer to the wall.
Frodo came over, his feet making no sound on the carpeted floor, and crawled into the bed beside Merry. Merry pulled the covers over both of them. Then he propped his head up on one elbow and looked at Frodo.
"Numbers," he said. "They really don't mean anything."
Frodo closed his eyes and now there was a faint smile lifting up the corners of his mouth.
Long after Frodo's breathing had calmed and steadied, the moonlight reflected in Merry's open eyes.
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.