"Then Pippin stabbed upwards, and the written blade of Westernesse pierced through the hide and went deep into the vitals of the troll, and his black blood came gushing out. He toppled forward and came crashing down like a falling rock, burying those beneath him. Blackness and stench and crushing pain came upon Pippin, and his mind fell away into a great darkness.

"'So it ends as I guessed it would,' his thought said, even as it fluttered away; and it laughed a little within him ere it fled, almost gay it seemed to be casting off at last all doubt and care and fear. And then even as it winged away into forgetfulness it heard voices, and they seemed to be crying in some forgotten world far above:

"'The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!'

"For one moment more Pippin's thought hovered. 'Bilbo!' it said. 'But no! That came in his tale, long, long ago. This is my tale, and it is ended now. Good-bye!' And his thought fled far away and his eyes saw no more."

-- J.R.R. Tolkien,

The Return of the King, The Black Gate Opens

I. Cool sunlight and green grass

Day Two of the New Year (March 26 SR)

The dwarf's roar of anguish rushed over the battlefield, and Legolas nearly dropped the end of the litter he was carrying. He knew that sound of uttermost grief -- he had heard it once before, at the discovery of Balin's tomb. It was a dwarf's cry of mourning, of sorrow at the loss of a loved one, close as kin, and it could mean only one thing -- their long hours of searching were over, and Pippin was dead.

Legolas saw the wounded soldier he was helping to carry delivered safely to the healers, then turned to sprint across the corpse-strewn field toward the source of the agonized cry, now faded away. It had come from the foot of the foremost hill, before the evil place where the Black Gate itself had stood, the place where Prince Imrahil's picked men had fallen heavily in the Dark Lord's initial brutal onslaught. They had searched here first, where their friend was last seen, fighting valiantly in the very first rank of the king's warriors, but could not find him amidst the piles of carcasses, severed body parts and pools of muddy gore. Beregond of the Guard Legolas himself had discovered, insensate but alive, but no where among the mighty soldiers of Gondor and the foul carrion of Mordor did he or Gimli discover a small hobbit of the Shire. 

The sun had been setting on the first day of a new Age when Legolas found Beregond. Through the long night, Legolas and Gimli had continued their labors, bearing the wounded to the healers, closing the eyes of the dead, dealing out mercy or swift death to still-living enemies as was warranted, but never ceasing their search. The dawn brought light but little hope, and passed into late morning with no reward for the friends' pains. 

Gimli must have returned to their starting point. The field was finally somewhat clearer, and as the wounded and the dead were taken away, easing the search, Legolas' heart had grown ever heavier. He feared they cleared a path to their own loss. Cresting the hill in long, leaping steps, the elf looked down with unwilling eyes upon the scene he both dreaded and expected. 

Gimli son of Glóin, dwarf of the Lonely Mountain, hero of Helm's Deep, chosen of the Council of Elrond, one of the Nine Walkers, and favored one of the Lady Galadriel herself, knelt among the bodies in the muck and the filth and the refuse, weeping heavily. In his arms was a small, broken form, coated in black blood, still and lifeless. 

Legolas approached more slowly now, starting to feel his own anguish threatening to overwhelm him. He had been overcome with joy and wonderment yestereve when Gandalf had led them to Frodo and Sam's small healing tent, but now he was choked with grief to think Frodo must meet the new world he had brought into being with this bitter blow. He could not yet think of telling Merry the news.

A small cluster of men stood about the dwarf, grief and awe warring on their faces. One of them hailed Legolas as he approached, bowing his head respectfully.

"The Master Dwarf rolled the carcass off him alone ere we could come to his aid. He will suffer none of us to take the perian from him to a proper resting place," the man said, nodding to the massive body of the troll-chief nearby. Legolas blinked in surprise and uncertainty for a moment -- Gimli had turned that mighty beast alone? It did not seem possible. Then he sickly understood that Pippin had lain, crushed, for a day and a night beneath that foul body, and anguish tore through the elf's body like a physical wound.

"The Ernil i Pheriannath's sword was still in his hand, and the beast has been pierced through the heart," the man continued in awe. "He must have slain the creature only to be trapped beneath it as it fell."

Legolas was dizzy with this news, his mind as yet unwilling to fully process the horrific image of their little Pip meeting his end in such a gruesome and lonely manner. Had their little one died quickly, or, as was more likely, had he lingered long in agony before finally giving up his fight and allowing the Valar to take his bright spirit to the Overheaven? "I will attend to them both," Legolas heard himself saying as from a distance. "Leave us for now, but later, burn that foul carrion." 

The men bowed and respectfully retreated, and Legolas could finally draw near the dwarf, could fall to his knees beside him and place an arm about his friend's shoulders, could let his own tears fall on the dear face, recognizable still through the grume and the crushing.

"We are too late, too late," Gimli cried in agony, rocking the inert body as if it yet could be comforted. "He slew the troll -- did you see, Legolas, my friend? He slew that mighty beast, but we never saw his little foot and now we are too late." With that, the dwarf buried his face in the dead hobbit's shoulder and wailed and rocked and would not be consoled.

To Legolas, it seemed they stayed in this tableau of grief for the length of an age, but finally he dried his own tears and resolved to lead his friend away. Neither of them had rested or eaten since the previous day, and though he could do naught for Pippin, he would see Gimli cared for. And he would take the small soldier's body to his king, and to Gandalf, and see it attended to as befitted a hero of this grim battle. 

"Come, my friend," he said gently to the dwarf, "leave off your grief for now. Let us take him to Aragorn, and then you must rest." He tried to pry Gimli's face from the body, but the dwarf was too immersed in his grief and would not pull away. Legolas did not want to force Gimli, but felt this lamentation was perhaps more harmful than healing for his friend, so, finally, after several failed attempts to get the dwarf to rise and relinquish Pippin's body, he regretfully moved to pry the little form from Gimli's cradling arms. 

Oh! the shock! Legolas recoiled in astonishment. He had touched but a limb, yet how could he be mistaken? Blood had thrummed under his fingers, life faint but dogged had met his touch. This could not be! He had not perceived any breath, any movement that would indicate it. Was it his own desperate wish that it be so causing his heart to mislead him?

Tentatively, Legolas reached his hand back out and placed gentle fingertips upon Pippin's brow. There. There it was -- that familiar lifeforce that burned brilliant blue, that sang in tripping, happy plucks and chirrups, that rushed along like a brisk autumn gust. Trembling, fading, sinking, yes -- yet, for the moment, clinging tenaciously to this world with all its unseen strength.

Gimli sensed the elf's shock and it drew him from his despair. He raised his head to look into his friend's stunned face. "What?" he demanded, startled. "Why do you look so?"  

In the next second, Legolas snatched the hobbit from Gimli so quickly that the bewildered dwarf had no opportunity to react or stop him. Before he could gain his feet, Legolas was speeding off, calling over his shoulder in a voice that brooked no argument: "Find the king! Send him to the healing tents! Tell him this smallest soldier of Gondor yet lives and has great need of the healing hands of Elessar! Go! Now! He is yet alive!" 

Gimli staggered to his feet and stared after the swiftly disappearing form of Legolas. He swayed for a beat as his mind tried to put meaning to the elf's words, but then everything fell into place and a roar of triumph and hope issued from his lips. Moving with the shocking speed of Durin's Folk, he rushed toward the captainry to find the king. 

II. Casting off at last all doubt and care and fear

Aragorn did not ask for directions to the correct tent -- he could hear Legolas stridently giving orders as soon as he approached. Urged on by the dwarf at his side, the king sprinted toward the tent. 

He had finally resigned himself to the loss of his friend, had not even dared to hope he might receive such tidings, not after so much time. The thought of Pippin's death had grieved him deeply, and he knew not how he would break it to the other hobbits, or how he could possibly console Merry. But perhaps he would not have to do so, after all, thanks to the blessed stubbornness of hobbit-will.

Ducking under the half-opened flap, Aragorn entered to a scene of organized confusion and the shrill screams of the wounded and dying. This was one of the tents where the most grievously injured were attended to when first brought from the field. Either their wounds were treated and then they were sent on to one of the infirmary tents for convalescence, or, if there was no hope, made as comfortable as possible here until the end came. The shadow of death loomed dark over this tent. 

In a corner away from the rows of cots where men lay dying, Legolas had laid Pippin out upon a table. His slender hands, full of hidden strength, held the hobbit down on his side tightly, and ere Aragorn had reached them, he saw why. Pippin shuddered, and convulsed, wiry limbs involuntarily flailing, then vomited black blood into a basin one of the healers held beneath his mouth. He continued to cough, choking and gasping as he brought up more vile substances, once the thrashing had ended. Aragorn crossed the gap in long strides and laid a hand on the hobbit's brow, pushing back locks wet with blood and sweat. "Tell me," he ordered brusquely.

The healers looked frightened by the king's countenance, and Legolas looked grim. But the woman holding the basin beneath Pippin's mouth answered in a low voice that did not quaver. "We could find no breath or heart beat when the elven prince brought him in, my lord, but on his urging we cleared the mouth and nose and ere long he coughed and began to vomit this foul substance. Still it comes, and he has yet made no cry." 

Legolas' face was tight with anxiety. "Gimli told you? He slew a great troll and was buried beneath the monster for all this time. This is the creature's blood all over him. He must have swallowed and breathed in enormous amounts of it." 

Pippin was hacking weakly now, and all his body shivered and trembled. They had removed his helm, and wiped off the area around his nose and mouth, but nothing else appeared to have been done for him. 

"Someone bring several tubs of water over here -- warm, if possible," Aragorn ordered, moving his hands gently along Pippin's body. "And cloths and bandages, and some blankets." He winced as he came to the left leg -- both the knee and the ankle were flattened out at impossible angles from Pippin's body. "All right, little one," he murmured, "let us see what slaying the troll has done to you."

The morning was interminable for Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli, made more so with each uncovered hurt. It seemed to the three friends that nearly every inch of the hobbit's body bore some type of injury. The helm had cut a raw line about Pippin's head that bled beneath his matted curls, but it was to Aragorn's relief that he surmised the gear also had done its duty and protected the hobbit's head from more serious injury. Both eyes were grotesquely swollen and would not open in the least, and Aragorn's gentle fingers deduced that the socket around the left eye was fractured. Pippin had bit through his lower lip with his upper teeth, requiring several stitches, and during one of the intermittent vomiting bouts he brought up a back tooth that had been dislodged and swallowed.

The sword hand was broken, battered and crushed -- a raw, crumbled mess that unclenched only with persistent effort, Legolas holding the forearm and Aragorn slowly opening the hand. One of the healers asked the king in a hushed voice if they should prepare to remove the hand, but Aragorn sharply replied in the negative, coating the hand in a salve to fight off infection and then binding it flat to a splint. In response to Legolas and Gimli's concerned faces, he stated that the hand was too swollen to be treated yet, and that he would have a better idea what could be done for it after some time had passed.

Ribs on both sides moved beneath Aragorn's hands -- some cracked, some broken. Pippin's belly was mottled and bruised, swollen and tender to the touch, but Aragorn discerned no rigid spots. Still, he feared that the broken ribs and the crushing pressure of the troll's weight could have caused Pippin to be bleeding inside, and ordered tonics to staunch such trauma brought over.

Then there was the left leg to deal with. Nothing was broken, amazingly enough, though Aragorn had to set two toes on the right foot. But the dislocations had to be reduced, so Legolas and Gimli held the little body still while Aragorn forced the limbs back to their natural order. This proved unnecessary, as Pippin did not stir during the procedure, and the elf and dwarf saw the king's face darken. 

Finally, the hobbit was clean and bandaged and bundled in warm blankets on the table. Aragorn had forced a number of healing concoctions down Pippin's throat with great difficulty: to stop any internal bleeding, to ward off infection, to reduce swelling. After flushing the swollen eyes as best he could, Aragorn made compresses steeped in a sweet-smelling concoction for both eyes and then bandaged them into place. More wrappings encircled Pippin's head, ribs, mangled sword hand and leg. Aragorn sighed heavily and leaned against the table, utterly spent. 

"I have done all that I may, my friends, but I am most troubled by his stillness," he confessed. "If nothing else, the reductions to his leg should have roused him with their pain. He must have been breathing very shallowly for all that time beneath that foul beast, and while that may have saved him from drowning in the troll's blood, I fear it means he had but a little air. His body is here, but I know not where his mind wanders, or if it shall return. He is beyond any attempt to call him back -- the physical injuries are what threaten him, not despair or exhaustion or some other weapon of the Enemy."

Gimli let out his breath in a harsh "harrumph." "But he breathes easier now, already much improved from this morning. And look -- the color returns to his skin, and he is warmer. No, no, he just needs a good, long rest, surely, and soon after he will be talking until we once again tire of the sound." 

Legolas did not comment, and softly touched the bruised and battered face. "Shall we put him in one of these beds, then?" he asked Aragorn. "The infirmary tents are nearly full, and not many wounded now are coming in. It may be more restful for Pippin here." Aragorn agreed, and so Legolas laid Pippin in a cot off on its own, Gimli carefully propping up the injured leg and hand with pillows. Then he and Gimli took up their unspoken watch, but Aragorn kissed Pippin's brow and murmured words only Legolas' sharp ears discerned, and then left to rest.

III. A great Shadow has departed

Day passed into twilight passed into night, and Pippin did not stir. Gimli fell asleep standing up beside the hobbit's bed, and Legolas guided him to sit on the floor and leaned his back against the cot. The dwarf slumbered on, chin in his chest, snoring softly. Someone had brought Legolas a chair, and he sat so he could lean over the cot and stroke the ever-rebellious curls and sing soft elven lullabies. Pippin's breathing evened out and deepened each hour, but still he did not wake. 

The moon was waning when the first stirrings of life from the little being on the cot caught Legolas' song in his throat. At first, just a finger, then his uninjured leg. Then the little face crumpled up a bit and his breathing quickened. His left hand groped blindly across the blankets and Legolas reached out to clasp it in his own. 

"Pippin, dear heart," he whispered. "Do you wake?" 

But Pippin, apparently content to have found someone familiar near, slipped back into his stillness and stayed there for another hour before he began to stir again. This time, it was with a sharp cry that jolted Gimli to his feet to hover anxiously by the bed. 

"Pippin, Pippin," Legolas soothed, still clasping the undamaged hand in one hand and stroking the hobbit's brow with the other. "It is all right now. The battle is ended and evil has been overthrown. You are safe. You have been hurt, but Aragorn has been here to care for you, and Gimli and I are here now and will not leave you. You cannot see because your eyes were hurt, but they will be better soon. Do not be afraid now, our brave little hobbit." 

But Pippin did not seem to understand, and he cried out fearfully, pathetic little bleatings and sobs accompanied by blind, aimless flailings that Gimli attempted to gently still, lest Pippin injure himself further. The healers brought a sleeping draught, but Pippin would not let it pass by his lips, and Legolas forbade the healers to force it into him. Finally, to his friends' heartbreak, he managed to form a single coherent word that he repeated in pleading whimpers: "Merry Merry Merry Merry Merry . . ." 

At length, Gimli, desperate to end the hobbit's confusion and pain, carefully but firmly took Pippin's face between his two hands and leaned in so close that his beard tickled the hobbit's neck. "Young hobbit," he said in the same commanding voice he used when telling Pippin not to touch something, "listen to me. Merry will be here very soon, but Legolas and I are here now. You have been hurt, but you will be better soon. Now, you must take your medicine, and then you must sleep and grow strong once more. Do you understand?" 

Pippin had stopped moving at this rough handling, and now he furrowed his brow as if trying to recall how words worked. After a long, silent moment, he answered, "All right, then, Gimli," in his own clear voice, making his friends exhale deeply in relief. Deciding to press ahead while he had the advantage, Gimli presented the sleeping draught and commanded Pippin to drink, and once it was gone, ordered him to sleep. Pippin gave one last show at resistance by asking, "Merry will be here soon?" but then promptly fell asleep when both elf and dwarf assured him that Merry would be there soon.

As Legolas tucked the blankets more securely about the patient with care, Gimli straightened his tunic and headed for the door. "Master Dwarf, do you go to your rest as well?" Legolas called after him.

Gimli snorted. "No," he answered. "I go to tell Aragorn and Gandalf that our Peregrin has returned to us. Then I go to make sure someone has thought to send for Meriadoc. We have both just told him Merry would be here soon, and I am thinking that if we do not have a cousin to produce relatively quickly, our young friend is going to have a lot to say about it." And he turned on his heel and strode away.

Legolas smiled and leaned close to Pippin's pointed ear. "Do you see what terror you hold over great warriors?" he whispered into it. "Do you see how the mighty and honored scurry to fulfill every desire of your little heart?" 

Pippin did not answer, but in slumber, his fingers tightened a bit about Legolas' hand. 

IV. He laughs now more than he talks

Day Three of the New Year (March 27 SR)

The morning after Pippin's awakening, the entire encampment moved to North Ithilien. Legolas patiently walked his faithful Arod while Gimli rode astride, carefully cradling the injured hobbit, who slept deeply with the aid of a draught. They were directed to an infirmary tent upon arrival in the fair country, but after one look at the large, noisy tent filled to capacity with moaning men and the stench of blood, Legolas artfully secured a corner of the supply tent and a cot from the healer woman, where Pippin could have quiet and rest.

Gimli had discovered that Éomer had already sent for Merry the previous day, but his arrival from Minas Tirith would no doubt take several days, and Legolas and Gimli had their hands full of fretful, malcontented hobbit. His fever would rise at random times, and he was childish and churlish with pain and discomfort and blindness. He wanted none of the medicines they had been instructed to give him, and they would persuade him to take one draught only to find it muddled his thinking even worse, making him even more argumentative about taking other medicines. Or they would succeed in coaxing all of the prescribed remedies into him only to have a bout of vomiting bring it all back up, thus necessitating that the process begin again. Gimli did fairly well for half a day by telling Pippin that everything he was being given was ale, but by afternoon, Pippin was clearer and would have none of it. 

It was all exhausting, but neither elf nor dwarf would suffer any stranger to care for their friend, and as both Aragorn and Gandalf were busy caring for Frodo and Sam and could not be spared for long, they carried on as best they could. But on the second day in Ithilien , his fever spiked in the early evening, and that night he was fretful and hot and confused and inconsolable. Legolas pressed most of a sleeping draught past his lips, only to have Pippin be sick all over the bed and the elf moments later. Bed and hobbit and elf were finally cleaned up and back in order when Pippin began crying for Merry again, and this time nothing anyone could do or say would calm him. 

Gimli had hemmed and hawed and muttered in his own language a great deal during the evening, but when Pippin began pleading for his cousin, he stormed out of the tent like a black cloud, and without a word to Legolas .

"Wherever does the Master Dwarf go?" the healer woman, coming over to help upon hearing the commotion, asked Legolas as she watched Gimli's departure.

"Perhaps he believes he can carry his cousin here quicker on his back than the ships of Minas Tirith can arrive," Legolas said sharply, tucking another blanket around Pippin's shivering form. The woman sniffed in an offended manner, but handed him a cool cloth to press to the hobbit's feverish brow.

Gimli returned within the hour, and the healer woman gaped openly when he brought the great wizard Gandalf with him. But the wizard did not restore the hobbit to health with a white light from his staff, or bring him his cousin on the back of an eagle, or do any of the many great deeds the other healers whispered about. No, instead, he leaned over the cot and put a hand on Pippin's brow and said in a kind voice, "Now, now, what is this tale I hear, hmm? All of this fuss, Peregrin -- you should see what a state Gimli is in." At the foot of the cot, Gimli snorted and crossed his arms over his chest.  

"Gandalf," Pippin said in a half-sob, and reached his arms out. 

"Oh, there, now," Gandalf said, and scooped the hobbit into his arms before anyone could protest. He claimed the chair a moment later, cradling Pippin to him like a small child and bundling blankets over the little form. 

"Aragorn told us not to move him overmuch," Legolas objected weakly, but Gandalf replied with, "Master Greenleaf, you fuss as much as the patient. Go and rest! And take that overzealous dwarf with you! Leave me alone with my lad, if you please, and do not come back until morning!" 

Legolas opened his mouth to protest, but Pippin did seem to be settling down, contentedly nuzzling his face into Gandalf's beard and yawning hugely. "Go on now!" Gandalf commanded. "See, he just needed to be held, and I believe I can be trusted with that task. Off with all of you!"

Cowed, they slunk off. As they left, Legolas overheard Pippin murmur, "Gandalf, I dreamed that you left."

"Oh, did you?" Gandalf answered. "Well, I am here now, aren't I, my lad? And I forbid any unpleasant imaginings while I am in the room, so you will just have to dream about nine-course meals and the best ale the Green Dragon has to offer. Now, I do believe I promised you some stories about the Old Took, did I not? Let us see . . ." 

V. Thank goodness I have found you!

Day Five of the New Year (March 29 SR)

Worn out, Gimli slept the night through soundly, and when he arose and stepped out of the tent he and Legolas shared, he saw the first of the arrivals from Minas Tirith coming across the fields. Moving in the swift, efficient manner only a dwarf possesses, he strode to meet them and find Merry.

The camp was busier than usual with the arrival of the great ships. Men rushed to unload supplies and greet friends left behind in the city. Gimli dodged around two unhappily lowing milch cows and then spotted his friend.

The young hobbit had just come from his ship and was clutching his small bundle of belongings, looking toward the big encampment in bewilderment, not certain where to start. He spotted Gimli quickly, though, and ran to meet him. He answered Merry's question even as the hobbit opened his mouth to ask.

"He lives, Merry. Hurt, but recovering. Come, come, he asks for you," Gimli said, putting an arm around Merry in a half-embrace that also supported the obviously somewhat-shaky hobbit and steered him in the right direction.

"One of the Eagles came to see Faramir, and told him that Frodo and Sam had been rescued from Mordor itself," Merry said in a slightly dazed voice. "It does not seem possible. But there was no news about Pippin, or you or Legolas. I did not know if that was good or bad. And he could not tell us how Frodo and Sam fared, just that they had been found. I have been frantic, torn between imagining the worst sort of things, and hoping for things that seem impossible."

"Well, you shall know the lot of it shortly," Gimli said gruffly, noting the shadows under Merry's eyes and the paleness of his face. "Legolas and I are both fine, so put your mind at ease about us. But, here, I know where you need to be."

Gandalf had left near dawn when Legolas had returned, and the elf swiftly moved from the chair at Pippin's bedside when Merry entered the tent. Merry had eyes only for his young cousin, taking in the extent of the injuries with disbelieving eyes. Gimli had grown used to Pippin's appearance over the past days, but now he saw anew the battered form -- brilliant with the colors of bruising and nearly hidden in bandages and swelling, the injured hand and leg carefully propped on pillows -- and mentally berated himself for not preparing Merry more for the sight. Merry numbly climbed into the chair beside the cot and reached a tentative hand out to stroke Pippin's hair.

"Pip, sweetheart," he whispered. "My Pippin."

Pippin, who had been dozing, yawned abruptly. "Hullo, Merry," he said drowsily, then went back to sleep.

"Do not be fooled," Legolas said quietly over Merry's shoulder. "He has asked and asked for you, and seemed to find Gimli and I poor substitutes."

Merry nodded absently to show he had heard, but for a long time he wanted only to sit by the bed and watch Pippin sleep, and gently touch the myriad injuries as if to assess their extent while Legolas quietly explained each injury and described its recovery. Eventually Merry shook off the odd, remote mood, and Legolas and Gimli had food brought in, and they ate and Merry heard all the tales there were to tell. Pippin woke briefly, and Legolas and Gimli were secretly pleased to discover that he was no more a cooperative patient for Merry than he had been for them, but finally the afternoon remedies were consumed and the surly patient made it up to all of them by saying, "Merry, did Legolas and Gimli tell you that Frodo and Sam are here, too? Isn't it splendid that we all are all right and together again?" before immediately falling back asleep. 

Satisfied for the moment, Merry left Legolas to watch over Pippin and allowed Gimli to lead him to report to Éomer and to see Frodo and Sam. He was quiet and thoughtful when he came back, but only said to Legolas that he had never seen Frodo look more haggard, or more peaceful.

Pippin was sleeping deeply now and often, but seemed clearer, more himself, each time he woke. To the delight of Legolas and Gimli, Merry coaxed an entire mug of broth into him in the evening, and gave him a report on Frodo and Sam that Pippin seemed to listen to. Then Legolas and Gimli amused themselves by listening to Merry tell Pippin the tales of their childhood. Pippin kept falling asleep, but each time he woke, he demanded that the tale start back up, so Merry kept up a steady cadence. He seemed satisfied with his cousin's progress, considering what had been explained to him about the severity of Pippin's hurts. When the healer woman came by to check on the patient and warned that sometimes a bad turn could come late in the recovery, Merry listened gravely, but said to Gimli and Legolas once she left, "These healers don't know what a stubborn little thing Pippin is, or they would not doubt that he will be fine."

Merry slept the night in the chair at Pippin's side, feet propped on the edge of the cot, despite Legolas and Gimli's protests. They both thought that Merry looked poorly: wan and tired from many days of fear and anxious inactivity, and not sufficient recovery to his own injury, but they could not persuade him to retire to the bed they had had brought in to their own tent for him. The elf and dwarf both noted with concern that Merry still favored his right hand, but resolved between themselves to see if the problem improved with some proper rest, should they ever persuade Merry to take some. For the moment, they decided the best medicine for both hobbits was being at one another's sides once again.

VI. The pains you have cost me

Day Six of the New Year (March 30 SR)

Pippin had a good morning, and even ate a little watered-down porridge before returning to slumber. Merry was dozing again himself, feet back up, when a whimper from the bed jolted him abruptly upright.

Pippin's face was taut with discomfort, and he was worrying his upper lip. Merry immediately reached for his hand. "What is it, Pip?" he asked with concern.

"Don't know," Pippin whimpered. "My stomach hurts."

Legolas, who had been sorting supplies on the table across the tent for the healers, crossed to the cot in enormous strides. "Where does your stomach hurt, Pippin?" he asked, perching on the edge of the cot and moving the blanket down. Pippin's uncovered abdomen was vibrant with color and still visibly swollen, and Merry closed his eyes briefly against the sight. Legolas touched Pippin tenderly with his fingertips.

"Don't know," Pippin answered in a quavery, frightened voice. "Just hurts."

Merry's eyes were alarmed, and Legolas' face was anxious and uncertain, but he shook his head when Gimli asked if he should fetch someone. "Perhaps he just was not ready for breakfast yet," Legolas said. "Let us wait and see if it passes in a bit."

The pain did not pass, though, and got steadily worse over the next quarter hour. Gimli fetched the healer woman, who then fetched one of the master healers, who recommended a hot, mustard compress for Pippin's stomach. But Pippin's sweat-soaked face scrunched up in pain when the healer applied it, and he cried out for Merry to help him.

The tent was rapidly descending into chaos at this point, with Pippin's pathetic cries for help, and Merry shouting at the healer to stop, and Legolas suggesting other remedies, and the healer shooting off orders to the woman. Gimli decided to do what he knew he should have done from the start -- he stormed off, and across the camp, right into the king's tent, and demanded that the Lord Aragorn come with him immediately. The half-frightened esquire stammered that the lord was very weary from his toils, and had left orders not to disturb him without dire need, but Gimli's response was of such a nature that it woke Aragorn without need of the esquire's assistance. Once he understood the reason for the disturbance, he bolted off across the camp at a run that left the dwarf hard-pressed to follow.

The scene in the tent had not improved during Gimli's absence, and now Pippin was emitting high-pitched little shrieks. Merry seemed torn between comforting his cousin and inflicting bodily harm upon the master healer, who was taking none too kindly to this reaction, while Legolas tried to restore peace and the woman frantically searched through supplies for items called for by the healer. Everyone but the two hobbits calmed as soon as Aragorn entered and began to firmly give instructions that all scrambled to obey.

Pippin had curled onto his side in a little ball, and Merry was standing over him as protective as any mother over her cub, one hand on Pippin's head and the other around his back. "Merry, let me see him," Aragorn said quietly once he had sent Legolas, the healer and the woman to the other side of the tent to fetch various supplies. Merry responded by moving his arm away from Pippin's back, but did not step away, so Aragorn went around to the other side of the bed and reached over to lay a hand on Pippin's stomach.

"Shh, shh, little one," he comforted when Pippin cried out sharply at the touch. "Here, I need you to uncurl for me so I can see what is wrong."

"It hurts too much, Strider," Pippin sobbed in response, and could not unlock his limbs. He cried out again when Aragorn attempted to roll him onto his back anyway and instantly Merry's other arm was encircling his cousin once more, blocking Aragorn.

"Merry, please, let me help him," Aragorn said in the quietest, most reasonable of voices.

"You're hurting him," Merry said tensely. He was shaking slightly. "Can't you see you're hurting him?" Legolas had come up beside him and tried to move Merry away from Pippin with gentle arms, but Merry shook him off roughly. Aragorn tried again to move Pippin, causing the younger hobbit to wail and the older one to clench his jaw. "Stop it!" Merry shouted at the king. "Don't hurt him worse!"

Legolas and Gimli both reached for Merry at the same time, but Gimli got there first, and before Merry quite knew what was happening, the dwarf had grabbed him by his collar and hauled him out of the tent. Gimli let go once they were outside, but placed his sturdy body between the distraught hobbit and the entrance. He blocked Merry's attempt to go back in, and for a moment he thought Merry was actually going to hit him. Stunned, without thinking, he grabbed Merry again as the hobbit came toward him and did what seemed the most logical thing at the moment -- dunked his friend's head into the chill water of a nearby rain barrel.

Merry struggled and kicked, but then Gimli released him and backed away and he stood stock-still, water running from his hair and face onto his body, breathing heavily. He and Gimli considered each other for a moment, and then the fight went out of Merry and his face crumpled up.

"I just can't bear it," he said brokenly. "He's hurting and no one will make it stop. I don't know how to stand that." He took a step and stumbled, but Gimli caught him, and held him as he sobbed.

VII: (It) burns my heart

Aragorn found them seated with their backs against the rain barrel two hours later when he finally emerged from the tent, his face somber. Merry looked at him bleakly but could find no words, and then Aragorn crouched down in front of the hobbit and smiled gently.

"I think it has passed," he said quietly. "Something inside of him was bleeding. Such a thing is grave, but not completely beyond my skill. I have done what I can, and believe the danger is over, for now, at least. You must keep him very still for the next few days, and send for me immediately if the pain returns. I have given him something for it now, so that he may sleep, and left instructions that should keep him comfortable."

Merry reached out for Aragorn's hand and grasped it gratefully. "I am so sorry," he said. "I know you were trying to help him."

Aragorn shook his head. "You need not apologize, Merry, for loving your cousin. But do this for me -- after you have seen him, go take some rest, and get outside of that tent for a bit. Pippin will yet need many days of care, and they may be trying at times. He will need you to be strong and clearheaded. You do him no good if you are distraught with exhaustion and strain."

Merry shook his head. "I won't be able to rest away from him, Aragorn."

"Perhaps I wasn't clear, Master Brandybuck -- that was not a suggestion," Aragorn said seriously. "You are still recovering yourself, and it is apparent to me just looking at you that you are not yet well. Pippin has many friends here willing to watch over him as he sleeps, but he will want you upon waking. Trust that you will be sent for immediately should he need you, and go and rest where you are not listening for him even in sleep. I guess it to be many days since you have slept truly well."

Merry looked for a moment like he would put up a fight, but then nodded in weary agreement and blinked watery eyes. He and Gimli got to their feet, and Gimli laid a hand on the king's arm. "I will make certain he rests, Aragorn, if I have to pick him up and carry him away to a bed."

Aragorn gave them a genuine smile now, and answered, "Then I know I leave you in the best, though perhaps not the gentlest, of care, Merry." And with that, he strode away across the camp.

Pippin was still and white on the cot, and even in sleep Gimli and Merry could see the lines of pain etched in his face. Merry went straight to him and sat by the bed, leaning in close to his cousin's face to murmur things Gimli's dwarvish ears could not distinguish.

Gimli scanned the tent, now still and hushed, the healer and the woman cleaning up and putting away supplies. The linens and blankets on Pippin's bed were new, and Gimli spied fresh blood stains on the soiled ones the woman was leaving with. His eyes fell on Legolas, seated across the bed, tenderly cradling Pippin's good hand in both of his hands, and thought that the elf looked nearly as poor as the hobbit. His face was tense and grey with exhaustion -- only after Helm's Deep had Gimli seen him come close to looking thus. He crossed the tent to stand at his friend's elbow.

"You look abysmal, Master Elf," he said bluntly. "Go and rest now."

"Yes," Legolas said in a distracted voice. "I just wanted to be certain he was sleeping first. He . . ." His voice trailed off and Gimli's eyes glimmered with concern as he looked into the elf's face.

"Aragorn said the danger has passed for now, yes?" Gimli prompted, and Legolas nodded.

"Yes, yes, it has," he answered, sounding more focused. "You are right, I am weary. I will turn the watch over to you." He leaned forward and kissed Pippin tenderly on the brow. As he did so, Merry looked at him for the first time since coming back into the tent and was visibly startled by Legolas' appearance.

"Legolas, you --" he began, but stopped when Legolas stood, smiling serenely.

"Do not stay overlong, Merry," he said. "Aragorn said Pippin will sleep through the night, and that you need to go rest. I will go now, and look for you shortly." With that, he left them with the patient.

Merry in turn took Pippin's good hand in both of his own. Dwarf and hobbit sat in silent vigil for a time, until Merry finally said, "I have never seen Legolas look like that."

"No," Gimli said gruffly. "Nor have I."

"Is it . . . Do you think it was all because of Pip?" Merry asked.

Gimli tried to soften his voice. "He loves Pippin dearly, Merry. It has been trying for him, these past days, to see him in pain and not be able to offer much comfort. This sudden ill turn no doubt frightened him as much as it did you and I. And Aragorn."

Merry nodded, eyes firmly fixed on his cousin's face, on the lines of pain slowly easing away. "I forget, sometimes, that he is not just mine, and that other people love him just as much as I do. I am sorry for that, Gimli, and I will try not to forget again."

Gimli wasn't quite sure what to say, so he harrumphed, which served most occasions. He let Merry stay for a bit longer, then drove him off to bed. Once he was alone with the sleeping Pippin, he hunched over the hobbit and grumbled, "You had best heal soon, young hobbit, before you have driven all these fey folk to their own sickbeds for worry over you. Besides, I find it disturbingly quiet in here."

In his sleep, Pippin sighed a bit and scrunched up his nose.

"I agree, it is no good," Gimli said. "Though, naturally, I must claim to wish for a little peace and quiet once you are well and running that mouth at full speed again."

Gimli received no response, but he contented himself with watching the color slowly return to Pippin's wan features.

VIII: The unquenchable cheerfulness of Pippin

Day Eight of the New Year (April 2 SR)

Aragorn had wanted to examine Pippin's injured leg for several days, but the swelling around the joints had not abated enough to allow it. This day, he found Pippin sleeping and was loath to wake the hobbit for the exam, especially after Merry informed him that Pippin had been running a low fever that left him tired and aching. Merry was full of questions and concerns and thinly veiled suspicions about the slow pace of Pippin's recovery that led to a lengthy discussion with the king, and resulted in Pippin waking and Merry being quite put out, summing up his list of grievances with, "Well, now you've woke him."

"You woke me, Merry," Pippin said somewhat crossly. "What is going on?"

"I wanted to examine your leg, Pippin," Aragorn answered, moving to sit on the cot beside the hobbit. "But first, Merry tells me you have had a fever." He stroked Pippin's sweaty curls back from his forehead, checking his temperature at the same time. "How do you feel? Do you have any more pain in your stomach?"

Pippin lifted his good hand to rub fretfully at the tip of his nose. "No, it just still aches like yesterday, but you said that was normal."

"Yes, it will be somewhat tender," Aragorn answered, adjusting blankets and the altered man's undergarment that served as the hobbit's nightshirt to expose Pippin's stomach. "Just let me check," he murmured, using gentle hands to assess the affected area. Pippin winced and shifted a bit on the cot, trying to ease his discomfort. Merry, still at the foot of the bed where he and Aragorn had been talking, scowled his displeasure and moved to sit on the bed by Pippin's head and take Pippin's good hand in his own.

Satisfied that the internal injuries were healing, Aragorn again moved blankets around until the left leg was uncovered. Prodding at the joints, he determined that the swelling had finally reduced enough to allow for a proper exam. Standing, he raised the leg with one hand, supporting it with his other hand under the upper calf.

Aragorn started with the injured ankle, carefully rotating it while still supporting the leg with his hand. After moving the ankle gently, he had Pippin do so himself, and was pleased when the joint performed as it ought with but a little tenderness. When he went to manipulate the knee, however, Pippin drew in his breath sharply and his face pinched with pain. Merry flinched in empathy, and Aragorn stopped immediately.

"Where did that hurt, Pippin?" he asked, gently fingering the knee.

"In my leg," Pippin said. "Up the thigh."

Aragorn frowned and moved his fingers along the thigh muscle. Merry leaned in closer to watch him, earning him a warning glance from the king. Merry held his ground and merely returned Aragorn's look steadily, surreptitiously scooting down a bit on the cot to obtain a better vantage point for supervising.

Pippin's breath caught again as Aragorn's fingers found the source of the pain. Lowering the leg to the bed, Aragorn bent to explore it with his fingers. "I am sorry, Pippin," he murmured when the hobbit made a small, involuntary squeaking noise.

Pippin swallowed with visible effort. "I know, Strider," he whispered, groping about for Merry's hand. His cousin immediately returned to his perch near Pippin's head and began stroking the palm of Pippin's good hand reassuringly with his thumb.

After a long silence, Aragorn sighed and straightened. "Let's finish looking at your knee," he said, rising and raising the leg again.

"What's wrong with his leg?" Merry asked sharply.

"I need to see how his knee is before I can say for certain," Aragorn answered patiently. "Tell me if any of this causes pain in your knee, Pippin."

"All right," Pippin said tiredly, giving Merry's hand a little squeeze. "It's all right, Mer."

The knee also proved to be in working order, though many of the movements Aragorn required of Pippin proved painful for the leg itself. Once he was satisfied on account of the joint, Aragorn lowered the leg back to the bed and cautiously felt the thigh muscle again.

"Pippin, I am afraid the muscle has been torn here," he said at length, running his fingers up from the side of the knee toward the front of the leg. "There is not much I can do to heal this injury, though I think it will likely mend itself, given time. I want you to stay off it for a bit longer, though, so no sneaking out of bed." This last was in a teasing tone, and Pippin gave Aragorn a half-hearted smile of acknowledgment.

"I was planning on dancing some jigs at the local inn tonight, but I suppose I will get over the disappointment," he said.

Merry's eyebrows were drawn together in consternation, and he frowned disapprovingly at Aragorn. "But isn't there anything you can do to help it heal?" he asked. "And how long will it be before it is completely better?" The question, " Will it get better?" he left unvoiced.

Aragorn stood up from the cot. "Actually, Merry, there is something you can do to help it heal. Come over here, please," and he gestured beside him. Merry rose and pulled over the nearby chair and climbed onto it in response to Aragorn's prompts.

"Now," Aragorn lifted Pippin's leg aloft again, "hold the leg like this," and here he cupped the heel in his left palm and held the calf in his right hand, "and now you, Pippin, just push your leg out against my hand." Merry saw the muscle in his cousin's leg contract with the effort and Pippin tightened his jaw. "All right, that's enough," Aragorn said after a moment, and carefully lowered the leg.

"What did that do?" Merry asked.

"It strengthens the muscle without the strain of actually carrying Pippin's weight," Aragorn said. "Pippin, you should push hard enough that you can feel the exertion, but not so hard that it causes great pain. And keep increasing the length of time as the leg strengthens. Merry, you should make certain that you are providing enough resistance by holding the leg still and pushing back slightly, but be careful not to push so hard you move the knee. Let's see," the king finished with a nod to Merry to pick up Pippin's leg.

This second effort left sweat beaded on Pippin's forehead, and Merry looking remorseful. Aragorn, however, was clearly pleased as he crossed to the other side of the bed and sat down beside his patient to unwrap the broken sword hand.

"That was good," he told the cousins. "Do that at least four or five times a day, about half a dozen exercises at a time. It will make a big difference when Pippin is ready to start walking around again."

Merry hopped off of the chair and leaned over Pippin to watch the battered hand emerge. Pippin, sensing the movement, sighed impatiently. "Merry," he said in exasperation.

"Sorry," Merry whispered, standing up straight. He decided instead to sit on the bed near Pippin's head again and hold the good hand while he studied the injured one, yet swollen and black and blue. Pippin scrunched up his face in pain during the exam, and still could not move the fingers at all. Aragorn did not push him to try, but simply bound the hand back up firmly after a few moments of examination.

"How is it today?" Pippin asked.

"It is still difficult to tell because of the swelling," Aragorn replied. "But for now, it looks as well as can be expected. There is no sign of infection, and there is blood flowing through it." He stood and gently patted Pippin's good knee. "You did very well, Pippin. I know you are tired, so rest now. I will come back to see you later tonight if I can. If I cannot, then I will come to see you by elevenses tomorrow, all right?"

"Thank you, Strider," Pippin mumbled, clearly at the end of his strength now that he had been given permission to sleep.

Aragorn smiled gently, and reached over to squeeze Merry's shoulder before leaving. Merry gave Aragorn a lopsided half-smile in return, then leaned back against the pillows and absently stroked Pippin's curls. He startled a bit moments later when Pippin spoke, for he'd thought the younger hobbit was already asleep.

"You shouldn't give poor old Strider such a hard time, Merry," Pippin reprimanded. "He is only trying to help me get better."

Merry scowled. "I am not giving him a hard time. I just want to know what is happening."

"It sounds to me like you are giving him a hard time, and you should stop it," came the counter. "You ought to know by now that he'd never do anything that's not good for me. Merry, I had a troll the size of Farmer Maggot's goat barn fall on me. There's bound to be a tiny problem or two when that happens to a person."

Merry grimaced at the blunt analogy and gave a small "Hmm," not ready to abandon his self-defense, but not really able to truthfully state that he had not been rather critical with Aragorn, and undeservedly so. He buried his nose in Pippin's curls and inhaled that unique Pippin smell of fruit and leaves and baking spices and shut his eyes against the relief and pleasure of it. "I have never been on my own when you were sick before," he said after letting out the breath in a long exhale.

Pippin, who had begun to doze, twitched a bit in surprise. "What?" he asked.

"I said," Merry pulled his face away from the top of Pippin's head, "that I have never been on my own when you were sick before. There were always adults and healers -- hobbit healers, I mean -- people who knew better than I what to do in charge of everything. I never had to worry about any of it. I just did whatever they said, and the only thing I had to do was comfort you or entertain you or just be there with you."

"But that is all you have to do now, Merry," Pippin said sleepily. "Aragorn and the healers know everything else to do."

"I don't always feel like they do," Merry admitted in a low voice. "I mean, I know that they do, and I certainly trust Aragorn and know what a great healer he is, but still -- they are Big People, Pippin. You are still hurt, and Frodo and Sam are not even awake, and I am the only hobbit here to make sure all of you get taken care of properly."

Pippin laughed a little, affectionately and drowsily. "Oh, my silly Merry," he said, unclasping their fingers and blindly reaching up to unerringly find his cousin's face. "Why are you worrying so? Don't you know that everything is all better now?"

Merry opened his mouth to reply that everything was most certainly not better, what with three of the four of them still in healing tents, and then realized that was not what Pippin meant. "I haven't thought about . . ." he answered slowly, trailing off to think furiously. A moment later, he let out a gust of air and laughed softly. "Everything is all better, isn't it, Pippin?"

But Pippin was sound asleep, nestled contentedly into Merry's chest and unconcerned with the world outside the safety of his cousin's arms.

Part Two

Chapter Titles

Hobbit Drinking Song

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