This was my second fanfic, and is a companion piece (though somehat longer) to my story "When the King Comes Back (the Great Smials.) It tells many of the same events from Merry's POV.
Merry finished saddling his pony, Stybba, and began on Pippin’s Butter. It was early. They’d had first breakfast before the sun had come up.
Merry was eager to get home.
He led the ponies from the Cotton’s barn out to the gate where Pippin was waiting, along with Frodo and Sam, who had got up to see them off.
He gave his cousins and friend a quiet inspection, something that had become a habit over the last year. Frodo caught him at it. Fortunately the spark struck between them was one of amusement. Still, Merry was a little embarrassed. Frodo and Pippin both thought him overprotective, and were sometimes irritated at his regard. Sam never noticed. He was too busy doing the same thing. Now, he thought, I’ll give it one last try:
“Well, cousin, are you sure that you don’t want to come over to Crickhollow and stay while they are working on Bag End?”
“No. It wouldn’t be practical. I need to be close by to oversee the repairs; also, thanks to your meddling, I have to be available to act as ‘Deputy Mayor’. I cannot believe I let you get me into this.”
Laughing, Merry exchanged a grin with Pippin and Sam. He was rather proud of the idea himself. Frodo needed to be kept busy, and as Mayor (Deputy or not) the rest of the Shire would have to show Frodo some respect. He had made up his mind that he would never let a “Mad Baggins” comment pass unrebuked ever again.
“By the way,” said Pippin, fishing in his saddlebag, “since you are the acting mayor, I guess I give this to you.” He pulled out three thin leather pouches, sealed with the official seal of the King of Gondor and handed one to Frodo. He handed a second one to Merry. “and I know you’ll see this gets to the Master.” He looked at the third one and placed it back in the saddlebag with a sigh. “This one’s for the Thain”.
Merry took the pouch as Pippin handed it to him and added it to the one already in his saddlebag. He and Pippin had spent weeks speculating on the messages they carried, but Frodo had refused to discuss it. Merry looked at Frodo with narrowed eyes. Something about his cousin’s casual stance suddenly completed the picture for Merry. “You already know what’s in there, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. I helped Aragorn to draft the documents.”
Pippin looked surprised, but hopeful. “And…”
“And nothing. If your liege lord and sovereign did not see fit to tell you what his sealed documents say, King’s Messenger, then far be it from me to tell you. You’ll just have to wait and find out.”
“Frodo, that’s just mean!”
“No meaner than getting me stuck with the job of Deputy Mayor.”
Merry shook his head. “He’s got the better of us this time, Pip. We might as well give it up. Besides, I don’t suppose even *he* knows what the one I’m carrying from King Éomer says.” Merry was delighted that Frodo felt up to teasing them.
Frodo grinned again. “Wrong. I was consulted on that one, too.”
Merry looked at Pippin and they laughed. Merry was finally surprised, but more at Éomer than at his cousin. He should have known.
They bid Frodo and Sam farewell, and rode off.
The two cousins rode together as far as the Three Farthing Stone, not talking much. Pippin’s mood was subdued.
Merry pulled up. “I mean to push on across country and get home as soon as may be. Will you be all right?”
It was a measure of how far down Pippin was that he did not even pretend to misunderstand. “I think so. Father’s still angry, but he didn’t tell me not to come back. Mother and Pervinca were glad to see me, at any rate. It’s just--dead, Merry. He said I was dead.” Pippin’s eyes glittered with moisture, but he quickly blinked it away.
“I know, Pip. If you need me, send for me. And you are always welcome in Buckland.” Merry’s own eyes glittered, but with anger. He briefly pondered which would feel more satisfying -- giving his Uncle Paladin a punch on the nose or a swift kick on the behind. “I suppose it’s just as well I don’t come along with you now, though,” he added ruefully.
Pippin did laugh then. “My fierce Merry. No, the last thing I need is for you to take on my father for me. But we’ll see one another soon. What are irate fathers to all the hosts of Mordor, after all?”
Merry gave a sharp nod. “Be well, Pip.” He turned Stybba off the road and headed east.
His time among the Rohirrim had taught him much about what his sturdy little Stybba could do. The pony had been bred and trained to keep up with the much longer legged horses of the Mark under most conditions. He had both speed and endurance. Merry thought that by alternating a canter and a brisk walk, with only brief stops, that he could actually make the thirteen leagues to Buckland this day. Probably not before dark, it was, after all Blotmath, and the days were getting shorter; but perhaps not much later, if he were lucky.
He was well prepared for his ride. In a sack hung from the pommel, he carried apples, carrots, biscuits, small mushroom pasties, all food he could eat as he rode. He carried two full waterskins as well.
He made sure that his sword would come easily to his hand. Though he didn’t think it likely, there could still be a few ruffians abroad. Armed and armored as he was, he was not afraid. But as Boromir had taught him, and “Dernhelm” as well, he would be prepared. The thought of Éowyn made him smile, and he touched the little silver horn by his side. He wondered what his mother would say when he told her he had a “sister”.
After a while, his thought drifted back to Pippin. He felt confident that Paladin and Pippin would work things out eventually, but he hoped it would not take too long. Pippin’s sunny nature was wilted by bitterness and anger, and Paladin had a larger than usual share of Took stubbornness. What really worried him was that Pippin’s nightmares had come back. There would be no one at the Great Smials who could possibly understand what Pip had been through. He made an effort to push Pippin out of his mind, and looked about him at the Shire.
Merry was pleased to note that the further he rode from the more heavily populated center of the Shire, the less visible were the depredations of Sharkey’s Men. They’d been a bunch of lazy louts, after all, and so had kept most of the worst damage where the Boss would see it. It was still bad enough. He wondered how Buckland had fared, and whether his parents had word yet that he was back. He thought it quite likely. At least they didn’t think he was dead!
He’d been riding some considerable time when he topped a small rise and pulled up for a second. He looked out across a long meadow to a small copse of trees. “My goodness, lad! We have made good time!” For he knew this spot, just a few miles southeast of Frogmorton. It was only shortly after noon, and already he was over halfway home. He dismounted and took a carrot and an apple from his sack as a reward for the pony, and rubbed his nose affectionately. “What say we have a bit of a rest, and then we’ll have a nice gallop to those trees.”
Stybba snorted and tossed his head, as if in approval of such a plan.
The sun was just setting when he approached Buckleberry Ferry. But the ferry was not tied up at the west side. He could see it across the River; there were three figures standing on the dock. They noticed him and pointed.
“Oi!” he called out. “It’s Merry Brandybuck! Send the ferry over for me!”
“Merry! Is that really you?” called one of the figures.
“Berilac? Yes! I’ve come home--or will have done if I can get across the River! I’d rather not try to swim it in all this armor!” He dismounted.
Two of the figures began to untie the ferry, while a third raced off, presumably to alert the Hall of his arrival. One of the figures then began to pole the ferry across.
In short order, Merry found himself on the receiving end of an enthusiastic hug from his cousin Berilac.
“My word, Merry! You’ve gone and grown some more!” Berilac was astonished, as the last time he had seen this cousin, they had stood eye to eye, but now Merry was almost a head taller.
Merry laughed as he carefully led Stybba onto the ferry. “It’s a long story. I take it you are not that surprised to see me.”
“Well, not entirely; word came down from the Bridge that you were back in the Shire, but the way things were, we thought it might take weeks before you made it home to Brandy Hall. Sorry about the ferry, but it’s one of the ways we’ve kept those brutes out of Buckland.”
Merry took one of the poles and they headed back across the Brandywine. “How have you fared here? Have you been much troubled?”
“We were prepared. About five nights after you left, we had a strange invasion by four or five Big People, all clad and cloaked in black, riding huge fierce black horses. They blew through like a whirlwind, leaving terror wherever they went. They tore through the house at Crickhollow, and then departed. Poor little Ned Banks was ridden down at the Bridge.”
Merry felt the blood drain from his face and a chill ran down his right arm. “Nazgûl, Berilac. Those were Ringwraiths out of Mordor.” But he remembered the battle of Pellenor, and shook his head to clear it. “Fear not. They’ll trouble no one again.”
Berilac shuddered at the fell look in Merry’s eyes--not an expression he’d ever seen on a Hobbit before. “Anyway, your father hauled Fatty Bolger into his study for a long talk. After that, we doubled up on watch. Uncle Saradoc sent word to the rest of the Shire, but I don’t think it was much heeded until those Men started coming in. The Took was furious at Pippin’s leaving, and since Midsummer he’s cut off all communication with Buckland.”
“Well, Pip’s back in Tookland now, and it is to be hoped he’ll get Uncle Paladin to see sense before too long.”
“That would be good.” They were almost across now. “Anyway, aside from having half the East Farthing crammed in here, and being on short rations since early Halimath, we’ve not done too badly. But winter has yet to come down on us.”
A crowd had gathered on the dock, and Merry saw his parents there, waiting with anxious eyes. Willing hands brought the ferry into place and a cheer went up as Merry led Stybba off. This was both embarrassing and gratifying.
But everyone else was forgotten as he enfolded his mother in a fierce embrace, and felt his father’s strong arm around his shoulders.
“Goodness, Merry, you’ve--”
“Grown!” laughed Merry, through his tears. “Yes, Da, I’ve grown
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