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Fate and the High King's Falcon  by Baylor

Day 10 of the New Year (April 4 SR)

"Are you ready?" Aragorn patiently asked Pippin for the fourth time.

"I think I have to go," Pippin answered nervously, fingers plucking at his blanket.

"That was your first excuse," Aragorn said. "The sooner we start the sooner this will be over with, Pippin."

Pippin took a deep, shuddering breath and nodded. He blindly reached out with his good hand and said, "Merry?" in a little, quivering voice.

"Right here," Merry promptly answered, grasping Pippin's hand in his own good one. "You didn't think I'd left, did you?"

Pippin shook his head slightly, squeezing Merry's hand tight. "All right," Aragorn said. "I'm just going to unwrap the bandages first, Pippin."

For days now, Pippin had been pestering his caretakers about removing the compresses and bandages over his eyes, but now that the time had come, he was nervous and twitchy. He had postponed the moment by asking for the privy, another pillow, a drink of water, and another blanket, but now he had run out of delaying tactics. He flinched when Aragorn began to unwind the bandages.

"Pippin," Aragorn's voice was gently admonishing, "this can't possibly hurt."

"No," Pippin agreed, but he held on to Merry's hand all the tighter.

The faces around the bed were grave and anxious. Aragorn was deeply concerned at the eyes apparent lack of healing. The swelling was slow to go down, and yellowish liquid indicative of infection drained from them. Additionally, the left eye socket had been broken, and he feared a bone fragment may have got into the eye itself and damaged it. In short, he wasn't certain Pippin would be able to see again.

At first, Merry had forbidden anyone to tell his young cousin of this possibility, but after some agony over the decision, determined he had no right to keep it from Pippin. To everyone's surprise but Merry's, Pippin had taken the news well, and had said there was no point fretting over it until the bandages came off. But that had been the day he had begun asking to have his eyes unmasked.

Aragorn finished unwinding the bandages and handed them to a hovering Legolas to set aside. "I'm just going to take the compresses off," he told the nervous hobbit, who nodded slightly. Gently, the king peeled the compresses off, revealing the battered eyes. Merry swallowed hard and gave Pippin's hand a squeeze.

Aragorn, quietly telling Pippin of each move before he made it, washed goo and medication off the exterior of both eyes and then gently felt the sockets and lids. Pippin began to chew on his upper lip but held still. The eyelids were a glorious purple color, but the swelling was reduced enough that the shape of the eyes beneath was identifiable. A line of sticky yellow drainage held the lids firmly together.

Finished with the cleansing and evaluation, Aragorn placed a fresh compress, damp and steaming with heat, onto the right eyelid and held it in place for several minutes. Then he gently pulled it away, patting a bit at the drainage, softened and loosened from the moisture and heat. "All right, Pippin, just open your eye now," he said.

Pippin was holding Merry's hand so tight that his cousin feared neither of them would have a good hand between them at the end of this, but he didn't complain. The lids separated slowly, eyelashes coming off as the goo reluctantly gave way.

"Breathe, sweetheart," Merry said abruptly, and Pippin obeyed by taking a sharp, shuddering breath.

"Merry," he wailed anxiously, and turned his face slightly toward Aragorn, seeking reassurance.

"I know, Pippin, you're almost there," Aragorn soothed in response. He could see lines of pain and stress on the hobbit's face. Merry clenched his jaw and looked ready to put an end to the procedure, but held himself back lest he be removed from the tent.

Finally, the lids were apart and the eye open, but it was coated in pus and film. "Legolas," Aragorn prompted, and the elf moved beside the bed to hold the eye open. Pippin was breathing frantically now and trembling.

"It's all right, Pip," Merry reassured him. "Aragorn just needs to wash your eye out, right, Aragorn?"

"Right," Aragorn said firmly, reaching for the solution he had prepared for this purpose. He gently flushed the eye with the liquid and used a soft cloth to pat away the refuse that trickled down his patient's face. After the third flushing, a clear green eye looked back at him.

Both king and hobbit let out gusts of breath in relief and grinned at each other. "Strider!" Pippin crowed, before glancing upward. "Legolas!" A look at the foot of the bed generated a "Gimli!" and, finally, looking to the left prompted a happy "Merry, Merry, Merry!"

Merry was laughing, but his own eyes were a little damp. "Hullo, Pip. Did you think it was someone else all this time?"

"No, but it is good to see your face," Pippin said decisively.

Aragorn flushed the eye a bit more, then had the patient demonstrate that he could open and close it and move the eye about in all directions. He also tested the hobbit's range of vision and found nothing at all amiss.

Satisfied, Aragorn switched places with Merry while Legolas moved back to the foot of the bed. Everyone was breathing easier through the opening of the left eye until Pippin finally had it open and they all saw the dried coating of blood on it.

"What?" Pippin said, frightened again as he took in their grim faces. "What's wrong with it?"

"There's just a little old blood, Pippin," Aragorn said calmly. "This is the broken eye socket, so I'm not surprised. I'm going to flush it out, like I did the other eye. Legolas --"

The elf moved back to Pippin's side to assist. Everyone was silent as Aragorn worked, and Pippin kept his good eye fixed in a frightened gaze on his cousin. Merry smiled reassuringly at him and stroked his thumb across Pippin's palm, but his features were tight with anxiety.

Finally, the eye was clear, but it looked back at Aragorn unfocused. He held a finger in front of it and put his other hand over Pippin's right eye. "Look right here, Pippin," he said.

For several hushed moments, the pupil did not change, but then suddenly it contracted and the sharp green eye was looking right at Aragorn's finger. Pippin grinned, proudly pleased, and everyone sighed in relief.

Aragorn, ever cautious, tested it as carefully as the other, and to his disappointment discovered that the peripheral vision seemed to be gone. Pippin, however, shrugged it off when Aragorn woefully told him that perhaps it would return with time.

"Really, Strider, I did almost end up as a permanent cushion to a troll," he said, oblivious to the horror-stricken looks that appeared on Merry, Legolas and Gimli's faces. "If all I have wrong with me is not being able to see out of one little corner of my eye, I don't think that's such a bad outcome."

Aragorn laughed, and tousled Pippin's hair. "Indeed. I quite agree," he said, and his face lightened as though a great burden had been lifted from him. "Soon you will be running about causing trouble as though you never had been hurt at all."

"If you let me out of bed, I will be," Pippin said, looking hopeful, and not at all subtle.

Aragorn chuckled. "How does this sound? After luncheon, you may walk about the tent with someone's help. We will see how things go for a couple of days, but if you continue to be a very good and obedient patient, perhaps you will be up and about in time for Frodo and Sam's feast. I am still expecting that to be on the 14th or 15th day of the New Year, if they continue to recover so swiftly."

Pippin put on a look of mock-affrontation. "Really, Strider, I can't imagine a better or more obedient patient than me," he said.

Aragorn laughed and leaned over to kiss the hobbit's brow, but Pippin prevented the action by grabbing Aragorn's face and pressing a kiss to his beard, surprising the king.

"Thank you for taking such good care of me," Pippin said. "Thank all of you for taking such good care of me." He beamed happily at each of them, then threw a pillow at Gimli's gruff face for good measure. "You too, Gimli," he said.

The dwarf harrumphed. "Are you certain he does not need to stay in bed for the next, say, month or two, Aragorn?" he asked. "Stay quietly in bed?"

Pippin chucked his other pillow at Gimli, satisfying everyone completely that his sight was fine when he hit the dwarf square in the nose.

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