The ground was uneven in those places, and my foot caught on a rock. Dropping my apple, I stumbled forward. Merry caught me.

It wasn’t anything unusual. Being an impatient young hobbit, I often rushed ahead, and often stumbled as a result. And Merry catching me wasn’t unusual either. He just reached out a hand and steadied me to keep me from falling. Simple action, really. One he’d done naturally all my life.

And yet it brought tears to my eyes.

I didn’t know why. Nor could I understand why I got a lump in my throat when Merry reached down, picked up my apple, and wiped it off on his shirt. I couldn’t look at him when I took it back, for I knew that if I did I would have broken down into sobs.

It was April the twenty-seventh, in the year 1419, and all around me, merriment was being had, celebration candles were being lit, lanterns were being hung, and banners stretched out above the trees in that fair land of North Ithilien. To my right, far beneath the forest, I could hear the sounds of laughter and music, and much talk. The sound of crowds. Happy crowds. Happy because their freedom had just been won. Because a great Shadow had just departed. Because now was there reason for true joy in the world.

And yet I was biting my lip and trying hard not to cry.

Crying in itself would have been nothing. In these past days, I had cried freely–no, wept, tears coursing down my face in an unstoppable waterfall–time and time again. But those tears had been shed in laughter, mirth, happiness, love. I had been smiling as I cried.

This time I was trembling in grief.

“Pip? Head back to the Field, shall we?” asked Merry, approaching me from behind.

I didn’t answer. With great effort of will and body I forced my tears to stay back, and the lump in my throat went down. With an ache. My whole self ached. Ached for Merry.

He’d been through so much. I felt wrung with pain and pity for him. He had known the black horror of one of the world’s greatest Evils. He had been touched by Death itself. Death itself had claimed and taken him, and to challenge Death and wrench himself from its grasp had cost Merry his . . . his . . . spirit. His character. He was so changed now. Between the great Battle of Pelennor and the victory at Mordor, I had not seen him smile once. I had not heard his laughter a single time. I had not even seen fondness in his eyes. Mirth had deserted him. He no longer knew hope. Because he had met Despair, and, though he had conquered it, had seen the truth of reality. There hadn’t been any hope.


Now he was next to me. I tried to hide the grief in my face, but his quick eyes caught and seized upon it before I could draw it back into my soul.

“What’s wrong?”

I felt a firm hand on my shoulder and the tears sprang up again. Roughly I stood and turned around in one movement.


I heard a scoff. “Nothing? Don’t lie, dear cousin, it is not one of your talents. What is giving you pain?”

Couldn’t he see it? It was him. On top of being smothered in death and battle and terror and grief, Merry had been occupied this whole time with me, protecting me when he could, correcting me when I was wrong, carrying both our burdens on himself. And I had been so utterly stupid that I hadn’t thought to be considerate to him. I just kept on being my old annoying self, getting in the way. That would have been fine under normal circumstances, but piled on Merry with everything else . . . oh, why did it have to be now that I finally grasped the strain he must have been under? Couldn’t the understanding have come during a time when I could have done something about it? I ought to have taken care of myself . . . stopped myself when I was wrong . . . carried a little of my own burden. I ought to have leaned less on him. What a selfish idiot I had been! Giving him all the load when he had so much more to think about!

So I didn’t answer his question. I just took an exaggerated bite out of my apple and began to walk back to the Field of Cormallen.

“Pippin, I asked you a question!”

I didn’t have to guess to know he’d follow me. As Merry has always been blessed with the ability to walk faster than me–no matter what speed I’m going–he caught up with me quickly, in that firm, quick stride of his.

“Answer, cousin.”

I shook my head blindly. “I don’t want to talk about it,” I murmured.

“Well, I do. You’re not the only one who cares about yourself.”

“Stop bothering me!” I said, blinking but unable to stop my eyes from filling with tears. “I want to be left alone.”

I heard Merry stop walking. I actually heard him cross his arms across his chest, the sound of it was so familiar.

“Aragorn told me,” he began, and I thought for a moment that he was changing the subject. But then he continued, “told me that after Sauron’s defeat, he expected pain to dissolve and sorrow to evaporate; darkness to lift and blackness to brighten; anger to burn out and sobbing to be full of new bliss. Why isn’t it that with you?”

“Will you stop preoccupying yourself with me?” I shot back. “I told you what I want. Nagging me about it won’t do aught but deepen my pain.”

“Aye, the pain goes deep when the hand pushes it in; but once the fingers grasp it, it can be pulled out again,” quoted Merry.

“Aye, but this pain is stuck tight,” I countered. “It’d take a crowbar to yank it out.”

“Then I shall be your crowbar,” he replied stoutly.

“Not this time, cousin,” I answered, stopping my stride. “Not this time. I can take care of myself.”

“Of course you can!” he laughed. “I don’t think of you as a child any more, if that was what’s troubling you.”

“Not quite.”

Mistake. The words left my mouth before I thought of it and I uttered a small moan. Merry pounced on the sentence like a hobbit lad on a mushroom patch, however.

“‘Not quite’? And what do you mean by that?”

“I mean–oh what a fool I am,” I groaned. “I should’ve paid more attention to you when you chided me about thinking before I speak.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t,” Merry spoke in a voice that I found soothing. “You always say what you shouldn’t, and this time ’tis proved helpful. Tell me what’s wrong. I can help.”

“Ohh!” I cried suddenly, and flung my apple down as hard as I could, aiming for a rather large rock a few feet away. My irritation leapt when I watched the apple miss its target completely and tumble into a nearby ravine.

“‘Oh’ what?”

“I don’t want you to help!” I yelled, turning around to look at him. “I’m fed up with your always wanting to help! There is no person in this world who can be more healing to me than you, and every time I put out my woes to you, I feel better! But it’s not good for you!”

Merry stared at me as if I had started to rise into the air. “What in the name of the High Elves are you talking about?”

“I’m burdening you. You’re so busy taking care of me and comforting me that you don’t have time to take care of or comfort yourself!”

“That is not true!” he retorted. “Not a word of it!”

“Oh come, I’ve seen you!” I sighed. “Your face grows all tense, and you drag your feet, and I–I–”

Trying to put my thoughts into words, I blurted out, “I can feel you. I know what you’re thinking.”

He raised an eyebrow, the way he always used to do when we were younger, and I almost smiled despite myself. “Oh, aye? What am I thinking now, young mind-reader?”

“You are thinking that I am so fed up with worry for you that I am going to work myself into a state, and that you find comfort in comforting me, so I ought to shut up my large-ish Took mouth and be quiet about it,” I answered with ease.

“Very close,” said Merry, coming over and sitting down on a tree root. “Very close indeed.”

He patted the root next to him, and I sat down slowly, not wanting to look at him. “I know you’re going to protest,” I mumbled. “But I also know you. I don’t want to put you under stress by bothering you with all of my problems.”

“You’re talking like a counselor,” grinned Merry. “But I think I’m beginning to understand. With all the worry coursing through my mind, about my own survival, and that of the rest of the world, you don’t want to add to it by making me feel I must protect you as well.”

“You’ve put it perfectly,” I whispered. Then I straightened up. “Well, I’ve put my foot right into it, haven’t I? There, see? That’s what was bothering me. You’ve got your question answered, cousin.”

“You were bothered that you’ve put your foot into it?”

I rolled my eyes. “Your sense of humor is simply staggering,” I remarked.

Merry laughed, and then wrapped an arm around me and pulled me to him, ruffling my hair. “Ah, Pip, don’t think it bothers me. You were quite close in your interpretation of my thoughts. I do find comfort in comforting you. But what’s more I enjoy it. I’m glad when you’re happy. Sometimes in these dark days, your brightness is the only thing that keeps me anchored. Don’t loose it, Pippin.”

“The dark days are over,” I said, hugging him. “Forever.”


Merry stopped speaking and held me away from him, looking me in the eyes. “Never let that darkness come back, Pippin. Never let it enter you. I could not bear it if your brightness was dimmed.”

“Why?” I asked, incredulous that anyone could think of my boisterous, irritating spirit as “brightness”.

A chuckle escaped his lips. “You’ve got this situation upside-down, dear Pip. Gracious, your charming rambunctious spirit has been all but a lifeline lately–or at least after the Battle. I think if you had been a mite less cheerful, we would’ve both died.”

“So then–then–I don’t hinder you, then?” I stammered.

Merry did not answer, but rose, and walked to where the grass dipped down into the little ravine which I had thrown my apple into. Before I knew what he was doing, he had clambered down to the bottom.

Suddenly an apple flew through the air past my head. I started.

“I think it’s still clean!” my cousin called from below me.

I laughed amidst the tears which had suddenly come back unbidden, but not unwelcome. “Not if you touched it!” I joked, searching through the grass for my apple.

“Well that’s not very nice,” complained Merry, climbing out of the ravine. “I went to all that work to get it for you, going down that bank and all. Think you’d be a bit more considerate.”

I found the apple and peered at it. “There’s dirt all over it,” I said.

“It was clean when I threw it,” my cousin shrugged.

“You are a good friend.” I put an arm around his shoulders for a moment. “I will not lose you. And now I must hie me back to Cormallen, fair cousin.”

“What for?” he asked.

“To fetch me another apple.”

His expression changed from puzzlement to understanding. “Ahh,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder. “Good lad. You do that.”


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