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The Lost Child, Part One - by Murron (elfling@gmx.de)

Rating: PG
Category: Gen/Angst
Characters: Pippin, Merry (non-slash)
Timeframe: Book-Canon, FOTR, Lothlórien
Disclaimer: The characters and settings in this story strictly belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. I remain an admirer of his incredible work, which inspires in so many ways. This story was written for entertainment purposes only. No money is gained out of it and no copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Galadriel’s offer throws a shadow over both Merry and Pippin.
A/N: I owe more than a big thank you to Baylor, whose beta-work improved the story and whose wonderful comments made my day. Kudos also go to eretria, my all-time muse and faithful conscience (see her throw Greek pillars, see me run back to the keyboard). Thank you, both, for taking an interest in my writing and always giving me the most uplifting and thoughtful feedback.

Dedication: In Loving Memory of Betty (1982-1992)

There fell a leaf off from a tree; one leaf alone from many

But this one leaf was dear to me; alas it fell so early.

~ * ~

"‘She seemed to be looking inside me and asking me what I would do if she gave me the chance of flying back home to the Shire to a nice little hole with — with a bit of garden of my own.’ (Sam said.)

That’s funny,’ said Merry. ‘Almost exactly what I felt myself; only, only well, I don’t think I’ll say any more,’ he added lamely." (FOTR, The Mirror Of Galadriel)

The Lonely Watcher

Pippin was stirred by the low growling of his stomach. His dream had been of soft bread, generously buttered, with thick, sweet honey dripping from a spoon. Albeit merely enticed by a reverie, his ever-conscious appetite had responded with a very real and perceptible reaction. Now it demanded to transport the meal into the waking world, as well. With a slightly disgruntled sigh Pippin rolled over on the pile of cushions, kicking some of them carelessly out of the ring of roots. With one hand he gathered a pillow close and stuffed it against his stomach, as to silence the traitorous body part. It was a fruitless try. The rumbles echoed inside of him, cruelly chasing away each delightful dream bite. Finally Pippin yielded and abandoned his slumber. His hands let go of the pillow and he blinked sleepily. He still regretted the loss of the fantasised delicacy, but already his displeasure was beginning to wane. Eventually he decided that there were indeed worse ways to be woke.

Yawning, Pippin rubbed a hand over his eyes. When he turned his head and looked up, he saw a dusted blue sky through high-spun webs of golden leaves. Stars clustered above like faint silver dapples. Had it already become evening? Pippin thought he had only shortly laid down for an afternoon nap.

It proved difficult to tell the time in these woods, though. For how many days the company had dwelt there, Pippin could not even guess. They had lost all sense of proper counting. The passing of day was only noticeable by the succession of meals. They did not even adjust their sleeping habits to the night. Whenever they were tired, they simply lay down and slept.

The elves had made up their guests’ lairs in the shelter of tree roots (fortunately on the ground) with many soft pillows and sheets of stainless white. Those beds almost resembled bird-nests and Pippin found them utterly comfortable. They were quite suiting and proper for a hobbit. They also left room enough for more than one person, so the company’s furry-footed associates could sleep in a pile like they had grown accustomed to while travelling. At the moment, though, Pippin woke up alone, which was only half a surprise. Sam and Frodo hadn’t laid down in the first place; Pippin had seen them wander of into some deeper dwellings of the wood. It had seemed like Frodo was making up rhymes and Sam listening. Pippin thought of Frodo’s, well, detailed poems and quietly admired Sam for his patience.

But still -- that didn’t explain Merry’s absence. He had shared teatime with Pippin and afterwards they both had stretched out on the pillows. But apparently Merry hadn’t been as tired as his younger cousin and now Pippin wondered where he had disappeared to. Surely he hadn’t gone after Sam and Frodo. Merry loved poems, but even he was fairly reluctant about Cousin Frodo’s rhyming.

A little disturbed Pippin swung his legs over a root.

It was not easy finding rest without knowing where Merry was. Yes, as a matter of fact it was most impolite of the elder cousin to leave so secretly. With a sigh Pippin stood up and adjusted his braces. ‘Brandybucks,’ he thought dismissivley. Most likely his cousin was sitting in a cosy tree den, eating what was left of a splendid supper. And of course he would not tell Pippin until each crumb was devoured. Luckily, the elves seemed to have supplies apt to feed a whole bunch of hobbits. Pippin decided not to worry and rather to repay Merry decently for his misdeed. He would fetch himself a bowl of those delicious fruits and eat them all before his cousin’s nose. Or he would eat them in solitude, handing Merry naught but the cores.

Mentally refining his plan, Pippin meandered away. Idly setting foot after foot he walked forth and passed through the leaf-dappled shadows of the mallorn trees. Silver bark glowed in the soft light of dusk, lending a fine shimmer to every bush and path. Glow-worms whirled through the air like snowflakes and the hobbit soon found himself in a plume of gently humming light-dots. Everywhere they whizzed, circling the trunks and spiralling up to a canopy of leaves.

Filled with wonderment, Pippin tipped his head back. Up on the higher branches stretched wooden platforms, appearing like the trees themselves had grown them. Shimmering figures ambled between boughs and foliage, moving on their dizzy paths like feathers on wind drifts. Their sight was beguiling, their aura not from the known world. Even from the heights their ethereal shimmer touched the hobbit and made him tremble.

After all these days Pippin still marvelled at the strange beauty of Caras Galadhon. Not in his boldest dream had he ever fantasised himself coming to such a place. Of course there had been Bilbo’s stories and often had Pippin imagined the told-of places. But this was so much more, so greatly exceeding. No words could ever truly describe the realm of elves in fair Lórien. A place where ageless mirth and melancholy went hand-in-hand like lovers.

A smile curled at the ends of Pippin’s mouth as he lowered his head. Maybe he should have gone to the poetry oration, after all. Strictly directing his thoughts to more substantial matters, that is to say, food and drink, Pippin set out to continue his walk. Yet after a mere couple of steps he stopped once again, being suddenly faced with a most unwelcome problem.

As the young hobbit looked around, he found that he had not the slightest idea where he was. Scratching his chin he looked back over his shoulder, but although the path behind looked fair and charming, Pippin could not remember treading it. With a frown he turned back. He was almost tempted to be displeased with the forest. Indeed, not only did these woods stretch time, they were also very confusing in their likeness. How could a sensible hobbit tell one tree from another if they all looked the same?

With a sigh of gentle exasperation Pippin closed his eyes. If keen sight could not spot the right way, maybe good fortune would. Clasping his hands behind his back he turned round in a circle, two times, three times, then stopped. When he opened his eyes again he looked upon a tall-grown hazel thicket, which bent gracefully in a wide arch. Soft moss grew under the switches, marking a lush green path.

Pippin set off with a shrug. This way was as good as any. Sooner or later he would surely meet someone whom he could query for a shortcut to supper. Trusting to chance he strode through the arch and found himself on a flight of white stairs which lost themselves in a wide field of pale grey grass. A breath of gentle air breezed up from the hollow, brushing the hobbit’s cheek and whispering through his curls. So enchanting was the opening view that it made Pippin pause as soon as his feet had touched the first step. He stopped by the bowl of a tree and quietly glanced down to where a light as warm as sunrise seemed to flood the glade.

Yellow flowers grew in the vale, their delicate beauty shining like the wings of countless butterflies. Between them rose snow-white calyxes on stems, nodding with the mild wind that breathed over the meadow. Dimly, Pippin remembered that Haldir had given him the flowers’ names, but though fair they had sounded to his ears, he couldn’t piece the wording together again. There were so many new and wondrous things to conceive of these days.

He still rested on the stairway when his eyes suddenly captured sight of a small person standing in the midst of the swaying flowers. The soft breeze tugged at the lonely watcher’s curls and open weskit. His face was directed towards the western borders, where the mild sky touched the mountains’ zenith. It was a most uncommon watcher, since he had not the slender, tall shape of an elf, but rather the short stature of a hobbit.

Pippin took two reluctant steps in surprise. What would a hobbit do outside the ring of sheltering trees? And at this hour of eve?

Stair by stair he walked down, his glance fixed on the other hobbit’s back. First Pippin thought it was Frodo who had sought sole counsel once more. Then he recognised the earthly shade of locks and the slightly sturdier build and knew it was Merry. A deep frown settled between Pippin’s brows as he narrowed his eyes to have a closer look. Grass grew up to the hobbits’ knees, touching the breeches and almost reaching the weskit of the yellow-coloured wool that Pippin’s cousin liked so much.

It was indeed Merry. Still recognition did not necessarily lead to an explanation. What had lured the hobbit outside and why was he standing alone? It was not like Merry to isolate himself. Pippin knew, of course, that his cousin sometimes took on uncommonly brooding moods over various matters. Like how the harvest was best protected from a storm or how one could carry three mugs of ale without dropping one. But this silent watch was peculiar, even for a quaint Brandybuck like Merry.

What in the Great Took’s name is he doing?’ Pippin wondered. ‘Is he trying to stare down the stars?

As the young hobbit reached the end of the stairs, he almost expected Merry to turn and spot him. The other, however, gave no visible sign of taking notice and instead remained still as a stone. It fueled Pippin’s growing confusion. He half thought of sidling up to his guileless cousin and giving him a hard nudge between the shoulders. Sneak and tackle was a game they had played uncounted times and it would have been perfectly common in any other circumstances. But a premonition not yet tangible made Pippin hesitate. There was something queer about the situation; he could sense it like a change in the wind. The moment his toes touched the grass, an uneasy feeling crept up his spine as unpleasant as a spider.

Suddenly the strangeness of Lórien was overwhelming. As though he had treaded into a dream, Pippin felt his mind cloud and his perception change. The white flowers gleamed fairly from within and there seemed to be singing voices in the wind, like bells, hardly audible.

The young hobbit was still trying to master his puzzlement, when out of the blue something even queerer happened. Pippin blinked and suddenly his vision shifted. The light seemed to brighten and take on a golden hue, increasing the impression of unreality. And in all this otherworldly splendour stood Merry. It was as though someone held a golden shard before Pippin’s eyes and through the glass he beheld a sight of his cousin as he’d never seen before. Just for the blink of an eye, Merry did not look like a hobbit, but like a creature out of this magic retreat. Translucent and timeless, like he was going to blend into the surrounding amber fields any moment.

As swift as it had come, the vision faded and with it went the sensation of having slipped into a fairy tale. Quickly, Pippin shook his head and willed his fists to unclench. For the Valar’s sake, what was he thinking? Had these dreams of thick butter mushed his brain so utterly that it summoned such silly hallucinations? He had to control his stomach better if it were so.

Or maybe it is the doing of this wood,’ Pippin thought. Yes, surely it was a side effect of the elven refuge. This place made even his head hum with words bigger than Great Aunt Rosamunda’s ears. Shaking his head once more, he started moving. Pale grass blades bent in a murmur underneath his bare feet.

When Pippin finally came nigh his cousin, there was the slightest motion in Merry’s posture. Still he did not turn and Pippin swallowed hard. This was Merry. The hobbit he had known since he first roved Great Smials on a toddler’s feet. So why did he feel like running rather than approaching?

Peregrin Took,’ he scolded himself. ‘Never before have you recoiled before your cousin. Now stop this silly behaviour.’

"Hullo Merry," he said and the words flowed surprisingly easy. "Have you risen to enjoy the panorama or did I just snore too loud for your liking?"

He shoved his hands into his pockets and vainly tried to catch a casual glimpse of Merry’s face. A shadow denied him full view.

"If I paid heed to your snoring, I would never get a full night’s rest," Merry answered quietly, his calm revealing that he had heard Pippin’s coming near all along. "Though I must admit that the view is much more pleasing than watching you munch over slumber-born scones."

Thereupon he turned and Pippin forgot how to breathe.

Open grief flitted like a swift silver glimpse over Merry’s face as he turned. It was gone so quickly that it left but a waning trace in the air, but this mere trace was enough to make Pippin’s heart jump painfully.

Had Merry’s voice or words warned him, perhaps he would have been better prepared. Oh, he should have been alarmed. Had he not felt that something was wrong from the moment he came into this glade? Still Pippin could have expected many things, but surely not this. Not this strained melancholy that was still edged into his cousin’s countenance. For a moment, the concealing shadow seemed unwilling to move away, and it drew lines on Merry’s face that sure hadn’t been there before. Then light fell over the once-more smooth features, meaning to deceive anyone into oblivion.

It never fooled Pippin. Merry was far too familiar to hide anything and even his discomfort was an open book. Pippin could taste the other’s wretchedness like thick syrup on his tongue. And each detail of the well-known face told him more.

Merry bore a smile but behind it there was no happiness at all. His expression was friendly but distant, like his mind dwelt in some place far away. Their journey through snow and the endless night of Moria had stolen some of Merry’s healthy tan, but now it seemed like he was even paler than before. Or maybe it was only an illusion because the shadows below his eyes were a little darker than usual. Still one would have missed any open sign of misery if not for his eyes. They were the traitors and revealed much more than Pippin would have wished for. For long years he had been familiar with Merry’s expressions, knowing each glance by heart. He knew the signs of anger, obvious and concealed; he knew looks of disappointment and impatience. But until now he had never been confronted with such a wave of grief. Nor had he yet seen that distinct colour of irises now arisen in Merry’s eyes. They were darker than he remembered and deeper. Instead of clear blue those eyes were misty with the shade of not-long-ago shed tears.

It staggered Pippin thoroughly to find such overt grief on his cousin’s face. It disturbed him even more that this grief was but a waning remnant of a larger woe that Pippin had not been here to share.

No, this certainly was not Merry’s usual time-to-time thoughtfulness. Something else was at work and it pained his older cousin. Stabbed him with the force of a cold blade, in fact.

For maybe the first time in his life Pippin didn’t know what to say. He opened his mouth, but no sound came forth. All clever words had seemingly vanished from his tongue. When he finally summoned his voice from he didn’t know where, it sounded weak and hollow to his own ears.

"Merry, you . . . . What happened?"

An aristocratic eyebrow rose gently as Merry studied the younger hobbit with interest. "Why, nothing, of course," he replied. "I couldn’t sleep, is all. What’s this gaping about, anyway?"

"You . . . ," Pippin began and wished to say, ‘Oh look into a mirror.’ But his shaken composure still did not allow him to express his thoughts. All he could do was wet his lips and add rather lamely: "You look sad."

Merry cast what could have been a sheepish glance at him. "Is that so?" he asked. "I guess I stood a little too long on this shimmer-field, then." Out of habit he reached out a hand to smooth a lock of hair that stood out behind Pippin’s ear, a stubborn testimony of the younger one’s interrupted slumber. "I just ... thought a bit," Merry continued, sounding a mite distracted. "Considered all kinds of things, actually. These woods seem to make one thoughtful."

"Frodo senses it, too," Pippin answered helplessly, and so longed to bridge this poor resemblance of idle talk.

"And doubtless does Sam." Merry nodded. "Though I suppose he would give a lot for a short glimpse of Bag End’s dahlias. I understand him, though. This place is so sparkling in its charm that it makes one long for a little familiarity." His smile widened a little as he watched Pippin. But despite his efforts he waited in vain for the younger hobbit to shift or speak. In truth, Pippin’s uneasiness grew with every word Merry spoke. The more they tried to conceal the pressure, the deeper Pippin could feel it.

"Don’t be troubled, Pip," he heard Merry say. "Strange as this all might be, it’s still safe. And beautiful. It’s all right."

But this was a lie. If Merry meant it to be one or not, didn’t matter. Nothing was right, not since they had left Bag End on a twilight in September. A hard lump rose in Pippin’s throat and long-suppressed pictures came to the surface. In glimpses he recalled their journey, and between once-unfailing hobbit mirth there were all those new experiences of pain and fear and loss. Pippin’s startling green eyes widened as his mind wandered unstoppably back in time. An old man, huddled in a shapeless cloak, raised his head in Pippin’s memory. Bushy eyebrows peeped out from under a hat’s hem and Pippin could almost smell the distinct aroma of Longbottom Leaf. Clearly he saw the wrinkled face and the young hobbit remembered keen eyes that sometimes twinkled brightly with hobbit-like mischief.

Gandalf . . .

A breathless sob urged up his throat and only by pressing his lips tightly together could Pippin prevent its coming up. He didn’t know there were still tears in him until they stung in the corner of his eyes. Regret returned painfully and with it came a sobering realisation. The shadows of grief and sorrow might be invisible under the roofs of Lórien, but that didn’t mean they stopped existing. It was as though Merry’s mysterious woe had torn a breach into the wafer-thin skin that surrounded the Golden Wood. Darkness came in and the memory of crimson eyes brimmed with fire and smoke . . .

Pippin had never been good at hiding his emotions behind a mask. Merry had to see the surge of forceful feelings and, indeed, a fond gleam shimmered up behind the sadness in his eyes. His hand rose to rest lightly on Pippin’s shoulder.

"Don’t be upset, Pip," he spoke comfortingly. "You needn’t worry, there’s nothing wrong."

The sheer absurdity of the statement almost made Pippin snort. It was so very much in the manner of his cousin to try and keep his troubles to himself. It was alright to load one’s mind with other people’s worry, but, pray sir, do not bother with personal dolour. That was so annoyingly like the heir of Brandy Hall. Well, Pippin decided, Merry now had a Took to reckon with. When he felt that he finally had control over his facial expression again, he tilted up his head. His irritation at least allowed him full command over his mouth again.

"As things are you had better give right in, cousin, ‘cause you’ve never been a good liar," he said loftily and at the same time didn’t know when was the last time he had to force a smile at Merry. "And I’m too much of an inquisitive Took to leave it be."

Something like offence sparked up in Merry’s eyes and he nearly took a step back. "I don’t know what you’re talking a --"

"Merry," Pippin interrupted solemnly, not straining to hide his impatience any more. He found he was tired of all these half-truths. But he tired of trying to outwit his cousin, as well. It shouldn’t be this way; it never had been before. He so wished Merry would let him in and the plea was reflected in his glance when he looked into Merry’s eyes. There again was such open hurt that it made the remnants of Pippin’s anger vanish into thin air.

"Merry," he repeated, softer this time, and sensed how he slowly slid past the wall the elder hobbit had erected. Pippin abandoned the last distance and with a sensitivity few would guess behind that flurry of Tookishness he laid his hand on Merry’s elbow. An uncertain glance wandered down to small fingers and back to the younger hobbit’s unflinching face.

"Share with me," Pippin urged softly.

A barely noticeable shiver passed through Merry and the facade of a smile crumbled. Pippin could see him quarrel with himself, brooding if he could burden his younger cousin with whatever it was that weighed so heavily on his mind. Gently Pippin tightened his hold on the other’s arm.

Eventually, Merry yielded.

A tension, which Pippin noticed then for the first time, slipped from Merry’s body and he lowered his eyes. When he looked up again, the sadness was free of any mask and yet it seemed more composed. It had the air of a certain tenderness, like a bitter-sweet memory that still coursed deep.

"It’s true what I said, you know," Merry said and suddenly he sounded weary. "I came here to think about ... things."

Pippin never let go of his cousin, even when he turned to look at the distant mountains again.

"What things?" he asked carefully.

"I . . ." Merry started, but let the rest trail off unsaid. All of a sudden Pippin wished he hadn’t pushed so hard. He felt like he could well go on without a revelation, if only he could embrace Merry and tell him how everything was going to be all right. He’d gladly give up on any inquiry if one moment were enough to make the pain disappear.

At his side, Merry heaved a deep breath. Like a ghostly echo the wind breathed over the meadow, taking some loose petals with it.

"I can’t forget how she looked at me," Merry spoke softly. "Like she glanced directly into my soul. I saw our home again; all the trees were green and the river was so clear. I could hear them singing on the fields and threshing the wheat. It was all there, like we hadn’t left at all." He expelled a shuddering breath and looked down at his hands. Some time went by until he spoke again.

"It was almost like a dream," Merry said at length. "Only . . . it felt so real."

Pippin, too, lowered his head. "I know," he whispered, for he had also seen it. All the dear faces and the gentle familiarity of every path and corner. It had made him that homesick.

"I knew she was there, too, because she spoke to me," Merry went on. "She watched with me. Telling ... promising me what she would give me should I turn from the quest."

Another silence emitted and Pippin studied his cousin closely. What offer could ever be so shattering? Pippin remembered his own vision. It had saddened him, true, but it had not lasted. He wondered what it had been for Merry. He’d always thought he knew his cousin but he couldn’t for the life of him think of anything that Merry should miss so dearly.

Then Merry began to tell and with each word grief sank deeper into Pippin’s soul.

~ * ~


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