Feature When the King Comes Back (Brandy Hall) by Dreamflower

Story Notes:

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.

1. Chapter 1 by Dreamflower

2. Chapter 2 by Dreamflower

3. Chapter 3 by Dreamflower

4. Chapter 4 by Dreamflower

5. Chapter 5 by Dreamflower

6. Chapter 6 by Dreamflower

7. Chapter 7 by Dreamflower

8. Chapter 8 by Dreamflower

9. Chapter 9 by Dreamflower

10. Chapter 10 by Dreamflower

11. Chapter 11 by Dreamflower

12. Chapter 12 by Dreamflower

13. Chapter 13 by Dreamflower

14. Chapter 14 by Dreamflower

15. Chapter 15 by Dreamflower

16. Chapter 16 by Dreamflower

Chapter 1 by Dreamflower

 

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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Chapter 2 by Dreamflower

His parents took him to their private quarters for a late supper. A few others came along, among them Berilac, his Uncle Merimac, and Estella Bolger, Fatty’s sister, who had been staying in Buckland since her brother had been captured.

So pleased was she at the news that her brother had been rescued that she rewarded Merry with an enthusiastic hug and a grateful kiss. It was very pleasant and not at all cousinly. He blushed and looked at her as though he had never seen her before.

His mother noticed and hid a smile.

While he ate and the family nibbled to keep him company, they talked of doings in the Shire. He brought them up to date on the rout of Saruman’s bullies, but said little of his year’s absence or his journey.

When he finished eating, he pled tiredness from the day’s travel, and excused himself. But he managed to catch his father’s eye and signal that he wanted to talk privately. His father glanced at Esmeralda, but Merry shook his head. He couldn’t speak freely in front of his mother about some of the horrors he had faced, nor see her worry when she realized how much danger he had been in. It might not be very brave, but he’d rather she heard some things from his father.

______________________________________________

A short time later, Saradoc came to Merry’s room. “You wanted to see me, son?”

“Yes, sir. I’d like to report to you on what happened and get it over with as soon as possible.  You need to know as much as I can tell you. There have been a great many changes in the world, and a lot of them will affect the Shire.”

“Well, I can save you a bit of the telling, Merry. Your note made it clear that something serious was afoot, and after those Black Horsemen came through, I thoroughly questioned poor little Fatty. Of course he finally told me everything, so I know about the Enemy’s Ring. When I realized what you were up against, I very nearly came after you myself. It was thinking of those Black Riders, though that made me realize you’d actually be safer away from here.

Then Paladin came roaring down here, breathing fire. I must say, son, taking Pippin with you was not the best idea you’ve ever had.”

“Da, do you really think we had a chance of getting away without him, once he’d made his mind up to come?”

Saradoc shook his head. “Probably not. But I saw a note he left. I can hardly blame Paladin. It said ‘Dear Mother and Father, I’m off on an adventure with Frodo and Merry. I don’t know where we’re going or how long we’ll be gone. Give my love to the girls. Love, Pippin’.”

Merry groaned and sank his head in his hands. “Oh, Pip! That’s worse than no note at all. And, by the way, he told me he did not leave one.”

“Well, I suppose he would not have counted that one, as his father retrieved it from his wastebasket.  Once Paladin got here, we had to mount a search. He was too angry for me to confide in him, and I don’t think it would have done any good anyway. He wanted Pippin back, and he wouldn’t have listened to reason.”

Merry just sighed and shook his head. Although his heart still went out to Pippin, he was beginning to understand Paladin’s anger.

“We traced you as far as Bree, but you were nearly a month gone by then. The news we got made Paladin despair, for he was sure you had all been taken into the Wild by a brigand and had your throats slit. I, on the other hand was heartened to know you had fallen in with one of Gandalf’s Rangers.”

“Not exactly Gandalf’s--wait a minute--you knew about the Rangers?”

Saradoc smiled. “Shortly after the time of Bilbo’s Birthday Party, Gandalf had a quiet word with your grandfather Rory, and also with Ferumbras, the old Thain. He told them he was setting these ’Rangers’ to guarding the Shire. Your grandfather passed the word to me, as I would have to you in time, but Ferumbras never passed the word to Paladin. I would have told him myself when I realized he didn’t know, but the state he was in, he would not have believed me.

We had no more word of any of you after that, of course. It was getting hard to keep our hopes up, son. I’m afraid that my own hope was beginning to come from just plain contrariness, after Paladin decided to give up so publicly. We had such a row at Midsummer over that ’memorial’ for Pippin. We abused each other soundly and things were said that are not easily forgiven or forgotten. It’s just about broken your mother’s heart.”

Merry sighed. “I wish that there had been another way, Da. But we did what had to be done, and it was to keep all of you safe as well. If the Ring had still been here when the Nazgûl came, every Hobbit in the Shire would now be either dead or enslaved, and it would all be one vast wasteland. 

This is what happened  after we left Bree…”

______________________________________________

Frodo sat in the Cotton’s front room by the fire. The Gaffer sat across from him dozing. Though the window was closed, he could hear the soft rise and fall of Sam’s and Rosie’s voices from where they sat on a small bench outside in the cold night. He could hear no words, but he did not need to, for he knew that Sam had chosen tonight to tell his Rosie of their journey.

Right now there was a lightness to Sam’s voice that indicated to Frodo that he was talking about Elves. In spite of all the time spent among them, Sam had never lost his love and awe for the Firstborn.

Soon enough, the tale would turn dark again. Frodo hoped that Sam was not too modest. Rosie needed to know how stout-hearted her Sam really was. He thought, though that she was intelligent enough to see through Sam’s diffidence to what he did not say. Just then, Frodo realized that the Gaffer was no longer asleep. He wondered…

“Gaffer, did Sam tell you of what we did while we were gone?”

“Aye, summat, Mr. Frodo, about what you had to do, and how hard it was for you. I just hope my Sam gave satisfaction and was a help to you.”

“A help? Oh, Gaffer,” Frodo’s eyes filled with tears. “Let me tell you of the help your Samwise was to me…”

_______________________________________

In the Great Smials at Tuckborough, Pippin sat beneath the disapproving stare of his father, and the anxious eyes of his mother and sisters, and unburdened himself of the tale of the Quest. It was not quite so hard as living through it had been.

 

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Chapter 3 by Dreamflower

 

Merry and his father had talked the whole night through, so it was almost time for luncheon when he awakened. He dressed and went in search of food. He headed in the direction of the main dining hall, where the communal meals were served, usually second breakfast, luncheon and dinner. The other meals were normally less formal, and were mostly served in private quarters, or individuals would seek them out in the kitchens.

He noticed that his parents and many of the older Hobbits were not in attendance. It seemed to be mostly the younger cousins. He spotted Berilac, Estella and his cousin Doderic, serving some of the younglings, tiny ones not yet in their teens. He also saw that the fare was not as lavish as he was used to seeing in Brandy Hall. There were a couple of pots of soup, and some large platters of bread and roasted potatoes, but not much else: no cheese, no butter, no meat, and no fruit.

He came up behind Berilac and took a bread roll. “Beri, is this what you meant last night by ’short rations’?” he asked with concern.

Berilac nodded as he handed a bowl of soup to one of the children. “Yes, it is.”

“We have about a hundred refugees from the East Farthing here,” put in Doderic. “The older adults have taken to skipping lunch to leave more for the children and tweens.”

Berilac added “Also we haven’t been able to get our usual produce from our farmers in the Marish, such as Farmer Maggot.”

Estella noticed the stricken look on Merry’s face. “Oh, Merry! It’s not so bad as it looks, truly! It’s just your father being very careful with so many extra mouths to feed, and winter still to come. I’m sure things will be better soon!”

“They certainly will!” came Saradoc’s voice behind them. He put a hand on Merry’s arm. “I started sending messages across the Brandywine this morning, since, thanks to you, son, we no longer have to worry about the ruffians. Starting tomorrow we will begin to send folk home where they belong. I also expect to hear from our west bank farmers as well. You know, son, you came back just at the right time to save the day.” He patted Merry on the back.

Merry blushed at the praise, but he was very pleased to hear his father speaking so well of him, especially in front of Estella. “Thank you, Da.”

The others moved away to leave him alone with his father.

“Sorry, son, that there’s not much for lunch, but your mother’s told the kitchens to go all out tonight for a big celebratory dinner. And you can join your mum and me for tea in a few hours."

Merry waved the half eaten roll. “This will do me fine for now. I’ve been on much shorter rations than this in the Wild. Are you going to be working in your study this afternoon? I have something you need to see.”

“You’ll find me there in about a half hour, son.” Saradoc gave him another pat on the back before moving away.

Oh, it was good to be back with his family. He wondered how Pippin was getting on right now.

_____________________________________________________

At that very moment, Pippin was ambling back to the Smials after a nice ride. The letter from the king was in his father’s hands now, and he’d had a chat with his mother as he prepared for his ride. She’d agreed that it was well for him to get away for a few hours. Although he had told his close family all, he was not ready to talk about certain things with just anybody. He’d begun to feel very crowded.

It was nice to be alone for a bit, especially since Merry wasn’t there. He remembered once as a little lad visiting Brandy Hall, he’d fallen ill just in time to prevent his accompanying Merry on some errand. When his cousin had come to see him before leaving, he had sulked, and said “I suppose you’ll get someone else to go with you now.” Merry had laughed and ruffled his hair, and said “Not at all, you silly goose! If I can’t get you, why would I want anyone else?”

Suddenly there was a sharp thud, and Butter shied violently with a whinny of pain, yet he kept to the saddle, and was not thrown. Two Men burst from the trees to his right. But they were too far from the road to surprise him. His sword was in his hand in an instant.

“I warn you to stay back! I’ve felled a troll with this!”

The Men just cursed and laughed derisively. One of them was armed with a knife, the other carried a cudgel. The one with the knife tried to slash at the reins, and caught Pippin’s left forearm a glancing blow. With a flick of his sword, he sent the knife flying. Disarmed and dismayed, the Man moved away, cursing and shaking his stinging fingers.

The one with the cudgel came in swinging, but Pippin was already aiming a downward thrust in his direction, and he felt the blade sink home, just as the cudgel connected with his side. He grunted in pain.

The cudgel fell to the ground, as the Man stared with astonished eyes, clutching his bleeding belly with both hands.

“I did try to warn you,” said Pippin softly.

His companion grabbed the fatally wounded Man and half dragged him back to the trees.

Pippin sat breathing heavily for a moment, shaken. Then he looked at his sword. The blood was red, not black. He turned his face away and vomited. He wished Merry were here.

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Chapter 4 by Dreamflower

 

 

Merry had taken the letters from Éomer and Aragorn to his father and left him to read them alone. Although he was mightily curious, he did not want Saradoc to feel pressured.

He decided to take a walk down to the River before tea. He went to his room for his cloak. Smiling, he fastened the leaf brooch. As light as the Elven cloaks were, they were warm and wore incredibly well. Even after captivity, flood and battle, his still looked like new. But the best part was the reminder of his time in Lórien.

As he neared the dock, he noticed Estella talking to one of the Hobbits taking the Master’s messages across the River.

“Is everything all right, Estella?”

“Oh, Merry, maybe you could help. I want to send a message to my brother, but I don’t know who he’s staying with right now.”

Merry thought for a minute. “I know. Send it in care of Frodo; he and Sam are staying with the Cottons for now, but he could easily find out where Fredegar is and get it to him.”

“Oh, thank you, Merry.” She handed the letter to the messenger, who had heard the instructions, and turned to Merry with a warm smile. “What a beautiful brooch. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“It’s Elvish. It was given me by the Lady Galadriel in Lothlórien.”

“That sounds lovely.” She hesitated. “Merry, Esmerelda said not to press you about all the horrid things that happened to you, but -- well, weren’t there some *pleasant* things you could talk about?”

“Indeed, there were. There were Elves, and Ents and the Rohirrim; I made many good friends. Do you know I have a ‘sister’ now?” he teased.

“Whatever do you mean?”

“Her name is Éowyn. She is the sister of Éomer King of Rohan, my liege. They call her the White Lady of Rohan. She is beautiful and brave and skilled with the sword and an excellent horsewoman. We rode into battle together, so I am her sword-brother and she is my sword-sister.”

"Oh,” said Estella in a small voice.

Merry glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, and crossed his arms. “Yes. Actually, I fancy myself a bit of a matchmaker. I do like to think that it was with my help that her betrothed was able to melt her heart,” he said, suppressing a smile.

“She is betrothed?”

Oh, yes. Her betrothed is Faramir, the Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien. He is a great friend of Pippin, who saved his life. It’s a very romantic story. Would you like to hear about it?”

“Oh, yes,” she said, looking up with shining eyes.

So Merry gave her the tale of Éowyn and Faramir, and then the tale of Arwen and Aragorn. And if some sad or frightening bits did inevitably intrude, they were yet on the whole, pleasant tales. As they walked back to the Hall, Merry felt quite pleased with the effect of his storytelling on the fair Estella. Now, if he could only remember more of it he might tell her the story of Beren and Luthien.

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Frodo and Sam were taking afternoon tea in the large farm kitchen with the Cotton family. The Gaffer and Sam’s youngest sister Marigold were also there.

Frodo watched in fond amusement as Rosie and Marigold teased their brothers, and flirted with their sweethearts. Tom Cotton was just as smitten with Marigold as Sam was with Rosie. Frodo thought that there were going to be a number of double first cousins coming to the Gamgee/Cotton family tree.

Suddenly, one of those flashes of insight he had from time to time came upon him, and he knew that Sam and Rosie would have many children-- how many children, and how many lasses, and how many lads, and even some of their names. He touched Arwen’s jewel at his throat, and smiled to himself. At least this premonition was a good one. Sam deserved to do well.

And Sam *was* doing well. He had responded to being back in the Shire like a thirsty plant to water, in spite of the chaos Saruman had wrought. His friend had changed for the better; for all that Sam would probably never lose his outward deference of manner, he was inwardly bolder, more confident, more able to take an initiative--Frodo was proud of him.

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Chapter 5 by Dreamflower

 

Before he headed in to tea with his parents, Merry stopped by his room to retrieve a parcel he had stowed beneath his bed.

Saradoc and Esmeralda were already waiting in their sitting room when he arrived. He perched himself on the arm of his mother’s chair and gave her a hug. “Hullo, Mum,” he bent his head to hers. It was a lot further than it used to be and his mother seemed so small. For a brief instant, he felt a twinge of regret for the Ent-draughts.

He slid down and moved to his own chair, so that Esmeralda could pour the tea. “Well, Da, did you read those messages?”

“Yes, I did. After dinner come by my study and you can read them yourself.”

“Thank you, Da.” Merry began to untie the parcel on his lap. “You know that we missed my birthday this year. I don’t even remember what day it was, as it was sometime while we were in Lothlórien, where time runs very strangely. Anyway, I decided that *whenever* I got home, I would be the byrding*, whatever the day might be.” Grinning, he handed his father a tooled leather case.

Saradoc opened the case, and his eyes widened as he took out a finely wrought spyglass, crafted of some dark, finely grained wood, and polished to a gleaming, glassy finish.

Merry’s grin widened. “I told you I’d replace it for you one day! I guess you thought I’d forgot!”

Saradoc shook his head in amazement, as he recalled a long ago day, when Merry was fourteen and Pippin was six, and a mishap had put an end to his cherished spyglass. It had truly been an accident, so he had tried not to be too harsh with the lads, but he could not hide how sorry he had been to lose it. He recalled now Merry promising through his tears to get him a new one. He noticed the inscription: “To my father and friend. M.B.” and felt tears coming on himself. He blinked them away and smiled as he watched Merry hand a small carved box to his mother.

She opened it, and drew out a pendant necklace, the chain of tiny silver flowers were joined by square links of gold. From the center hung a beautifully cut emerald in a silver setting.

Esmeralda gasped. “Merry!” There was just the tiniest hint of rebuke in her tone, and Merry blushed.

“Oh, I know what you’re thinking, Mum--but it was for *you*. You *do* like it, don’t you?”

“Son, it’s wonderful, but it must have been very dear.”

Merry laughed. “Yes, both your gifts were dear, and I’m glad they were. They were very nearly free!”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked his father.

“It seemed wherever we Hobbits went in Minas Tirith, people wanted to give us things. It was embarrassing. Nobody would ever let us *pay* for anything. When Pip and I decided to shop for presents, Legolas and Gimli came with us. At the jeweler‘s, we could find nothing that would have fit for a Hobbitess. You could have worn most of the necklaces as a belt, Mum. So Legolas helped us explain what we wanted to have made, and drew the designs--wait till you see the bracelet he helped Pip design for Aunt Tina--so that we could have them made. Gimli selected your emerald, Mum, and said it was first rate. He also helped me choose your spyglass, Da. He said this one had the best lenses of any, and he carved the inscription for me. But the funny part was when we went to get them, and tried to pay for them. It was the opposite of haggling. The merchants tried to *give* them to us. We explained that they were gifts and we really *wanted* to pay for them. So Gimli suggested a price--what he thought that they were worth, and the merchant came back with a token price. It was so funny! After we finally got what seemed like a real price, and paid for everything, Gimli grumbled for days. He was rather offended at having to ‘haggle backwards’, as he put it. We’ve never been sure since that we actually paid enough.” He laughed again at the memory.

His parents laughed with him, and Saradoc told his son of the time *he* had haggled with a Dwarf, and had felt lucky to come away with his skin.

___________________________________________

*byrding--Shiretalk for person having a birthday (Letters #214)

 

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Chapter 6 by Dreamflower

In the Great Smials, Poppy Burrows, the healer, shut the door to Pippin’s room and turned to look at her patient.

“Now, Pippin, get out of that gear. I want you down to your smallclothes.”

“Poppy!” the wail of protest sounded much the same as it had when he was seven and had just about the same effect. She turned a stern eye upon him, and grumbling, he began to undress.

Just as he was sitting there shirtless, the door popped wide open. Pippin gave a yelp and ineffectively tried to cover himself.

“Oh, Pip, it’s only me,” said his sister Pimpernel, arms laden with a basin, towels and a steaming kettle. She had opened the door with her foot, and now shut it the same way. “I’ve seen you with no shirt before…” but then she really did see him.

From just under his right arm and down the side to his hip was a massive black and purple bruise. His left arm was still bloody. Clearly visible scattered about his torso were various scars, his back was criss-crossed with scars from the Orc whips and his wrists bore the scars of rope burns. Pimpernel gave a little cry, and her eyes filled with tears.

At these signs of sisterly distress, Pippin’s anger abated. “I’m fine, Pimmie, really. It could have been a lot worse,” he added cheerfully.

For some reason these words did not cheer her.

Poppy looked up from the dressing table where she was setting out the contents of her medical pouch. “Pimpernel, put those things down by the bed, thank you, and then go back out.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She put down her burden and moved obediently to the door, but her eyes lingered on her brother for a moment before she went out.

The healer briskly cleaned and dressed the cut on his arm. “Shallow, clean, no need for stitches.” Her hand moved up to touch a scar on his upper arm. “Very neat. Who was your healer?”

“Strider--Aragorn is his real name. He’s a king now.”

“I hope he is as good a king as he is a healer; his land will fare well,” she said dryly. “Lie down.” She took from around her neck a small bone disk suspended from a silk cord. Pippin relaxed. This was a familiar procedure; soon she’d know every scratch he’d got since he left.

She started near his feet, dangling the disk above him, watching the pattern it made as it swung. “Did you break your left foot?”

Yes, ma’am.”

She moved up to the left knee. It was a bit swollen, and the erratic pattern of the swinging disk indicated pain. “And what did you do to your knee?”

“Dislocated,” he muttered. “I’ve mostly been riding, not walking, since it happened, but today Butter was hurt, too, and I didn’t want to risk laming her. It only hurts like that if I walk or stand on it for too long.”

“I see,” she said calmly. “And when did all this happen?” She was watching the pendulum again. Interesting.

“In the spring, near the end of Rethe.”

She was silent once more, moving to inspect him closely. The bruise was obviously painful, but thanks to his armor, he had been spared any more broken ribs this time. “Would you like some good news?”

Pippin’s eyes widened. “*Good* news?”

“Young fellow, in a little more than seven months, you have healed well from injuries that most would take a year or more to recover from. Not only that, but I do believe the old weakness in your lungs is gone. Your knee will probably always trouble you a bit. Try not to overstress it, and I will give you an ointment you can use to alleviate the swelling and pain.” She had hung the disk back around her neck, and now prepared a steaming cup that smelled of herbs. “This should help the pain and also help if you run a fever, so you can rest tonight. You should be up by *tomorrow*.”

He stared at her in amazement. “Thank you, Poppy.” Good news indeed.

End Notes:

(The diagnostic method used by the healer in this chapter is a tribute to my husband, who practices healing touch.)

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Chapter 7 by Dreamflower

Merry had enjoyed the big dinner in the main dining hall. The food and drink were what he was used to seeing in Brandy Hall--good Hobbit cooking, and plenty of it. Sitting at the head table with his parents and a few other close family members, he had also liked catching up on family news, and told a few carefully chosen anecdotes from his travels. And his mother had pleased him by wearing her new necklace, to the admiration of all.

But he was tired. And now that the meal was over, he had to mingle a bit. He could not slip away before his father did, at least. And the Hall was crowded with not only its usual inhabitants, but also with a lot of the East Farthing guests, many of whom he did not know.

Now he moved from group to group with an occasional word, but no more than half an ear to the conversation, until he heard a familiar name.

“…and it looks like that Frodo will be the last of ‘em; I say the Baggins line can’t die out fast enough. It’s brought nothing but trouble to the Shire for years, first that old Bilbo, then Lotho, and now that Frodo…” The speaker stopped abruptly as he felt a heavy hand upon his shoulder, and he turned to look *up* into the grim face of the Son of the Hall.

“Sir.” said Merry, making no effort to keep his voice down or to hide his anger, “under this roof you will *not* speak that way of my cousin.”

 Suddenly there was a clear space all around them, and silence in the room. Merry continued, his voice ringing out “Know this: if it were not for the courage of the Baggins, you would have been dead or worse than dead a year ago. Whether you know it or not, *Frodo Baggins* saved us all at considerable cost to himself, and I will hear no ill spoken of him in my presence!”

Merry lifted his hand from the Hobbit’s shoulder and left the room abruptly. The unfortunate object of his ire, a Chubb from Whitfurrow who had taken a drop more ale than was good for him, found himself suddenly alone and sober.

The room buzzed. Those who knew Merry were shocked to see him lose his temper; those who knew him *well* were not. Saradoc and Esmeralda exchanged glances, and Esmeralda went after her son.

Merry had rushed outside. He needed the cold night air. How could he not have realized it before? His mind raced among the tangles of the Baggins family tree seeking a new shoot, but he knew better--the last branch came to an abrupt dead end with Frodo. Frodo was it. No more Baggins in the Shire. It was unspeakably sad.

And of course, Frodo had known all along. It was one of the costs his cousin had counted and set aside, when he offered to take the Ring.

He felt Esmeralda’s presence behind him. “Hullo, Mum. I can’t say I’m sorry.”

“No one would expect you to apologize for defending Frodo. What did the fool say to upset you so?”

When Merry told her, she was puzzled. “Son, I know Frodo has long been a confirmed bachelor, but now that you’re back and the ordeal is over, could he not yet find a lass to lighten his heart?”

Merry shook his head sadly. “I know Sam and Pippin still hope so; but Frodo considers himself to be damaged goods. He’ll never ask a lass to share that.”

She did not ask how he knew. From the day he was born until he was seven years old, Merry’s first study had been Frodo’s heart, and he’d never forgot those early lessons. Now, she too felt sad for the cousin who had once been like another son to her. “Your father’s waiting for you in his study.”

___________________________________________

Frodo had retired early. He was not sleepy, but he wanted to take his melancholy presence away, before he dampened the spirits of others. He lay upon his bed, clutching Arwen’s jewel, and allowed the waves of loneliness to wash over him.

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Chapter 8 by Dreamflower

Merry entered Saradoc’s study. “Da, Mum said you wanted to see me?”

“Had you forgot you wished to see these messages?” He tapped the documents that lay in front of him on the desk.

“I did forget,” Merry answered ruefully. “that--scene--rather put it out of my mind.” He sat down across the desk from his father.

“I’m proud of you, son. Defending family is not a lesson I ever had any need to teach you.” Saradoc handed the first document to him. It was the letter from Rohan.

From Éomer Éomund’s son, King of Rohan

Unto Saradoc Rorimac’s son, Head of the Clan of the Brandybucks and father of Meriadoc, Esquire of the Household of Meduseld and Holdwine of the Mark are sent these greetings.

In the darkest of days when war was wont to loom upon the land, there came from the North the Holbyltla Meriadoc Saradoc’s son, strong and sturdy. Wherefore for love of the lord of the land, Théoden King, he pledged his faith and fealty. In company with Éowyn Éomund’s daughter, who bore him to battle, he followed his lord through death and destruction, and with his sword-sister the White Lady of Rohan, helped her to fell the foul dwimmerlaik, the Witch King of Angmar upon the bloody battlefield of Pellenor, before the great gates of Mundberg in the last defense of his liege and lord.

Therefore he has been named Holdwine of the Mark, a Knight of Rohan. This honor is personal, and entails no lands nor properties; withal he is yet in the service of Éomer King, and may be recalled unto his service within the Halls of Meduseld, in the land of Rohan at any time. In his person, or by messages, he shall give unto his liege such advice and counsel as may be called for. He shall also acknowledge with gifts the occasions of the marriages and births in the family of his liege.

In return for these services, each spring, upon the first day of the New Year of this Fourth Age, shall be delivered unto him one hundred silver pennies and two ponies from the Royal Stables of the Rohirrim.

Westu hal, Saradoc, father of Meriadoc

Éomer Éomund’s son, King of the Rohirrim

Merry’s jaw dropped. He had known that by the customs of the Rohirrim, the King was supposed to generously reward his retainers, but he had not thought how that would apply to him. After all, he had already received his pony, his arms and armor, and a generous stipend on his knighting. When Éomer had offered him more, he had turned down all but the silver horn from Éowyn. It never began to dawn on him there would be more after he left.

Saradoc grinned. “I take it you are pleased, son?”

Merry could only mutely nod. Although stunned would have been a better word.

After a moment, he found his voice. “I can’t imagine why they would do this--I mean it’s all very nice, but I didn’t give my oath for any kind of reward.”

Saradoc looked at his son solemnly. “Have you thought why they sent this to *me*, the head of the family? You are a very intelligent Hobbit, Merry, but it seems you have a bit of a blind spot here.”

Merry shook his head. He still didn’t see what his father meant.

“Think about the duties they require of you: at any moment you may have to drop all your responsibilities here and go off to Rohan, far away, and be gone for months at a time; any time there is a wedding or a birth, you will have to send something--and it will have to be something worthy for a royal family.”

“But Éomer would never abuse those rights. He’s not that kind of person.”

“Merry, he sent this letter to me because he wants *me* to know that the resources of Buckland and Brandy Hall will not suffer by your duty to *him*.

He wants me to know that the costs of these things will come from *you* and he is seeing that you have the wherewithal to follow through on those duties. That is part of *his* responsibility as your liege lord. Did you notice the part about 'no entails on lands or properties'? That is to let me know that he knows Buckland does not come under *his* jurisdiction, though you are still his personal vassal.”

Merry blinked. The idea that there was a material side to his oath of fealty had not occurred to him. “I never thought of it in that way before, Da. It does make sense when you put it so. But still, a hundred silver pennies and *two* ponies? It seems excessive, especially the ponies. Do you have any idea of how much a pony bred and trained in Rohan is *worth*? Especially from the Royal Stable. You’ve seen Stybba!”

Saradoc grinned again. “Yes, I have seen your Stybba, and I must say that I think two ponies like him every year will be very profitable for you and Buckland.”

Merry laughed ruefully. “I’d say my liege put one over on me. And, Frodo, the rascal, knew and never let on. I owe him one.”

“Now, would you care to see this other official document? The one from *our* new king?” He passed Merry the royal proclamation from Gondor.

It was a bit longer and more elaborately phrased than the one from Rohan, (Merry thought he detected the influence of Faramir there) but the message was clear. In gratitude for the efforts made by Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin during the War of the Ring, the Shire would be protected by the King. The old saying “when the king comes back” was coming true. And Aragorn wanted the help of the Shire leaders, in particular, the Master of Buckland, the Thain, and the Mayor, to help him in providing that protection appropriately. It meant that the Thain and the Master were going to have to cooperate with one another.

"This makes a lot of sense, Da. If Aragorn is going to be our King, then he’ll need all our help.”

“Paladin is not going to be happy.”

“Pippin will bring his father round.”

“I hope so, Merry, I hope so.” He handed his son the third letter, the one from Aragorn.

“Where did this come from, Da? I only brought two messages.”

“It was enclosed with the official one. Read it, it’s the best of the lot.”

Saradoc’s eyes were solemn, but shining.

Master Brandybuck--

I write this letter in my own hand to you now, not as a king to a dignitary, but as the friend of your son.

Merry was my dear comrade for many months of a desperate and arduous journey, and I think that over that time, I got to know him well.

Your son is very intelligent, a long-thinker, who is cool under pressure. Though like his younger cousin, he enjoys playing the prankster--Merry he is by name, and merry by nature--yet still he knows when it is time to be sober and alert. I found him the most observant and the quickest learner of all the Hobbits.

He is a modest young person, so I do not know if he will tell you of all his deeds. I tell you this: he has the heart of a warrior. Our companion, Boromir of Gondor, who taught your son much of swordplay and weaponry, told me that only a lack of reach could keep Meriadoc from becoming one of the great warriors of our age. I think that had he lived to see it, he would have been proud to know that even that lack of reach did not hamper his pupil when the time came. Merry’s greatest strength is his deep loyalty and devotion, especially to his kinsmen, whom he protects at all costs.

Briefly, I would also care to mention your kinsman, Frodo. I was given to understand that he spent much of his childhood in your home, before he went to live with Bilbo. I hope that this may give him a claim upon your affection. His road was the darkest and hardest of all. He will need much help from those who love him if he is ever to recover from what he suffered. His melancholy is a deep and abiding one, and I yet fear for him.

The truth is that all of the Hobbits who took part in this matter are accounted as great heroes by those of the lands beyond the Shire. It is no exaggeration to say that they saved the world. Please know that I also account myself personally so deep in their debt that I shall never consider it repaid. Whatsoever any of them would ask of me, I would do without hesitation if it lay in my power to grant.

I want you to know that I am proud to call your son my friend.

Aragorn son of Arathorn (sometimes known as ‘Strider’)

Merry’s eyes filled, but his face was a study in pride. To know that Aragorn thought these things about him, to have Aragorn tell them to his father, was almost more than he could understand. He had felt honored to know that he had Strider’s friendship long before he knew that his friend was a king. “Dear Strider, I do miss him, Da,” Merry murmured.

“I think that we are very lucky in our new King,” answered his father, “and that you are very lucky in your friends.”

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Chapter 9 by Dreamflower

 

Sterday morning a messenger left the Great Smials with messages for Brandy Hall, for the first time in nearly five months, and with a message to the Cotton farm, as well.

_________________________________________

Sunday had passed uneventfully in Brandy Hall; Merry was beginning to ease himself back into his duties as his father’s assistant, but he found himself thinking wistfully of his friends in the Fellowship, and wondering how they fared, and worrying as he often did, about Frodo and Pippin.

Monday morning he was having elevenses in one of the kitchens with some of the younger members of the household. Berilac was there, Doderic, and another cousin Merimas, as well as Estella and Melilot. They had finished eating, and Merry had collected up the plates to wash; he naturally pushed his sleeves up to keep them out of the water.

Suddenly, he was aware that the conversation around him had stopped. He turned, and realized they were looking at the scars on his wrists.

“Rope burns,” he said. Might as well get it over with; if he didn’t tell what really happened, speculation would run rampant. “Present from some Orcs.” He touched the scar on his brow. “Got this about the same time. Pip and I spent a not so delightful three days in their company before we got away.”

Five pairs of eyes stared at him in horrified fascination. Oh, lovely! he thought, now I’ve got to tell them more. As he desperately cast about in his mind for what to say that would satisfy their curiosity for the time being, and yet not frighten the lasses to death, the door opened, and one of the children came bursting in.

“Mr. Merry! Mr. Merry! The Master is looking for you.”

“Ah, well. I should go and see what he wants, then, shouldn’t I?” he said, pushing down his shirt sleeves and exiting with alacrity, leaving his cousins staring after him. Whatever his father wanted, it could not have come at a better time, bless his luck.

He found both his parents in his father’s study. “You needed to see me?”

“Well, Merry, it looks like Pippin’s come through for us. We have messages from Tookland--from Paladin for me and from Pippin for you, and a message from Frodo also. Seems that Paladin thinks we need to talk. How soon can you be ready to travel? We’ll go by way of the Cotton’s farm and pick up Frodo as well.”

Merry gave a great whoop of delight, lifting his mother up and swinging her about. “How about that! I knew Pip could do it, but knowing how stubborn Uncle Paladin can be, I didn’t think it would be so quickly. I can be ready to go as soon as you are!”

“We’ll leave right after luncheon. We‘ll be taking the cart since your mother‘s coming, and go by way of the Bridge.”

“That’ll mean staying overnight in Frogmorton, Da. There’s no inn there any longer.”

“I can camp if I have to,” his mother said firmly.

Merry was scanning his letter from Pippin. “I’d better go armed, Da. Pip had a run in with some ruffians. They haven’t all been run off yet. Looks like we’ll have to do something about that.”

“I’ll leave that up to you, son.”

“I’ll see if Beri can come along as far as the Cottons’. Having one extra sturdy lad with us could be enough to keep trouble away before it starts.”

Merry turned and left to get everything ready, a joyful spring in his step.

________________________________________

Berilac was delighted that Merry asked him to come along, although he felt a bit apprehensive when Merry suggested he bring along a stout cudgel.

The two younger Hobbits rode their ponies up ahead of the cart in which rode Saradoc and Esmeralda. Merry set a pace that was a bit brisk for the cart-pony, but not nearly as fast as he had ridden alone on his way back to Buckland. They’d been a bit late in starting, but Merry was determined to push on to Frogmorton before they stopped for the night. Although he knew she was willing, he didn’t want his mother to have to camp, and Saradoc felt sure that his cousin Milo Burrows and his wife Peony would put them up for the night.

Merry and Berilac had ridden in silence for a while after crossing the Bridge. Merry had already seen the devastation wrought by the ruffians, but Beri had not. Since the Bucklanders had cut themselves off, he had not been west of the Brandywine in months. His eyes grew wide at the sight of the ugly square buildings and the cut down trees. Merry, on the other hand was heartened by the sight of Hobbits going about their business, and dismantling the works of Men. He could see that there had already been a start at building a new inn.

“Beri? Are you all right?” Even though he was two years younger, Merry felt ancient compared to his cousin.

“It’s just so awful! I’d heard the talk from the East Farthing folk who’d come to us, but I thought they were exaggerating. If anything they understated the case.”

“It’s bad enough, but we’re already putting it to rights. And it might make you feel better to know that it’s worst here along the roads and in the towns and villages. I rode cross country coming down, and they’d yet to get to most of the countryside.”

“You seem so calm about it all.”

“I’m not. But I have seen how much worse it could  have been; I know how much worse it would have been if not for Frodo. ”

“Merry, was it very awful?” Berilac sounded tentative. He wanted to know, but he wasn’t going to push. “Was what Frodo did really *that* important?”

“Yes to both questions. It was very awful; I could tell you some of it, and probably will, but the second question--what Frodo did was the most important thing anybody has done in the whole of the Third Age. In fact, it was so important that out in the wide world, the day he did it is now considered the New Year, and we‘re starting a new Age. But it cost him, Beri.” Merry had to blink away tears. “You’ll be seeing him soon, and you’ll see of changes in him. I don’t think he will ever be truly happy again. Yes, it was very awful for me, but however awful it was for me, and for Pip, what Frodo and Sam went through was a hundred times worse.”

“Is that why you got so angry the other night?”

“Well, you know how close I am to Frodo. I guess I would have been angry anyway, but angry enough to say what I said? I just want him to get the respect he deserves here at home. Do you know, that in Gondor, the King does not allow Frodo to bow to him? Do you know that everywhere we went in Minas Tirith people in the street bowed to Frodo?” Merry did not mention that he and Pippin had come in for their own share of bows. “And then to come home and hear that kind of ignorant talk--well, I must say it set me off.

On the other hand, I have to say that I am glad that I went with him, and that Pip and I were able to help him as far as we did. And there was a lot to see and do in the world, Beri, and a lot of good people in it as well as wicked.”

“So you and Pippin got separated from Frodo?”

“Yes, thanks to that bunch of Orcs I mentioned this morning. I didn’t want to say much with Estella and Meli there, but I don’t mind telling you about it.” And it was so, he decided. He was going to have to talk about it now and then, and Beri was truly concerned.

He didn’t mention Boromir’s death. That would have been too harrowing, but he started from when he regained consciousness slung across an Orc’s back, and told the tale from there. He left off after the Ents took Isengard, and Berilac did not press for more, though it was obvious he wanted to know more.

It was nearly tea time, and Merry heard his father call out from the cart that they needed to stop, take a break and have a bite to eat. They pulled over to a grassy spot at the side of the road, and Esmeralda pulled out the basket she had packed. And they absorbed themselves in eating and discussing the meal with the kind of attention to detail that only Hobbits would appreciate.

Afterward, they went on their way again. Merry and Beri picked their conversation up again. By the time the sun began to set, Berilac had a good idea of what had happened to the four Hobbits during their absence. He marveled at Merry, and felt a bit envious of Frodo and Pippin. He was much closer to Merry in age, and they had been good friends growing up, but nothing like the bond Merry had with Pippin and Frodo. He thought again at some of the things Merry had told him; even Sam, Frodo’s gardener, seemed closer to Merry, which was a wonder to him. In fact, Merry had warned him that when they arrived at the Cottons’ he should be very careful about condescending to Sam or treating him like a servant, because otherwise he would be sure to draw Frodo’s ire, and Merry would not be any too pleased, either. “Just you keep in mind, Berilac, that in Minas Tirith one of the Ringbearers has a higher standing than a mere Knight of Rohan.”

When it grew dark, they pulled over, and had a brief discussion. Merry and his father decided to continue on, though it was a good three more hours to Frogmorton. Saradoc lit lanterns and hung them on either side of the cart, and they went on, though at a slower pace.

Conversation died, as both Merry and Berilac had to concentrate on the road in the dark.

 

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Chapter 10 by Dreamflower

It was after nine o’clock by the time they arrived at Milo Burrow’s door in Frogmorton. There was still a light visible in the front room, so fortunately they were not going to have to rouse the whole household. Saradoc rapped briskly on the door.

They heard footsteps approaching. “Who is it this time of night?”

“It’s Saradoc Brandybuck, Milo. I have Esmeralda, with me, and Merry and Berilac.”

The sound came of locks being unlocked, something familiar enough in Buckland, but until recently, rare in the rest of the Shire. “Saradoc! What in the world are you doing here this time of night?”

“Well, Esme and I were rather hoping you could put us up for the night. We’re on our way to Hobbiton and then to Tuckborough.”

“Tuckborough? Does that mean the Thain is no longer angry?” He looked beyond and saw Merry and Beri. “Bless me! Merry, you’ve grown!”

Merry grinned and rolled his eyes. He was beginning to heartily regret the Ent-draughts. He supposed that once everyone in the Shire had seen him, they would cease to remark on it.

Beri winked at him. He remembered his own reaction. But then who would expect a growth spurt from a thirty-seven year old?

“Come in, come in” said Milo. “Esmeralda, you must be cold, come sit by the fire. Let me get Peony and we’ll get some food and drink…”

Merry interrupted the host’s flow of talk. “Milo, Beri and I are going to see to the ponies. We’ll join you in a few minutes for a bite, but the two of us are going to camp across the road with the cart, so you’ll only be putting up mother and father.” This was something that Merry and Berilac had discussed in advance; after all, the Burrows home was small, and they had four children at home, three of them still in their tweens.

“Yes, I understand. These days it doesn’t do to leave such things unattended.”

By the time that the two younger Hobbits had taken care of the ponies, had a brief visit and a late supper with their hosts, and built a campfire, it was nearly midnight. The younger cousins of course had all wanted to see the visitors, especially Merry, who was held in awe for his actions of the week before. Mosco, the oldest Burrows son, told Berilac with great glee how the four returning travellers had marched the Shirriffs out of town, much to Merry’s embarrassment. It took a lot of dissuading to keep the four from joining him and Berilac at the campsite. They’d have had no rest at all.

“I’ll take first watch, Beri. I’ll wake you in four hours.” Merry sat himself with his back to the fire, pulled up his hood, and took out his pipe. If he had only known it, his small figure looked much like Strider’s often had when keeping watch.

Berilac had trouble falling asleep. He was too cold on one side, too warm on the other, the ground was hard, and on his mind were all the things that Merry had told him. He imagined having to sleep rough for weeks on end, knowing something evil was always searching for you. Finally exhaustion had its way, and he drifted off.

Merry smoked and thought. Seeing the Burrows again had heartened him. He remembered that Peony had been born a Baggins. That had been the problem with the last few generations of Baggins, not enough lads, lots of lasses. But she had four children; and there was Angelica, Ponto’s daughter, she wasn’t wed yet. Ponto, and his brother Porto in their seventies now. Come to think of it, he and Pip had Baggins blood from the first Ponto. It was some consolation to think that even if the Baggins name died out, at least the Baggins blood would go on. Still he worried about Frodo. He thought he understood what Strider meant in his letter.  Sometimes he felt a pretty deep melancholy himself...

__________________________________________

They got an early start the next morning, leaving right after Peony had provided them with a substantial first breakfast.

Merry again set a brisk pace. He was quite enjoying this outing. Berilac, however, looked weary, unused to getting along on only four hours of sleep. His respect for his younger cousin, already high, went up another notch. Saradoc and Esmeralda were refreshed from their night’s sleep, but tired of riding in the cart. They would be glad indeed when Bywater came in sight. They had decided to rest a day, on Hensday, and then head on over to Tuckborough on Mersday.

The area near Bywater and Hobbiton was the scene of some of the worst devastation. Saruman had concentrated his malice there where his revenge would hurt Frodo the worst; it was the first sight of this desolation for Saradoc, Esmeralda and Berilac, and they had been shocked. Esmeralda had wept to see it.

They pulled up in front of the Cotton farm off the South Lane. Rosie was sweeping the path, and came to greet them. “Mr. Merry! We weren’t expecting you quite so soon! Sam and Mr. Frodo are up to Hobbiton overseeing the repairs.”

“Thank you, Rosie,” said Merry. “If you’ll so kindly see to my parents, Berilac and I will ride on up and let Frodo know we’re here.”

They found Frodo and Sam assisting with the restoration of what had formerly been Bagshot Row. Along with a number of other Hobbits, they were busy hauling debris over to the other side of the road.

The first thing Merry heard as he rode up made him grin, it sounded so familiar.

“Now, Mr. Frodo, you didn’t ought to go getting yourself all worn out trying to haul this trash away yourself.”

“Nonsense, Sam. There’s nothing here I can’t handle, and every pair of hands is needed for this work…Merry! I can’t believe you are here already! We weren’t expecting you here until tomorrow! Hullo, Berilac, it’s good to see you again.”

“Why, Mr. Merry, you must have just flown to get here so soon!” put in Sam.

Merry and Berilac dismounted. “Not at all; just a brisk pace. But we did leave as soon as we could when we got Pip’s message. Da’s not one to put something like this off even a minute if he can help it.” He turned to Berilac. “Beri, have you met Sam Gamgee? He’s quite a good friend to have in a pinch.”

Having been warned, Berilac extended his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Sam.”

Sam carefully wiped his own hand on his trousers before taking Beri’s. “The same to you, Mr. Berilac.”

“Mum and Da are over at the Cottons‘, Frodo, and will probably rest up right now. Mum’s pretty worn out from the trip. Could you use some more hands at the work here?”

“Certainly, cousin, if you are offering!”

Berilac looked askance at Merry. Here they were, with only four hours sleep apiece the night before, after a long trip, and Merry offering them to do hard labor with every appearance of enjoyment. Well, he was game if Merry was. But he wondered where his cousin got the energy.

Merry had been glad to see Frodo busy. He had been worrying about his older cousin ever since the incident at the dinner party on Highday. It still both hurt and rankled to think about the end of the Bagginses. There was some wariness and pain behind Frodo’s blue eyes, but there was good humor there as well. Perhaps his suspicions that Frodo would never fully recover from the Quest were wrong, if only they could keep him occupied enough. But then he thought of the words in Aragorn’s letter-- his melancholy is a deep and abiding one, and I yet fear for him. If a healer as experienced as Strider felt that way, then his own instincts could not be far wrong. Still, Frodo was having a good day today. One thing at a time.

They spent a pleasant afternoon working at taking apart the mess made by Saruman and his ruffians. It was satisfying, in a way, like taking an Orc out in battle. In fact, he said as much to Sam, when Frodo was out of earshot. Berilac’s eyes grew wide, but Sam just grinned.

“Oh, aye, Mr. Merry. I know what you mean. Cleaning out wickedness, it is, one way or the other.”

The look the two friends exchanged spoke volumes. Merry and Sam understood one another.


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Chapter 11 by Dreamflower

The large farm table was crowded as it had not been in a long time; in addition to the Cottons ( Tolman, Lily, Tom, Rosie, Jolly, Nick and Nibs ), there were three Gamgees ( the Gaffer, Sam and Marigold ) one Baggins ( Frodo ) and four Brandybucks ( Saradoc, Esmeralda, Meriadoc and Berilac ). Every bench was filled and chairs and stools had been pulled up to corners. The hungry hobbits ate elbow to elbow, enjoying themselves immensely on the hearty farm fare that Lily offered, assisted by her daughter and her feminine guests.

The sleeping arrangements had finally been decided after much discussion. Tom, Jolly, Nick and Nibs would be bunking in the stable; their parents would take their room; Saradoc and Esmeralda would take the parents’ room and Merry and Beri would sleep with Frodo and Sam in the spare room they currently shared. ( “That’s not a problem,” Merry had said, “we got quite used to four hobbits to a bed while we were gone.”  Berilac said nothing, it had been a few years, but as a child in Brandy Hall, four to six little Hobbits in a bed was not unusual. ) The Gaffer would keep to his cot by the kitchen fire, and Rosie still shared her room with Marigold.

After the meal, most of the hobbits still sat about the table, nibbling and “filling up the corners”; but first Tom and Marigold, and then Sam and Rose, slipped out to “take the air”--followed by knowing smiles and the admonishment of Mrs. Cotton to “keep yourselves well covered out there in the cold.” Frodo also excused himself and went into the front room.

After a little while, Esmeralda followed.

She found Frodo ensconced by the fire with a book, naturally. He sat there, absorbed, his right hand toying with the jewel that hung about his neck. Merry had told her it was a gift to Frodo from the Queen, who was an Elf, and that it was more than just a trinket. She tried not to stare at the place where his finger was missing, and noticed the resigned posture of his body. After a few seconds, he became aware of her regard.

“Hullo, Aunt Esme; did you tire of the crowd?” Although Frodo had long been an adult, he still used the fond courtesy title of childhood for his cousin’s wife.

“Not so much tire of the crowd, as wish a chance to see you away from it. We’ve not had a chance yet to speak alone.”

Frodo closed the book and sat forward. “Come, join me then.  How have things been for you?”

“All is well now. Merry is home, you and Pippin are home, Paladin seems to be over his temper finally, and those brutes are gone from the Shire. I would say I am doing very well.”

“But you were not doing well before, were you? I know how hard it must have been while we were gone, worried and distressed. Believe me when I say that I often regret allowing Merry and Pippin to come with me.  So many times, I thought of you and Uncle Sara and Pip’s family, worried sick not knowing if your sons were even alive.” The pain behind his beautiful blue eyes was intense.

“Still, from what Merry has told us, there was no choice but for you to leave--I’m glad they were with you, and Sam, too. We missed you, Frodo, dear, and worried about you.”

A startled, tentative look came over him. “You did?”

“Of course we did. Silly me, I had been looking forward to having you live nearby in Crickhollow, thinking I would get a chance to see you more often. You know, Merry was not the only one sad when you moved in with Bilbo. I know that I could never have taken your mother’s place with you, Frodo, but for me, you had been quite like a son for many years.”

Frodo’s eyes filled. “Oh, Aunt Esme! I do miss them still.”

Her own eyes teared. “I know you do, dearest, so do I.”

_______________________________________

Merry stood alone on the battlefield. It stretched for miles and miles, as far as the eye could see, in every direction, littered with the broken bodies of Men and Orcs and trolls, spattered with blood red and black, and staring with sightless eyes at a flat grey sky. Somewhere here he had to find it, something hidden on this field of carrion. Buried under one of the bodies. Under the body of a troll, he was now certain, though he still could not think of what he had to find. A troll’s body would be hard to shift; he surely could use some help--where was Pip when he needed him? Pip? Suddenly he knew what he was looking for-- PIPPIN! 

Screaming his cousin's name in anguish, Merry suddenly awoke to an unfamiliar darkness, as around him voices began a familiar litany.

“It’s all right, Merry,” Frodo’s voice, gentle and calm, his arms finding Merry in the dark to hold him. “It was a dream. Come back to the light.”

“We’re here, Mr. Merry, don’t you fret,” Sam’s voice, confident and kind.

“Merry?” That wasn’t Pippin’s voice! It was supposed to be Pippin’s voice. Where was Pippin’s voice?

“Pip?” Merry whimpered, as Frodo rocked him, making soothing sounds. “Pippin?”

“Strike a candle, Sam,” said Frodo.

“What’s wrong with Merry?” said not-Pippin. It was a familiar voice, though--Berilac?

Suddenly the here and now came clear, as Sam brought over a lit candle. Merry drew a deep shuddering breath as Frodo held him close. “Oh, Frodo,” he whispered, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“Hush, dearest, you don’t have to be sorry,” Frodo said gently.

He felt Sam’s strong arm about him. “Don’t fret about that, Mr. Merry. It’s just your turn tonight. But we’re here.”

“And Pip’s fine over at the Great Smials.” Frodo reminded him.

Merry opened his eyes to see Berilac peering at him in confused concern, while Frodo and Sam still held him close. “Merry, are you all right? What were you dreaming?"

Suddenly Berilac found himself the object of three reproachful gazes. He felt alien, an outsider, who had stepped where he didn’t belong.

“What?” he said defensively, “My mother says you should always speak an evil dream to keep it from returning.”

Merry gave a bitter laugh.

“I’m sorry, Beri, but this dream has been spoken before,” said Frodo softly.

“And it’s not the only dream’s been spoken,” added Sam, “nor Mr. Merry the only one to have them.”

Berilac sat down abruptly, stunned at the implication. “Oh.”

Frodo looked at him, blue eyes full of pain. “It’s just part of a price that had to be paid.”

Part of a price? thought Berilac. His eyes strayed to Frodo’s right hand as it patted Merry’s head soothingly, and not for the first time that day, he wondered.

_________________________________________

In the Geat Smials, Pippin lay awake. He’d had no nightmares since the night he’d talked to his father, though he’d no doubt they would sooner or later return. But he had awakened to a strong feeling that Merry needed him. That was silly. Merry was safer now than he’d been in over a year, back with his family, and soon to be here to see him. Still, he found it hard to get back to sleep.

They’d all had trouble sleeping after the War. Once they had begun to heal physically, the nightmares had begun, for all of them. Frodo’s were the most often, almost every single night unless he was dosed with something; Sam’s, less frequent, but more intense when they occurred, nearly always of Shelob, would wake him shrieking in terror. Merry and Pippin had several different recurring evil dreams which woke them in a panic, often at the same time, that left them clutching at one another.  Merry's often seemed worse, possibly because he had been so often exposed to the Black Breath.

At first, Strider had thought that having them in the same room was causing them to feed off one another’s fears, so he had thought that separating them might help. It made them worse. So they were once more allowed to sleep together in the same room; they had tried telling the dreams out loud, they had tried all kinds of things. It was found that if Gandalf or Legolas watched over them as they slept, the dreams would dissipate, but as Frodo pointed out, this was hardly fair to the Wizard or the Elf, and would do them no good later on when they returned home.  Legolas would have been perfectly willing to sit with them every night for the rest of their lives if it would spare them, and generously and seriously offered to do so, but Gandalf agreed with Frodo that the hobbits could not get on with their lives like that.

After Arwen gave Frodo her jewel, his dreams were less troubled, though sleep still remained difficult.  But her gift was unique and could not be shared with the others.

Yet after Midsummer, when they finally began to return home, things had begun to gradually improve and none of them had suffered so since Rivendell, until Pippin came home. But Lord Elrond had warned them that the effects of the Last Homely House would only be temporary, and that they would most likely have spells of these dreams for the rest of their lives. Lovely.

Pippin wondered if maybe Merry was having a bad night. “It’s all right, Merry. Be well.” he murmured, as he settled back down to try and sleep.

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Chapter 12 by Dreamflower

 

Hensday morning, Berilac noticed that Merry seemed abrupt and embarrassed in his presence. He felt hurt that the camaraderie they had begun to share since Merry’s return seemed to have vanished. Frodo noticed.

“Berilac, don’t let Merry bother you this morning. He’s sorry you had to see him like that. It’s different for us, we’re all in the same situation, and know what it’s like. But Merry has too much sense to let this affect things for long.”

“I hope that’s true, Frodo. I’ve only just begun to realize what a great hobbit Merry is; I’d like us to be friends again. I’d like to be friends again with you as well. Merry wasn’t the only one who missed you when you moved away to Bag End. But you, Merry, Pip and Sam seem to be so sufficient to yourselves, I wonder that you would even need any more friends,” he said wistfully.

Frodo’s whole face lit up with a genuine smile. “Berilac, I can never have too many friends. I had become used to the idea that Merry, Pip and Sam were the only ones in the Shire who cared anything about me. It‘s very gratifying to be wrong, sometimes.” They both laughed.

Frodo was quite right. By lunchtime, Merry had regained his usual good spirits and even temper, and no longer tried to avoid meeting Berilac’ eyes.

They were spending the day much as the day before, working on the restorations. Today they were in Bywater, restoring The Green Dragon, and stories were flying about the various happenings that had taken place at the inn. Merry told how he and Frodo had introduced Pippin to ale with uproarious results when the young Took did his first table dance. And Frodo recounted the one and only time Bilbo had persuaded Gandalf to accompany him there, to the consternation of the innkeeper, as half the regular customers left in a huff. But it had turned out well, as twice as many new folk came in to gawk at the Wizard, who gamely sat upon the floor next to Bilbo’s table and nursed his ale and muttered imprecations upon Bilbo’s head.

Only one incident marred the pleasantness of the day. The group of workers had taken a break and were enjoying a picnic luncheon brought by some of the wives and daughters and sisters. Suddenly the laughter and chatter stopped, as Ted Sandyman approached. Silence. Backs were turned. No one would look at him, except for Berilac, who did not know him and was thoroughly confused, and Frodo who gazed at him with infinite sorrow and compassion; but even he did not speak, it would have served no purpose.

The unwanted interloper stood for a moment, looking defiant, then his shoulders slumped, and he went back the way he had come.

The conversations all started up again as he departed with no more acknowledgement than Jolly Cotton muttering “good riddance,” and Frodo shaking his head sadly.

Berilac looked at Merry and Sam, who sat by him. “I say, what was that all about?”

Merry shook his head. “He made the mistake of being one of Lotho’s supporters. I suppose he thought it would make him wealthy and important, but he badly miscalculated.”

“Ted Sandyman always was a fool,” added Sam in disgust, “he planted this row, and now he has to harvest it. No more than he deserves, really.”

Frodo got up and walked away.

Sam shook his head. “Mr. Frodo’s not happy with me right now; he’s that kind-hearted, I think sometimes he’d even feel sorry for Sauron himself.”

“He probably does,” replied Merry. “But isn’t that one of the reasons we love him?”


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Chapter 13 by Dreamflower

That evening after supper, Merry and Berilac decided to retire early. Sam and Rosie were “walking out” again, and Frodo and Saradoc were in the front room, talking.

“Do you really think Paladin is over his anger, Uncle Sara?” asked Frodo.

“He must be, else he’d never have sent for us. Our quarrel at Midsummer was no light thing. Every misdeed and mishap of Pippin’s life was laid at Merry’s feet and yours. The way he saw it, the two of you had led his lamb astray, and then lured him off to be murdered, and I was an accomplice, as I’d had the raising of both of you; and it was no more than I deserved to have my son murdered, too.”

Frodo quirked a brow. “I suppose Bilbo came in for his share of abuse, as well.”

“Oh, yes, the Bagginses came into it as well. But I’m afraid I stepped over the line myself. I accused him of just wanting an excuse to bury a son who had disappointed his pride and of driving his son away with his stubbornness. I used some very intemperate language. Esmeralda was in hysterics by the time we left. And of course, everyone in the Smials heard every word.”

“Oh dear, that’s going to make it hard for him. I’m surprised he’s come round.”

“Well, Paladin can be a fool where his pride is concerned--after all, he is a Took--but he is an honest fool. He truly believed Pippin was dead, and his grief was real. I should have made allowances for that, but I was too worried myself to think straight. A real live Pippin come home to his doorstep to prove him wrong--his honor will make him admit his mistake.” Then Saradoc grinned. “Besides, he is a Hobbit of his word. Almost the last thing he said to us was ‘no Brandybuck will set foot again in Tookland until the King comes back’.”

This surprised Frodo into genuine laughter that reached all the way to his eyes. Saradoc chuckled, pleased at making him laugh and banishing the pain from those blue eyes for an instant.

“Uncle Sara, that’s priceless!”

“It is, is it not?” said Saradoc smugly. “Do you think I should rub it in?”

“Probably not,” laughed Frodo.

Saradoc leaned back in his chair. “Merry told me you had a hand in those letters I got. How much of a hand was it?”

“The letter from the King of Rohan, very little. He did consult me and I read the final version. He was worried you might be offended at your son taking oath with a foreign monarch without your permission. I think he was afraid Merry might be in trouble over it, though I assured him that you would not be so unreasonable. To be frank, though, the only thing I did was to give them your father’s name. The first part of the letter is almost word for word part of a song one of their bards made in Merry’s honor, which I heard while I was there.”

“A song in his honor?” This was not something Merry had told him.

“Yes, Uncle Sara. And from what I learned from Pippin and Gandalf, quite accurate, even allowing for the poetic language.”

Saradoc nodded. Merry’s account of his deed had been sparse, and gave most of the credit to the Lady Éowyn. Apparently others felt his contribution had been just as important.

“As for the other part, I heard Éomer dictate it to the scribe ‘Put down the usual duties for him, but leave out having to live at Meduseld for half the year; see that he gets a hundred silver pence and two ponies a year, and make sure that his father knows I have no designs on his homeland. Let the Ringbearer read it before you bring it to me to sign, and if he is offended at any part, you must change it.’ But I think the scribe did quite well, and if you are offended, you must blame me.”

Saradoc laughed. “I think Merry was the only one offended; he had his heart set on being noble and taking no reward for his deed.”

Frodo’s face turned deadly serious. “There is no reward that will make up for what he suffered when he struck that terrible creature. Make no mistake, Uncle, it very nearly killed him. It would have killed him if Aragorn had not healed him and he will likely still suffer the effects for years to come.”

Saradoc paled. “He made light of his injury. I thought he had broken his arm or perhaps dislocated his shoulder.”

“No, it was far worse than that.” Frodo was silent for a moment, a brief spasm of pain passed across his face. He shook his head. “I have to tell you that if it had not been for Aragorn’s skill as a healer, not a single one of us who left the Shire would have been alive to return.”

Now Saradoc was silent, as he digested this difficult news. A chill ran down his spine as he suddenly realized how close to right Paladin had been--all of them, dead?

Frodo leaned forward, ready to change the subject . “The letter from Gondor, I had a bit more say in. The King, and his Steward, Prince Faramir, had my help in deciding who needed to be approached and how to address you all. I have to say that if I had known it would be I, and not Will Whitfoot, acting as Mayor, I would have left that office off the list. Aragorn truly is fond of the Shire and of Hobbits--after all, he spent years as a Ranger guarding us--and he wants to do us honor and protect us, but he does mean to restore the Northern Kingdom, and the Shire is a part of that. And he is seeking advice on how to do that properly.”

Saradoc was silent for a moment. Obviously Frodo did not know about the private letter. Sadly, there would have been no one to send one to on his behalf, which probably explained the paragraph in his own letter. He was uncertain whether to mention it or not--

 “PIPPIN!” Merry’s shriek of terror rang out, much louder than the night before.

As quickly as Saradoc moved, Frodo was quicker still. They raced down the hall to the room where Merry and Berilac were. Berilac was trying vainly to calm the hysterical Merry, who continued to call frantically for Pippin. “Frodo, it’s much worse than last night.”

Last night? thought Saradoc as he made his way to the bed, where Frodo had begun the ritual of soothing his younger cousin. “Beri, go find Sam and tell him we need some of the special tea Lord Elrond gave us. Hurry up, now.”

Beri ran from the room. Saradoc had added his own soothing voice to Frodo’s, but Frodo shook his head.

“Merry, it’s Frodo. I’m here. Pippin’s fine. Come back to the light, Merry.”

Merry gave a shuddering breath, and relaxed weeping into Frodo’s arms. Frodo began the familiar rocking. “Pippin’s fine; he’s at the Smials; we’ll see Pippin tomorrow, dearest.”

Saradoc watched helplessly as his cousin comforted his son. He had a bad feeling about this. This had the appearance of something that had happened before, and more than once.

Just then, Sam came in followed by Berilac. Rosie and Esmeralda stood in the doorway looking frightened. He carried a steaming cup in his hand that gave off a wonderful fragrance; the scent of it seemed to give one heart. “Here we are, Mr. Merry; some athelas tea. It’ll be just the thing."

Frodo held the cup as Merry sipped, and it did its work as he calmed and his breathing became more regular.

“Why Mr. Merry again?” asked Sam, “we’ve been doing so well since we left Rivendell.”

“I think he’s been too long apart from Pippin” was Frodo’s simple reply. “I hope Pip’s not been doing the same.”

“He seems to bounce along a bit better than Mr. Merry.” Sam looked at Saradoc’s and Esmeralda’s horrified faces. “I’ll stay with him for a while if you want to talk.”

Frodo led Saradoc and Esmeralda from the room. Esmeralda grasped him by the arm. “Frodo, what’s going on with my son?”

“Aunt Esme, all of us went through dreadful experiences; the four of us have a problem with night terrors from time to time. We had hoped to be rid of them for a while but it looks as though Merry’s have come back sooner. He needs to be with Pippin.”

“What are you saying, Frodo?” asked Saradoc.

“They both have their own nightmares to deal with, but the worst fear they have is that of losing one another forever. Pippin nearly died in the last battle of the War, in fact Merry, who was barely recovered from his own battle was summoned to say farewell, not only to Pippin, but possibly to Sam and myself as well. It was only by a miracle that Pippin did not die in Merry’s arms. I think he clung to life only because he would not leave Merry alone.” Esmeralda gasped in horror, and Saradoc went pale. They knew only too well what it would have done to their son if he lost his beloved Pippin.

“I need to get back in there. We do better when we are together.”

_______________________________________

For the second night in a row, Pippin lay awake worrying about Merry. It could mean only one thing, Merry’s nightmares had come back for certain, and he didn’t have his Pip there to sooth him. He hoped Frodo was there; Merry’s parents would mean well, but they couldn’t understand.

Well, he’d have him here in another day or two. Poor Merry, he seemed to do so well on the outside, but he fretted himself to death worrying about others.

It was a shame they had not taken Legolas up on his offer. He drifted back to sleep imagining the Elf solemnly sitting next to Merry’s bed, singing an Elvish air and driving away the dreams.

____________________________________________

The four Hobbits lay in their bed at the Cottons‘. Frodo and Sam had Merry between them, and Frodo stroked Merry’s hair, and hummed an Elvish song that Legolas was fond of. It seemed to help.

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Chapter 14 by Dreamflower

Chapter Notes:

Although all my other characters belong to J.R.R. Tolkien, Tanto and Largo Hornblower belong to Lulleny, from her story "The Prodigal Took", and she very kindly allowed me to borrow them.

______________________________________




Mersday morning, by unspoken consent, there was no discussion of the night before. The travellers were eager to get on their way to Tookland, and prepared to leave right after first breakfast. Berilac was to remain there at the Cotton farm until they returned, and he was sorry to see Merry and Frodo leaving. But he thought spending a few days helping Sam up at Hobbiton, and getting a good night’s sleep might be a good thing.

Frodo and Merry rode alongside the cart, and Frodo caught up on the doings at Brandy Hall. He told them a bit about how Bilbo was doing. Saradoc and Esmeralda were pleased to know that he was well and seemed happy among the Elves at Rivendell.

Merry was quiet. He had not been prepared to let his parents know about his difficult nights, and had hoped the respite that had come to them at Rivendell would have lasted longer. But the cat was out of the bag now, and he was unsure what to do about it. Maybe the dreams would go away again after he had seen Pip.

They had a pleasant ride in weather that was surprisingly mild for early Blotmath, eating a light second breakfast of cheese pastries as they rode, and stopping for a picnic for elevenses. By luncheon they were coming in sight of the Green Hills, and soon brought up to the Great Smials.

As they approached, they saw a tall figure sitting on the gate. Much as he had done when he was a small lad, Pippin jumped down and ran to meet them, putting on an imitation of his childhood self by leaping up and down and shouting “Merry! Merry! Merry! Frodo! Frodo! Frodo!”

“Pip, you goose, you’re the largest seven year old I’ve ever seen!” laughed Merry, as he slid down from Stybba to enfold his cousin in a hug.

“Why thank you so much! It’s good to see you all. Hullo Uncle Sara and Auntie Esme.”

“Hop up, Pippin, and we’ll ride back together.” Saradoc patted the seat of the cart, next to him.

When they reached the gate, Paladin and Eglantine were waiting, with their daughters and sons-in-law ranged behind them. There were crowds of other Tooks scattered about, but keeping their distance. The memory of the fireworks between Took and Brandybuck at Midsummer was all too fresh, and no one wished to risk getting singed.

Saradoc climbed down from his seat, while Pippin jumped down and reached up to swing his aunt lightly to the ground. She grinned at him in amazement to think that this young giant was her little nephew Pippin. Merry and Frodo dismounted and came up alongside.

Paladin stood awkwardly next to Eglantine, his face a lovely shade of red. “It--it seems to me I need to apologize--” he held his hand out tentatively.

Saradoc was having none of that; he took Paladin’s hand and pulled him into a hug. “Say no more about it, brother. It’s in the past now, and that was a bad time for all of us. Our lads are back now and just look at them!” Saradoc’s grin and gesture included all three of the returned travellers. Frodo blushed. The idea that he had also been missed was still new to him.

A great cheer went up, and now Pippin’s sisters moved in, Pervinca with baby Largo in her arms, eager to introduce him to everyone. As the visitors got claimed by various Tooks, eager for greetings, hugs and conversation, Pippin watched his chance to draw Frodo aside as Merry found himself cornered between Pimmie and Vinca, with a baby Hornblower in his arms.

“Frodo, I need to talk to you.” His face was quite serious.

“What is it, Pippin?”

“Let’s get away from prying ears.” He tugged at Frodo’s sleeve and drew him over toward one of the Smials side entrances, where the door formed a small alcove.

“All right, we’re alone now, Pip. What is it?”

“Frodo, is Merry having nightmares again?”

“Yes, he is. Are you?”

“No. I was having the one about Denethor, but it stopped when I got things settled with Father. But two nights in a row, I woke up thinking Merry needed me. I couldn’t think what else it could be. Which one is it? Is it the one about--me?”

“Yes.” Frodo did not question Pippin’s knowledge. Merry and Pippin knew these things about one another, as anyone close to them was aware. “Pip, his parents saw, and Berilac.”

“Oh, no! poor Merry. He’ll hate that.” Pippin shook his head sadly. It had been inevitable that those in the Fellowship would know about the hobbits’ night terrors, but outsiders just could not understand. Pippin still felt uncomfortable about his father knowing of his dreams of Faramir and Denethor, even though it had been what helped them to reconcile.

Just then they noticed Pearl and Vinca with the baby headed their way.

“Pip,” said Pearl “this isn’t fair. You’ve had Frodo almost to yourself for the better part of a year. Give some of the rest of us a chance to catch up.”

Pippin rolled his eyes. “I’ll leave you to the mercies of my sisters. And I know you’ll think of a solution to that problem.”

Frodo gaped at him as he walked away. Think of a solution? To a problem that had baffled the greatest healers of the West? But he had no time to think about it now as he suddenly found baby Largo thrust into his arms.

___________________________________________

Paladin and Saradoc agreed that they needed to make the King’s message a public proclamation as soon as possible. Since the next day was Highday, that seemed like the best chance. Paladin asked several of his people to pass the word that there would be an assembly the next day after second breakfast on the grounds across from the Smials.

______________________________________________

Merry entered the guest room with trepidation. This was the room he always used when he visited Tookland, as far back as he could remember. He’d have it to himself.

He had put off coming to bed as long as he could, enduring long and boring conversations from aunties and uncles and cousins of every degree. He had noticed his parents giving him worried looks as well as Frodo, and he was fairly sure that Pip had guessed as well. But he’d out waited all of them. Now he was going to have to try to sleep on his own. He was here and he’d seen Pippin. Maybe he’d have no problem tonight.

He looked at the bed. It had been comfortable enough once upon a time, but it was too small now. He dragged the blankets, quilts and pillows off and arranged them on the floor by the fire, and then got out of his clothes and into his nightshirt. Just as he started to make himself comfortable, there was a knock on the door. He sighed.

“Come on in, Pip.”

“I thought you were never going to give up and go to bed. Would you care for some company tonight, cousin?”

End Notes:

 

 

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Chapter 15 by Dreamflower

The next morning was the day of the proclamation. Pippin was nervous. His father wanted him, as a King’s Messenger and representative of Gondor, to read the King’s letter to the assembly.

Merry had to help him into his armor. “For goodness’ sake, Pip, you’ve been in front of kings and princes and Elven lords and wizards and Ents. You’ve slain Orcs and a troll. What is there to be frightened of from a bunch of Tooks?”

“Because they are Tooks.”

“You have a point there. Ah, see, I made you smile.”

Pippin made an effort to put the corners of his mouth down. “Did not.”

“Did so.”

“Did not.”

Frodo stood at the door with his arms folded. “Well, I must have come to the wrong place. I was looking for a couple of warriors from the South, and see I found the nursery instead.” He was glad to see them in good spirits. No dreams for Merry the night before. And he thought he might have a partial solution to the problem, if Paladin and Saradoc would agree.

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In the clear cold morning of a late fall day the assembled hobbitry of Tuckborough gathered to see the Thain, reconciled once more with the Master of Buckland, and the Deputy Mayor of the Shire, and two very splendid Knights whose armor gleamed as their Elven cloaks whipped in the wind. And the one in black and silver stood forth, their very own Peregrin, and read out in a ringing voice the message they had heard rumored.

The King had come back.

And the crowd erupted in cheers.

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Paladin, Saradoc and Frodo went to Paladin’s study immediately after the proclamation was read, in order to begin working on their answer to the King. A luncheon was brought to them there, so that they could work right through.

Paladin studied Frodo as the servant unloaded the trays onto the small table that stood beside his desk. The younger hobbit had a sad air about him that Paladin had never seen before; Paladin found his eyes drawn to the four fingered right hand, and noting the signs that pain had etched upon Frodo’s face. Yet one thing had not changed, his soul was written in his blue eyes for all the world to see. Paladin remembered his integrity. No matter what mischief Frodo had been into as a lad, he always owned up. What was the matter with me, he thought, what was I thinking, to ever suspect this one of anything underhanded?

After the servant had left, the three helped themselves to the food, and sat down around the table. Paladin was the first to speak.

“From the letters and from what Peregrin told me, my impression of our new King is favorable; still I’d like to know more about him.”

“I agree,” said Saradoc. “Merry is a good judge of character, and I trust that judgment, but I also need to know more. Frodo, what can you tell us of him?”

Frodo pushed aside his plate and leaned back. Both the older hobbits noticed that he had barely touched the small amount of food he had taken.

“I will tell you what I can of our King. He is a Dunadan, a Man of the West, longer lived than most Men. He was raised in Rivendell by the Elves after his father died. Lord Elrond is his foster father. He spent many years as Chief of the Rangers who wander in the Wild, and guard and protect our borders from the evils that surround us. Necessity made him a warrior, destiny made him a King, and his heart made him a healer. When the healer is needed, he puts warrior and king behind him in an instant.

He seems to understand more of hobbits than most Men. He does not call us halflings except when speaking to other Men who do not know the word ‘Hobbit‘, or treat us as children, something which even the kindest and most well-intentioned of Men can tend to do; it is hard to blame them when we do appear to them as children, but it can be tiresome. He cares about us a lot as friends.” Frodo stopped for a moment, as if trying to decide whether to continue, then he nodded to himself. “I love him; so do Merry and Pippin and Sam. We trusted him with our lives, and it was trust well placed, or we would not be home now.”

Paladin leaned forward. “Then it seems we are fortunate in our new King. But how will we know what he wants of us?”

This was what Frodo had been waiting for. Aragorn had talked to him for hours, trying to get his ideas on what would and would not serve the Shire best, and he was now to find out if the Thain and the Master of Buckland were ready to listen.

The three talked for a couple of hours, making a list of ideas, discussing the possibilities. Since they would be repeating the proclamation in Hobbiton and Buckland in a couple of weeks, they had plenty of time to work on details.

Frodo could tell that the two older hobbits were nearly ready to be finished with this discussion. Now was his chance.

“Before we go, could we talk about something else? Something to do with Merry and Pippin?”

Paladin looked puzzled; Saradoc asked “What is it?”

“Uncle Sara, did you tell Paladin about what happened with Merry the other night?”

Saradoc flushed. “No. Somehow I don’t think Merry would care for that,” he said reproachfully.

“Normally I would agree with you,” answered Frodo, “but I think we are going to need Paladin’s help.”

Now Paladin was reproachful. “What are you going on about?”

“Merry was having a return of the nightmares that plagued us after the War. Last night Pippin stayed in the room with him, and it helped. You need to know that Pippin may also have a return of these evil dreams; you have seen some of it--but not the worst. I cannot begin to tell you of the horrors that these dreams bring, night after night. They may go away for weeks at a time, but they always return.” His eyes were full of distress, and he raised his hand to Arwen’s jewel. “Merry and Pippin need to be together, now, even more than when they were children. They also need some privacy. The last thing you need here at the Great Smials or at Brandy Hall is gossip about why your sons spend their nights shrieking in terror.”

Paladin looked at Frodo intently. “You seem to have something in mind.”

“Yes, I do. Since Lobelia gave Bag End back to me, I have no need of the house at Crickhollow. I am thinking that I could give it to Merry and Pippin for their own. They could live there together and help one another through the difficult times.”

Paladin shook his head. “Frodo, I just got my son back. How can I allow him to go off and live in Buckland? That will cause nearly as much talk as the other.”

“Not necessarily. If it’s put about that he’s feeling more grown up than he would be allowed to be here, well, nothing could be more natural. He’s been on his own for over a year, hard to come back and still have four years to go till he’s of age. People will understand that. And everyone both here and in Buckland knows how close the two of them are. I know that this proposal has some difficulties, but it could also be the solution. Don’t answer right away, but please tell me that you’ll give it some serious thought over the next few days while we’re here. Talk it over with Eglantine and Aunt Esme. And since you do not reject the idea outright, I will tell Merry and Pip about it myself.”

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Frodo found Merry and Pippin in the stables with Pervinca’s husband Tanto Hornblower. They were examining Pippin’s pony, Butter, and discussing the possibility of Stybba getting a foal on her the next time she came in season. Pippin was still a bit concerned about the bruise caused by the ruffian’s rock, as well.

Frodo joined in the conversation briefly, but Tanto could tell that he had something else to discuss with his cousins, and tactfully excused himself.

Merry watched him leave. “I think I could get to quite like that Hornblower.”

“He’s a stout fellow. Vinca could have done a lot worse,” replied Pippin. “What did you need to talk to us about, Frodo?”

Frodo told them of his idea. “I do not know if your father will allow it, Pip, but he has agreed to think it over.”

Merry looked a bit unsettled. “Frodo, Pip and his father just got things worked out; I don’t want to be responsible for another rift between them.”

Pippin gave him a quelling look. “Cousin, it will be for my sake, too. You know that. And leave my parents to me.”

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Pippin decided that his best help would come from his mother.

He found her the next morning in her room with her newest grandchild, watching over little Largo while his parents were busy with other things.

“Mother, can we talk?”

“I know what you want to discuss, Pippin. You can’t think that your father and I want you to go away again so soon after getting you back.”

“Please listen, Mother.” Satisfied by her attention, Pippin sat down across from her. “It’s Merry. Ever since before I can remember, Merry has always taken care of me, protected me, watched out for me. While we were gone, Frodo had all three of us watching out for him, and then he had Sam; I had Frodo and Merry the first part of the trip, and then I had just Merry. But Merry--well, I didn’t take very good care of him.” Pippin hung his head. One of the things of which he was most heartily ashamed was that it had been his foolishness in the matter of the palantir that had allowed him to become separated from Merry. “I know that it all worked out for the best, but I should have thought more of him.

Then after the battle of Pellenor, I thought I was going to lose him. I thought long and hard about what that might mean. I decided that I would probably survive; it would be like having an arm or a leg cut off, or maybe my eyes put out; it would be like having my heart ripped from me; but I would live.

He was just barely healed, and still in the grips of despair from the Black Breath, when I had to leave him again to go to my own battle.” Pippin looked at his mother with tears in his eyes, and saw her own tears. This was hurting her, but it had to be said.

“I did not tell you and Father just how badly I was hurt when that troll fell on me. I was dying, Mother. I could feel my spirit leaving; but there was Merry. His grief was so raw, Mother, I could tell that if I left he would not live without me. I had to go back for him. It is the only reason I am alive now. How can I not do anything for him? I do not want to hurt you and Father again, but please help me to help Merry.”

“Oh, my Pippin! I will speak to your father.”

“Thank you, Mother.”

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Frodo was more than a little apprehensive two days later, when Paladin asked him to come to his study for a private conversation. He had heard no more from the Thain about his idea after he had put it forth, and was beginning to believe that it would be rejected. The thought of what his cousins would be in for if they remained separated made his stomach tie up in knots.

Paladin went right to the point. “I have been thinking over your proposal, and though I still have reservations about it, I think that I will allow it on a trial basis. I have a few conditions. Pippin will still need to spend some time here--after all, he is to be Thain one day, and he can’t manage the Tooks from Buckland. And I expect him to make himself useful to his Uncle Saradoc while he’s there. I know that he has grown up faster than he should have as a result of his adventures; he’s going to have to prove that to others. You know what talk can do. He cannot go back to his old ways of nothing but pranks and play and frequenting the inns.

I’m going to allow him to accompany you back to Hobbiton and Buckland now. In two weeks time, after we make the proclamations there, I’d like for all of you to return here through Yule. The lads can move to Crickhollow afterwards. Would you like to be the one to give them the news?”

Frodo nodded. “Yes, Paladin, I would. And thank you.”

“No, Frodo, thank you for looking out for them. It was well thought of.”

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Chapter 16 by Dreamflower

Two weeks later, Merry stood upon the Brandywine Bridge, watching Pippin prepare to read the King’s message for the third and last time.

He could tell Pip was still nervous, so he leaned around his father, uncle and Frodo, to tip him a reassuring wink. Pippin gave him back a rather lopsided smile, before schooling his face into the proper solemnity for the occasion.

It had been rather sad the day before yesterday, when they did this in Hobbiton, standing where the Party Tree should have been. But the hobbits there had been just as enthusiastic about the news as they had in Tookland. He was not sure if most of them realized what it really meant, that the King had come back.

Now Pippin was beginning to read, although by now he scarcely had to look at the parchment, he very nearly knew it by heart. Merry was quite proud of him.

As soon as this was over, the two of them were going to ride down to Crickhollow and take a look at their new little home. It was going to have to be refurnished, as they would be shipping most of the furnishings there back to Bag End when the restoration was complete. Pippin’s family would be staying at Brandy Hall for a few days, while he and Pip took the answer of the Shire to Bree for delivery to Aragorn. Then everyone would be heading back to the Great Smials until Afteryule.

Life was beginning to settle back down for the Shire; there were still some rumors of a few ruffians hiding here and there, but he and Pip had plans for taking care of that. And Merry had not had any more nightmares. He’d no illusions they were gone, but they were not plaguing him as they had been.

The crowd broke out into the now familiar cheering. Merry scanned the Brandybucks arrayed at the foot of the bridge--his mother, Berilac, several other cousins. Oh, good, he thought, Estella is still here. He caught her eye and gave her a smile. He’d have to get Frodo to refresh his memory about Beren and Luthien.

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There was a knock upon the door of Faramir’s study, where he and King Elessar sat at the table surrounded by various reports.

“Enter.”

One of the messengers came in. “Your Majesty, this dispatch just arrived from the North.”

Faramir took it, and a smile came to his solemn face as he handed it to the king.

Aragorn grinned. “Thank you. This is a welcome message indeed.” He looked up at the messenger. “You have traveled a long and weary way. Go find yourself some food and some rest, you are dismissed for today.”

“Thank you, sire,” said the messenger as he bowed his way out. The King was kindness itself, unlike the old Steward, who probably would have sent him right back out with another message, and never mind how far he‘d come or how tired he was.

“Come, Faramir, let us see what our Shirefolk have to say to us.”

To Our Lord King Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor from the Thain of the Tooks, the Master of Buckland, and the Deputy Mayor of the Shire, our humble greetings.

Your Grace, we thank you for your kind consideration of the Shire and the Hobbits who live here. It has been many generations since Hobbits have had a King, but we have never forgotten that we were part of the Kingdom, nor shall we be loathe to be so again.

After much consultation, here are some of the recommendations that you have requested for your governance of the Shire.

It would be good if you could reinstate the watch of the Northern Rangers upon our borders, for though we have learned somewhat of defending ourselves, we remain for the most part a small and peaceful folk; since there is now no need for secrecy in this matter, we feel it would be wise if we are informed of who and where these Rangers are, so that our Bounders may communicate with them.

We hope to keep communications flowing from the Shire, so that having a King’s Messenger nearby would be helpful. Bree would make a good waystation for such messengers; perhaps other locales near our borders as well.

It is to be hoped that trade may take place between the Shire, and the rest of the restored Kingdoms, to the mutual benefit of all parties. In particular, we are anxious to re-establish the trade in pipeweed, which was disrupted by the troubles in the south.

Finally, and sadly, due to the wicked machinations of the former Wizard Saruman and his use of renegade Men to carry out his will, it would not be wise to allow Men free access to the Shire. We suggest that any Men who would come to the Shire must have the approval of the Thain, the Master and the Mayor, before being given permission to enter. Elves and Dwarves, are of course, another matter altogether, and may continue their passage through our land as always. If this does not work well, in time it may be necessary to extend this ban.

We thank you, Your Majesty, for your long care and watch upon our land, and wish for you the blessings of a long and joyful reign.

Paladin Took, Thain of the Tooks

Saradoc Brandybuck, Master of Buckland and Brandy Hall

Frodo Baggins, acting Deputy Mayor of the Shire

Aragorn laughed. “Straightforward and to the point. Hobbits are delightful.”

“Sire--” Aragorn gave his Steward a look. “Sorry.  Aragorn, there seem to be more messages in the pouch, personal messages.”

One from Paladin Took, one from Saradoc Brandybuck, and from Pippin, Merry, Frodo and Sam.

Yes, indeed, Hobbits are delightful. He would see what his friends and their fathers had to say.

THE END

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