Filia Cantus by admin
The Lost Child
Characters: Pippin, Merry (non-slash)
Timeframe: Book-Canon, FOTR, Lothlórien
Disclaimer: The characters and settings in this story strictly belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. I remain an admirer of his incredible work, which inspires in so many ways. This story was written for entertainment purposes only. No money is gained out of it and no copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Galadriel’s offer throws a shadow over both Merry and Pippin.
Feedback: If you feel like it please leave it here or send it to [email protected]
A/N: I owe more than a big thank you to Baylor, whose beta-work improved the story and whose wonderful comments made my day. Kudos also go to eretria, my all-time muse and faithful conscience (see her throw Greek pillars, see me run back to the keyboard). Thank you, both, for taking an interest in my writing and always giving me the most uplifting and thoughtful feedback.
Dedication: In Loving Memory of Betty (1982-1992)
There fell a leaf off from a tree; one leaf alone from many
But this one leaf was dear to me; alas it fell so early.
Inspirational music: Land Of Ecstasy (Pilgrimage), The Two Trees (Loreena McKennitt)
“‘She seemed to be looking inside me and asking me what I would do if she gave me the chance of flying back home to the Shire to a nice little hole with – with a bit of garden of my own.’ (Sam said.)
‘That’s funny,’ said Merry. ‘Almost exactly what I felt myself; only, only well, I don’t think I’ll say any more,’ he added lamely. (FOTR, The Mirror Of Galadriel)
Pippin was stirred by the low growling of his stomach. His dream had been of soft bread, generously buttered, with thick, sweet honey dripping from a spoon. Albeit merely enticed by a reverie, his ever-conscious appetite had responded with a very real and perceptible reaction. Now it demanded to transport the meal into the waking world, as well. With a slightly disgruntled sigh Pippin rolled over on the pile of cushions, kicking some of them carelessly out of the ring of roots. With one hand he gathered a pillow close and stuffed it against his stomach, as to silence the traitorous body part. It was a fruitless try. The rumbles echoed inside of him, cruelly chasing away each delightful dream bite. Finally Pippin yielded and abandoned his slumber. His hands let go of the pillow and he blinked sleepily. He still regretted the loss of the fantasised delicacy, but already his displeasure was beginning to wane. Eventually he decided that there were indeed worse ways to be woke.
Yawning, Pippin rubbed a hand over his eyes. When he turned his head and looked up, he saw a dusted blue sky through high-spun webs of golden leaves. Stars clustered above like faint silver dapples. Had it already become evening? Pippin thought he had only shortly laid down for an afternoon nap.
It proved difficult to tell the time in these woods, though. For how many days the company had dwelt there, Pippin could not even guess. They had lost all sense of proper counting. The passing of day was only noticeable by the succession of meals. They did not even adjust their sleeping habits to the night. Whenever they were tired, they simply lay down and slept.
The elves had made up their guests’ lairs in the shelter of tree roots (fortunately on the ground) with many soft pillows and sheets of stainless white. Those beds almost resembled bird-nests and Pippin found them utterly comfortable. They where quite suiting and proper for a hobbit. They also left room enough for more than one person, so the company’s furry-footed associates could sleep in a pile like they had grown accustomed to while travelling. At the moment, though, Pippin woke up alone, which was only half a surprise. Sam and Frodo hadn’t laid down in the first place; Pippin had seen them wander of into some deeper dwellings of the wood. It had seemed like Frodo was making up rhymes and Sam listening. Pippin thought of Frodo’s, well, detailed poems and quietly admired Sam for his patience.
But still — that didn’t explain Merry’s absence. He had shared teatime with Pippin and afterwards they both had stretched out on the pillows. But apparently Merry hadn’t been as tired as his younger cousin and now Pippin wondered where he had disappeared to. Surely he hadn’t gone after Sam and Frodo. Merry loved poems, but even he was fairly reluctant about Cousin Frodo’s rhyming.
A little disturbed Pippin swung his legs over a root.
It was not easy finding rest without knowing where Merry was. Yes, as a matter of fact it was most impolite of the elder cousin to leave so secretly. With a sigh Pippin stood up and adjusted his braces. ‘Brandybucks,’ he thought dismissivley. Most likely his cousin was sitting in a cosy tree den, eating what was left of a splendid supper. And of course he would not tell Pippin until each crumb was devoured. Luckily, the elves seemed to have supplies apt to feed a whole bunch of hobbits. Pippin decided not to worry and rather to repay Merry decently for his misdeed. He would fetch himself a bowl of those delicious fruits and eat them all before his cousin’s nose. Or he would eat them in solitude, handing Merry naught but the cores.
Mentally refining his plan, Pippin meandered away. Idly setting foot after foot he walked forth and passed through the leaf-dappled shadows of the mallorn trees. Silver bark glowed in the soft light of dusk, lending a fine shimmer to every bush and path. Glow-worms whirled through the air like snowflakes and the hobbit soon found himself in a plume of gently humming light-dots. Everywhere they whizzed, circling the trunks and spiralling up to a canopy of leaves.
Filled with wonderment, Pippin tipped his head back. Up on the higher branches stretched wooden platforms, appearing like the trees themselves had grown them. Shimmering figures ambled between boughs and foliage, moving on their dizzy paths like feathers on wind drifts. Their sight was beguiling, their aura not from the known world. Even from the heights their ethereal shimmer touched the hobbit and made him tremble.
After all these days Pippin still marvelled at the strange beauty of Caras Galadhon. Not in his boldest dream had he ever fantasised himself coming to such a place. Of course there had been Bilbo’s stories and often had Pippin imagined the told-of places. But this was so much more, so greatly exceeding. No words could ever truly describe the realm of elves in fair Lórien. A place where ageless mirth and melancholy went hand-in-hand like lovers.
A smile curled at the ends of Pippin’s mouth as he lowered his head. Maybe he should have gone to the poetry oration, after all. Strictly directing his thoughts to more substantial matters, that is to say, food and drink, Pippin set out to continue his walk. Yet after a mere couple of steps he stopped once again, being suddenly faced with a most unwelcome problem.
As the young hobbit looked around, he found that he had not the slightest idea where he was. Scratching his chin he looked back over his shoulder, but although the path behind looked fair and charming, Pippin could not remember treading it. With a frown he turned back. He was almost tempted to be displeased with the forest. Indeed, not only did these woods stretch time, they were also very confusing in their likeness. How could a sensible hobbit tell one tree from another if they all looked the same?
With a sigh of gentle exasperation Pippin closed his eyes. If keen sight could not spot the right way, maybe good fortune would. Clasping his hands behind his back he turned round in a circle, two times, three times, then stopped. When he opened his eyes again he looked upon a tall-grown hazel thicket, which bent gracefully in a wide arch. Soft moss grew under the switches, marking a lush green path.
Pippin set off with a shrug. This way was as good as any. Sooner or later he would surely meet someone whom he could query for a shortcut to supper. Trusting to chance he strode through the arch and found himself on a flight of white stairs which lost themselves in a wide field of pale grey grass. A breath of gentle air breezed up from the hollow, brushing the hobbit’s cheek and whispering through his curls. So enchanting was the opening view that it made Pippin pause as soon as his feet had touched the first step. He stopped by the bowl of a tree and quietly glanced down to where a light as warm as sunrise seemed to flood the glade.
Yellow flowers grew in the vale, their delicate beauty shining like the wings of countless butterflies. Between them rose snow-white calyxes on stems, nodding with the mild wind that breathed over the meadow. Dimly, Pippin remembered that Haldir had given him the flowers’ names, but though fair they had sounded to his ears, he couldn’t piece the wording together again. There were so many new and wondrous things to conceive of these days.
He still rested on the stairway when his eyes suddenly captured sight of a small person standing in the midst of the swaying flowers. The soft breeze tugged at the lonely watcher’s curls and open weskit. His face was directed towards the western borders, where the mild sky touched the mountains’ zenith. It was a most uncommon watcher, since he had not the slender, tall shape of an elf, but rather the short stature of a hobbit.
Pippin took two reluctant steps in surprise. What would a hobbit do outside the ring of sheltering trees? And at this hour of eve?
Stair by stair he walked down, his glance fixed on the other hobbit’s back. First Pippin thought it was Frodo who had sought sole counsel once more. Then he recognised the earthly shade of locks and the slightly sturdier build and knew it was Merry. A deep frown settled between Pippin’s brows as he narrowed his eyes to have a closer look. Grass grew up to the hobbits’ knees, touching the breeches and almost reaching the weskit of the yellow-coloured wool that Pippin’s cousin liked so much.
It was indeed Merry. Still recognition did not necessarily lead to an explanation. What had lured the hobbit outside and why was he standing alone? It was not like Merry to isolate himself. Pippin knew, of course, that his cousin sometimes took on uncommonly brooding moods over various matters. Like how the harvest was best protected from a storm or how one could carry three mugs of ale without dropping one. But this silent watch was peculiar, even for a quaint Brandybuck like Merry.
‘What in the Great Took’s name is he doing?’ Pippin wondered. ‘Is he trying to stare down the stars?’
As the young hobbit reached the end of the stairs, he almost expected Merry to turn and spot him. The other, however, gave no visible sign of taking notice and instead remained still as a stone. It fueled Pippin’s growing confusion. He half thought of sidling up to his guileless cousin and giving him a hard nudge between the shoulders. Sneak and tackle was a game they had played uncounted times and it would have been perfectly common in any other circumstances. But a premonition not yet tangible made Pippin hesitate. There was something queer about the situation; he could sense it like a change in the wind. The moment his toes touched the grass, an uneasy feeling crept up his spine as unpleasant as a spider.
Suddenly the strangeness of Lórien was overwhelming. As though he had treaded into a dream, Pippin felt his mind cloud and his perception change. The white flowers gleamed fairly from within and there seemed to be singing voices in the wind, like bells, hardly audible.
The young hobbit was still trying to master his puzzlement, when out of the blue something even queerer happened. Pippin blinked and suddenly his vision shifted. The light seemed to brighten and take on a golden hue, increasing the impression of unreality. And in all this otherworldly splendour stood Merry. It was as though someone held a golden shard before Pippin’s eyes and through the glass he beheld a sight of his cousin as he’d never seen before. Just for the blink of an eye, Merry did not look like a hobbit, but like a creature out of this magic retreat. Translucent and timeless, like he was going to blend into the surrounding amber fields any moment.
As swift as it had come, the vision faded and with it went the sensation of having slipped into a fairy tale. Quickly, Pippin shook his head and willed his fists to unclench. For the Valar’s sake, what was he thinking? Had these dreams of thick butter mushed his brain so utterly that it summoned such silly hallucinations? He had to control his stomach better if it were so.
‘Or maybe it is the doing of this wood,’ Pippin thought. Yes, surely it was a side effect of the elven refuge. This place made even his head hum with words bigger than Great Aunt Rosamunda’s ears. Shaking his head once more, he started moving. Pale grass blades bent in a murmur underneath his bare feet.
When Pippin finally came nigh his cousin, there was the slightest motion in Merry’s posture. Still he did not turn and Pippin swallowed hard. This was Merry. The hobbit he had known since he first roved Great Smials on a toddler’s feet. So why did he feel like running rather than approaching?
‘Peregrin Took,’ he scolded himself. ‘Never before have you recoiled before your cousin. Now stop this silly behaviour.’
“Hullo Merry,” he said and the words flowed surprisingly easy. “Have you risen to enjoy the panorama or did I just snore too loud for your liking?”
He shoved his hands into his pockets and vainly tried to catch a casual glimpse of Merry’s face. A shadow denied him full view.
“If I paid heed to your snoring, I would never get a full night’s rest,” Merry answered quietly, his calm revealing that he had heard Pippin’s coming near all along. “Though I must admit that the view is much more pleasing than watching you munch over slumber-born scones.”
Thereupon he turned and Pippin forgot how to breathe.
Open grief flitted like a swift silver glimpse over Merry’s face as he turned. It was gone so quickly that it left but a waning trace in the air, but this mere trace was enough to make Pippin’s heart jump painfully.
Had Merry’s voice or words warned him, perhaps he would have been better prepared. Oh, he should have been alarmed. Had he not felt that something was wrong from the moment he came into this glade? Still Pippin could have expected many things, but surely not this. Not this strained melancholy that was still edged into his cousin’s countenance. For a moment, the concealing shadow seemed unwilling to move away, and it drew lines on Merry’s face that sure hadn’t been there before. Then light fell over the once-more smooth features, meaning to deceive anyone into oblivion.
It never fooled Pippin. Merry was far too familiar to hide anything and even his discomfort was an open book. Pippin could taste the other’s wretchedness like thick syrup on his tongue. And each detail of the well-known face told him more.
Merry bore a smile but behind it there was no happiness at all. His expression was friendly but distant, like his mind dwelt in some place far away. Their journey through snow and the endless night of Moria had stolen some of Merry’s healthy tan, but now it seemed like he was even paler than before. Or maybe it was only an illusion because the shadows below his eyes were a little darker than usual. Still one would have missed any open sign of misery if not for his eyes. They were the traitors and revealed much more than Pippin would have wished for. For long years he had been familiar with Merry’s expressions, knowing each glance by heart. He knew the signs of anger, obvious and concealed; he knew looks of disappointment and impatience. But until now he had never been confronted with such a wave of grief. Nor had he yet seen that distinct colour of irises now arisen in Merry’s eyes. They were darker than he remembered and deeper. Instead of clear blue those eyes were misty with the shade of not-long-ago shed tears.
It staggered Pippin thoroughly to find such overt grief on his cousin’s face. It disturbed him even more that this grief was but a waning remnant of a larger woe that Pippin had not been here to share.
No, this certainly was not Merry’s usual time-to-time thoughtfulness. Something else was at work and it pained his older cousin. Stabbed him with the force of a cold blade, in fact.
For maybe the first time in his life Pippin didn’t know what to say. He opened his mouth, but no sound came forth. All clever words had seemingly vanished from his tongue. When he finally summoned his voice from he didn’t know where, it sounded weak and hollow to his own ears.
“Merry, you . . . . What happened?”
An aristocratic eyebrow rose gently as Merry studied the younger hobbit with interest. “Why, nothing, of course,” he replied. “I couldn’t sleep, is all. What’s this gaping about, anyway?”
“You . . . ,” Pippin began and wished to say, ‘Oh look into a mirror.’ But his shaken composure still did not allow him to express his thoughts. All he could do was wet his lips and add rather lamely: “You look sad.”
Merry cast what could have been a sheepish glance at him. “Is that so?” he asked. “I guess I stood a little too long on this shimmer-field, then.” Out of habit he reached out a hand to smooth a lock of hair that stood out behind Pippin’s ear, a stubborn testimony of the younger one’s interrupted slumber. “I just … thought a bit,” Merry continued, sounding a mite distracted. “Considered all kinds of things, actually. These woods seem to make one thoughtful.”
“Frodo senses it, too,” Pippin answered helplessly, and so longed to bridge this poor resemblance of idle talk.
“And doubtless does Sam.” Merry nodded. “Though I suppose he would give a lot for a short glimpse of Bag End’s dahlias. I understand him, though. This place is so sparkling in its charm that it makes one long for a little familiarity.” His smile widened a little as he watched Pippin. But despite his efforts he waited in vain for the younger hobbit to shift or speak. In truth, Pippin’s uneasiness grew with every word Merry spoke. The more they tried to conceal the pressure, the deeper Pippin could feel it.
“Don’t be troubled, Pip,” he heard Merry say. “Strange as this all might be, it’s still safe. And beautiful. It’s all right.”
But this was a lie. If Merry meant it to be one or not, didn’t matter. Nothing was right, not since they had left Bag End on a twilight in September. A hard lump rose in Pippin’s throat and long-suppressed pictures came to the surface. In glimpses he recalled their journey, and between once-unfailing hobbit mirth there were all those new experiences of pain and fear and loss. Pippin’s startling green eyes widened as his mind wandered unstoppably back in time. An old man, huddled in a shapeless cloak, raised his head in Pippin’s memory. Bushy eyebrows peeped out from under a hat’s hem and Pippin could almost smell the distinct aroma of Longbottom Leaf. Clearly he saw the wrinkled face and the young hobbit remembered keen eyes that sometimes twinkled brightly with hobbit-like mischief.
Gandalf . . .
A breathless sob urged up his throat and only by pressing his lips tightly together could Pippin prevent its coming up. He didn’t know there were still tears in him until they stung in the corner of his eyes. Regret returned painfully and with it came a sobering realisation. The shadows of grief and sorrow might be invisible under the roofs of Lórien, but that didn’t mean they stopped existing. It was as though Merry’s mysterious woe had torn a breach into the wafer-thin skin that surrounded the Golden Wood. Darkness came in and the memory of crimson eyes brimmed with fire and smoke . . .
Pippin had never been good at hiding his emotions behind a mask. Merry had to see the surge of forceful feelings and, indeed, a fond gleam shimmered up behind the sadness in his eyes. His hand rose to rest lightly on Pippin’s shoulder.
“Don’t be upset, Pip,” he spoke comfortingly. “You needn’t worry, there’s nothing wrong.”
The sheer absurdity of the statement almost made Pippin snort. It was so very much in the manner of his cousin to try and keep his troubles to himself. It was alright to load one’s mind with other people’s worry, but, pray sir, do not bother with personal dolour. That was so annoyingly like the heir of Brandy Hall. Well, Pippin decided, Merry now had a Took to reckon with. When he felt that he finally had control over his facial expression again, he tilted up his head. His irritation at least allowed him full command over his mouth again.
“As things are you had better give right in, cousin, ‘cause you’ve never been a good liar,” he said loftily and at the same time didn’t know when was the last time he had to force a smile at Merry. “And I’m too much of an inquisitive Took to leave it be.”
Something like offence sparked up in Merry’s eyes and he nearly took a step back. “I don’t know what you’re talking a –”
“Merry,” Pippin interrupted solemnly, not straining to hide his impatience any more. He found he was tired of all these half-truths. But he tired of trying to outwit his cousin, as well. It shouldn’t be this way; it never had been before. He so wished Merry would let him in and the plea was reflected in his glance when he looked into Merry’s eyes. There again was such open hurt that it made the remnants of Pippin’s anger vanish into thin air.
“Merry,” he repeated, softer this time, and sensed how he slowly slid past the wall the elder hobbit had erected. Pippin abandoned the last distance and with a sensitivity few would guess behind that flurry of Tookishness he laid his hand on Merry’s elbow. An uncertain glance wandered down to small fingers and back to the younger hobbit’s unflinching face.
“Share with me,” Pippin urged softly.
A barely noticeable shiver passed through Merry and the facade of a smile crumbled. Pippin could see him quarrel with himself, brooding if he could burden his younger cousin with whatever it was that weighed so heavily on his mind. Gently Pippin tightened his hold on the other’s arm.
Eventually, Merry yielded.
A tension, which Pippin noticed then for the first time, slipped from Merry’s body and he lowered his eyes. When he looked up again, the sadness was free of any mask and yet it seemed more composed. It had the air of a certain tenderness, like a bitter-sweet memory that still coursed deep.
“It’s true what I said, you know,” Merry said and suddenly he sounded weary. “I came here to think about … things.”
Pippin never let go of his cousin, even when he turned to look at the distant mountains again.
“What things?” he asked carefully.
“I . . .” Merry started, but let the rest trail off unsaid. All of a sudden Pippin wished he hadn’t pushed so hard. He felt like he could well go on without a revelation, if only he could embrace Merry and tell him how everything was going to be all right. He’d gladly give up on any inquiry if one moment were enough to make the pain disappear.
At his side, Merry heaved a deep breath. Like a ghostly echo the wind breathed over the meadow, taking some loose petals with it.
“I can’t forget how she looked at me,” Merry spoke softly. “Like she glanced directly into my soul. I saw our home again; all the trees were green and the river was so clear. I could hear them singing on the fields and threshing the wheat. It was all there, like we hadn’t left at all.” He expelled a shuddering breath and looked down at his hands. Some time went by until he spoke again.
“It was almost like a dream,” Merry said at length. “Only . . . it felt so real.”
Pippin, too, lowered his head. “I know,” he whispered, for he had also seen it. All the dear faces and the gentle familiarity of every path and corner. It had made him that homesick.
“I knew she was there, too, because she spoke to me,” Merry went on. “She watched with me. Telling … promising me what she would give me should I turn from the quest.”
Another silence emitted and Pippin studied his cousin closely. What offer could ever be so shattering? Pippin remembered his own vision. It had saddened him, true, but it had not lasted. He wondered what it had been for Merry. He’d always thought he knew his cousin but he couldn’t for the life of him think of anything that Merry should miss so dearly.
Then Merry began to tell and with each word grief sank deeper into Pippin’s soul.
The lady’s voice was in his head, speaking softly of chances and may-bes. Her eyes searched him fiercely, stopping by no borders, delving deep and bringing up long-treasured dreams and hopes. Pictures formed into a vision that slowly became engraved into his mind. Merry knew it would stay with him always, if only in deepest slumber, gaining more detail every time he remembered . . .
The fire burned down slowly, its gentle heat filling the small room. Through heavy-lidded eyes Merry could see the warm glow of the fireplace, the reflection of swaying flames on the patterned quilt. Rosemary and thyme, fine stitches on the embroidery. Wind carried autumn leaves against the window, raindrops splattered soundly like a lullaby.
Carefully, Merry reached out a hand to pull the quilt a little further up. When his hand lowered, he heard the quiet creaking of the bedstead’s old wood. A twig scratched on the window’s pane, fleetingly.
While outside the rain continued to fall and the moon was but a wane shimmer behind nightly clouds, Merry lay perfectly still. Warm cosiness wrapped him in and yet sleep was the one thing farthest from his mind. A gush of wind howled past the window and long shadows wavered on the vaulted walls.
He did not dare to breathe too loud, lest he would wake her. One had to be very careful as one thoughtlessly moved limb might break the untainted peace that emanated from the small sleeper on Merry’s chest. His whole sight was filled with her picture and he felt like he could spend the rest of his life just watching her sleep.
She was a hobbit-child, tiny and barely a day old. Her name was like a new song in Merry’s mind and he had yet to find the courage to speak it out loud. With some effort he withstood the urge to stub the little belly. How very small she was; even her feet were tiny.
With a smile Merry watched the little face so near to his own and felt the baby’s breath on his collar-bone. A small heartbeat, so novel to the world, was beating against his chest and in it lay the greatest of all secrets. The mystery of existence at large was but a whisper away.
Serenity dwelt in the graceful dance of the dying fire, harmony murmured in the rhythmic thrumming of the rain. All around lingered the vague fragrant of rose-oil while kind warmth enveloped the pair like a second blanket.
With loving eyes Merry looked down at the sleeping infant, his fingers trailing the downy head and the upsweep of a tiny ear. What a miracle had come to him in such a frail shape. How complete he was, now that she was there.
. . . gwilthi . . .
The quill dipped smoothly into the inkpot, retrieving a thick drop of blackness. A practised ting against the glass shook away the superfluous ink and the feather was lowered gingerly over a piece of paper. Alas there was no silence for writing and Merry heard a distinct sound entering his study. Bare feet pattered over the freshly scrubbed floor and a smile crept onto Merry’s features. Idly he let the quill draw over the paper, not turning his head, but listening intently. The feet came closer, then hesitated, carefully, while someone held her breath.
Merry’s grin broadened and slowly he lowered the feather. In one swift move he jolted up and whirled around, confronting — an empty room. He raised his eyebrows in surprise, but a hushed giggle carried to his ear and lured his glance to the cupboard next to the door. There he saw a wriggling shadow and a treacherous foot being quickly pulled into hiding.
‘See you’, Merry teased, then a whirlwind broke loose from behind the shelf. Chestnut curls fluttered as the little girl bolted across the floor and threw herself into Merry’s arms. His hands grabbed her by the waist and whirled her high in the air, making her squeal with delight. Her laughter rippled as clear as the little streams that treaded the woods in spring and nothing ever sounded so pure. Nothing ever filled his heart with so much joy.
Higher! she hooted. Higher!
His fingers left ink-black stains on her night-shirt, which had to be of concern later, as they both twisted into dizziness. She was a bird and Merry brought the sky into the dusted study. Wings grew with every peal of cheering laughter. Shabby books and stocktaking were easily forgotten and the ink dried on half-written papers.
. . . dairwen . . .
The path curved unerringly along the empty fields, winding against the bushes that grew thickly at its side. Every now and then it passed a gnarled tree or weather-beaten fence. Clouds, white and thin, stretched over the bleak autumn sky and the horizon was but a wane line in the distance. It was not far to the orchards, but Merry had taken a pony because she loved to ride. While he held the reins, she sat proudly on the pony’s back, snubbed nose peeping out over an incredibly large scarf. There was at least one skirt too many billowing around her knees and the tips of her ears were red from the chill. Her fingers, seldom able to rest still, played untiringly with Harry’s tousled mane. Every time she fondly tugged at the beast’s long ears and giggled, Harry would cast a dubious look at Merry as though asking how he deserved such a punishment. Then Merry would smile and pat the pony’s neck, knowing that Harry loved to go out with them despite his disgruntled horse-looks. He was a good soul. Grey streaks already threaded the yellow mane, but still the old pony demanded that he alone would carry the master and his young.
The first frost coated the earthy path and Merry felt the frozen grass blades rustle under his feet. The air was fresh and rich with the smell of ripe berries and rain-soaked leaves. He broke a twig of hawthorn and gave it to his daughter. Deft little fingers plucked the berries from the branch, sliding them into her apron’s pocket where she already stored a fine collection of chestnuts and rose-hips. Merry smiled. There never seemed an end to the space this particular apron availed. Frogs and cakes, loose buttons and stone marbles easily vanished in there. And ever so often a ribbon that lost the battle against unruly curls.
Sometimes her fingers shifted from Harry’s to her father’s ears, which, of course, would call for a great amount of tickling. And although the orchards were not altogether far, the path was long enough to sing some silly songs in which flower rhymed with sour and many a honourable great aunt got decried.
Ever so often he would look at her and think how bright her eyes were, and how her smile shone so adventurous. Sometimes he thought he saw himself in her face.
. . . luntha . . .
His hand rested for a while on the doorknob before at length he turned it and stepped in. He didn’t know why, but the shadows of the corridor had placed a faceless fear into his heart. Like he would look past the doorframe and find nothing at all. But the moment he crossed the threshold, the strange feeling vanished and he knew he was home. Someone had taken care of shutting the curtains and lighting a few candles on the shelf. Someone also had brought the usual jumble of chestnuts and other treasures into order, which Merry found quite amusing. Careful to make no noise of any sort, he closed the door behind him and stepped fully into the room. His glance fell on the great armchair by the fireplace and there was a sight to behold. Huddled in a blanket and almost swallowed by the huge furniture was his little girl. An open book lay in her lap, one small hand still resting on the slightly crumbled pages. Merry hoped she had taken some of the fairy tales out of the book and into her dreams. Maybe she had.
Quietly he walked over to the chair and lowered down on one knee. It was easy to take the book from her; years of practice had learned him how to move without being a cause for waking. When he finally held the battered primer in his hand, he recognised it to be his old fairy book. The one Bilbo had given him when he’d reached scarcely to the old hobbit’s knees. It held the first verses about elves Merry had come to learn and he’d passed it on to the girl on a birthday some years ago. With a smile Merry looked up into her face, where crumbs in the corner of her mouth told him she had plundered his secret sweets supplies once more. In the crook of her left arm she held a little stuffed animal, the black button-eyes shimmering in the semi-darkness. It was her favourite toy since the day she was born and it looked just like that. The fabric was frightfully thin, consisting of mere fibres in some places. One leg had been twice re-sewed to the plump body and the whole mane of wool had been renewed of late. Still no matter how often the aunts tried to take the ‘ugly thing’ away from her, somehow she always made it reappear. The Magic Pony, Merry and his conspiratorial girl used to call it, but only when no one else could hear, of course.
With special care Merry tugged the blanket safe around her and lifted her up in his arms. The pony slipped from her grip and Merry was careful not to trip over it on his way to the bed. Once there, he gently lowered his little load onto the sheets and righted both blanket and quilt. She sunk deep into the feathery mattress, sighing contentedly in her sleep and nuzzling her cheek into the pillow. Quickly, Merry tiptoed back and fetched the pony. The poor fellow seemed to glare at him just like old Harry would. Fondly patting the thing into a pony-like shape, Merry returned to the bed. There he placed the toy in his daughter’s arms and beheld with joy how she closed her tiny fingers around it. She seemed so very satisfied and at peace with the whole world.
His own. His child.
Sadness stole into Merry’s eyes as he watched over her slumber.
“Don’t you wish it could be more than a vision?” said a soft voice from behind his back. “Would you not want that it became more than a dream?”
Merry heard the words but did not want to turn, not yet. Instead his glance rested on the sleeping child and he watched her tug the stuffed pony a little closer. ‘My dear one,’ he thought and his fingers brushed away a stray lock from the smooth forehead. It seemed like no trouble would ever come to this innocent face. All that was meant for her was the sun over barley fields, the pleasure of warm milk on a winter’s eve and the delight of jumping into loamy puddles in her party clothes.
They said that parents gave the world to their children. But Merry knew better. This little girl was a gift given to him, and it fulfilled his life making his whole person worthwhile. The responsibilities of a Hall Master, the strains of an adult paled before the love of a child. Once-important things seemed pathetically foolish before her ever-questioning eyes.
For all the days to come Merry would be content with his small piece of the wide world, where he was at home and placed right. Here he would teach his daughter how to swim and every now and then steal a cake for her. She would reach out her hand for him and his palm would easily enclose her small fingers. Her bright curiosity would never tire of asking questions: why did the snow fall in winter and why was the grass green?
There would be haystacks to investigate and many stories at the fireside. Most evenings Merry would fall asleep with a soundly dozing bundle in his arm. In these moments, when sleep was near and serenity lingered in each breath, one piece of lore crystallised ever so clear. The core of life was no grand adventuring, no heroic task that would save the world. It was only the two of them, listening to the dripping rain. The perfection was in the simplicity of planting a seed and watching it grow.
And Merry so desperately wished it were true.
The hurt inside of him spread as he closed his eyes. Coldness swept over his ankles like travelling mist and he knew the light had died away. When he opened his eyes again, he stood in a deserted room. No fire crackled behind him, no curtains veiled the round window. Shadows stretched from the walls and furniture and the empty bed before him had no sheets. Merry felt how his countenance shattered; he could not help it. Slowly he turned, sad eyes taking in the gloomy chamber. The shelves held no books and the ash in the fireplace was ancient and long cold. Cobwebs hid under the mantlepiece.
There stood a lonely cradle in the middle of the room, a tarnished shimmer still clung to the white fabric. When Merry walked over to it, he felt the lifelessness of this place in every breadth and length of his body. The memory of bliss already began to loose colour. Soon there was but one last step to take.
He knew what awaited him and yet his heart twisted painfully when he glanced into the cradle.
It was empty.
Something inside of Merry crumbled with finality. He saw the dry leaves covering the frilly cushions and knew they were leaves of elven mallorn trees. The veils of illusion withdrew one after another and yet he was still caught in this decaying room. Then, under the hem of a blanket, nearly hidden, Merry discovered an animal-like shape. Shadows concealed his eyes as he reached out a hand and picked up the stuffed pony. His thumb brushed over the black button-eyes and touched an ear that was just a tiny bit too long for a pony.
“You know it doesn’t have to be this way.”
The velvety voice made Merry flinch, but still he did not turn. Only this time the shimmering figure of the Lady Galadriel came quietly to his side. Her pearl-white aura touched the cradle as she folded her slender hands before her elegant form. “The choice is laid before you,” she said quietly.
Merry pressed his lips together, keeping silent. A silver hand fleetingly stroked his curls and drove a soft breeze against his ear.
“You can turn back and have all this,” the Lady enticed. “Live in peace and forget what has been.”
Thereupon she looked straight at him and Merry could feel the iron force behind her indigo-blue gaze.
“Or you could follow the path into darkness,” she spoke. Her hand stretched over the cradle, fingers fondling what now only she could see. “The future holds many fortunes, young hobbit.” Her hand drew back and with it went the gentle elven light. “Choose the quest and the little hobbit-girl that may have been might never see the sun of this world.”
Merry remembered how his girl had laughed, how she had twirled through the room like a freshly hatched butterfly. For one precious moment he could see her cheerful blue eyes again.
“Turn away,” said the Lady Galadriel. “Meriadoc. Go home.”
His fingers held the worn pony a little while longer, feeling the texture and fleeing warmth. Then he laid it quietly back into the cradle. One dead leaf was stirred by his movement and tumbled weakly against an empty pillow.
. . . beloved child . . . farewell . . .
“I will not turn back,” whispered Meriadoc Brandybuck.
~ * ~
The earth is singing in the wind,
The voices rise and touch the sky
Telling all the earth’s believing,
And in the night sighs fall down,
And from the skies sighs fall down on me.
The night had grown old throughout Merry’s tale. A crescent moon had risen quietly above the tree tops, its white halo drowning out the stars nearby. The pale sickle seemed to fill the sky, silvering the landscape and stealing away the gold from the meadows. Everything was silent except the quiet voice of Nimrodel which lingered under the blackened trees like the shadow of an incantation. Its whisper carried up the hill and drifted softly over the glade. In the dimness some wind-borne glow-worms fanned out between the flowers, illuminating the petals from below. They were lively little dancers, almost appearing like earth-gravitated stars, blinking among the hobbits who sat silent in the field of elven flowers.
Some clouds drifted quietly by and the air began to cool without either of the cousins saying a word. A single tear escaped Merry’s eye and he quickly wiped it away. Out of the corner of his eyes Pippin saw his cousin draw up his legs and wrap his arms around his knees. Moonbeams fell over Merry’s features and had he seemed older before, he looked so much younger now. Watching the other hobbit, Pippin half-heartedly tried to think of something to say, but nothing he considered deemed the least bit sufficient. What words could he possibly summon out of the vast sadness that had seized him, anyway. So he kept silent and stared out into the dormant elven wood.
At the rims of the forest, grass and pallid flowers swayed in a lethargic rhythm. Every now and then, slips of ghostly light caught on the petals and long, grey shadows fell from the high trees. In the wake of the shared vision Pippin thought he saw the shape of a person standing just beneath the trees. Thick curls fluttered in the night wind and a hue of silver clung to white cheeks. Dimly he heard the laughter of a child echoing over the meadow and his mind formed a vague vision of a hobbit-girl with waves of rich chestnut hair. He thought that she must have sparkling blue eyes and possibly those chubby cheeks Merry had possessed when he was younger.
The next moment the hazy picture was gone, molten into the shades of the wood without a visible motion.
It was just an imagining, Pippin told himself. Scrapes of the vision he just had heard. Yet he knew it was somehow more than that. The elves had denied any knowledge of charms or wizardry, but Pippin knew it was there, nevertheless. Old magic lived in the roots of the mallorn trees and tingled in the humid earth. It worked subtle, though, obscuring the lines between now, then and tomorrow. It was something elemental that went beyond the capacity of the mortal world and bewitched the senses. Pippin felt that Lórien was a place were time could not mar the truth of tales and mere words could provoke a mirror of reality. Dreams had greater power here and sometimes gained a wraithlike existence.
It made it difficult to differ between truth and apparition. It also made it hard to look beyond the ever-present melancholy that veiled the elven dwelling. Staying at Lothlórien, which had come to the autumn of its existence, threw a layer of fine dust over every hope that was brought there. With a shiver, Pippin hunched his shoulders and lowered his head. He could not grasp the full dimension of the forces that influenced them there and to speak the truth, he did not want to. Under the twist of great power once-humble paths turned into walks on battered bridges. The Lady Galadriel had turned a hobbit’s heartfelt dream into a tool and the intentions behind her doing did not easily heal the wounds it had caused. Pippin remembered the grief in his cousin’s eyes and could not alleviate his novel knowledge. To see your own child and simultaneously know you have to turn away from her . . . no wonder the vision haunted Merry.
Pippin recalled the softness with which Merry had spoken of his daughter and how he’d seen his life with her. There had been a catch in his voice when he spoke of the cradle and that ephemeral point where he had to decide. It took years-long friendship to understand the motions beneath the Brandybuck’s calm surface and Pippin doubted that an elf could fathom how much it had cost his cousin to turn his back to those pictures. For a moment he almost despised the Lady of the Galadhrim for putting Merry before such a cruel choice.
But for all the temptation Merry had not faltered. Not for an inch, so it seemed. Pippin couldn’t help but wonder. Carefully, he cast a glance at the silent cousin beside him. Merry had his chin propped on his knees and followed the low skidding glow-worms with his eyes. A glimmer of the Lady’s promise still clung to his complexion and no one could say that it had left him unmoved. Yet in spite of the sufferance Merry had stuck to his path without considerable hesitation.
“Why haven’t you turned?” Pippin asked in a small voice that was hardly audible over the rush of grass. “You could have gone back, started a family and had all . . . all that. Why didn’t you?”
Merry blinked and his hand reached out to skim some softly bending flowers. “It would have been no use,” he answered. “She couldn’t have made the peril disappear. There still would be the Ring, and him.” His brow creased slightly as he voiced thoughts that must have already preoccupied him some time earlier this evening.
“Ought I want to raise my child in a world where the shadow looms? Or were her father recoiled in fear? No,” Merry whispered, “that I would not wish for her.”
Another silence settled as Pippin lifted his hands and tugged awkwardly at the hems of his breeches.
“Besides,” Merry said at length, “some wishes are just not meant to be granted. If your path leads away from your original goal, maybe it is destined to be so.”
Pippin shot a shocked glance at his cousin. He sounded so fatalistic, like the Lady’s words had been a prophecy rather than a vision. But that couldn’t be, or could it? Pippin doubted that the Lady Galadriel possessed the power to shape the future – no, he decidedly did not allow himself to believe that. But couldn’t it be that she had a sight that went beyond the limits of time and therefore could see shadows of what would be?
Pippin tightly balled his fists and pushed the thought aside. It had merely been a vision. A trick to lure them on stray paths, nothing more. He had to find the courage to believe it didn’t go beyond that. And he had to make Merry find that faith, too.
“It has only been a puff of smoke,” he said therefore. “You know that Merry, don’t you?” A ghost of a smile touched Merry’s lips but he looked by no means persuaded. Pippin swallowed hard and continued, determined to keep any desperate edge out of his voice. “Just because the Lady said that the further journey would endanger your dream doesn’t mean it won’t come true sooner or later. What she made you see was only an illusion, something that ought to test your determination.” Merry still did not move and Pippin felt a wave of helplessness wash over him. He longed to comfort, but at the same time, couldn’t find the confidence inside of himself.
His glance wandered over the night glade and with a dry throat he thought how deceptively beautiful this all was.
‘Beautiful like a fairy tale,’ a wry voice in Pippin’s head offered. A tale, indeed. And they had ended up right in the middle of it. Fairy woods and wisps of magic belonged to lays of late and ancient heroes, yet now that legends came to life again, couldn’t the fellowship be already considered a part of some ballad? Only the sad thing about ballads was — as Pippin knew quite well — that they were almost always tragic and they seldom ended well. Even if the task was bravely solved and outer evil was defeated, there hardly ever waited peace for the surviving hero. If even he survived.
Then what becomes of hobbits who strayed into such a tale? They were no valiant warriors; they were rather humble beings. Where would they possibly end when the path was treaded?
Unintentionally Pippin perceived the picture of an old and embittered Merry, bleak eyes hollow and mirthless. Deep lines on his face spoke quietly of endless endeavours and long-lost hopes.
Pippin trembled and for the first time he realised how much they had given away and how much they would sacrifice still. Heretofore his life had consisted of small truths, but these days it was not so simple anymore. As a youth he had set out on this journey and young he was still, but he was growing. With each day, his eyes saw more and taught him understanding. With each day, he wished he’d seen less.
He wondered if the world would ever again look the same to him. In this dark hour he was afraid that even if he returned home in the end he would never see the sweeping hills of Tuckborough with the same loving eyes. Would there not always be the shadows of this quest following him, darkness and fear, stains remaining on his memory no matter how hard he tried to scrub them away? With finality Pippin felt his poor heart plummet.
How could he prevent himself from being torn away like some leaf in the wind, forever disconnected from everything that had once been dear to him? How could he hope to shield the ones he cared for?
A crisp gush of wind blew over the hill, crept under his shirt and tugged at his curls. Small hairs at the nape of his neck stood up with the breeze. Coldness spread.
Pippin lowered his eyes. Here he was, miles away from home and more wretched than he’d ever believed he could be. He was no help to anyone and to his greatest shame he had to admit that he didn’t know how to fight his own fears. Nor did he know how to overcome his despair. He had never been one to look awfully far ahead, but now he envisioned the days to come and saw barely a trace of hope. He couldn’t help it. He couldn’t get rid of the picture of an empty cradle, where cobwebs began to smear the once-fine frills.
All the previous days in Lórien Pippin had never been cold, but now he shivered. The wind rippled through his curls and brushed against the tears that caught in his lashes.
He felt alone; he was terrified and painfully confused. Wherever should he turn to?
In this moment of utmost anguish he did the only thing he could think of. He took Merry’s hand.
It was a simple touch, often performed before, hence familiar like the process of breathing. Strong fingers intertwined at once with Pippin’s and he could feel a callused palm beneath his fingertips. The swaying of the flowers slowed then in a sudden calm and only the tireless glow-worms tumbled over the meadow.
A deep and long breath exhaled from Pippin’s lips. He didn’t know how tense he was until said tension fell heavily from his body. Exhaustion spread while the revenant of despair squealed inside him like a shrill bird of prey.
‘Be still, you fool of a Took,’ Pippin ordered himself and shut his ears against the voices of fear that were still humming in his head like an angry swarm of bees. The silence that followed was heavenly. For a precious instant Pippin focused all his attention on the small spot on the grass where their hands connected. The wide world was, at least for the time being, excluded. It was a hobbit moment.
. . . strong shoulders . . . preserve and mend …
Out of nowhere those bits of a long-ago heard sentence came to Pippin’s mind. The deeper meaning of the words evaded him for the moment, but nonetheless he found himself mysteriously calmed and eased at the same time. He remembered that Merry’s proximity had done this to him many times before. Time and again the haunting dreams of a troubled child had been chased away by a gentle hand and adolescent doubts had diminished to nothing within a comforting hug.
‘A hobbit’s magic,’ Pippin thought irrationally while he let the connection of their hands lead him back to better days and better places. For a moment he closed his eyes and remembered. How many times had they sat in Merry’s study while thick candles lit the twilit room and beeswax smouldered on the cupboard? There had been so many nights spent with talk or comfortable silence, either valued with fair amounts of wine. Pippin remembered how a flicker of candlelight used to catch on the dark bottles and how the air was full of Old Toby. The smoke of Merry’s pipe would wind up to the ceiling in a lazy spiral, while the one-day Master of Buckland had his legs outstretched, ankles crossed in his preferred sitting position.
On an evening just like that they had decided to follow Frodo on his quest. To become his penetrating shadows, if need be. The discussion, of course, had been a mere formality. Merry had decided the moment he got wind of Frodo’s departure and Pippin would not for the world stay behind. Looking back, Pippin now wondered if they had been over-hasty. Had they naively walked into events they could neither understand nor master? In any case they hadn’t foreseen such darkness as they were faced with now.
Briefly Pippin imagined the possibility of having decided otherwise. But the funny thing was that although their prospects for the future looked less than good, the alternative felt more wrong than anything. They couldn’t have stayed in the Shire. It was terrifying to forebode all the peril that might still be waiting for them, but it was even more loathsome to imagine they had recoiled.
Pippin blinked in surprise. He thought he slowly began to understand what was behind Merry’s steadfastness. He also thought of those earlier remembered word bits and recalled were they had originally come from. They hadn’t been spoken to him, as he first had believed, but he had once read them in a weathered tome. Thain Adalgrim I. had immortalised them in crooked handwriting on thin parchment.
Strong shoulders carry the burden when the time is high, but it is the softness of the heart wherein lies the gift to mend and preserve.
It was only a small piece of hobbit lore. But in that moment it was more substantial than any great scholar’s wisdom and it put a piece of comfort and understanding back into Pippin’s heart. Although it did not make the future easier, it explained to him why his cousins and he were here and why they could not give up. Moreover, why they never would wish to.
‘The road goes on and we must follow,’ Pippin thought and half-smiled. Sometimes even Frodo’s rhyming hit the nail on the head. Whatever happened, they were on their way and return was not an option.
With a little sigh Pippin drew up his legs. As he shifted slightly, he became aware of Merry’s studying glance. The elder hobbit must have been watching him for quite a while now. Pippin returned the look for a moment, then tilted up his head and gazed upon the sky. In the vast field of stars he recognised not one constellation familiar to him.
“We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?” he whispered.
Merry turned away and also laid his back to watch the stars. “Aye.”
“Are you afraid?”
Pippin nodded and tightened his hold on his cousin’s hand for a mite. As he lowered his head, Merry returned his squeeze.
“It’s good we’re here,” Merry said, echoing Pippin’s own conclusion. Then a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth and he ran a hand through his curls.
“You know what I thought of the first night after that vision?” he asked. “I thought of your sister.”
“Pearl. I couldn’t stop thinking about how she looked last summer. That one day, you know which?”
“I know,” Pippin answered. Of course he remembered. They had travelled all the way from Bag End to Tuckborough in a hurry and arrived there just in time for the birth of Pearl’s first child. It had been a little boy, whose cries would have made Aunt Petunia bolt, and she was as deaf as an old tomcat. Pippin remembered the expression on his sister’s face when the baby was laid into her arms – like the sun had risen in the cavernous room, for her alone. He also remembered that Merry had been allowed to hold the baby for a short while thereafter.
“I thought that the little squirt is probably crawling by now,” Merry continued. His glance shifted down to the meadow and rested on the swirling glow-worms. “There will be plenty of children playing at the banks of the river this year. And we can help make certain that they stay safe, that the shadow never reaches the borders of the Shire.” He frowned and his voice gained a stone-hard edge. “We stand between the Enemy and our homes, Pip, and right now it’s the one right place for us to be.”
Once again, Pippin nodded. The truth was that neither magic nor force could break a hobbit’s bonds. It might threaten and frighten him, but it would never truly touch his sense of friendship and fidelity. It was as simple as that and it was the reason they were here. It was why Merry had never been tempted by the Lady’s offer. Strong shoulders carried the burden when the time was high.
Pippin cast a thoughtful glance at his cousin before he cocked his head and raised his eyebrows.
“I’ll give you a vision of my own, Merry,” he spoke. “Not two years from now you’ll be married. You’ll wail about being put on a lead while secretly delighting in the comfort of your married life. Soonafter, you’ll have a daughter and I’ll have a son, who’ll turn out as clever and handsome as his father.” At that point he gracefully ignored Merry’s commenting snort and continued unerringly with his tale. “We’ll have them sit on our knees, you know, and tell them all about our journey, the Old Forest and the elves. They’ll be given all the joy you’ve imagined for them. And they’ll drive us insane by committing just the same mischief we were infamous for. The aunts will regret the day we decided to reproduce ourselves.”
A little chuckle escaped Merry’s lips and Pippin allowed himself to smile warmly. ‘At least I can do that,’ he thought. ‘At least I can smile.’ If his smile was to be their safety rope through the dark times ahead, he was determined to make it strong.
“It will be so some day, Merry, I promise. It will only take a little while longer until we see it happen.” He gave Merry’s hand a fond little squeeze. “We’re on one of old Cousin Frodo’s short cuts, after all.”
A grin extended on Merry’s features and he shook his head with a quick little laugh.
“Don’t worry, Pip,” he said, then added in a quiet voice, “We’re hobbits, after all. We’re made of a tougher material than they all guess.”
His hand was warm between Pippin’s fingers, the rhythm of his pulse steady and comforting. Pippin remembered how Merry had stood in the swirl of mind-shaping magic and how he had squared his shoulders against the overwhelming force. Then he also called the picture of Merry holding his baby daughter back to his mind. The bedazzled smile of the young father was something Pippin would never tire of visualising.
‘Aye,’ Pippin mused. ‘Much tougher. And so much softer even.’
These days they did not have much to keep their faith up. But what little they had was enough. So long as they were aware that they shared something beyond the scheming of the Big People: a sanctuary of peace and small things.
“Would you sing her the same lullabies you sang to me when I was small?”
A smile came to Merry’s face. The question was ripped from its context, but Pippin knew that Merry understood him all the same.
“That I would,” the elder cousin said.
Pippin leaned his head against Merry’s shoulder and closed his eyes.
Meriadoc Brandybuck, whose voice was considered outstanding amidst the attendees of Brandy Hall’s carol eves, began a tune. He chose no poetic ballad, but a humble hobbit-song, a lullaby often sung on small benches in courtyards full of garden flowers. The longer Pippin listened, the farther he was carried away until he once again beheld winding brooks and bending hedgerows. He saw a lush green meadow, sloping under a clear blue sky, with patches of red clover amidst the grass. Swallows circled over the top of a gnarled oak tree which stretched its boughs over the top of the hillock. Below the tree sat a little girl, flowers wrought in her auburn hair, with raspberry stains all over her round face. In the leaf-dappled light of the sun she lifted a small hand and Pippin smiled as she waved.