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

How beautiful the day and night;

The earth is singing in the wind,

The voices rise and touch the sky

Telling all the earth’s believing,

And in the night sighs fall down,

And from the skies sighs fall down on me.

(Roma Ryan)


The night had grown old throughout Merry’s tale. A crescent moon had risen quietly above the tree tops, its white halo drowning out the stars nearby. The pale sickle seemed to fill the sky, silvering the landscape and stealing away the gold from the meadows. Everything was silent except the quiet voice of Nimrodel which lingered under the blackened trees like the shadow of an incantation. Its whisper carried up the hill and drifted softly over the glade. In the dimness some wind-borne glow-worms fanned out between the flowers, illuminating the petals from below. They were lively little dancers, almost appearing like earth-gravitated stars, blinking among the hobbits who sat silent in the field of elven flowers.

Some clouds drifted quietly by and the air began to cool without either of the cousins saying a word. A single tear escaped Merry’s eye and he quickly wiped it away. Out of the corner of his eyes Pippin saw his cousin draw up his legs and wrap his arms around his knees. Moonbeams fell over Merry’s features and had he seemed older before, he looked so much younger now. Watching the other hobbit, Pippin half-heartedly tried to think of something to say, but nothing he considered deemed the least bit sufficient. What words could he possibly summon out of the vast sadness that had seized him, anyway. So he kept silent and stared out into the dormant elven wood.

At the rims of the forest, grass and pallid flowers swayed in a lethargic rhythm. Every now and then, slips of ghostly light caught on the petals and long, grey shadows fell from the high trees. In the wake of the shared vision Pippin thought he saw the shape of a person standing just beneath the trees. Thick curls fluttered in the night wind and a hue of silver clung to white cheeks. Dimly he heard the laughter of a child echoing over the meadow and his mind formed a vague vision of a hobbit-girl with waves of rich chestnut hair. He thought that she must have sparkling blue eyes and possibly those chubby cheeks Merry had possessed when he was younger.

The next moment the hazy picture was gone, molten into the shades of the wood without a visible motion.

It was just an imagining, Pippin told himself. Scrapes of the vision he just had heard. Yet he knew it was somehow more than that. The elves had denied any knowledge of charms or wizardry, but Pippin knew it was there, nevertheless. Old magic lived in the roots of the mallorn trees and tingled in the humid earth. It worked subtle, though, obscuring the lines between now, then and tomorrow. It was something elemental that went beyond the capacity of the mortal world and bewitched the senses. Pippin felt that Lórien was a place were time could not mar the truth of tales and mere words could provoke a mirror of reality. Dreams had greater power here and sometimes gained a wraithlike existence.

It made it difficult to differ between truth and apparition. It also made it hard to look beyond the ever-present melancholy that veiled the elven dwelling. Staying at Lothlórien, which had come to the autumn of its existence, threw a layer of fine dust over every hope that was brought there. With a shiver, Pippin hunched his shoulders and lowered his head. He could not grasp the full dimension of the forces that influenced them there and to speak the truth, he did not want to. Under the twist of great power once-humble paths turned into walks on battered bridges. The Lady Galadriel had turned a hobbit’s heartfelt dream into a tool and the intentions behind her doing did not easily heal the wounds it had caused. Pippin remembered the grief in his cousin’s eyes and could not alleviate his novel knowledge. To see your own child and simultaneously know you have to turn away from her . . . no wonder the vision haunted Merry.

Pippin recalled the softness with which Merry had spoken of his daughter and how he’d seen his life with her. There had been a catch in his voice when he spoke of the cradle and that ephemeral point where he had to decide. It took years-long friendship to understand the motions beneath the Brandybuck’s calm surface and Pippin doubted that an elf could fathom how much it had cost his cousin to turn his back to those pictures. For a moment he almost despised the Lady of the Galadhrim for putting Merry before such a cruel choice.

But for all the temptation Merry had not faltered. Not for an inch, so it seemed. Pippin couldn’t help but wonder. Carefully, he cast a glance at the silent cousin beside him. Merry had his chin propped on his knees and followed the low skidding glow-worms with his eyes. A glimmer of the Lady’s promise still clung to his complexion and no one could say that it had left him unmoved. Yet in spite of the sufferance Merry had stuck to his path without considerable hesitation.

"Why haven’t you turned?" Pippin asked in a small voice that was hardly audible over the rush of grass. "You could have gone back, started a family and had all . . . all that. Why didn’t you?"

Merry blinked and his hand reached out to skim some softly bending flowers. "It would have been no use," he answered. "She couldn’t have made the peril disappear. There still would be the Ring, and him." His brow creased slightly as he voiced thoughts that must have already preoccupied him some time earlier this evening.

"Ought I want to raise my child in a world where the shadow looms? Or were her father recoiled in fear? No," Merry whispered, "that I would not wish for her."

Another silence settled as Pippin lifted his hands and tugged awkwardly at the hems of his breeches.

"Besides," Merry said at length, "some wishes are just not meant to be granted. If your path leads away from your original goal, maybe it is destined to be so."

Pippin shot a shocked glance at his cousin. He sounded so fatalistic, like the Lady’s words had been a prophecy rather than a vision. But that couldn’t be, or could it? Pippin doubted that the Lady Galadriel possessed the power to shape the future — no, he decidedly did not allow himself to believe that. But couldn’t it be that she had a sight that went beyond the limits of time and therefore could see shadows of what would be?

Pippin tightly balled his fists and pushed the thought aside. It had merely been a vision. A trick to lure them on stray paths, nothing more. He had to find the courage to believe it didn’t go beyond that. And he had to make Merry find that faith, too.

"It has only been a puff of smoke," he said therefore. "You know that Merry, don’t you?" A ghost of a smile touched Merry’s lips but he looked by no means persuaded. Pippin swallowed hard and continued, determined to keep any desperate edge out of his voice. "Just because the Lady said that the further journey would endanger your dream doesn’t mean it won’t come true sooner or later. What she made you see was only an illusion, something that ought to test your determination." Merry still did not move and Pippin felt a wave of helplessness wash over him. He longed to comfort, but at the same time, couldn’t find the confidence inside of himself.

His glance wandered over the night glade and with a dry throat he thought how deceptively beautiful this all was.

Beautiful like a fairy tale,’ a wry voice in Pippin’s head offered. A tale, indeed. And they had ended up right in the middle of it. Fairy woods and wisps of magic belonged to lays of late and ancient heroes, yet now that legends came to life again, couldn’t the fellowship be already considered a part of some ballad? Only the sad thing about ballads was -- as Pippin knew quite well -- that they were almost always tragic and they seldom ended well. Even if the task was bravely solved and outer evil was defeated, there hardly ever waited peace for the surviving hero. If even he survived.

Then what becomes of hobbits who strayed into such a tale? They were no valiant warriors; they were rather humble beings. Where would they possibly end when the path was treaded?

Unintentionally Pippin perceived the picture of an old and embittered Merry, bleak eyes hollow and mirthless. Deep lines on his face spoke quietly of endless endeavours and long-lost hopes.

Pippin trembled and for the first time he realised how much they had given away and how much they would sacrifice still. Heretofore his life had consisted of small truths, but these days it was not so simple anymore. As a youth he had set out on this journey and young he was still, but he was growing. With each day, his eyes saw more and taught him understanding. With each day, he wished he’d seen less.

He wondered if the world would ever again look the same to him. In this dark hour he was afraid that even if he returned home in the end he would never see the sweeping hills of Tuckborough with the same loving eyes. Would there not always be the shadows of this quest following him, darkness and fear, stains remaining on his memory no matter how hard he tried to scrub them away? With finality Pippin felt his poor heart plummet.

How could he prevent himself from being torn away like some leaf in the wind, forever disconnected from everything that had once been dear to him? How could he hope to shield the ones he cared for?

A crisp gush of wind blew over the hill, crept under his shirt and tugged at his curls. Small hairs at the nape of his neck stood up with the breeze. Coldness spread.

Pippin lowered his eyes. Here he was, miles away from home and more wretched than he’d ever believed he could be. He was no help to anyone and to his greatest shame he had to admit that he didn’t know how to fight his own fears. Nor did he know how to overcome his despair. He had never been one to look awfully far ahead, but now he envisioned the days to come and saw barely a trace of hope. He couldn’t help it. He couldn’t get rid of the picture of an empty cradle, where cobwebs began to smear the once-fine frills.

All the previous days in Lórien Pippin had never been cold, but now he shivered. The wind rippled through his curls and brushed against the tears that caught in his lashes.

He felt alone; he was terrified and painfully confused. Wherever should he turn to?

In this moment of utmost anguish he did the only thing he could think of. He took Merry’s hand.

It was a simple touch, often performed before, hence familiar like the process of breathing. Strong fingers intertwined at once with Pippin’s and he could feel a callused palm beneath his fingertips. The swaying of the flowers slowed then in a sudden calm and only the tireless glow-worms tumbled over the meadow.

A deep and long breath exhaled from Pippin’s lips. He didn’t know how tense he was until said tension fell heavily from his body. Exhaustion spread while the revenant of despair squealed inside him like a shrill bird of prey.

Be still, you fool of a Took,’ Pippin ordered himself and shut his ears against the voices of fear that were still humming in his head like an angry swarm of bees. The silence that followed was heavenly. For a precious instant Pippin focused all his attention on the small spot on the grass where their hands connected. The wide world was, at least for the time being, excluded. It was a hobbit moment.

. . . strong shoulders . . . preserve and mend ...

Out of nowhere those bits of a long-ago heard sentence came to Pippin’s mind. The deeper meaning of the words evaded him for the moment, but nonetheless he found himself mysteriously calmed and eased at the same time. He remembered that Merry’s proximity had done this to him many times before. Time and again the haunting dreams of a troubled child had been chased away by a gentle hand and adolescent doubts had diminished to nothing within a comforting hug.

A hobbit’s magic,’ Pippin thought irrationally while he let the connection of their hands lead him back to better days and better places. For a moment he closed his eyes and remembered. How many times had they sat in Merry’s study while thick candles lit the twilit room and beeswax smouldered on the cupboard? There had been so many nights spent with talk or comfortable silence, either valued with fair amounts of wine. Pippin remembered how a flicker of candlelight used to catch on the dark bottles and how the air was full of Old Toby. The smoke of Merry’s pipe would wind up to the ceiling in a lazy spiral, while the one-day Master of Buckland had his legs outstretched, ankles crossed in his preferred sitting position.

On an evening just like that they had decided to follow Frodo on his quest. To become his penetrating shadows, if need be. The discussion, of course, had been a mere formality. Merry had decided the moment he got wind of Frodo’s departure and Pippin would not for the world stay behind. Looking back, Pippin now wondered if they had been over-hasty. Had they naively walked into events they could neither understand nor master? In any case they hadn’t foreseen such darkness as they were faced with now.

Briefly Pippin imagined the possibility of having decided otherwise. But the funny thing was that although their prospects for the future looked less than good, the alternative felt more wrong than anything. They couldn’t have stayed in the Shire. It was terrifying to forebode all the peril that might still be waiting for them, but it was even more loathsome to imagine they had recoiled.

Pippin blinked in surprise. He thought he slowly began to understand what was behind Merry’s steadfastness. He also thought of those earlier remembered word bits and recalled were they had originally come from. They hadn’t been spoken to him, as he first had believed, but he had once read them in a weathered tome. Thain Adalgrim I. had immortalised them in crooked handwriting on thin parchment.

Strong shoulders carry the burden when the time is high, but it is the softness of the heart wherein lies the gift to mend and preserve.

It was only a small piece of hobbit lore. But in that moment it was more substantial than any great scholar’s wisdom and it put a piece of comfort and understanding back into Pippin’s heart. Although it did not make the future easier, it explained to him why his cousins and he were here and why they could not give up. Moreover, why they never would wish to.

The road goes on and we must follow,’ Pippin thought and half-smiled. Sometimes even Frodo’s rhyming hit the nail on the head. Whatever happened, they were on their way and return was not an option.

With a little sigh Pippin drew up his legs. As he shifted slightly, he became aware of Merry’s studying glance. The elder hobbit must have been watching him for quite a while now. Pippin returned the look for a moment, then tilted up his head and gazed upon the sky. In the vast field of stars he recognised not one constellation familiar to him.

"We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?" he whispered.

Merry turned away and also laid his back to watch the stars. "Aye."

"Are you afraid?"

"A little."

Pippin nodded and tightened his hold on his cousin’s hand for a mite. As he lowered his head, Merry returned his squeeze.

"It’s good we’re here," Merry said, echoing Pippin’s own conclusion. Then a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth and he ran a hand through his curls.

"You know what I thought of the first night after that vision?" he asked. "I thought of your sister."

"Which one?"

"Pearl. I couldn’t stop thinking about how she looked last summer. That one day, you know which?"

"I know," Pippin answered. Of course he remembered. They had travelled all the way from Bag End to Tuckborough in a hurry and arrived there just in time for the birth of Pearl’s first child. It had been a little boy, whose cries would have made Aunt Petunia bolt, and she was as deaf as an old tomcat. Pippin remembered the expression on his sister’s face when the baby was laid into her arms — like the sun had risen in the cavernous room, for her alone. He also remembered that Merry had been allowed to hold the baby for a short while thereafter.

"I thought that the little squirt is probably crawling by now," Merry continued. His glance shifted down to the meadow and rested on the swirling glow-worms. "There will be plenty of children playing at the banks of the river this year. And we can help make certain that they stay safe, that the shadow never reaches the borders of the Shire." He frowned and his voice gained a stone-hard edge. "We stand between the Enemy and our homes, Pip, and right now it’s the one right place for us to be."

Once again, Pippin nodded. The truth was that neither magic nor force could break a hobbit’s bonds. It might threaten and frighten him, but it would never truly touch his sense of friendship and fidelity. It was as simple as that and it was the reason they were here. It was why Merry had never been tempted by the Lady’s offer. Strong shoulders carried the burden when the time was high.

Pippin cast a thoughtful glance at his cousin before he cocked his head and raised his eyebrows.

"I’ll give you a vision of my own, Merry," he spoke. "Not two years from now you’ll be married. You’ll wail about being put on a lead while secretly delighting in the comfort of your married life. Soonafter, you’ll have a daughter and I’ll have a son, who’ll turn out as clever and handsome as his father." At that point he gracefully ignored Merry’s commenting snort and continued unerringly with his tale. "We’ll have them sit on our knees, you know, and tell them all about our journey, the Old Forest and the elves. They’ll be given all the joy you’ve imagined for them. And they’ll drive us insane by committing just the same mischief we were infamous for. The aunts will regret the day we decided to reproduce ourselves."

A little chuckle escaped Merry’s lips and Pippin allowed himself to smile warmly. ‘At least I can do that,’ he thought. ‘At least I can smile.’ If his smile was to be their safety rope through the dark times ahead, he was determined to make it strong.

"It will be so some day, Merry, I promise. It will only take a little while longer until we see it happen." He gave Merry’s hand a fond little squeeze. "We’re on one of old Cousin Frodo’s short cuts, after all."

A grin extended on Merry’s features and he shook his head with a quick little laugh.

"Don’t worry, Pip," he said, then added in a quiet voice, "We’re hobbits, after all. We’re made of a tougher material than they all guess."

His hand was warm between Pippin’s fingers, the rhythm of his pulse steady and comforting. Pippin remembered how Merry had stood in the swirl of mind-shaping magic and how he had squared his shoulders against the overwhelming force. Then he also called the picture of Merry holding his baby daughter back to his mind. The bedazzled smile of the young father was something Pippin would never tire of visualising.

Aye,’ Pippin mused. ‘Much tougher. And so much softer even.’

These days they did not have much to keep their faith up. But what little they had was enough. So long as they were aware that they shared something beyond the scheming of the Big People: a sanctuary of peace and small things.

"Would you sing her the same lullabies you sang to me when I was small?"

A smile came to Merry’s face. The question was ripped from its context, but Pippin knew that Merry understood him all the same.

"That I would," the elder cousin said.

Pippin leaned his head against Merry’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

"Sing now."

Meriadoc Brandybuck, whose voice was considered outstanding amidst the attendees of Brandy Hall’s carol eves, began a tune. He chose no poetic ballad, but a humble hobbit-song, a lullaby often sung on small benches in courtyards full of garden flowers. The longer Pippin listened, the farther he was carried away until he once again beheld winding brooks and bending hedgerows. He saw a lush green meadow, sloping under a clear blue sky, with patches of red clover amidst the grass. Swallows circled over the top of a gnarled oak tree which stretched its boughs over the top of the hillock. Below the tree sat a little girl, flowers wrought in her auburn hair, with raspberry stains all over her round face. In the leaf-dappled light of the sun she lifted a small hand and Pippin smiled as she waved.


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