Merry woke up suddenly, in a sweat. Breathing hard, heart racing, he tried to steady himself and remember where he was. He knew he was in a bed, and that the place he was at was pitch-black; he couldn't see a thing.
Taking deep breaths, he leaned back into his pillow, slowly calming himself. Finally he remembered where he was; he was back home in the Shire, at Crickhollow with Pippin.
Shakily Merry wiped an arm across his sweaty forehead. How many times would he have this dream, he wondered. It had woken him two nights in a row, and he had had it twice before that. It was the worst of all the nightmares he had been having since arriving back from the Quest. And it always seemed so real while he was having it; he was never aware that he was dreaming until he abruptly woke up - always at the same spot in the dream. Thank goodness he hadn't awoken screaming this time; last time, Pippin had come running into his room to see what was the matter. Merry had clung to his cousin, weeping and trembling. Pippin had prepared a sleeping draught (warm milk with honey), and had crawled into bed with Merry and stayed with him for the remainder of the night.
The dream happened the same way every time. One would think Merry would recognize it for a dream as soon as it started, but he never did. He always thought it was happening for real, every time. The feeling of intense relief upon awakening was always the same, too.
He would be wandering the Pelennor fields, clutching his right arm. He had stabbed the Witch-King, and Eowyn had brought him down. Now he was just wandering, trying to make his way to the White City, which he could hardly see through the smoke and haze.
After what seemed endless wandering, he caught sight of Pippin duelling with an orc. Why would he be doing that? Wasn't the battle over now? Hadn't all the orcs either fled, or been overrun by the Dead? Well, he would go to his cousin's aid and help bring down the filthy thing.
He couldn't run, and he seemed to be moving in molasses. He kept walking toward Pippin and the orc, but didn't seem to be getting much closer. Frustrated, Merry would clench his jaw and will his legs to move faster. Little by little, he made his way toward the fighting pair. Pippin seemed to be holding his own, but then…
Then, the orc thrust forward with his sword, and pierced Pippin's chest. Instead of pulling the sword out, the orc lowered Pippin's body to the ground, very slowly. Merry saw all this happening, and still couldn't move any faster. Once Pippin was on the ground, the orc pulled his sword out of his chest, then lifted it into the air. He brought it swiftly down towards Pippin's neck, and then... That's when he would wake up, sometimes screaming.
He was still trembling. He sat up to get ready to go to the kitchen for some warm milk when he heard the padding of footsteps outside his door. They stopped, and then a knock. "Merry? May I come in?"
Oh dear. Had he called out after all? "Yes, Pip, come on in," Merry sighed.
Pippin came in and closed the door. He smiled sheepishly. "I wasn't sure if you were awake or not, Merry. I just had one of my nightmares, and wondered if I could stay here again tonight."
"Of course you can, Pip!" Merry was chagrined; he had been so caught up in his own nightmare that he had forgotten Pippin was prone to them as well. "But first I'm going to go get some warm milk. Do you want to come with me? It might help you sleep, too."
Pippin smiled. "I think I will, Merry. Let's go."
The two padded out to the kitchen. Pippin sat at the table while Merry heated up some milk for them both. When it was ready, Merry brought two mugs over to the table, setting one in front of Pippin.
"Thank you, Merry," Pippin said as he took a sip.
The two sat in silence for a few minutes, nursing their beverages. Finally, Pippin said, "It was the same dream as last night, wasn't it?"
Merry looked at Pippin; green eyes locked with blue. Merry nodded. "Yes; the one where I'm trying to reach you on the Pelennor. How did you know I had a nightmare?"
"I heard a loud gasp coming from your room a few moments after I woke from mine."
"Oh. And what was yours, this time?"
Pippin got a far-away look in his eyes as he said, "It was unlike any of the others so far. In this one, you were the Ringbearer for some reason, not Frodo, and it was you and I that went to Mordor. When we finally made it to the Cracks of Doom, you claimed the Ring, much like Frodo did; but then you hurled yourself into the fire, along with It. That's when I woke up."
Merry reached over and squeezed Pippin's arm. "You know," he said, "I like to think that that was Frodo's intention as well; to sacrifice himself before he let the Ring claim him utterly."
"I’m certainly glad it didn't come to that; I'm glad Gollum was there to do it for him. Nasty creature, that; good riddance, in the end."
"You know what Frodo would say if he heard you talking like that; but I do tend to agree with you on that score."
"Sometimes Frodo's heart is too big for his common sense," Pippin said bitterly.
"Only," Merry replied, "if he hadn't refrained from killing Gollum earlier, Sauron would probably now have the Ring, and all of us would probably be dead. So thank the Valar for Frodo's big heart. Gandalf said that Gollum had a part to play, and he was right."
"I know, I just hate thinking of all the heartache he put Frodo and Sam through. I'm not sorry he's dead."
"Nor am I; just don't talk that way in front of Frodo."
The two continued to sit and drink their milk. When they had finished, and were just getting set to retire for the second time that night, a loud banging on the door startled them.
Merry and Pippin exchanged worried glances. They knew that Frodo had not been feeling well lately; hopefully this was not bad news about their cousin.
Merry opened the door, and stood there with his mouth hanging open. "Gandalf! It's the middle of the night! What..."
"No time, young hobbit, no time. If you want to see your cousin one last time, you must hasten to the Grey Havens this very moment. You must hurry." Without another word, Gandalf mounted Shadowfax and took off into the night.
Merry turned around to see Pippin looking at him through tear-laden eyes. "Frodo?" he whispered. Dully, Merry nodded.
"We .. we have to leave, now, for the Grey Havens...to say good-bye."
Together, the two cousins hastily put together two packs and ran out to ready their ponies. They glanced at each other, and understanding passed between them. This may not be a dream, but this was a nightmare they had never considered....and one from which they would not wake.