Part One

IX: Is everything sad going to come untrue?

Day Nine of the New Year (April 3 SR)

"Oh, but Legolas," Pippin was wheedling, "no one will know, not if you stop dawdling and we go now."

"Pippin, for the last time, no," Legolas answered, tossing his hands up in exasperation. "Aragorn said you were to stay quietly in bed, and the Valar only know what he will do to me if I take you strolling about the camp. Not to mention what Gandalf and Gimli and especially Merry would do to me. In fact, I do not know why you have chosen me as a likely mark for your devious little plans."

"Because when I told you there was something I wanted, you said I could have anything my little heart desired," Pippin countered, undaunted. "Oh, come now, Legolas, I won't be able to rest properly until I have seen for myself that they are all right. I have been so good, for days now, and I will not bother anyone about it again if you will take me now. Oh, please please please," and he put on his most endearing, beseeching face.

Legolas crossed his arms in front of his chest and bit back the retort that it would not exactly be seeing them, as Pippin's eyes were still bandaged. Then, just having thought that made him feel poorly about refusing Pippin, and, of course, it was hard for the hobbit, worrying and only getting second-hand reports, and he had been a very good patient, for days now . . .

"I suppose I was outmatched from the start," Legolas thought resignedly to himself moments later as he smuggled a blanket-wrapped Pippin out of the tent and across the camp.

"It smells nice out here, Legolas," Pippin said, wriggling his face out of the blankets. "Is it nice here? Is the camp very busy? It sounds like lots of things are happening."

"Ithilien is as nice as it was when we marched through it with the army. And the camp looks just like it did then," Legolas answered, reaching a hand to cover Pippin's face back up, careful not to smother the hobbit in the process. "And you promised to stay out of sight."

Pippin subsided, no doubt afraid that pushing his luck would end the excursion. They arrived at their destination and Legolas hissed, "No noise!" at his bundle before going in.

The healer seated inside stood and bowed respectfully when he entered, and Legolas inclined his head in response. "Good day to you," he said. "Tell me, is the Lord Aragorn or Mithrandir within?"

"No, Prince Legolas, just another attendant," the man replied. "Shall I send for them?"

"No, no," Legolas said. "I will be but a moment. I have brought some . . . special blankets preferred by the Shirefolk, to make the pheriannath more comfortable. I will just take them right in --" and he swept by the man into the interior, where he dismissed the other attendant. If either healer noted that the elven prince's bundle of "special blankets" giggled a bit, they were both wise and discreet enough to keep it to themselves.

Now Legolas uncovered Pippin, and the young hobbit became uncharacteristically somber. "Sam first, all right?" he said, surprising the elf.

"All right," he murmured, and then gently set Pippin down upon the edge of Sam's bed. When he was certain Pippin was steady, he took the hobbit's good hand in one of his and guided it to hover over Sam's shoulder. "Sam's right beneath your hand," Legolas said, and then moved back a pace.

Pippin's face was still and solemn as his hand carefully made contact with his friend and began to explore. His fingers crept over the still-dry skin, found and measured the once-stout arms, skimmed over the protruding collarbone, and padded across the familiar features so delicately that Legolas wondered if he could feel each new line and tiny healing mark. He finished at Sam's hair, and sat quietly finger-combing it, before leaning forward and unerringly finding Sam's cheek to press a kiss to. "Dear Sam," he said lovingly.

Legolas silently moved closer and whispered, "Are you ready?" He was loath, suddenly, to make any sound and disturb the reverent quiet of the tent.

Pippin nodded and held out his arms to be picked up. Legolas accommodated and soon had him perched on his cousin's bed. Again, he took the good hand and placed it just above Frodo's shoulder. "All right," he whispered to Pippin, who nodded.

In all the many ages to come, this memory would never diminish for Legolas, of Pippin carefully discovering and evaluating every small hurt on the Ringbearer's body. The hobbit made no sound at all, and his face was quiet and respectful. He left the damaged hand for last, and then touched it with a reverence that Legolas had not imagined lived inside the flippant little Took. Finally, he brought the bereaved hand to his lips and softly kissed the bandages. "Frodo," he said tenderly, then began to silently cry.

Legolas picked him back up and patted his back and rocked him, but Pippin shook his head even as he buried it in the crook of the elf's neck. "No, I'm all right," he said, sniffling. "I just really thought I would never see him again."

Someone in the doorway sighed heavily and Legolas started while Pippin gave a little squeal. "Well, now you have seen him, and if you don't want to get caught, you had best hurry back," Gandalf said. "Didn't you tell the Lord Aragorn that you wanted some custard, Peregrin? I just saw him headed across the camp with some."

Pippin squealed again and smacked Legolas' shoulder. "Hurry up, Legolas! You will be in dreadful trouble!" he commanded.

The elf was looking from wizard to hobbit as if he was uncertain what was transpiring. "I am sorry, Gandalf, he just really wanted to see them, and --"

"Caught, Legolas, you will be caught!" Pippin clamored, smacking his shoulder again. "Bye, Gandalf!" he added cheerily.

"Good-bye, Pippin. Be a good lad," Gandalf said, then helpfully held the door flap open for Legolas. "You'd best run," he said. Legolas decided not to question the wizard's good grace and dashed off as quickly as he could without jostling his giggling companion.

The Lord Aragorn did indeed have custard for Pippin, and if he noticed that Legolas' hair was a bit out of place, as though he had just come in from a sprint, the patient was much too grateful and engaging for the king to give it much thought.

X: How glad I am to see you again!

Day 10 of the New Year (April 4 SR)

"Are you ready?" Aragorn patiently asked Pippin for the fourth time.

"I think I have to go," Pippin answered nervously, fingers plucking at his blanket.

"That was your first excuse," Aragorn said. "The sooner we start the sooner this will be over with, Pippin."

Pippin took a deep, shuddering breath and nodded. He blindly reached out with his good hand and said, "Merry?" in a little, quivering voice.

"Right here," Merry promptly answered, grasping Pippin's hand in his own good one. "You didn't think I'd left, did you?"

Pippin shook his head slightly, squeezing Merry's hand tight. "All right," Aragorn said. "I'm just going to unwrap the bandages first, Pippin."

For days now, Pippin had been pestering his caretakers about removing the compresses and bandages over his eyes, but now that the time had come, he was nervous and twitchy. He had postponed the moment by asking for the privy, another pillow, a drink of water, and another blanket, but now he had run out of delaying tactics. He flinched when Aragorn began to unwind the bandages.

"Pippin," Aragorn's voice was gently admonishing, "this can't possibly hurt."

"No," Pippin agreed, but he held on to Merry's hand all the tighter.

The faces around the bed were grave and anxious. Aragorn was deeply concerned at the eyes apparent lack of healing. The swelling was slow to go down, and yellowish liquid indicative of infection drained from them. Additionally, the left eye socket had been broken, and he feared a bone fragment may have got into the eye itself and damaged it. In short, he wasn't certain Pippin would be able to see again.

At first, Merry had forbidden anyone to tell his young cousin of this possibility, but after some agony over the decision, determined he had no right to keep it from Pippin. To everyone's surprise but Merry's, Pippin had taken the news well, and had said there was no point fretting over it until the bandages came off. But that had been the day he had begun asking to have his eyes unmasked.

Aragorn finished unwinding the bandages and handed them to a hovering Legolas to set aside. "I'm just going to take the compresses off," he told the nervous hobbit, who nodded slightly. Gently, the king peeled the compresses off, revealing the battered eyes. Merry swallowed hard and gave Pippin's hand a squeeze.

Aragorn, quietly telling Pippin of each move before he made it, washed goo and medication off the exterior of both eyes and then gently felt the sockets and lids. Pippin began to chew on his upper lip but held still. The eyelids were a glorious purple color, but the swelling was reduced enough that the shape of the eyes beneath was identifiable. A line of sticky yellow drainage held the lids firmly together.

Finished with the cleansing and evaluation, Aragorn placed a fresh compress, damp and steaming with heat, onto the right eyelid and held it in place for several minutes. Then he gently pulled it away, patting a bit at the drainage, softened and loosened from the moisture and heat. "All right, Pippin, just open your eye now," he said.

Pippin was holding Merry's hand so tight that his cousin feared neither of them would have a good hand between them at the end of this, but he didn't complain. The lids separated slowly, eyelashes coming off as the goo reluctantly gave way.

"Breathe, sweetheart," Merry said abruptly, and Pippin obeyed by taking a sharp, shuddering breath.

"Merry," he wailed anxiously, and turned his face slightly toward Aragorn, seeking reassurance.

"I know, Pippin, you're almost there," Aragorn soothed in response. He could see lines of pain and stress on the hobbit's face. Merry clenched his jaw and looked ready to put an end to the procedure, but held himself back lest he be removed from the tent.

Finally, the lids were apart and the eye open, but it was coated in pus and film. "Legolas," Aragorn prompted, and the elf moved beside the bed to hold the eye open. Pippin was breathing frantically now and trembling.

"It's all right, Pip," Merry reassured him. "Aragorn just needs to wash your eye out, right, Aragorn?"

"Right," Aragorn said firmly, reaching for the solution he had prepared for this purpose. He gently flushed the eye with the liquid and used a soft cloth to pat away the refuse that trickled down his patient's face. After the third flushing, a clear green eye looked back at him.

Both king and hobbit let out gusts of breath in relief and grinned at each other. "Strider!" Pippin crowed, before glancing upward. "Legolas!" A look at the foot of the bed generated a "Gimli!" and, finally, looking to the left prompted a happy "Merry, Merry, Merry!"

Merry was laughing, but his own eyes were a little damp. "Hullo, Pip. Did you think it was someone else all this time?"

"No, but it is good to see your face," Pippin said decisively.

Aragorn flushed the eye a bit more, then had the patient demonstrate that he could open and close it and move the eye about in all directions. He also tested the hobbit's range of vision and found nothing at all amiss.

Satisfied, Aragorn switched places with Merry while Legolas moved back to the foot of the bed. Everyone was breathing easier through the opening of the left eye until Pippin finally had it open and they all saw the dried coating of blood on it.

"What?" Pippin said, frightened again as he took in their grim faces. "What's wrong with it?"

"There's just a little old blood, Pippin," Aragorn said calmly. "This is the broken eye socket, so I'm not surprised. I'm going to flush it out, like I did the other eye. Legolas --"

The elf moved back to Pippin's side to assist. Everyone was silent as Aragorn worked, and Pippin kept his good eye fixed in a frightened gaze on his cousin. Merry smiled reassuringly at him and stroked his thumb across Pippin's palm, but his features were tight with anxiety.

Finally, the eye was clear, but it looked back at Aragorn unfocused. He held a finger in front of it and put his other hand over Pippin's right eye. "Look right here, Pippin," he said.

For several hushed moments, the pupil did not change, but then suddenly it contracted and the sharp green eye was looking right at Aragorn's finger. Pippin grinned, proudly pleased, and everyone sighed in relief.

Aragorn, ever cautious, tested it as carefully as the other, and to his disappointment discovered that the peripheral vision seemed to be gone. Pippin, however, shrugged it off when Aragorn woefully told him that perhaps it would return with time.

"Really, Strider, I did almost end up as a permanent cushion to a troll," he said, oblivious to the horror-stricken looks that appeared on Merry, Legolas and Gimli's faces. "If all I have wrong with me is not being able to see out of one little corner of my eye, I don't think that's such a bad outcome."

Aragorn laughed, and tousled Pippin's hair. "Indeed. I quite agree," he said, and his face lightened as though a great burden had been lifted from him. "Soon you will be running about causing trouble as though you never had been hurt at all."

"If you let me out of bed, I will be," Pippin said, looking hopeful, and not at all subtle.

Aragorn chuckled. "How does this sound? After luncheon, you may walk about the tent with someone's help. We will see how things go for a couple of days, but if you continue to be a very good and obedient patient, perhaps you will be up and about in time for Frodo and Sam's feast. I am still expecting that to be on the 14th or 15th day of the New Year, if they continue to recover so swiftly."

Pippin put on a look of mock-affrontation. "Really, Strider, I can't imagine a better or more obedient patient than me," he said.

Aragorn laughed and leaned over to kiss the hobbit's brow, but Pippin prevented the action by grabbing Aragorn's face and pressing a kiss to his beard, surprising the king.

"Thank you for taking such good care of me," Pippin said. "Thank all of you for taking such good care of me." He beamed happily at each of them, then threw a pillow at Gimli's gruff face for good measure. "You too, Gimli," he said.

The dwarf harrumphed. "Are you certain he does not need to stay in bed for the next, say, month or two, Aragorn?" he asked. "Stay quietly in bed?"

Pippin chucked his other pillow at Gimli, satisfying everyone completely that his sight was fine when he hit the dwarf square in the nose.

XI. I am hungry. What is the time?

Someone had left a scone on the table. Pippin had been looking at it for nearly five minutes now, wondering how it possibly could have been overlooked at breakfast. Or then again at second breakfast and elevenses (which were being served only upon his insistence, and were quite skimpy).

Perhaps, he mused, Merry had meant to have it at luncheon. Or to have as an afternoon snack. Or to have at tea time.

Perhaps, he thought after eyeing the scone a bit longer, Merry had meant for Pippin to have it at luncheon.

It would be a very Merry thing to do, he decided a few moments later.

And surely Merry would not mind if Pippin had the treat he had set aside for him a little early.

Thankful all over again for his recovered eyesight, Pippin used it to confirm that the tent was momentarily empty save for himself. If he scooted down to the end of the cot thus, then it was no more than half-a-dozen steps to the table . . .

The journey was tentative and teetering and a bit painful on the wounded leg, but it was not long before Pippin was just about to gleefully close his fingers about his prize --

"Peregrin Took!" a voice so like his Uncle Saradoc's bellowed at full volume, and Pippin snatched his hand away from the scone as though it had just caught on fire.

"It wasn't me!" he squealed before thinking, because, of course, there was no one else it could be, and he was caught right in the act. Ruefully, he turned to face Merry and seek forgiveness.

But to his bewilderment, Merry did not look angry. In fact, Merry had that look on his face that he only got when he was trying not to cry. "Merry?" Pippin asked tentatively.

Merry gave himself a little shake and hurried over to Pippin's side. "Come on, back in bed," he ordered, grasping Pippin's left arm so the younger hobbit could lean on him as he steadied him the few steps back to the cot. Pippin, disconcerted by Merry's reaction, meekly let himself be led and then tucked back in.

"Did you want this scone?" Merry asked, already walking away from the bed to fetch it for Pippin. But he stopped at the table with his back to his cousin, the fingers of his left hand clutching at the edge of the surface, his right hand twitching at his side.

"Merry, I'm sorry," Pippin said uncertainly. "Are you angry with me?"

There was no answer. Merry lowered his head and continued to clutch at the table for dear life, shoulders now shaking. He abruptly made a snuffling sound, and Pippin realized with horror that Merry was crying.

"Merry!" he exclaimed, and began to climb back out of bed.

"Oh, no, you don't," Merry snapped, spinning abruptly and moving to push Pippin back in the bed, tears still trickling down his face. He fumbled for a handkerchief in his jacket pocket and then swiped angrily at his wet face with it as he sat alongside Pippin. "No one said you could get out of bed by yourself yet, Pippin," he said from the safety of the handkerchief. "You could hurt yourself worse, you know, by trying things you're not ready to do yet."

"Sorry, Merry," Pippin said meekly, patting his cousin's knee. "Don't cry, Merry. I won't do it again."

Merry made a strangled noise of annoyance and emerged from the handkerchief, smiling even as he still cried. "Of course you will do it again, Pippin, and anything else you think you can get away with. I'm not angry, and it's not why I'm crying. I'm sorry, I don't know what it was. I just . . . You . . . I didn't," he stammered, finally blurting out, "I didn't know that I'd ever see you walking again, Pippin, or stealing my tea, or that you'd even be able to see my tea, or-or anything , Pippin. I was a-afraid that you would never, never be able to, or be here to --"

"Oh, Merry," Pippin said tenderly, and held open his arms. Merry was nestled within them a moment later, sobbing onto Pippin's shoulder while Pippin stroked his back and kissed his hair.

Merry finally cried himself out, and lay heavily in Pippin's arms, drained from the outburst. Pippin patted Merry's head reassuringly a few times, and then eyed the scone some more. Merry took some deep, steadying breaths and untangled himself from Pippin, who ducked his head to look into Merry's eyes and smile encouragingly.

"Better?" he asked, and Merry nodded, finding and making use of a fresh handkerchief atop a nearby trunk of supplies.

"You're still bad for getting out of bed alone," he muttered a moment later, poking Pippin gently in the chest for emphasis.

"It was awfully nice of you to save that scone for me, Merry," Pippin answered hopefully.

Accepting half of the scone from Merry a moment later, Pippin studied his cousin thoughtfully. Merry climbed up on the foot of the bed to consume his half of the treat.

"You do have a lot to be grateful for, you know, Mer," Pippin said seriously.

"Yes, I do," Merry replied just as seriously. "So much so that it overwhelms me sometimes."

Pippin nodded solemnly in understanding. "I can't even imagine how horrid it would have been for you, bringing me home blind and crippled and mangled," he said, popping a bite of scone into his mouth.

Merry raised his head to give Pippin an incredulous look. Pippin ignored it and blithely continued, "I remember all the dreadful trouble you and Fredegar got into when I fell off the back of that cart after you hadn't kept a good enough eye on me at the Golden Perch. That was just one little broken wrist, and Briony scared the two of you away from the Smials for half a year. Can you imagine what she would have done to you if you'd brought me home looking like this?"

Pippin was doing a poor job of hiding a smile now, but Merry's face was utterly solemn.

"Exile, Pippin," he answered. "Exile would have been the only safe route left to me. Perhaps they would have taken me in at Rivendell, though that might be too close to the Shire for me to be safe from her."

"And I doubt Lord Elrond would appreciate having to arrange a special watch on his lands for elderly, bad-tempered --"

"Overprotective --"

"Bossy --"

"Sharp-tongued --"

"Hobbit nurses."

"With very good aim," Merry added, finishing off his scone and then crawling up to the head of the cot to hug Pippin fiercely. Pippin returned the hug with enthusiasm.

"The things I save you from, Merry," he giggled.

"Wherever would I be without you, Pip," was the sincere answer.

XII: O! Water Hot is a noble thing!

Day 11 of the New Year (April 5 SR)

The big excitement of the next day was a bath -- a real bath, in a tub, not a sponge bath. Pippin was gleeful, and Legolas and Gimli soon discovered that hobbit bathtime (or at least Took bathtime) involved a great deal of splashing, sloshing, kicking and rather loud singing.

Merry was highly amused by their reaction, and so pleased to see Pippin in good spirits that he encouraged him in the bath play by splashing water in Pippin's face and prompting "Next verse!" until a large wave came over the edge of the tub and drenched Gimli. Legolas, choking back laughter, handed the dripping and sputtering dwarf a towel and then plucked the not-terribly-repentant hobbit from the tub and began drying him off.

"I think you are quite clean by now," he said when Pippin protested.

"I think we all are quite clean by now," said Merry with a grin, more than a little damp himself. He grabbed a towel with his left hand and began rubbing Pippin's hair with it.

There was more protesting when Legolas attempted to dress him in a fresh nightshirt, causing the patient to declare that he wanted real clothes today, but all three caretakers were firmly agreed that real clothes would make sneaking out into camp entirely too easy. Pippin seemed ready to dig his heels in on the issue and cause a ruckus, but the arrival of luncheon shifted his interest.

He ate with relish, seemingly trying to make up for days of little nourishment as quickly as possible. The others were glad to see it, having just observed scrawny limbs and protruding ribs and hipbones during the bath. Pippin also talked between each bite about the upcoming feast and his intended role of serving Aragorn with great enthusiasm. His caretakers worried that he was building himself up for disappointment, should Aragorn not let him attend after all, but Pippin dismissed their gentle warnings.

"I can't not go," he said decisively. "It's a feast to honor Frodo and Sam! They will miss me if I'm not there." And he determinedly tucked another sausage into his mouth.

Pippin's burning desire to attend the feast was excellent leverage in securing his cooperation for any number of behaviors, and Merry wielded it expertly after lunch to convince Pippin that some quiet time was in order.

"I won't nap, though, Merry," Pippin said as he acquiesced to reclining in the bed.

"Then just close your eyes to rest them," Merry encouraged him as he tucked the blankets around his younger cousin.

Pippin sighed, but obediently closed his eyes. "I really don't see how just lying here helps me get better, though," he said after a moment.

"Perhaps if you closed your mouth and rested that," Legolas suggested. Pippin cracked open an eye to glare at him as Merry reprimanded, "Not really very helpful, are you, Legolas?" Properly chastised, the elf subsided, and after a few moments of true quiet time, Pippin's features eased out in sleep.

Merry yawned and put his feet up on the cot. "I could not nap for a bit, too," he commented.

"Go ahead -- Gimli is," Legolas answered. Merry turned to look and sure enough, Gimli was nodding into his beard at the table.

"How can he sleep like that?" Merry marveled as he slouched into his own chair to find the best position.

"How can you sleep like that?" Legolas countered. "I have never met such people for sleeping in chairs. Lie down with Pippin -- there is room enough."

"I don't want to jostle him," Merry answered, crossing his ankles and folding his hands on his stomach. He was asleep a moment later, and did not wake for a good hour, when he heard Pippin suddenly exclaim, "Beregond!"

The nappers opened their eyes to find the soldier looking abashed and regretful. "I am sorry to wake you all, truly," he said. "I just hoped to find Pippin awake."

"Oh, I was not sleeping, Beregond," Pippin assured him. "At least, not much. And I would have been angry with Legolas if he'd let you go again without waking me up. I have missed you twice now because of everyone making me sleep all the time. But how splendid you look! I was worried, you know, because I knew you were hurt, and Legolas found you himself, didn't he? It is so good to see you!"

During his rather lengthy greeting, Pippin had climbed carefully to his feet atop the cot, putting him at the perfect height to hug Beregond, who returned the embrace gently. The soldier's expression was an odd mix of concern, amusement and bewilderment when he pulled away.

"You look much better, yourself, than you did when I was last able to come to visit you," he told the hobbit, eyeing him critically. "I am glad to see you so well. I was quite worried for you."

"Oh, we hobbits are tough," Pippin scoffed, plopping back down to sit on the bed. "Will you be going to the great feast, Beregond? I'll be serving Aragorn, of course, if I have to do it standing on only my right foot and pour his wine with my left hand, and Merry will be serving Éomer. Frodo and Sam won't know us, we'll look so grand in our uniforms!"

"So you are going?" Beregond asked, gratefully accepting the chair Gimli brought over. "The king will allow you abroad by then?"

"Well, I am almost completely better," Pippin said, dodging the question. The others noted that Beregond had also avoided answering; no doubt there were many things still uncertain about his future.

"Yes, of course," Beregond said tactfully, then leaned forward a bit closer to Pippin. "I have been wanting to thank you, Pippin. You saved my life, you know. I was certain I had met my end when that evil beast bent over me. I will never forget the valor and skill of arms you displayed in my defense. It would have been a near-incomprehensible feat for a man of great stature, but that you alone slew that monstrous creature -- well, in addition to my thanks, I will give you my apologies for underestimating you. I knew you were a marvel, and had braved many dangers, but even so, I did not do you justice. I, and my family, are ever in your debt."

Pippin appeared a little overwhelmed by Beregond's words, and looked away when he mentioned the troll. His three companions noted it immediately; Pippin had not spoken seriously to anyone about the battle, and brushed it aside whenever it came up. He was smiling and looking at Beregond again by the end of the soldier's heartfelt speech, though, and reached for his hand.

"You do not have to thank me, Beregond," he said sincerely. "You were so kind to me when I came to the City and was so all alone. And you owe me no debt whatsoever; you are my friend, after all, and I have no doubt that you would have done the same for me."

Beregond's smile was so joyous that it spread to everyone in the room. He took Pippin's small hand in both of his. "Well, then, consider this an act of friendship, and not of gratitude, if you will. I also wanted greatly to speak with you regarding another matter. You have met my son, Bergil, of course, but my wife and I also have two daughters, and we are to have another babe this midsummer. Should it be a boy, I would very much like to name him Peregrin, with your permission, of course."

Pippin's mouth dropped open for a moment in astonishment, then it curved into an enormous smile. "You want to name your baby for me?! Truly?! No one has ever been named for me, ever! How wonderfully splendid that would be! Did you hear, Merry?" Here Pippin whipped his head around, searching for his cousin. "Beregond is going to name his new baby Peregrin! Did you ever think when you named me that someday someone else would name somebody for me ?" He paused, reviewing his last sentence. "Well, you know what I mean," he added, grinning proudly.

"I never doubted it, Pip," Merry said, emerging from a corner to come stand beside the bed. "How could you have grown up to be anyone but someone people would want to name their children after?"

"Well, I certainly never thought it," Pippin said, looking at Beregond with glowing eyes. "That is the most splendid gift ever, Beregond, truly!"

Beregond laughed, though he looked a little startled by the enthusiasm with which his announcement had been met. "Of course, there is my wife to convince, but I am certain I will have Bergil on my side. And mayhap soon you will meet the rest of my family for yourself, and then she will be certain to agree."

"Oh, I can help there, Beregond," Pippin assured him. "I can be very persuasive."

Gimli coughed, and the noise sounded suspiciously like a chortle. Legolas was managing to look serenely innocent. Merry, uncertain if Gimli had laughed and distrustful of Legolas' countenance, scowled at them both for good measure before turning back to his cousin and Beregond with a smiling face.

"That is a truly splendid gift, Beregond," he said. "I have not seen you to tell you, but Bergil was most attentive to me in Minas Tirith. He is a kind, brave lad, and it is a nice thought that he may have a Pippin of his own some day soon, provided the baby is a lad."

Beregond returned the smile. "I hope you will be kind enough to grant him some advice on helping to raise a Pippin, seeing as how you have done such a admirable job in that field," he said, and Merry flushed in pleasure and modesty.

"It has had more to do with the Pippin than with me," he said in a low, sincere voice, reaching out to stroke Pippin's curls affectionately. Pippin beamed back at him.

"You've had something to do with it, Merry," he said with a mischievous grin. "After all, how else would I know how to get into the pantry unnoticed? Or where the loose plank is in the fence at the Bracegirdle farm? Or which inns serve the best ale, and which ones have the prettiest serving-lasses? Or --"

"Yes," Merry cut him off, "I suppose I have had something do to with it, most of it best left unmentioned, thank you very much."

Pippin subsided and did not mention the rest, but after Beregond left, he whispered in his cousin's ear, "And where all the creaky floorboards are en route to the cellar kegs at Bag End. I never would have known that without you there to teach me, Merry."

Merry just covered his face with his hands and muttered, "And to think, someone is being named in honor of you, Pip. Who would have thought we'd see the day?"

XIII: To love first what you are fitted to love

That night, Legolas crept into the tent to shake Merry gently. "Oh, I am nearly asleep," Merry groaned in response, then jerked upright. "Is he all right?" he demanded, already fumbling about for his discarded outerwear by the light of the moon coming through the open flap.

"Yes, yes, I am sorry," Legolas hastily assured him. "He is sound asleep, and Gimli will stay until morning. I just could tell you were not quite asleep and wanted to ask you something."

"Oh," Merry said, letting the tension run out of his body and flopping back down on his bed. "In that case, whatever do you want and why must you ask it now?"

"You gave Pippin his name?" the elf asked. "Is that hobbit custom, or was there some special reason you were allowed to name your cousin? You must have been just a child yourself, were you not?"

Merry yawned hugely. "Legolas, I cannot believe you woke me up to tell you a bedtime story. Do you really want to know?" When Legolas nodded, Merry sighed. He shut his eyes, but continued speaking. "Don't laugh at me, but I had an omen when he was born. He was born too early, you know, and I believe everyone truly thought he would die that first day of his life. But he is my strong little lad, even now, isn't he?"

"Yes, he certainly is," Legolas answered quietly. "And I would not laugh, Merry, to think you had an omen about Pippin. What was it?"

Merry opened his eyes to look into the elf's face. "I was young, myself, just eight years old. My family arrived at the Took estate that morning by chance, and found the baby just born but so frail. We children were shooed off and told to behave and I wandered off alone for a bit, to sit and think. So, I was sitting and thinking, and really quite sad, because I had been wanting a little lad cousin forever, and just kept getting more lass cousins all the time, and now here was my lad, and he might die. And while I was thinking this, I looked up and there was a peregrine falcon flying overhead, coming to rest atop a tree. They are not common in my country, and we had just been at Bag End, so Bilbo and Frodo had been filling my head with all kinds of nonsense, and I somehow became convinced that the bird was an omen to me, and that it must have to do with the new baby. We looked at each other, and after a while it flew right over me, circled three times and cried out before flying away. So then I was completely convinced that it was an omen that the baby was going to be all right, which of course he was.

"Anyway," he concluded, "the whole story came bursting out of me that evening to my mother and Pippin's father, who was so delighted by it that he named the baby Peregrin. And that is how I gave Pippin his name."

Legolas' face was quiet and thoughtful. "Thank you, Merry," he said. "I am glad to have heard that story." He stood, then hesitated. "I have not much experience myself with omens," he added slowly, "but I do not doubt their reality. Nor do I doubt that you and Pippin are deserving of one. You should not describe it so, Merry, as though it were a childhood fancy. I do not believe that it was."

Merry's face was somber as well. "I do not really believe it to be a childhood fancy, you know, though it is Pippin who deserved it, not I. But my people tend to make light of things we do not completely understand, rather than give them the reverence they deserve. Thank you for treating it thus."

Legolas smiled at him, and reached out a hand to gently touch the sleep-tousled honey-brown curls. "Sleep well, Meriadoc of the Shire," he said.

"Good night, Legolas," Merry answered, but he lay awake for a while, thinking about omens and fate and friendships.

XIV. Woolly-footed and wool-pated truants

Day 12 of the New Year (April 6 SR)

Merry caught his tongue between his teeth and narrowed his eyes, focusing all of his attention on the stubborn leaf brooch to his cloak. He could fasten it well enough with just his left hand by now, but this morning had obstinately decided that he ought to be able to close the clasp with his right hand and he therefore would do so. If only his fingers would cooperate!

His fingers slipped and fumbled, and Merry felt a drop of sweat roll down his furrowed brow. He stubbornly kept trying. If Frodo and Sam could crawl up Mount Doom, if Pippin could stay alive buried beneath a troll for more than 24 hours, if Gandalf could actually return to life, then he, Meriadoc Brandybuck, could force his fingers to obey his will.

Or not. The brooch fell from his hand altogether, and his cloak slid from his shoulders. Drawing breath to tell the brooch in no uncertain terms exactly what he thought of it, Merry was bent to retrieve it. A large, strong hand intercepted him, plucking up the adornment before he could.

"I know, Master Meriadoc, that you were not about to say anything derogatory about something the Lady of the Golden Wood gifted to you," Gimli said, snagging Merry's cloak from the ground as well and draping it back around the hobbit's shoulders.

Merry gave him a wry smile. "No, of course not," he said, and allowed Gimli to fasten the clasp. "How was Pippin's night?"

"Uneventful," Gimli answered. "He was awake early enough and demanding breakfast. I do not know how hobbit parents keep their broods fed."

"You just make the older children tend to the younger children," Merry said absently as buttoned his waistcoat, opting to use his left hand in front of Gimli. "And have plenty of food on hand at all times."

Gimli chortled. "I think that is a bit of an understatement," he said, and sat on the edge of his bed. "I thought I'd take a brief rest, as I told Aragorn I would be on hand to lend him some help later today. Are you off to see Pippin?"

Merry nodded. "For a bit, at least. Éomer needs me later today. I'll make sure that Legolas will be around, so that Pippin isn't alone. Have a good rest, Gimli, and I will see you later."

"Thank you, Merry," Gimli answered, then called out as the hobbit began to leave the tent, "And have Aragorn look at that hand, would you?"

Merry paused, left hand holding back the tent flap, right hand curled idly at his side. "I'm just a little tired," he responded after a moment, not turning to look at the dwarf. "It's healing well enough. I don't think I need to bother Aragorn about it."

Gimli's eyes crinkled. "If I know the king, and I do, he would rather you did bother him about it. Just have him take a look when he comes by to check on Pippin. Humor me, Merry, for all the pains I have taken for you."

Merry smiled lightly, and turned his head so Gimli could see his profile. "You make it hard to refuse, Gimli," he answered. "If I keep having trouble with it, I will let Aragorn know. But, really, I am just tired this morning."

"Then Aragorn will say you are just tired, and accuse me of fretting overmuch," Gimli said. "Have him look at it. And don't forget to bring Pippin something for 'second breakfast' -- the servants at the mess tent still do not believe it is a real meal."

Merry grinned, nodded and ducked out the door. Gimli let his eyes rest on the tent flap thoughtfully for a few moments before lying down to rest. "Young hobbits," he muttered to himself, "are a great deal of work."

XV. They will look for him from the White Tower

Merry was busy with Éomer, and Gimli was assisting Aragorn with various tasks, so Legolas was left with the task of getting Pippin off to sleep on what looked to be his last night as a patient, provided Aragorn gave him permission to leave his bed in the morning. Supper consumed, medicines taken, pillows fluffed and blankets tucked, Pippin snuggled down into the bed and looked expectantly at Legolas. The elf raised an eyebrow at him.

"Don't I get a story or a song or anything?" Pippin complained.

"I think you're getting quite spoiled, you know," Legolas answered, but he sat down willingly enough upon the edge of the bed.

"I know," Pippin said affably, "but I figure this isn't going to last much longer, so I'd best make the most of it."

Legolas laughed, making Pippin beam with delight. "Actually," now the elf sobered, "I have a gift of a sort for you, but I fear you will find it rather sad."

"A sad gift?" Pippin asked in surprise.

Legolas was searching through his garments as he spoke. "I meant to give it to you long ago, but there were always more pressing matters. And then once I recalled it, I wanted to find a chain for it so you could keep it safe. I have waited too long, but here it is, nonetheless."

He drew a slender silver chain out. Dangling from the end of it was a small silver ring set with a tiny pearl. Pippin's face was solemn as he reached for it.

"Oh," he said in a tiny voice as Legolas folded it into his hand.

"It was a liberty, I know, but I took it when we prepared his last honors. I hoped to give it to his brother, but the circumstances seemed poor for such a moment. Besides, I thought it more appropriate if you be the one to return it to his family, and that perhaps you would like to keep it safe until then."

Watching the hobbit study the ring, Legolas saw a new kind of wise melancholy appear on Pippin's face. The ring had belonged to Boromir's mother when she was a girl, and Boromir had carried it with him in her memory. It had slipped out of his clothing one day after a precipitous decent down a slope, and tumbled into a crevice, out of reach. Pippin had been gloriously boastful (and quite dirty) after he had retrieved the ring for his friend by demanding the great man dangle him by his ankles over the high ledge. Merry had been proud, Frodo had been askance, Legolas had been amused, but Boromir had been sincerely grateful. The other members of the Fellowship had noticed a marked change in the man's sentiments toward the hobbits after that, and toward Pippin in particular.

"Thank you, Legolas," Pippin said now, and slipped the chain around his neck. "I will keep it safe, and I would very much like to give it to Faramir."

Legolas reached out to smooth a twist in the chain, and then rested the palm of his hand on Pippin's collarbone, over the ring. "I miss him, too," he said simply, and Pippin nodded before reaching for his friend.

He was a little damp and sniffly when they pulled apart, so Legolas fetched a handkerchief before Pippin could decide to use the sheets to wipe his nose. Once he was cleaned up and resettled in bed, Legolas resumed his perch at the edge of the mattress and took Pippin's broken hand gently in his own. The hobbit's good hand was carefully fingering the ring.

"A story? Or a song?" Legolas asked, but Pippin shook his head.

"Neither, thank you. But will you sit for a bit?" he answered.

"Of course, dear heart," Legolas said tenderly. He was quiet and watchful as Pippin lay wrapped in memories that soon lulled him to sleep. Once he was confident that the hobbit was asleep for the night, Legolas slipped outside the tent, mindful to stay within earshot. He watched the stars kindle and the moon wax, humming softly. An occasional lyric, half-formed, wove its way from his throat. He remained oblivious to the looks of awe and delight he garnered from passersby.

By the time the moon was waning, the elf looked quite pleased with himself. He returned to the tent to check on his charge, and found the hobbit's face peaceful in sleep, his hand loosely clasping the ring at his neck.

XVI. Ever since that night at Bree

Day 13 of the New Year (April 7 SR)

Aragorn thought he might be the only person in the tent breathing as he carefully examined each of Pippin's wounds the next morning. He tried to ignore the onlookers and focus on his patient.

The eyes seemed better than he'd ever hoped for, though the peripheral vision in the left one had not returned so far. Pippin's battered face in general had improved remarkably over the past fortnight -- pale yellow shadows of the bruising remained, but even his bottom lip was much better and the stitches were ready to be removed.

The broken ribs likewise were doing well, their recovery facilitated no doubt by the forced period of inactivity. Aragorn determined to leave them lightly bound and let them continue to heal. Pippin still had a small tender spot on his abdomen, also now yellowish in appearance, but that was to be expected and no reason for alarm. Discoloration mottled his body still, but everywhere had faded from vibrant blues and purples to subdued yellows and violets.

A less well-trained healer might not have even been able to anymore discern that the left ankle and knee had been dislocated. The torn muscle worried Aragorn a bit, but it was time to start letting Pippin walk on it more and build up its strength. The broken toes felt almost healed, to the king's amazement.

The worst remaining injury was the mangled hand, but it could remain bound and splinted without hindering Pippin's activities overmuch. Aragorn frowned as he turned it carefully in his own hand -- he feared that some bones would have to be reset soon, but said nothing. He wrapped it back up and set it down atop the blanket, then smiled at his patient.

"Well, Master Took, how would you like to serve me at Frodo and Sam's feast?" he asked.

"Would I?" Pippin bellowed, and was out of the bed before Aragorn could blink. The king heard the three onlookers exhale heavily as one, and then Pippin had tackled Merry in a hug with a whoop.

"I told you he'd say yes, Merry!" he crowed in delight. Merry grinned happily and allowed himself to be mauled as he hugged Pippin tightly. Gimli chortled with pleasure and a smile danced about Legolas' lips.

"Won't Frodo and Sam be amazed to see us so towering and in our uniforms and everything!" Pippin continued to Merry in delight, then turned to Aragorn. "And don't forget, Strider -- just tell them we are here and all right, or we won't be a surprise to them at all."

"Yes, I recall my instructions," Aragorn said as he stood and plucked Pippin out of his cousin's arms. "Now, I have some rules, too." He sat Pippin on the edge of the bed and then sat back down in the chair, leaning forward to look the hobbit in the eye. Pippin schooled his face into attentiveness.

"You're to rest for a bit after luncheon today, and then be in bed by nightfall," he stated. Pippin nodded. "No running about or strenuous activity, and if you feel you need to sit down or rest, you're to do so immediately." Another nod. "If you don't feel well tomorrow morning -- for I believe Frodo and Sam will awaken and be ready then -- and especially if you have a fever, you're to see a healer, and you're not to attend." This nod came only after a disappointed look. "And," the king concluded, "if I find that any of my food or drink has been subjected to hobbit-tasting before it is set in front of me, you will spend the remainder of our time in Ithilien cleaning up after the horses."

"Really, Strider, if I ever did such a thing it would be only to make certain you were getting the best of everything," Pippin responded.

"Of course," Aragorn said dryly. "I don't suppose anyone could find some more suitable clothing for the king's esquire?"

"There are some things ready for him, I believe," Legolas volunteered. "I will go find them now."

As the elf departed, Aragorn turned to the other hobbit in the tent, standing close by Pippin's bed. "Now," he said, "come here and let me see this hand of yours, Master Brandybuck."

Merry opened his mouth to protest but bit his tongue at the commanding look Aragorn gave him and reluctantly moved closer and held out his sword hand.

"What is wrong with your hand, Merry?" Pippin asked, distressed.

"Nothing," Merry answered, wriggling his fingers. "It's healed just fine."

Aragorn put two of his fingers in Merry's palm. "Grasp my fingers as hard as you can," he ordered, and Merry obeyed, not with the strength of several weeks before, but not with unexpected weakness either. Then Aragorn reached inside his vest and brought out a single grape. "Now pick that up with your fingers," he said.

Merry's hand shook a bit, but he reached out for the grape, only to have his fingers fumble at it unsuccessfully. He finally grasped it between a finger and his thumb only to have it drop back into the king's hand as he tried to pull it away. Flushing with embarrassment and frustration, Merry guiltily met Aragorn's eyes.

"Merry!" Pippin cried. "Why can't you use your fingers?"

"It's getting better," Merry said in a low voice.

"I hear differently," Aragorn replied, and Merry cut a nasty look at Gimli. The dwarf was not affected and glowered back at the hobbit with good-intentioned severity.

"It's all right, Merry," Aragorn soothed. "Here, let's see if you can do this," and he touched the tip of each finger to his thumb one by one. Merry managed to connect only two of his fingers to the end of his thumb. He blushed even redder and swore.

"Merry," Aragorn said reprovingly. He did not swear himself, and moreover, he had heard Frodo reprimand Merry for not watching his language on enough occasions to know such words were not acceptable among gentlehobbits.

Pippin had risen to stand by Merry's side, and now he put his arms around his cousin. "It's all right, Merry, isn't it, Strider? His hand will get better, won't it?" Pippin's voice was a little shriller than usual.

"I don't know," Aragorn said honestly, "but I can recommend some things that might help." He showed Merry a few hand-strengthening exercises, and also advised that Merry spend some time each day practicing something that required fine hand coordination, like buttoning. After hearing numerous assurances from Pippin that Merry would do everything he had suggested, Aragorn left to attend to Frodo and Sam.

As soon as the king had departed, Merry fixed a steely glare at Gimli. "It was getting better just fine without all this fuss, you know," he began, but Pippin interrupted.

"Merry Brandybuck, I don't believe you!" he exclaimed, then recited in a fairly good imitation of Merry's Buckland accent, "Pippin, no getting out of bed. Pippin, it's time for you to rest. Don't do that, Pippin, you'll strain your eyes. No, Pippin, your leg isn't strong enough for that. Pippin, eat more vegetables, they're good for you. Pippin, no more sweets, too much is bad for you.

"Besides," he concluded, ignoring the guffawing Gimli, "you made me a promise once that you would take care of yourself just as good as you take care of me. You'd better do every single thing Strider said, and maybe I'll forgive you for forgetting your promise. But no more pretending you're all right when you're really not!"

Merry's earlier ire had vanished and now he looked remorseful. "Oh, Pip, I'm sorry," he said. "I just didn't want anyone to worry when you and Frodo and Sam are hurt so much worse. You're right -- I'd never let you act like you were all right if you weren't."

Pippin leaned over to kiss Merry soundly on the cheek. "No, you certainly wouldn't," he said affectionately. "So no more of that. I'm going to be watching you now, you know."

Merry sighed. "So it seems," he said, but he was smiling.

Pippin nodded firmly in satisfaction, then put his hands on his hips. "Now, where is Legolas with my clothes?" he demanded of his audience at large. "If he thinks I won't go to the feast like this and serve Strider, he's wrong."

"I don't know that Aragorn would approve," Gimli said tactfully.

"Oh, I'll just say it was Legolas' fault," Pippin said carelessly, just as the elf entered the tent carrying a small bundle of clothing.

"It was not," Legolas said immediately, setting the clothing on the bed. "Whatever it is, it was Pippin's fault."

"Legolas, I do believe you're finally learning how the world works," Pippin said with a touch of pride. "Now, help me get dressed."

Poor Gimli had a sudden coughing fit, but Merry and Legolas got Pippin outfitted quickly enough and they quitted the tent and went outside to discover the bright new day.

Part Three

Chapter Titles

Hobbit Drinking Song

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