Candles by eretria
Archive: If you liked it, just ask, and please keep the header.
Time line: Return of the King – Between “The Black Gate opens” and “The field of Cormallen”
Disclaimer: Middle Earth and all its inhabitants, the Sundering seas and Over-heaven belong to the incredible genius that was J.R.R. Tolkien. No copyright infringement is intended, I am not making money from this at all, and will always stay in deep and humble adoration of the wonderful world he has created and in which I have lived since I was 4 years old. Thank you. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so they say. I hope this is at least a little flattering and enough to make the great man smile from up there.
Summary: They say the last thing that dies is hope. But can Merry hope, after Pippin has gone to the final battle before the Black Gate?
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Author’s Note: Maybe I’m mistaken, but Merry and Pippin never said good-bye before Pippin went with Beregond, right? I know Merry watched Pip, but we never *actually* see a farewell, right? Well, they do say good-bye in my wee take on things.
Warning: Uncommonly dark for a Hobbit fic.
Italicised paragraphs denote flashbacks.
Dedication: To my friends, who always shine the most beautiful light into my heart and soul. Most of all: To my dearly treasured Murron, the master of incredible feedback and a writer extraordinaire; to Franziska, who shares my madness; to the amazing Quiller; to my wonderful muse, even though she didn’t know I had been writing this
Last but not least: To the movie-Hobbits, whose extraordinary performance has made the characters come to life so beautifully.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light!
There were two candles standing in front of him in a corner near a window. Gloom fell through the high arch, no light had touched this room since the second war of the ring had begun.
Two candles, spending a meagre light, barely conquering the darkness.
Meriadoc Brandybuck, still favouring his injured arm, leaned forward and stared into the heart of the second flame.
This light was all he had left of his cousin. All he had left since he had been left behind – again.
“Do you remember, Merry?”, Pippin said. “That one night in the Shire . . .” It sounded like a place from a different world. “Back home . . .” Pippin trailed off again, quickly trying to hide the sorrow in his eyes, covering it with a brave grin.
Merry decided to let his cousin talk, rather than urge him to continue. Even in times where there was no time to be lost, it was necessary to say what needed to be said.
“We had just come home from the Green Dragon. Sam had gone home and Frodo had gone to bed. But we just sat there, in Bag End. Two candles were on the table. And we talked the whole night through, until they were all but burned down, and they began to flicker and sputter. It looked so strange, seeing the light die.”
Merry shivered involuntarily at the far-away look in his cousin’s usually so bright grey eyes. Then suddenly, those eyes turned towards him, fixed him.
“Don’t let the light die, Merry. Keep it safe.”
So solemn. Despite the smile on his face, his voice and his words belied him. The embrace was hard and desperate, Pippin was clinging to him as though drowning, just for an instant. It ended too soon, and Pippin straightened again, ready to find Gandalf and Aragorn.
Thinking back to that parting now, he was sure that Pippin had known that he would go to battle alone. This had been his way of saying good-bye. His way of saying that he was scared.
The dark red sun sent weak rays of light into the city of Minas Tirith, but soon they were devoured by the gloomy darkness. On the wings of the sickly warm wind, the smell of decay and burned wood surged into his chamber.
The candles flickered. Their light touched the walls of the once so fair room. Now it was shrouded in the same gloom which hung outside. Merry felt a great emptiness forcing its way into his heart.
This had been Gandalf’s and Pippin’s room, which the wizard had vacated without question so that Merry and Pippin might be together once more.
Merry’s sleep was uneasy that night. Everytime he woke up, he saw Pippin. The picture which – after their long time apart – should have brought serenity and peace to his heart, worried him instead. The younger Hobbit didn’t find rest at all. One image stamped itself into Merry’s mind before all the others. The candlelight highlighted Pippin’s fine, almost fairy-like features which gave away his origin as a Took: The slightly pointed nose and chin, the wild, unruly curls he had been unable to tame since his youth, the mouth which was ever ready to break into that irresistible smile. It didn’t smile that night. It was a thin, almost white line. The candle-light mocked Pippin’s young face and painted deep, dark circles under his eyes, and sharp, deep-etched lines which never ever should have come to the face of his cousin. Pippin stared into the candle, lost in thought. Ever so often he would glance at Merry, and a ghost of that radiant smile would touch his lips.
Seeing his cousin awake, Pippin crept over to his alcove and pushed aside the curtains, peering around them almost timidly. “Are you awake?” he asked, rhetorically.
“No. I always sleep with my eyes open. My family is related to rabbits, didn’t you know?” His rather snide remark earned Merry a full blown grin, and for the first time since he was watching his cousin, he felt almost comfortable.
“It’s nice to see that you haven’t lost you charming personality, cousin Brandybuck.”
“And it’s nice to see that you haven’t lost your cunning ability to wake me up at night, cousin Took.”
Merry pushed him self upright in the bed and made room for Pippin to sit down. He winced a little when a hot reminder of his wound shot up his arm.
“Are you alright?”
Grey eyes stared at him, wide with fearful worry. In this very moment Pippin seemed young, so awfully young. Merry waved his hand dismissively.
“It’s nothing. It just stings a little, that’s all.”
“Are you sure?”
Merry glared at his younger cousin in his best imitation of “The look” which had made the barely tweenaged Pippin shut up back in their Shire days. The other Hobbit raised his hands in defence.
“Alright, alright. You *are* fine if you can glare like that.” A smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
They sat in companionable silence for a while, listening to the calming sound of each other’s breathing.
“Pip?” Merry finally ventured.
The bed squeaked lightly when Pippin shifted his weight.
“Why were you awake?”
Pippin shrugged, seemingly careless. “Couldn’t sleep.”
“Oh, really? For once it wasn’t your stomach keeping you up?” Despite his teasing tone, Merry was serious. “Level with me, cousin.”
Pippin’s gaze darted away, towards the candles. “They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” His hand trembled on the white sheet.
“Nothing. I just thought they were beautiful.”
“And that alone makes you watch them all night long.” Merry gave a snort of disbelief. “You’ve never been a very good liar, Pip.” He reached for the ever-present scarf around his cousin’s neck and tugged at it gently. “What have you been watching?”
“Nothing, really. Let it go, Merry. Please.” The young Hobbit’s eyes were pleading.
Merry let go of the scarf and reached for his cousin’s hand. “No. You have never shut me out before, Pip. Don’t start now.”
A light breeze billowed the curtains of the alcove and the candles flickered dangerously. Pippin stared at them, lost in thought, his eyes unusually bright. The hearts of the flames were reflected in his irises. Then finally, barely audible, he said: “You.”
“Pardon?” Merry asked, confused.
Pippin drew a shuddering breath. “You. You asked what I was watching. The answer is: You.”
Seconds passed. Stretched into minutes. Minutes of silence, and uneven breathing. The candles shone unsteadily. Somewhere below their window, a dog barked. Finally, Merry asked: “Wh . . . Why?” He felt Pippin’s hand grasp his own painfully.
“I was afraid that if I blinked, I’d lose you. That if I fell asleep, you’d be gone in the morning. That I would miss it when you needed my help most. That wound . . .” His gaze strayed to Merry’s bandaged shoulder and arm. “I was so afraid to lose you again. Those days when we were apart, never knowing whether you were alive or not . . .” A dry, heaving sob emanated from his chest. Hastily he rose and walked towards the window, angrily wiping at his eyes.
“Are you happy now? I’ve made exactly the fool out of myself everyone claims I am.” He was only half-joking, but his voice was unsteady.
Merry sat in his alcove, amidst the fresh, white sheets and couldn’t move. Pippin’s revelation had stunned him. More than that, it had rendered him speechless – something most uncommon for a Hobbit. It took a while for everything to fall into place.
Pippin had sat vigil all night long, watching him. The other Hobbit was fighting sleep because he was afraid to lose him.Imagine that.
Merry thought back to the many times during his journey with Theoden he had thought about his younger cousin. The thought had always consoled him, had brought some peace of mind in a world gone mad. And now Pip, Pippin Took who had been with him almost every day of his life, who had brought him to the houses of healing and had saved him with his urgency, not for a minute showing fear, was scared. Something inside Merry shattered.
“Pip?” It sounded strangely uneven, almost broken, like a tweenager’s voice would.
The younger Hobbit half-turned. Eyes downcast, he looked like the little boy he had been, waiting to be reprimanded. Merry opened his arms. “I’m not going anywhere.”
The grey eyes, with the reflections of the candles in them, scrutinised him for a few seconds. Lost, sad. Then, suddenly, a wild mop of unruly curls was resting on Merry’s chest, warm and familiar. There were no tears. Just a desperate need to be near the friend, to feel his heart beating, to make sure he was alive and well.
Merry felt the younger Hobbit’s warmth. He looked down at the dark blonde curls, and the way the candle-light reflected off them. But there was more. More than just the candle-light brightening the dark room. Did Pippin know that there was a light in him? It shone even through grief and pain and danger.
“M . . Merry?”
Both candles burned quietly now.
Pippin raised his head a little from his cousin’s chest and searched for a more comfortable position. When he couldn’t find one, Merry sighed and lifted the spare covers of his bed, allowing the younger Hobbit to crawl under the warm sheets next to him.
“Can I ask you something?” It sounded much more like the old Pippin, and Merry was glad for it.
“Sure you can. Fire away.”
Next to him, Pippin propped his head upon his hand. “Am I annoying?”
“Oh, Pip. Don’t tempt me.” The words had left his mouth before Merry could stop them. He blushed crimson, waiting for the inevitable reaction to that statement.
It never came. Seemingly unaware of the answer, Pippin snuggled closer to his cousin, and pulled the older Hobbit’s arm around his shoulder, full of a child-like trust, searching for peace in the familiar embrace. Within minutes, his breathing was even and deep.
Merry smiled. “Foolish Took,” he whispered into his cousin’s hair. “Of course you’re not.”
Murky sunlight hovered in front of his windows, a sullen, unhealthy red. Three windows, overlooking the Anduin. But there was no way he could see see the Battle Plain of Dagorlad from here, the plain on which he knew his cousin was fighting. An icy ring constricted around his heart.
Dear, sweet Pip. He was too young to be fighting in a war. Merry had desperately tried to make Gandalf stop Pippin from going, but to no avail. Now all he could do was sit and wait. He should be standing next to his cousin, protecting the younger one, just like he had always done. Yet here he was, sitting in his chamber like an old, sick man, watching two candles burn.
They were dangerously low now. All through the day, they had burned steadily and the tiny flames had only moved weightlessly when the ghost of a breeze had entered the chamber. But during the last few minutes, the left candle had started to sputter and flicker. Eerie shadows moved on the walls. A queasy feeling settled in Merry’s stomach. With a desperate effort, Merry tried to keep the small flame burning, but the hot wax burned his fingers and dripped uselessly on to the table. Smaller and smaller grew the flame, while the other candle shone brightly.
The emptiness and the dreadful cold in his heart grew. It mustn’t happen. Never.
He didn’t dare follow that train of thought. He had to keep the candle burning. He had to keep the light alive.
Outside his window, the murky twilight suddenly grew even darker. Great shapes darkened the weak sun and the mighty swishing, as though from huge wings filled the air. Curious by his nature, Merry went to look out the window. Just in time, he could see the huge shapes of the great eagles flying over Minas Tirith. Elegantly they moved, graceful despite their huge bodies. It was a picture of a beauty Merry hadn’t hoped to be allowed to see again. He returned to the table with a smile on his face.
What he saw there rooted him to the spot. His knees threatened to buckle. The smile faded from his face. Blackness swam on the edges of his vision.
The smaller candle had gone out.
“Don’t let the light die, Merry. Keep it safe.”
He had only blinked, had only turned away for a few seconds.
And the light had died.