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Fate and the High King's Falcon  by Baylor

Day Six of the New Year (March 30 SR)

Pippin had a good morning, and even ate a little watered-down porridge before returning to slumber. Merry was dozing again himself, feet back up, when a whimper from the bed jolted him abruptly upright.

Pippin's face was taut with discomfort, and he was worrying his upper lip. Merry immediately reached for his hand. "What is it, Pip?" he asked with concern.

"Don't know," Pippin whimpered. "My stomach hurts."

Legolas, who had been sorting supplies on the table across the tent for the healers, crossed to the cot in enormous strides. "Where does your stomach hurt, Pippin?" he asked, perching on the edge of the cot and moving the blanket down. Pippin's uncovered abdomen was vibrant with color and still visibly swollen, and Merry closed his eyes briefly against the sight. Legolas touched Pippin tenderly with his fingertips.

"Don't know," Pippin answered in a quavery, frightened voice. "Just hurts."

Merry's eyes were alarmed, and Legolas' face was anxious and uncertain, but he shook his head when Gimli asked if he should fetch someone. "Perhaps he just was not ready for breakfast yet," Legolas said. "Let us wait and see if it passes in a bit."

The pain did not pass, though, and got steadily worse over the next quarter hour. Gimli fetched the healer woman, who then fetched one of the master healers, who recommended a hot, mustard compress for Pippin's stomach. But Pippin's sweat-soaked face scrunched up in pain when the healer applied it, and he cried out for Merry to help him.

The tent was rapidly descending into chaos at this point, with Pippin's pathetic cries for help, and Merry shouting at the healer to stop, and Legolas suggesting other remedies, and the healer shooting off orders to the woman. Gimli decided to do what he knew he should have done from the start -- he stormed off, and across the camp, right into the king's tent, and demanded that the Lord Aragorn come with him immediately. The half-frightened esquire stammered that the lord was very weary from his toils, and had left orders not to disturb him without dire need, but Gimli's response was of such a nature that it woke Aragorn without need of the esquire's assistance. Once he understood the reason for the disturbance, he bolted off across the camp at a run that left the dwarf hard-pressed to follow.

The scene in the tent had not improved during Gimli's absence, and now Pippin was emitting high-pitched little shrieks. Merry seemed torn between comforting his cousin and inflicting bodily harm upon the master healer, who was taking none too kindly to this reaction, while Legolas tried to restore peace and the woman frantically searched through supplies for items called for by the healer. Everyone but the two hobbits calmed as soon as Aragorn entered and began to firmly give instructions that all scrambled to obey.

Pippin had curled onto his side in a little ball, and Merry was standing over him as protective as any mother over her cub, one hand on Pippin's head and the other around his back. "Merry, let me see him," Aragorn said quietly once he had sent Legolas, the healer and the woman to the other side of the tent to fetch various supplies. Merry responded by moving his arm away from Pippin's back, but did not step away, so Aragorn went around to the other side of the bed and reached over to lay a hand on Pippin's stomach.

"Shh, shh, little one," he comforted when Pippin cried out sharply at the touch. "Here, I need you to uncurl for me so I can see what is wrong."

"It hurts too much, Strider," Pippin sobbed in response, and could not unlock his limbs. He cried out again when Aragorn attempted to roll him onto his back anyway and instantly Merry's other arm was encircling his cousin once more, blocking Aragorn.

"Merry, please, let me help him," Aragorn said in the quietest, most reasonable of voices.

"You're hurting him," Merry said tensely. He was shaking slightly. "Can't you see you're hurting him?" Legolas had come up beside him and tried to move Merry away from Pippin with gentle arms, but Merry shook him off roughly. Aragorn tried again to move Pippin, causing the younger hobbit to wail and the older one to clench his jaw. "Stop it!" Merry shouted at the king. "Don't hurt him worse!"

Legolas and Gimli both reached for Merry at the same time, but Gimli got there first, and before Merry quite knew what was happening, the dwarf had grabbed him by his collar and hauled him out of the tent. Gimli let go once they were outside, but placed his sturdy body between the distraught hobbit and the entrance. He blocked Merry's attempt to go back in, and for a moment he thought Merry was actually going to hit him. Stunned, without thinking, he grabbed Merry again as the hobbit came toward him and did what seemed the most logical thing at the moment -- dunked his friend's head into the chill water of a nearby rain barrel.

Merry struggled and kicked, but then Gimli released him and backed away and he stood stock-still, water running from his hair and face onto his body, breathing heavily. He and Gimli considered each other for a moment, and then the fight went out of Merry and his face crumpled up.

"I just can't bear it," he said brokenly. "He's hurting and no one will make it stop. I don't know how to stand that." He took a step and stumbled, but Gimli caught him, and held him as he sobbed.

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