TITLE: The Scarf
Merry sighed and set his head in his hands. The sun was barely peeking over the rolling hills far in the east, the morning grey and fresh. He sat out front of Great Smials, a ways off, as his mother had instructed. Why couldn't the baby hurry up and be born already? He was getting impatient!
Shaking his head, he pressed his fingertips to his lower lip. That wasn't fair of him. This was an important event for his relatives. Uncle Paladin and Aunt Eglantine had born only girls, and they desperately needed a male heir to carry on the line of Thain. Aunt Eglantine was getting too old to bear much longer; this would be their last attempt.
Aunt Eglantine had carried the child for several long months; Merry's young mind couldn't recall a time when her tummy hadn't been swollen. But still, his mother had seemed terribly frightened late last night when they had gotten word of his aunt's contractions. She had kept murmuring, 'No, it's too soon, too soon
What she had meant, Merry couldn't imagine. But his mother was a midwife, so he supposed she knew what she was talking about. It worried Merry something terrible to see his normally tender and mild mother in such a dither.
The whole of the world seemed to hold its breath as the sun slowly rose, slowly warming the fresh kelly grass and budding trees, the timidly chirping birds in their branches. Even the returning birds seemed to hush, only chirping now and then, as if afraid to break the silence that had come with the night, and never left.
Merry rubbed his bleary eyes. He desperately wanted to sleep, but decided it was best to keep awake; he wouldn't want to miss the birth of his cousin. Standing up, he brushed at the seat of his dew-damp breeches and made his way up to the Smial door, leaning his ear to it.
Everything was quiet inside, too quiet. His stomach sank. Pushing open the rounded door, he silently snuck into the long front hall, winding his way through the maze of smials until he caught sight of his mother, leaving a bed-smial, cleaning her hands on a towel, a forlorn look on her face.
Merry dashed to her, pulling at her skirts. "Mum, can I see the baby? Has he been born? It is a 'he', isn't it? Oh please"
"Meriadoc!" Esmerelda heaved a weak sigh, pushing her only son from her clothes and rubbing her forehead wearily. "Give us a moment!"
"M-mum, what is it? What's wrong?" Merry shifted his weight nervously, balling his fists at his sides. Something wasn't right.
Hesitantly, his mother knelt to the floor and looked into the hobbit lad's wide grey eyes. "It is a boy, Merry." The lad heaved a great sigh of relief and smiled brightly.
"That's wonderful! Why are you so glum, Mummy?" Esmerelda bit her lip thoughtfully, brushing a stray curl from Merry's face.
"The baby was born far too soon, my lamb. He's very small and very weak, and
"A-and?!" Merry's voice rose with agitation. What was to become of his new baby cousin?
"And I'm not sure if he'll live through the night."
Merry's eyes widened, his heart sank. "Wh
But that's not fair!" His eyes burned with the onset of tears; tears that he fought not to shed before his mother. He grew angry. Angry at his mother, at his aunt, at the baby, at the world. He tore away from his mother and dashed past her, bursting into the bed-smial she had come out of.
Uncle Paladin lifted his head from his hands at the commotion from where he sat beside his wife near the bed. "Meriadoc" The hobbitling scrambled onto the bed beside his aunt, his face flushed with tears and aggravation. On his knees, he leaned over the tiny child in his aunt's arms, inspecting it closely.
Upon seeing how small the thing was, he felt sure it would die if he breathed upon it. It was so fragile and weak. "Meriadoc! Come, leave Eglantine alone!" his mother beckoned, but he held his ground, looking at his aunt. She smiled weakly, cheerful despite having endured her fourth and final labour, and seemed hopeful in the face of all the doubt.
"Leave him, Esmerelda, he t'ain't hurting none." Then to Merry, she said softly, "Would you like to hold him?" Merry blinked, stared, looking from his aunt to the faint life in her arms.
"Might I?" He offered his arms to hold the sweetly sleeping hobbitling to his chest, and from the moment he felt the tiny body in his hands, he knew. This soul was something special. He wouldn't die; couldn't die. Not when he was so innocent and bare and new to this world.
The hobbitling stirred and pulled a tiny fist into its rosy mouth. "His name is Perigrin," Eglantine said softly, watching her nephew and newborn son lovingly. "Pippin."
Merry gazed in wonder at the child's fair, flawless skin and sparse red curls. "Perigrin I, son of the Thain. Lovely
" he murmured, and offered his finger to the babe. Pippin made a nasally coo and took the larger finger in his tiny fist, bringing it to his lips to suckle at the tip.
This child was too fair, too beautiful to be taken so soon. It just couldn't be fair. No, Merry decided broodingly, he would grow to be big and strong, and he would become Thain of Great Smials some day, just as his father had hoped for him.
He would befriend Merry, and then he wouldn't be so terribly lonely, what with having three elder sisters and all. They would play games and avoid chores, and run through the pastures and fields, go fishing down at the Brandywine. Merry would teach him the sly ways of the mischief-maker, they would snatch cooling tarts from rounded windows, lift ripened apples from the farmer's orchards.
He shook the whim from his thoughts, his eyes focusing and his brain registering just how small and weak the child really was. There was no chance
With a start, he carefully drew his hand away and handed the baby back to its mother and clambered off the bed. Dashing into the hall, he bumped into his mother's legs and immediately buried his face in her skirts and burst into tears. "Oh," came the muffled wail, "Oh, 'tain't fair, Mum! H-he's only just got here, and he's so lovely!"
"Oh, my dear Merry
" Esmerelda said, her voice gentle but distressed. Kneeling, she gathered her only child to her, kissing his face and smoothing his blond curls. "My sweet, lovely Merry
How blessed I am to have you!"
Merry's lip trembled, his small arms about his mother's neck, shedding quiet tears against her collar. "M-mummy? Mummy, I'm sorry about the baby," he mumbled, only to have Esmerelda clutch him tighter.
"Oh, it is no fault of yours, nor anyone's, my lamb." She held him for a while, until his tears subsided and he kissed her face gently.
"Will he live, if we try to help him?"
Esmerelda sighed softly, not wanting to fill her son's head with false hopes. "He may, Merry. He may."
Pippin was in an awful mood. Today was the day that Merry came of age. It was his thirty-third birthday, and that meant he had to start acting the part of future Master of Buckland.
That meant no more games or avoiding chores, no more careless romping through the pastures, no more fishing down at the Brandywine. No more mischief-making, no more snatching cooling tarts from rounded windows, no more lifting ripened apples from farmer Cotton's unsuspecting orchards.
Pippin was miserable, and to make matters worse, he had to wait. Brooding, he wandered aimlessly about Great Smials, wanting nothing more than to travel the ten miles to Brandy Hall as fast as he could to see his favourite cousin. But he had three sisters, and therefore that was quite impossible.
They had spent the day primping for the party, in hopes of catching the eye of some fine, lonely hobbit lad. Pippin only had one lad in mind, and he was itching to be with him again.
By the time they reached Brandy Hall, the party had begun, yet Merry was nowhere to be found. Pippin stood to the side of the dining smial, scowling. No one seemed to take notice of him, nor knew nor cared where Merry was. This day kept getting worse. He was sure Merry was about; he just couldn't find him amongst all the other laughing, chatting hobbits.
Dinner was un-enjoyable, even for Pip, who had an endless appetite. He couldn't focus. Where was Merry? Evening came, went, and dusk settled about the hole. Broodingly, Pippin had abandoned his search. If Merry loved him at all, he would have to come find him, not the other way around. He knew it sounded terribly selfish, but he was upset and a bit cross.
Wandering down the back halls of Brandy Hall, the sounds of the party began to muffle and quiet with distance. All of a sudden, something caught him round his throat, pulled, and tightened. With a silent cry, Pippin fought, whirling round to face his attacker, charged with adrenaline. Instead of violence, however, he was met with a gentle kiss to the nose as a hobbit grabbed his arms tightly.
"Hullo, Pip," Merry said quietly, as the smaller hobbit threw his arms about his neck and squeezed him tightly, a large grin on his face. "Sorry if I frightened you."
Pippin blushed angrily against his cousin's collar. "I wasn't frightened!" he protested, "You just startled me!" The thing about his neck was a scarf, grey with green and orange pattern; and so very soft. He brushed his fingers over it nervously. "Is
Is this for me?"
Merry nodded bashfully. "Mum taught me how to knit, and I thought it'd look well with your eyes," he said shyly. "It's not very well made, I'm afraid."
"Oh, Merry, it's terribly lovely," Pippin said, the biggest smile he could manage on his face. He pulled the scarf from his shoulders and folded it in half, wrapping it about his neck and pulling the ends through the loop snugly, all the while admiring how soft it was. "It's the nicest mathom I've ever gotten! Thank you!"
Merry turned a violent shade of red and found sudden interest in the floor. "You're very welcome," he mumbled. Pippin gave him a tight hug.
"Happy birthday, Merry," he said gently, a tinge of sadness returning to his voice. "It was nice while it lasted."
"What was?" Merry pushed him back a bit, looking at him with cocked ears.
Pippin shrugged. "Being friends. You're of age now, and don't have time for silly cousins and trouble-making on a whim. Uncle Saradoc will probably send you to work, and that will be that," the younger hobbit admitted, trying his hardest not to look too disappointed. It had been wonderful, for the time they had been given.
To his surprise, Merry laughed. Not a giggle; a warm, deep, belly-clutching laugh. "My silly Pip!" he said, grinning. Pippin stared. "You think that because I'm thirty-three now, that I'll stop being your friend?" he shook his head, blond curls bouncing. "Oh, no. No, I'm still the Merry you knew yesterday, albeit a year older. I haven't changed a bit, save my age!"
Pippin frowned, picking at the end of his scarf. "But Uncle Saradoc will expect you to start behaving like future Master," he protested. "And so you should. It's only proper."
"Perigrin Took, are you telling me your Merry that you want me to start acting mature?" Merry smiled mischievously at this cousin, and took his hands. Pippin hesitated, but shook his head. "That's more like it," Merry crooned. "That's the Pip I know!"
Pippin smiled weakly. "We'll be this way forever?"
"Well, I can't promise. But for as long as we can."
"Merry! Merry, wake up!" Pippin fought against his bonds, the foul stench of Uruk he clung to was making his empty stomach turn. The elder hobbit's head lolled, the gash in his forehead had stopped bleeding, but his brow was swollen and scabbed. He didn't respond.
Frantically, Pippin looked around. There! An Uruk'hai drank from a water skin. "Please," he begged, he was desperate. "My friend is sick! He needs water!" The Uruk turned to look at him, a snarl on his lips. "Please," softer this time; weary, frightened.
"Sick, is he?" The leader had overheard Pippin's frantic cries, and had come to see what the tiny creature was screeching about. "Well give him some medicine, boys!" The Uruk with the water skin grabbed Merry's face roughly, forcing the bottle to his lips and pouring the liquid into his mouth.
Merry awoke enough to splutter; it wasn't water. He gagged on the revolting Orc drink, spitting the oily liquid down his front, tears in his eyes. "S-stop it!" Pippin watched in horror; there was nothing he could do. The Uruk'hai found Merry's retching and crying intensely humorous, and rolled with dark, spine-chilling laughter. Pippin growled, low in his throat. "Leave him alone!"
"Why?" was the deep voice of the Uruk captain. Pippin's breath caught in his throat. "You won't stop me! Now keep your mouth shut." He made his way to the front of the group again, and Pippin frantically turned to Merry.
"Merry," he whispered; his cousin was conscious. Merry lifted his head and looked to the younger hobbit with distant eyes, never quite focusing. His lip trembled and his face was wet with the Orc drink.
"Pip," he whimpered, out of breath.
"You're hurt," Pippin said quietly, a note of desperation in his voice.
"I'm fine," Merry assured him weakly, his head falling against the back of the Uruk he was bound to. "It was just an act."
"See? Fooled you too," he said, a meek smile on his face. Pippin almost wanted to believe his cousin, had he not known him so well. There was pain and distress in his eyes. But then the smile was gone, and he laid his head down again. "Don't worry 'bout me, Pip."
Pippin knew what he had to do. Tearing the elfin brooch from his cloak, he dropped it as the band of Uruk'hai began to move again. Aragorn would find them, he was certain. With a glance at Merry, clinging to the Uruk and his life, Pippin's aching heart shattered. He was so useless, so helpless, so alone. Merry just couldn't die; he needed him!
Burying his lips in the scarf about his neck, he turned his head away from his cousin and wept.