“O Merry mine, my little Merry sunshine, it’s time to get up.”
“Don’t want to. I’m comf’table,” the child muttered into the blankets he pulled up over his face.
“I don’t care if you want to,” Frodo replied reasonably, “but as you’re lying on my arm and as I need to get up, I need for you to get up, too.”
“Go back to sleep,” suggested Merry, who considered himself to be as reasonable as his older cousin.
“Merry, I have to get up, and very soon, or I’ll have Aunt Esme very frustrated with me. I mean, I’m far too big a lad to wet my bed, you know. And, if I wet my bed, you know what that will do to you, as you are lying on my arm and I won’t be able to turn the other way.”
Grumbling, Merry sat up. “Oh, all right.”
Frodo’s face appeared relieved as he rolled over to get out of bed. “Thank you very much, and I suspect Aunt Esme would thank you, too, if she were to know the circumstances.” He shook his arm. “It’s asleep. It will be minutes before I can feel again, I’m afraid.” He rose and reached for his dressing gown with his left arm and rather clumsily donned it. “Now--for the privy.”
“Well, since you’re going, I’ll go, too,” Merry yawned as he slipped his feet out from under the covers. “Then we can go back to bed together.”
As they hurried down the corridor to the privy Frodo commented, “I didn’t even notice you’d slipped into bed with me. In fact, I clearly remember tucking you into your own bed and going alone to mine. I’m sure you weren’t there when I blew out the lamp.”
“I had a bad dream, and I woke up. So, I came to your room. I’m not afraid when I’m with you.”
“That’s very flattering,” Frodo sighed, “but it makes it hard when you always lie on my arm and make it fall asleep, and don’t want to wake up when I have to get up.”
They’d finished their business and were on their way back to Frodo’s room when Merry asked, “Frodo--why do you always call Mummy Aunt Esme?”
“That’s what I’ve always called her, for all she’s really a cousin. What do you think I should call her, Merry mine?”
“You should call her Mummy, same as me.”
“But she’s not my mummy--she’s your mummy.”
“But she acts like your mummy.”
“Yes, she’s like a mother to me, Merry--but she’s not my real mum, and we both know it.”
“But your mummy is gone now.”
Frodo’s face was solemn. “Yes, you’re right--she’s gone now and all; but she’s still my mum, and no one else will ever be my mother. And no matter how much I love your mum, she and I both remember when she was just my cousin I called my aunt, and we can’t ever be truly mother and son as she is with you. I had that with my real mother, and she’s the only one I can truly have that with.”
They returned to the bedroom and to the bed, this time Frodo pointedly holding his arm to his side to keep his little cousin from lying on it. As Frodo pulled the blankets over the two of them and rather fussily arranged them around Merry, the child asked, “Will you promise me something, Frodo?”
“What, Merry mine?”
“That you won’t ever leave me?” Frodo remained quiet for quite some time, and at last the child persisted, “Won’t you promise me, please, Frodo?”
At last the older lad answered in a low voice, “I can’t promise that, Merry.”
The child rolled to look in surprise and dismay at his older cousin’s uncharacteristically solemn face. “Why can’t you, Frodo?”
Frodo wasn’t meeting his eyes, and there was a deep solemnity in his voice when he finally responded, “I learned, when my parents died, that we can’t make promises like that. My mum and dad tried to explain a long time ago why we can’t promise never to leave someone, that sometimes there’s no way to stop going when it’s time. They didn’t want to leave me, I know, and told me all about the things we’d do the next morning, only the next morning they weren’t there. They couldn’t help it. It was just an accident, I know, so they couldn’t help it at all, but they had to go and no one could help it--not that night. And Uncle Bilbo--he said the same--that sometimes the restlessness is on him so strong he must be off--off to Bree or across the Shire, off to find the lost ways and secret gates; and he’s so much older than me he must surely find the time when he must go and leave me behind in Middle Earth. And now and then--now and then it’s as if I must crawl right out of my skin, I feel so caught. One day I, too, will need to be off to----”
The older lad shook his head. “I don’t know,” he whispered after a few moments. “I only know some day I, too, will need to be off.”
“To find the lost ways and secret gates?” Merry hazarded.
He felt the blankets move over him as the larger Hobbit shrugged. “I don’t know.” Frodo shrugged again, then looked down at his smaller cousin, then smiled consolingly. “I will promise to only go when I can’t help it, though, Merry. Now, what was your bad dream about?”
Now it was the child’s turn to shrug. “It’s not so scary now, now it’s light out. It was a dark night, and you were inside and I was outside, and I was looking at the stars that showed through the clouds, and saw some big black monsters, only I wasn’t afraid of them--not yet. I was following them to see what they wanted to do, only a third one--there were two of them I was following--turned out to be following me, and suddenly I was scared, real scared, and woke up. That’s when I came in here to be with you. They’d wanted you, you see--the black monsters, I mean.”
“How do you know they wanted me?”
“They kept saying ‘Baggins’,” Merry explained.
“They might have wanted Bilbo, or Ponto, or even Porto, you know.”
Again Merry shrugged, adding a sniff this time. “Maybe, but I think they wanted you. You were the one inside, not Bilbo or Ponto or Porto. What’s Porto like? I’ve never seen him.”
“The one time he visited us in Whitfurrow,” Frodo began, and Merry shifted to lie closer to Frodo’s chest as Frodo continued his story, content to be by the Hobbit he idolized so and thought of as his big brother.
A year later Merry approached Frodo’s closed bedroom door with a feeling of fear. Gomez had hurt Frodo’s feelings--the young Hobbit lad knew that. At times he hated Gomez Brandybuck, even if he was a cousin. Frodo didn’t trust Gomez particularly, he knew, for the older lad was a bit of a bully at times, and liked making fun of Frodo because Frodo didn’t have folks of his own. Sometimes Gomez would take something Frodo had made, like a drawing he’d been working on or a story he was writing, and he’d make fun of it. Merry hated when Gomez would do that, for he thought Frodo’s stories were wonderful and his pictures just as good. So far Grandda Rory and Dad and Uncle Mac and Mummy hadn’t caught Gomez at it, and Frodo had forbade Merry from telling them; but Merry didn’t know how much longer he could keep from telling them, Gomez was so hateful. So Frodo had withdrawn to his room, and Merry was intent on seeing to it his cousin was all right.
He knocked his special knock so Frodo would know it was him, and at last he was rewarded with, “Come in, Merry mine.” Relieved, the little Hobbit lad opened the door and went in.
Frodo was draped across his bed, and he had one of his journals open in front of him, and a graphite stick in his hands. He gave Merry a severe look. “I’m all right, Merry. You don’t have to be worried for me.”
“He was hateful, Frodo,” Merry said as he crawled up on the bed beside him.
“Yes, he was. And starting tonight I’m going to get him back.”
“How?” Merry sat up eagerly, for he knew that Frodo’s pranks could be ingenious.
“Well, you know how much he likes bread pudding? You see, Willow’s been saving leftover bread for the past few days to make some, and I think we should get some of it and make a bit of our own. And if we add some cascara to it....”
It was a wonderful trick, and worked perfectly. Frodo had added just enough cascara to it to keep Gomez having to run to the privy frequently for two days, but not enough to hurt him seriously. And no one could explain how Frodo might have been involved, although Gamma Menegilda was certain somehow her husband’s nephew had managed to relieve her of a bit of cascara when he helped her reorganize and refill her stores for the herb chest, a suspicion she couldn’t actually prove. But how it was that a wonderful bowl of bread pudding had managed to find its way into Gomez’s room the morning Willow prepared it for luncheon in the common dining hall no one could explain, although his greed at eating it all was recognized as common enough to him.
The night after Gomez finally was able to go all day without having to return to the privy every few minutes Merry came to Frodo’s room and crawled in bed with him again, pleased that Frodo was so well avenged on Gomez. Frodo was asleep with his arm out as he usually slept, and Merry slipped under the covers to pillow his head on it as he usually did, glad Frodo was there.
He was awakened by, “O Merry mine--my arm’s asleep again, you know. Wake up, little Merry sunshine.”
“O Merry mine--wake up, my little Merry sunshine.”
Merry lay on his side, his head pillowed on Frodo’s arm as usual, but he refused to roll over and look at his older cousin. “Don’t want to,” he said stubbornly. “And don’t call me that. I’m mad at you.”
He felt Frodo’s sigh against his back. “Please, Merry--try to understand. I’ll be in a family of my own again.”
“You have a family of your own--here, in the Hall where you belong.”
“Merry--this is your family. Bilbo’s my family.”
“No more your family than mine, you know. He’s a cousin to all of us, after all.”
“But he’s my family head.”
“He’s family head for me, too.”
“Your grandda is your family head, and then your dad will be your family head, and then you will when it’s your turn. You’re not a Baggins, Merry. You’re related to Bilbo through the Tooks, not the Bagginses.”
“I’m related to him through you, Frodo Baggins.”
Again he felt a sigh. “Merry,” Frodo said again, rising up on his elbow to look down on him, “if I stay any longer I’ll fade away. Aunt Gilda won’t let me do anything worthwhile, and everybody watches me all the time to make certain I don’t do anything strenuous. And when I ask why I can’t go play at roopie they just shrug and mutter about how I should understand not every Hobbit child plays at it. Same about running in the races, or learning to ride or working in the stable. Now I’m not getting in trouble for raiding the farms any more, it’s like I can’t do anything. Every time I go out on my own they get worried, and when I come back they are full of questions. I can tell them honestly I’ve not been doing anything wrong, but they still are looking at me as if I’m made of finest glass and will break if anyone looks at me closely. I can’t take it any more, Merry. I feel like I’ll crawl right out of my skin if it keeps on.
“Bilbo is the only one who listens--really listens to me, Merry. He realizes I can’t stay on with everyone guarding me like--like I’m some soap bubble that will pop if the wind gets at me. He knows how I hate feeling useless except when I’m allowed to keep care of the younger ones or on watch at the cove on the river in the summer. He and Aunt Gilda got into such a row over it, you know, how it hurts me to be watched by everyone, as if everyone knows a secret about me but me, and they’re watching to make certain I don’t learn of it.”
Something soft and warm fell on Merry’s temple, and he turned over in surprise, shocked to find Frodo was crying. He’d only seen Frodo cry a very few times, usually only when he’d hidden himself away after one of the older lads had said or done something terribly hurtful and Merry had managed to find his hiding place.
“Frodo?” the child asked softly, suddenly afraid. Frodo had gotten paler over the winter, paler and thinner. He’d heard his mother comment on it often enough, and discussing it in low tones with Gammer Menegilda and the healers. One of the healers had nodded his own understanding.
“It’s all right, Merry mine. Only, please, try to understand.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too, Merry.” Frodo sniffed, then murmured, “I don’t really want to go, Merry, but I can’t stay--not and--and expect to live. Every time I’m not allowed to do something I just cringe inside me, and a little more of me dies. I’ve been dying by inches, and I suspect I have only a few left at this point.”
Merry found himself forcing his arms around Frodo, holding his older cousin as closely as he could. “I’ll miss you, too, Frodo mine.”
“O Merry mine--wake up, my little Merry sunshine.”
Merry rolled over, looking up into Frodo’s face. Frodo’s face was happier, fuller, than when he left Brandy Hall, his eyes less haunted. “Morning, my Frodo,” he murmured sleepily.
“If you’ll sit up for a moment, I’ll go to the privy. My arm is asleep again.”
Merry sat up long enough to allow Frodo out of the bed, and waited until his cousin came back again. As Frodo carefully arranged the covers around the two of them, Merry said, “You really like it here, Frodo?”
Frodo nodded. “I love it here, Merry. I have Uncle Bilbo, who loves me as if he was my father. He lets me do things--run races, play roopie, help people who need it, do much of the marketing, dance--you saw me dance at the Free Fair, I know.”
“Yes--you were wonderful! But, you’re always wonderful.”
“I help in the garden, too, and am helping teach Sam to read. I swim in the Water, and last week helped cut wood for the winter coming up. And I can study and argue with Bilbo--he likes to have me argue with him, but he calls it debating, as long as I follow the rules and attack ideas and thoughts instead of people. When I can show his ideas are wrong he’s pleased with me, although he’s just as glad when he proves mine are wrong.”
“Do you call him Dad?”
Frodo’s face grew more serious. “No, Merry--he’s not my dad, not my real father. He doesn’t want me to call him Dad, either, for he knew my dad so well and wants me to always love and honor him. But if I’m still happy here when a year is up, he’s going to adopt me as his heir, and then I’ll stay here and be Master of Bag End after him, and I’ll be family head after him, too. No, he’s my Uncle Bilbo and will always be my Uncle Bilbo, and that’s all he wants to be. We’ll go for a bit of a tramp next week, probably the last one we can do with fall setting in. We’ll only be gone a couple days, though. And maybe, just maybe we’ll see some Elves. I’d love to meet some more Elves.”
“Will you get to meet Dwarves?”
“Well, he’s already introduced me to Dwarves, when we lived in Whitfurrow before my mum and dad died. The Dwarves like him and respect him and call him the esteemed burglar.”
“Then--then you don’t want to come back to the Hall and live with us again?”
Frodo seemed sad, but determined. “No, Merry mine, I’ll never stop loving you, but I’ll never live in the Hall again.”
“And you’ll stay here, Frodo, even when Bilbo doesn’t need you any more?”
“Don’t cry, Merry. This is where I belong now, here in Hobbiton. I think I’ve always belonged here, even if my mum didn’t want to live near Cousin Lobelia.”
“She’s nasty--everyone says so.”
“Her tongue is nasty enough, but she can’t hurt me, you know, not really. Oh, Merry, you can’t understand just how much I love knowing I’m useful--really useful. And Uncle Bilbo is teaching me to cook and bake more, although I don’t think I’ll ever be as good a baker as he is. And I’m really starting to learn Sindarin now--that’s one of the Elvish languages. It’s such a lovely language--all silvery on the tongue.”
“Aunt Lanti and Uncle Pal will be here today with the lasses.”
“Yes, I know.”
“She’s getting fatter, did you notice?”
Frodo laughed. “Don’t say that to her. She’s not really getting fatter--that’s just the baby.”
“The one who will be born sometime after Yule.”
“How do you know it’s a baby and not just her getting fat?”
“Because there have been letters about it. We’re planning to go to the Great Smial for Yule this year, and your family, too, to be there when the bairn comes. Although Uncle Pal may decide to stay at the farm, if Aunt Lanti has any difficulties. Nobody wants the bairn to be born too early, like I was. I guess that’s why Aunt Gilda used to not let me do lots of things, because I was born too early. I overheard Cousin Lobelia talking about it in Hobbiton, and I asked Uncle Bilbo, and he agreed that’s why. Oftentimes, I understand, those who are born too early can be delicate, and after my folks died they thought that was true of me.”
“But you’re not delicate!” Merry was offended by the idea.
“Uncle Bilbo agrees with you. Now, do you want to get up for first breakfast? Uncle Bilbo and I made honey buns yesterday. And he has a special iron the Dwarves made for him out of cast iron, and you pour batter in it and close it down and cook the batter over the range. The cakes come out all golden, and taste wonderful with syrup or berries and thick, sweetened cream on them. And I can smell the bacon cooking now.”
As they pulled on their dressing gowns and headed for the kitchen, Merry asked, “Will the bairn be another lass this time, do you think?”
“There’s no real way to know, I guess, until it’s born. I have a feeling, though, this time it will be a lad. And if it is, he will need you to teach him things, like I’ve taught you things. After all, there aren’t any other lads there on the farm in Whitwell.”
“And I’ll be like a big brother to him, like you were to me?”
Merry thought about it as they entered the kitchen. “I’d really like that, you know, Frodo?”
Frodo was smiling with approval as they took their places, side by side, at the cheerful trestle table and Uncle Bilbo began immediately piling their plates with bacon and sausages and the sweet baked cakes he’d mentioned.
Dearest Merry mine,
I’m so sorry I couldn’t come to the farm with you, but the healers won’t let me travel with all the cold and snow. I was very ill last month, as you know. I don’t even remember all of it, I’m afraid. And now little Peregrin is born, and at least you were able to be there for it. I understand he was a bit early, although apparently not so early as I was. You’ll have to write and tell me all about it, and all about him.
I was so sorry to hear that Aunt Gilda also got the lung sickness. I’m sure that if it weren’t for that she would have come to help nurse me. Auntie Dora, my dad’s older sister, came instead. I’ve only seen her a few times before, so I barely remembered her. She’s quite strict yet actually very nice. She’s always sending Uncle Bilbo letters about how he should do this or that or telling him How He should Act now he has a Child in the House. That’s how she writes--many of the words in capital letters. She did all the laundry herself while she was here, and darned all my mittens and mended all my shirts and trousers and ironed everything that can be ironed, and helped decorate for Yule.
Sam has helped a good deal, too, and I understand he stayed several days while I was at my sickest. He helped fetch and carry for all of us, and would sit by me when Uncle Bilbo and Auntie Dora needed to take naps. But his own mum caught the lung sickness, too, and she’s not recovering like I am. I know that the Gaffer is still worried for her.
I’m glad you were only a little bit sick, not like me, and that all of you were well over it before you traveled to Tookland. I hope you can stop for a short visit on your way back to Buckland so I can see you. I so miss my little Merry sunshine, although you aren’t quite so little any more, I suppose.
“O Merry mine, can you tell me how the infant ended up in my bed, too, same as you?”
“Well, he follows me everywhere. Last night he slipped out of his cot and came to get into mine with me, and when I decided to come sleep with you he followed me.”
“But how did he get into the bed? He’s much too small to climb up himself.”
“I know. I had to boost him up, so he crawled in by you and I slept on the other side.”
“So this time I got two bairns sleeping on my arm.”
“I am not a bairn, Frodo Baggins.”
“I’m sorry--you’re right, for you indeed aren’t a bairn. But there’s no question he is one, and what’s more, he’s a wet one who’s left my nightshirt and sheets wet, too. And I’ll need a bath before first breakfast.”
“I couldn’t leave him behind, Frodo--you’re right, he’s like a brother to me, and so he’ll be like a brother to you, too.”
“I see. Perhaps I oughtn’t to have put that idea into your head. Well, let me up so I can take off this wet nightshirt and put on my dressing gown and go off and get a bath. I don’t want to smell like wet nappies.”
“We ought to change him first, don’t you think? I know where the clean nappies are.”
“He’ll need a bath, too, I’m afraid. Well, get up off my arm and we’ll take him to the bathing room and we’ll all get cleaned up together. But first go off and get a clean nappie or two. Oh, dear, it’s more than just wet he is.”
“Frodo, do all babies stink like him?”
“I’m afraid so. Certainly you did when you were a bairn as small as him.”
“Oh, I assure you that you most definitely did.”
“You know what, Frodo? You sound like Bilbo now.”
Frodo laughed. “Well, I suppose I do. Comes from living with him for almost two years, I suppose.”
“O Merry mine, it’s time to wake up. Bilbo and I will have your breakfast ready shortly, you know. I’ll leave it to you to rouse Pippin there.”
“He slipped into my bed in the middle of the night--some dream he had of a tree trying to eat me or something. I’m afraid I didn’t catch all of it.”
“It’s not so long ago, my fine young cousin, that it was you coming into my bed because you were having dreams of black monsters who wanted me or something like that.”
“You remember that?”
“I rather think I do. Well, the sooner you rouse him, the sooner you can eat.”
“Frodo--my arm is asleep. He’s been lying on it the whole time.”
“O Merry mine....” Frodo’s voice was just a whisper in Merry’s ear, but the younger Hobbit was awake immediately.
“Did you sleep at all, Frodo?”
“Some, actually; but I need to--to relieve myself. And somehow during the night----” Frodo paused and licked his lips. “Somehow Pippin ended up sleeping on my right arm.”
“Oh, dear,” Merry murmured as he rose and reached for the shirt Sam, who’d been lying on the other side of Pippin, was already handing him from where he’d been sleeping. Strider was rising from where he’d been keeping the last watch, but Sam waved him off, leaving the Man to rebuild the fire and prepare what he could for a morning meal. Sam rather roughly rolled the still slumbering Pippin off Frodo’s right arm and tried chafing some life back into it.
“At least it’s warm,” Sam muttered as he helped Merry wrestle it into a sleeve of Frodo’s warmed shirt.
Frodo, who was blinking as if to clear his vision, nodded, his brow furrowed with his discomfort. At last he murmured, “Leave it, Sam. I rather need a privy--or the best we can do--now.”
Sam nodded, and at a shared look with Merry he put himself under Frodo’s right arm while Merry pulled the lifeless, cold left one over himself, and between them raised the older Hobbit to his feet and walked him to the place they’d been using. His pale cheeks flamed as Merry had to do what was necessary to unfasten his trousers. For as private an individual as Frodo had become this was almost unbearable. “I’m sorry, Frodo,” Merry whispered afterward.
“It’s all right, Merry,” Frodo said softly as he allowed his cousin to redo the fastenings. “There’s nothing else we can do. But I hate feeling so useless.”
Remembering long-ago early morning conversations, Merry nodded his understanding, then put himself back under Frodo’s cold left arm for the walk back to the fire where a yawning Pippin held warmed damp cloths to help cleanse their hands and faces and Strider was already spooning the thick, sweetened gruel into their mugs. Hopefully some form of help would come to them today, and they’d reach Rivendell in time.
“O Merry mine, wake up if you can,” Frodo crooned. Merry opened his eyes, leaving the dreams of orc faces crowding over him behind. He was in the room he shared with Pippin in the guest house in Minas Tirith, and Frodo leaned over him, his eyes reassuring as Merry caught his bearings again.
“Oh, Frodo, how glad I am to see you,” the younger Hobbit said. “But I’m sorry if I woke you.”
“Well,” Frodo said, absently rubbing at his left shoulder, “at least you didn’t let me wake up to find you’d crawled into my bed and laid on my right arm, putting it to sleep again. Sam’s fetching some chamomile tea, if you’d like it.”
“Yes, thanks.” And as Frodo’s hand again dropped to cover Merry’s the younger Hobbit took and massaged at it, feeling the muscles jumping some under the knuckle near the gap where the finger was now missing.
O Merry mine--wake up, my Merry sunshine.
Merry seemed to waken, finding a joyful, shining Frodo standing over him. But Pippin----
Frodo made a dismissive gesture with his right hand, a hand that no longer appeared to be missing a finger. He’s already awakening, too. You don’t think the two of you would either one manage to leave the other behind, do you, any more than Sam and I could do? Ah, here he comes. Now, do you want to go in, or go by? I never wanted to go in, not after the first time when Aragorn called me back.
And as a shining Pippin came to stand at his side, Merry turned to examine the shining of the Halls of Mandos with the glory of the Gardens behind it, completely ignoring the mithril gates they’d passed unawares, glad only to once again awaken in the company of the one individual he’d always thought of as his older brother.