The Prince Demised - Chapter Five: In Darkness Buried Deep
Read Chapter Two
Read Chapter Three
Read Chapter Four
This is the fourth chapter of a fic that I've spent the last year writing. It's an Agst AU that starts at the Black Gates and asks the question of "What if?" What if a member was lost in that battle? How would the Fellowship react?
I've tried to keep this story as much in character as I can, and I have worked very hard on it so any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated. The end result will be a total of 11 chapters long. Thank you for your time! I hope you enjoy.
April 13, 1419
Merry had been waiting for this day for what seemed like years. He constantly ran from the Houses of Healing to the Citadel to the stables and back to the Houses of Healing all that morning, helping to get everything ready for the arrival of his friends. He looked up at the sun and then down to the broken gates; it would be several hours yet before they came. He paced around his room in the Houses of Healing, first looking at the floor, then out the window to the sun, now to the floor. Ioreth entered and shook her head.
"If you don't stop that pacing, Master Meriadoc, you'll wear a path into the ground." The old woman smiled at Merry when he turned to face her. "You have a visitor at the door. Make sure he takes you somewhere; anywhere! Some fresh air should calm you nerves."
Merry smiled. He walked towards the door and paused. He smiled mischievously up at Ioreth. "Don't count on it," he said. He gave the healer a quick nod and was out the door. He met Bergil waiting for him at the doorstep.
"The day's finally come," was all the lad said.
Merry nodded and followed his friend to the gardens surrounding the Houses. There they walked in silence as they had done for many hours in the days before. Merry had grown fond of the lad, and was very grateful to have a friend to help him through the wait. It was a day they had both been looking forward to for what seemed like ages, but could only have been a couple of weeks.
"When my father comes home," Bergil would say, "he'll be a hero. Everyone will know who he is. Trumpets will ring for him, and men from years yet to come will speak of his greatness." He would look up to the sky with a proud smile.
Merry would smile and nod. "I'm sure they will," he would say. "When my friends return, it'll be a magnificent hour. The Fellowship together again, after the winning of the war; can you believe it?" He would give a short laugh and take a seat on a bench to think. "Strider will be King, and the four Hobbits will return to the Shire. The Shire! How I miss the place. It'll be as beautiful as ever, our old home will, and everything will be better than I had the hope to believe when we first started out on this dreadful journey. Frodo and Sam will be at Bag End of course, I'll be Master of Buckland, and Pippin will be the Took and Thain. No doubting we'll be honored all throughout the land, and our stories will be told to every Hobbit child born there after..."
Merry smiled at the memory of the past conversations, but he now felt an odd feeling in his gut. He stopped suddenly and stood silent in thought. Bergil, surprised at the action, turned to him. "Alright, Merry?" He asked with concern in his voice.
Merry shook his head slowly and looked up. "I'm fine; just feel a bit... off." He saw the confused expression on Bergil's face and quickly continued. "It's probably nothing, just a bit of nerves. I have this odd feeling that... well that something's not right." Merry took a step forward to a stone bench and sat down.
Bergil sat beside Merry and studied his expression closely. "What do you mean, `not right'?"
Merry held his head in his hands. "I don't know, Bergil; I just have this feeling that something's gone wrong. The only news I've heard on my friends was that Gandalf wished for me to stay in Minas Tirith. I don't know why; I quite thought he would call me to the Field along with the others that left several days ago. Something about all this worries me."
Bergil gave a clear laugh and leaned back. "What's there to worry about?" he asked in his carefree tone.
"Plenty!" Merry dropped his hands to rest on his knees and looked up to the sky in thought. "If one of my friends didn't make it, what would I do?" Distress filled his voice and he shook his head. "What could I do?"
"I think you're worrying too much." Bergil said as he absentmindedly pushed around the dirt on the ground with his foot. "You'll see all your friends in no time, just you wait! I told you before and I'll tell you again: the Men, and Perian, of Minas Tirith will never be overcome! They will come back."
"I'm sure you're right, Bergil." Merry looked back at the boy and smiled. "I'm worrying too much."
Bergil and Merry walked the length of the garden several times, and as the sun began its downward path to evening, a clear trumpet rang across the land. Merry and Bergil jumped at the sound, and the Hobbit felt a great excitement rise in his body. `This is it,' Merry thought. `After all this time, they've finally come.'
Bergil ran ahead towards the gate and looked back at Merry, who still stood motionless behind him. "Come on, Merry!" Bergil shouted. "They're here!"
Merry then remembered to use his legs, and he ran as fast as they would take him to the gates. He slowed to a stop at the blockade of people in front of him, and bent between their tall legs to get in closer. Soon people noticed his and Bergil's presence, and they parted to allow the two a more clear view.
A grand host slowly made its way towards the city. The silver armor shone and sparkled in the light of the falling sun and shades of pinks and reds danced on the hides of the soldiers' horses. Banners rippled in the breeze and the trumpets continued to sound.
Merry felt Bergil tug on his sleeve and he reluctantly looked away from the sight before him to face his friend. Bergil pointed up to the grand tower at the gate. "Look," he said, "there stands Faramir and Éowyn." As Merry looked up, he could see the two forms standing against the black of the stone, Éowyn's white gown billowing around them.
Merry nodded and turned back to the company that was now approaching the gates. "All hail Aragorn, King of Gondor!" the strong voice of Faramir boomed across the field and the people cheered as Aragorn's horse stepped on the other side of the stone wall. Merry felt tears start in his eyes at the sight of his old guide and friend. So tall and proud he looked: the noblest and most tragic of kings. Though he delighted to see Aragorn once again, Merry's true happiness came when he saw the two ponies walking slowly beside his horse.
Frodo and Sam sat almost as tall and proud as the King, except for a small slump in both of their shoulders. Merry felt such a joy at seeing them again that he nearly burst right into the middle of the procession, but a large group of people suddenly crowded in front of him and blocked him from doing so. Merry backed away and frowned at their behavior. He could now see nothing, though he believed he caught a glimpse of Gandalf's staff over the many heads blocking his view. He ran along side the company and looked for Bergil, but saw that he was gone.
Merry stopped and turned back. By now many of the people had flocked to hug their loved ones, and Aragorn had once again been introduced as Gondor's rightful and victorious King. As Merry stubbornly pushed his way through the hoards of people, he saw Bergil not far ahead of him doing the same.
"Bergil!" Merry called after him, but something else caught the boy's attention before he could respond. The lad stopped in his tracks and gasped before running awkwardly ahead. Merry managed to break through to the small gap that Bergil had stopped in and now stood, looking at a stretcher in front of him.
The soldiers carrying the bed stopped and looked down at the boy, recognizing him for who he was. "Bergil, my good lad," said one, "how are you?"
Bergil approached the stretcher slowly and gulped. "Is that... " A look of great pain came over his pale face and the soldiers nodded solemnly.
Bergil moistened his quivering lip and Merry could see a tear in his eye. "Is he..."
Suddenly, the form in the stretcher stirred and Beregond turned to smile down at his son. "I should think not," he said with tears in his eyes. He reached out to grasp his shocked son's hand and a grim smile came across his face. "I'm quite alright, my boy. And I cannot tell you how happy I am to see you."
Bergil let out a cry of joy and wrapped his arms around his father. Merry smiled at the lad. "Enjoy your happy ending, my friend," he whispered, more to himself than to anyone else.
This reunion increased Merry's excitement and he began once again pushing his way forward for a grand reunion of his own, excited knots of anticipation tightening in his stomach.
Slowly but persistently, Merry made his way to his friends. He could picture the entire thing perfectly: he'd finally embrace Frodo and Sam again, followed by Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli. Last of all would be Pippin, who would receive a large hug and be told how lucky he was that he came back. Merry laughed and decided to jokingly add how he couldn't believe that a Hobbit so careless and unhero-like as Pip could make himself out to be a war hero. Merry smiled warmly at the thought. Finally, after all this time of worry, his restless nights would be over; his friends were safe. All he had to do now was get to them.
Merry finally pushed his way past the largest crowd and broke through to the small clearing where his companions now stood. "Frodo! Sam!" He ran, eyes brimming with tears, and embraced his dear friends. He felt them return the hug, though he faltered at the weakness in their arms.
Merry pulled away, though keeping a hand each of their shoulders, and beamed at his worn friends. `How tired they both look!' he thought as he saw the shadow that was spread across Frodo's face and reflected in his eyes. `But they're here, and that's all that matters now.'
"Merry," Frodo gave his cousin a warm smile. "How are you?"
"Far better than I should be, I'm afraid." Merry gave a short laugh before a small frown touched his lips. "But, my dear Frodo, how tired you look! And you also, Sam. It must have been a terrible journey. I'm so sorry you had to face it."
"It had to be done, Merry." Frodo replied with a grim smile as Sam solemnly nodded in agreement.
Merry nodded and smiled up at the other members of the Fellowship as they fondly patted his shoulders, back, and head. He stood on his toes and looked over Frodo and Sam's heads and began looking around him in confusion. After a few moments of searching, he chuckled and looked back at Frodo.
"Alright, Frodo, speak up. Where's Pippin hiding?" He asked with a small, knowing smile playing across his lips.
A strange expression came suddenly over Frodo's face and Merry could see Sam grasp his free shoulder in support.
"Frodo?" Merry's grasp on Frodo's other shoulder tightened and he looked at his cousin with concern. "Are you alright?"
Frodo slowly lifted his head until Merry could clearly see the pain in his eyes and dried tearstains on his cheeks that shone in the purple light of the sunset. Merry felt a sharp pain in his chest.
"Frodo," he asked slowly, "where's Pippin?"
"Merry, I..." Frodo's voice quivered and he drew a shaky breath, sending another shock wave to Merry's heart and stomach. The glistening of fresh tears shone in the pools of Frodo's already sorrowful eyes.
"Tell me Pippin's alive, Frodo." Merry's voice was shaking slightly. "That's all I want to hear. Just say those two words; tell me `he's alive'. Tell me he's hiding behind Aragorn's horse and this is all another one of his immature practical jokes." Merry's hands and legs began to shake as he felt the linings of his world slowly melting away in Frodo's silence. "Tell me!" He yelled and Frodo gave a small gasp.
"I can't!" Frodo lowered his head and cupped his hand around his mouth to hold in the sobs.
Gimli turned to Legolas with a pleading look in his eyes, but the Elf shook his head. The Hobbits started on this journey alone and together, and he felt they should share and bear its tragedies in the same fashion if they were forced to bear them at all. It was not his nor Gimli's place to intervene.
A few seconds had passed in silence and Frodo lifted his head again, eyes now pink and bloodshot from the tears. "Merry, I'm sorry..."
"No..." Merry whispered under his breath; he was watching his worst nightmare unfold before him. His insides began to tighten and he wished with all his might and heart that he would wake up.
"Pippin--" Frodo choked on the words forming in his mouth and Sam gave his shoulder an encouraging squeeze. "Pippin... didn't make it. He's... he's dead, Merry." Tears sprung from his eyes and the words he spoke tasted like poison.
"No..." The whisper escaped Merry's lips. He stood rigid and frozen, his eyes fixed on the ground and his hands tightening and relaxing rhythmically on Frodo and Sam's shoulders. The world was crumbling around him, and there was nothing he could do to make this new pain he was feeling stop. His stomach churned, his heart ached, and his legs shook violently. Silent tears rolled down his cheeks as his heart raced and his head swam for answers. He found none.
"Merry?" Merry looked up into Frodo's pained eyes. "I'm so sorry." A small sob shook his older cousin's body.
Merry released Frodo and Sam from his grasp and backed away. Frodo stepped forward and tried to pull Merry in to a hug, but Merry pushed him off. His wild eyes looked around at the lowered heads of the Fellowship before he turned and ran towards the Houses of Healing.
Sam stepped forward and made an attempt to follow after, but Frodo grabbed his arm and shook his head. "No, Sam," he whispered as he watched Merry force the door of the house open and disappear inside. "There's nothing we can do now to comfort him."
Sam turned sorrowfully to look at the dark houses. He heard the all too familiar sound of Frodo's soft sobs beside him, and he turned to embrace his master in a comforting hug. The Fellowship stood still and grieved silently with downcast eyes and hearts.
April 15, 1419
Merry had never felt anything like this before.
He sat on the cold stone bench in the garden, his eyes staring ahead at the dying sun. His heart yearned for darkness and he greatly anticipated the night, the only time when his surroundings were as black as his thoughts of late. Not a moment went by that he did not see Pippin's face, smiling at him with bright eyes and rosy cheeks that glowed wherever the sun touched them. Tears stung in Merry's eyes as he heard Pippin's voice, playfully calling out to him. He ached to the marrow with the distraught of this loss; he didn't know it was possible to feel so alone--so empty.
The past days had been filled with torture. He didn't sleep at all the night of the Fellowship's return, but instead lied sprawled across his bed and crying never-ending tears of agony. The day after was a blur; he couldn't remember a thing, only the black sorrow he had come to know all too well.
Pippin was dead. The words kept repeating through his mind, but they still seemed so foreign. Pippin couldn't be dead; he was too full of life. No, not his cousin. Not the Hobbit that gave the Maggot dogs reason to fear him. Not the lad that had caught every lass's eye in the Shire, but never knew it. Not the best friend that had always shared everything with Merry, including his worst colds. It wasn't possible. Now Merry sat alone on the edge of depression, beyond comfort and any hope for strength.
Strength. If he managed to retain even an iota of strength throughout this whole journey, it was because of Pippin. It was all quite ironic, really; he had begun the quest with the anticipation of being Pippin's source of strength and protection. By the time the quest was well underway, however, Merry sought out Pippin for his strength and protection. He found it in his cousin's eyes, in his smile, in his cheerful voice, and his childish nature. Now Pippin was gone, and he took Merry's strength and will to continue along with him.
Merry let out a sorrowful sigh and rose slowly from the hard bench. He shivered as a chilled night breeze whistled by him. The sun had set and it was growing darker by the second. He lowered his head and walked back to the houses to shut himself in his room and spend another sleepless night tightly curled up on his bed, feeling alone and abandoned.