The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate
Merry and Pippin were sitting on Merry’s bed, a large tray laden with food between them.
They looked up as Aragorn entered and smiled with delight to see their visitor.
“Strider, how good to see you!” Merry exclaimed.
“Do have a cake, they taste good!” Pippin said proffering a plate in greeting.
Aragorn accepted, despite the urgency of his errand, hoping the sweet cake might make him feel a little less weary.
He noticed with a flash of amusement that the hobbits had somehow managed to procure some of the tea, which they were so fond of drinking in the Shire.
He helped himself to a cup, knowing it was famed for its invigorating properties.
“How is your, arm, Merry?” he asked, noticing that Merry held his teacup in his left hand.
“Much better, thank you,” Merry replied, hastily changing the cup to the other hand where it wobbled alarmingly.
“I will look at it later.” Aragorn replied, unconvinced, ” But first I must ask Pippin to come with me to see the Lord Faramir.”
Pippin looked alarmed.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.” Has his fever come back?”
Aragorn shook his head. ”No, he is recovering from his injuries but he wants to know how his father died and begged me to fetch someone who was there, loathe though I am to do so.”
Pippin stared at the King in horror.
“But I can’t tell him that his father tried to burn him alive!” he gasped.
“I fear you must as Gandalf is occupied with preparations for tomorrow’s departure.”
“But I don’t know what to say!” Pippin blanched at the prospect. Aragorn laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“Just keep to the facts and do not go into details but emphasise how his father had lost his mind .I will be with you when you speak to him.”
“I’m glad I wasn’t there. I’m sorry you had to see all that, Pip!” Merry said as he started eating another cake.
“Faramir would have died had Pippin not been there, so Gandalf tells me.” Aragorn said gravely, swallowing the last of his tea. He replaced the cup on the tray and led Pippin towards the door.
“I will be back later to tend to your arm,” he told Merry as they left.
Pippin shuddered but collected himself as they reached Faramir’s room and went within.
Faramir had not moved since Aragorn had left him and he now lay back against the pillows looking anxious.
“Here is one who was present when your father died.” Aragorn said quietly to the young Steward.
“How are you my Lord?” asked Pippin with genuine concern, as he had come to care deeply for Faramir in the short time he had known him.
“I am much better, Master Peregrin. I thank you for your concern. Now, I beg of you, tell me how my father died as my Lord King says you were there.”
Pippin took a deep breath and stared at the floor, unable to look Faramir in the eye. Then the words came tumbling out without pause for breath.
“Your father, Lord Faramir, lost his mind and I believe he thought you dead or almost so and the enemy was at the gates. So he had his servants take you to the tombs and build a funeral pyre for you both. I ran to fetch Gandalf and we pulled you from the pyre but we could not save your father. The poor Lord had quite lost his wits.”
Pippin finally stopped for breath and ventured a quick glance at Faramir.
To his surprise, the young man showed little emotion apart from a sharp intake of breath.
“It seems that I owe you my life, Master Peregrin. You have my thanks,” he said gravely.
Pippin blushed and shifted his feet uneasily. Aragorn took pity on him.
“You can return to Merry now, if you wish.” he said, smiling at the Hobbit.
Pippin inclined his head to Faramir and left, thankful the ordeal was over.
Aragorn then sat down by Faramir’s bedside and studied the young man’s impassive features.
Faramir’s eyes were closed and it was impossible to know what he was thinking.
“My father had little time for me in life, strange he should wish for my company in death, is it not?” he remarked with a bitter smile.
“The Dark Lord poisoned his mind.” Aragorn replied. “He believed the city would fall to him ere nightfall.”
“He was angry that I still lived while Boromir had fallen.” Faramir said without any trace of rancour.” Yet, even my brother, the noblest of our people, fell under the evil spell of the one ring. Who then could resist the Dark Lord?”
Relieved that Faramir had mentioned his brother first, Aragorn said quietly.
“Your brother repented of his evil. He died with honour.”
Faramir gazed at him with sad dark eyes.
“How do you know of these things?”
“I was with your brother, when he breathed his last. Alas, I came too late to save his life!” Aragorn took Faramir’s hand and noted it was trembling slightly. “Do you wish to know more?”
“Boromir repented of his folly in coveting the ring and did not pursue Frodo when he fled from him, but instead went to the defence of the Hobbits, Meriadoc and Peregrin when a band of Uruk Hai sent by Saruman attacked them. He fought with great valour but fell eventually pierced with many arrows, beyond my skills to heal, alas. I ran to his side and he was able to tell me what had happened before he passed beyond the circles of this world. I blessed him and he breathed his last. Then my companions and I laid him to rest in a fair Elven boat and gave his body to the river.”
Faramir smiled faintly.
“That part, I know my Lord, I saw it in a dream. It eases my heart to know that he died with honour and not alone.”
Aragorn was not surprised by the others calmness and lack of tears, given his background. Though the racing pulse he could feel as he clasped his wrist belied the seeming tranquillity.
Faramir took a deep breath.
“Thank you for telling me this, my Liege.” he said.” Now if I may, I would rest as my wound is much less painful since you tended it.”
Aragorn looked at him doubtfully, certain he was struggling to hold back his grief, which needed release if he were to heal in mind as well as body.
“Would you not like someone to stay with you, your uncle maybe?” he enquired, hoping that Imrahil might provide the comfort needed.
“When my uncle is less burdened with cares of state. I should like to see him.” He closed his eyes as if in dismissal.
Aragorn had little choice but to leave, though he feared that Faramir’s emotions were stretched taunt as a bowstring that could snap any moment plunging him into the same dark madness that claimed his father. He despatched a messenger in search of Imrahil.
Swaying slightly with weariness and grief, Aragorn next went to speak to the chief of the women who tended Lady Eowyn and asked how the Lady of Rohan was faring.
“Her body heals but her mind is deeply troubled, sir.” the woman said.” She keeps demanding to be allowed out of bed despite her broken arm and other hurts.”
Aragorn monetarily closed his eyes and sighed. It was as he had feared and although he had never encouraged the lady to see him in a romantic light, he still felt responsible.
“She must stay here for many days, yet,” he said.” If need be, hide her clothing, so she will have to remain in her room.”
“Yes, my Lord.” the woman replied.” If you will excuse me, I must return to tend Lady Eowyn.”
“Care for her well throughout the coming days!” Aragorn instructed her before letting her leave.
He then returned to Merry’s room. The Hobbit had now returned to his bed and looked tired. Pippin was sitting beside him and they were talking nostalgically of the Shire.
Aragorn felt a sudden stab of sorrow for their lost innocence as they were so changed from the carefree young Hobbits he had first met at Bree.
He forced himself to smile at them, as he knew they looked to him for reassurance.
“I have come to see how your injured arm is faring, Merry.” he said.” I noticed you are still favouring the other one.
“It is much better.” Merry said, a little too hastily.” Just a trifle stiff.”
“Let me see!”
Merry sighed but obediently rolled up his sleeve.
Aragorn gently felt it up to the shoulder joint and noted Merry’s arm still felt slightly cold although no marks were visible.
He grasped the Hobbit’s arm with his left hand and held the right poised about two inches above the cold flesh and closed his eyes, hoping he had the strength needed.
Merry was puzzled.” What’s wrong, Strider?” he asked.” I told you, it doesn’t hurt or anything.”
He tried to pull his arm away from Aragorn’s grasp.
“Hold it still, Merry!” Aragorn ordered.” I want to make sure you have the full use of it.”
“Won’t it do later, if it’s still stiff?” Merry asked.” After all, it is only two days since I injured it.”
“I do not know if or when. I will return and would leave you whole.” Aragorn said quietly.
He had been too weary to give Merry as much healing as he would have wished, when he saved his life, having already spend much of his strength on healing Faramir and the Lady Eowyn, while she was unconscious as he did not dare return to her later in case she mistook his attention for romantic feelings again.
Merry shuddered at the sorrow in his voice and made no further protest.
He could feel a powerful heat emanating from Aragorn’s outstretched hand, which seemed to permeate deeply into his flesh and melt the coldness.
He glanced at Aragorn’s face and it appeared to him that the man was far away as if in some sort of trance. Slightly afraid, he sat still, hardly daring to breathe.
Aragorn opened his eyes and smiled at him. His face looked grey with exhaustion.
“Does that feel better?” he asked.
Merry flexed the arm and found he could now move it easily.
“Yes, it feels normal now, thank you, Strider!” he cried in amazement. “Can I ride out with you and Pippin tomorrow now?”
Aragorn shook his head.
“No, Merry, you suffered the Black Breath. It takes time to recover from that.”
“But I want to go with Pippin!”
”We have hardly ever been parted.” Pippin added pleadingly.
Aragorn’s face was grave.
“If you wish to stay here with Merry, I count it no disgrace, Pippin. You were freed from your oath to Gondor, when Lord Denethor released you.” he said quietly.” The land of Mordor is no place for a Hobbit!”
“Frodo and Sam are there, I want to help them. Don’t leave me behind! I want to fight for the Shire as much as for Gondor!” Pippin pleaded.
“You are so young.” Aragorn said sadly.” You will be risking your life. I do not know if I can protect you.”
“I wish to come.” Pippin said steadfastly.
“If that is your choice, I shall not prevent you.” Aragorn said.” I know how much you want to help your cousin and represent the Shire and that is noble, however if you wish to change your mind before morning, you still can.”
“I won’t.” Pippin said steadfastly doing his best to ignore the sorrow in Merry’s eyes.
Aragorn took out a jar of salve from his pack and started massaging Merry’s arm and shoulder with the contents.
Merry grimaced.” So much fuss! I said my arm felt better and this stuff smells vile!”
Despite his sorrowful mood, Aragorn was unable to repress a smile.
“It is as well Lord Elrond cannot hear you complaining about his millennia old and much coveted ointment!” he commented wryly.” Now stop wriggling, this treatment is meant to be relaxing!”
“I’m sorry, Strider,” said Merry.” I know you are trying to help me and I do appreciate it. I don’t know how we could have managed without your help! It is just so hard to keep still as your fingers tickle!”
Aragorn finished applying the salve and started to wash his hands. ”There is something you can for me, if you will, Merry.” he said, picking up the towel.
Merry rolled down his sleeve and leaned back on the pillows.
“Very gladly as I feel so useless being left behind!”
“I would have you help care for those left behind wounded, Lord Faramir and especially the Lady Eowyn while we are gone as she is sorrowful for the loss of her uncle, and her brother rides forth with the Host tomorrow.”
Merry bowed his head and wiped away a tear. He had only known King Theoden a short time but had come to love him as a father.”
“I promise you I will.” he said sincerely.” I share Lady Eowyn’s grief for the King and we will have much to talk about. We both know what it is like to face that thing!” He shuddered and felt a stab of pain in his arm at the mention of the Nazgul.
Aragorn noticed his reaction.
“Try not to think of it too much.” he said gently.” I promise you the memory will fade in time but few would have had your courage to face it as you and Lady Eowyn did.”
Merry basked in the praise but tried in typical Hobbit fashion to make light of it.
“Who knows, maybe I will merit a mention in one of Bilbo’s songs?” he said
“Now that would be an honour!” Pippin replied.
Watching them jesting together, Aragorn felt a keen pang of sorrow as he remembered the songs and stories after the feast at Rivendell and wondered if they would ever all be together again.
He briefly closed his eyes and at once a vision of Arwen flashed into his mind as she had appeared on that evening, so beautiful that all eyes had lingered on her. He swayed slightly.
“Are you alright, Strider?”
Pippin’s concerned voice roused him from his reverie.
“I am just weary. I will leave you now but will see you again before we leave,” he assured the Hobbits.