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Fate and the High King's Falcon  by Baylor

Day 13 of the New Year (April 7 SR)

Aragorn thought he might be the only person in the tent breathing as he carefully examined each of Pippin's wounds the next morning. He tried to ignore the onlookers and focus on his patient.

The eyes seemed better than he'd ever hoped for, though the peripheral vision in the left one had not returned so far. Pippin's battered face in general had improved remarkably over the past fortnight -- pale yellow shadows of the bruising remained, but even his bottom lip was much better and the stitches were ready to be removed.

The broken ribs likewise were doing well, their recovery facilitated no doubt by the forced period of inactivity. Aragorn determined to leave them lightly bound and let them continue to heal. Pippin still had a small tender spot on his abdomen, also now yellowish in appearance, but that was to be expected and no reason for alarm. Discoloration mottled his body still, but everywhere had faded from vibrant blues and purples to subdued yellows and violets.

A less well-trained healer might not have even been able to anymore discern that the left ankle and knee had been dislocated. The torn muscle worried Aragorn a bit, but it was time to start letting Pippin walk on it more and build up its strength. The broken toes felt almost healed, to the king's amazement.

The worst remaining injury was the mangled hand, but it could remain bound and splinted without hindering Pippin's activities overmuch. Aragorn frowned as he turned it carefully in his own hand -- he feared that some bones would have to be reset soon, but said nothing. He wrapped it back up and set it down atop the blanket, then smiled at his patient.

"Well, Master Took, how would you like to serve me at Frodo and Sam's feast?" he asked.

"Would I?" Pippin bellowed, and was out of the bed before Aragorn could blink. The king heard the three onlookers exhale heavily as one, and then Pippin had tackled Merry in a hug with a whoop.

"I told you he'd say yes, Merry!" he crowed in delight. Merry grinned happily and allowed himself to be mauled as he hugged Pippin tightly. Gimli chortled with pleasure and a smile danced about Legolas' lips.

"Won't Frodo and Sam be amazed to see us so towering and in our uniforms and everything!" Pippin continued to Merry in delight, then turned to Aragorn. "And don't forget, Strider -- just tell them we are here and all right, or we won't be a surprise to them at all."

"Yes, I recall my instructions," Aragorn said as he stood and plucked Pippin out of his cousin's arms. "Now, I have some rules, too." He sat Pippin on the edge of the bed and then sat back down in the chair, leaning forward to look the hobbit in the eye. Pippin schooled his face into attentiveness.

"You're to rest for a bit after luncheon today, and then be in bed by nightfall," he stated. Pippin nodded. "No running about or strenuous activity, and if you feel you need to sit down or rest, you're to do so immediately." Another nod. "If you don't feel well tomorrow morning -- for I believe Frodo and Sam will awaken and be ready then -- and especially if you have a fever, you're to see a healer, and you're not to attend." This nod came only after a disappointed look. "And," the king concluded, "if I find that any of my food or drink has been subjected to hobbit-tasting before it is set in front of me, you will spend the remainder of our time in Ithilien cleaning up after the horses."

"Really, Strider, if I ever did such a thing it would be only to make certain you were getting the best of everything," Pippin responded.

"Of course," Aragorn said dryly. "I don't suppose anyone could find some more suitable clothing for the king's esquire?"

"There are some things ready for him, I believe," Legolas volunteered. "I will go find them now."

As the elf departed, Aragorn turned to the other hobbit in the tent, standing close by Pippin's bed. "Now," he said, "come here and let me see this hand of yours, Master Brandybuck."

Merry opened his mouth to protest but bit his tongue at the commanding look Aragorn gave him and reluctantly moved closer and held out his sword hand.

"What is wrong with your hand, Merry?" Pippin asked, distressed.

"Nothing," Merry answered, wriggling his fingers. "It's healed just fine."

Aragorn put two of his fingers in Merry's palm. "Grasp my fingers as hard as you can," he ordered, and Merry obeyed, not with the strength of several weeks before, but not with unexpected weakness either. Then Aragorn reached inside his vest and brought out a single grape. "Now pick that up with your fingers," he said.

Merry's hand shook a bit, but he reached out for the grape, only to have his fingers fumble at it unsuccessfully. He finally grasped it between a finger and his thumb only to have it drop back into the king's hand as he tried to pull it away. Flushing with embarrassment and frustration, Merry guiltily met Aragorn's eyes.

"Merry!" Pippin cried. "Why can't you use your fingers?"

"It's getting better," Merry said in a low voice.

"I hear differently," Aragorn replied, and Merry cut a nasty look at Gimli. The dwarf was not affected and glowered back at the hobbit with good-intentioned severity.

"It's all right, Merry," Aragorn soothed. "Here, let's see if you can do this," and he touched the tip of each finger to his thumb one by one. Merry managed to connect only two of his fingers to the end of his thumb. He blushed even redder and swore.

"Merry," Aragorn said reprovingly. He did not swear himself, and moreover, he had heard Frodo reprimand Merry for not watching his language on enough occasions to know such words were not acceptable among gentlehobbits.

Pippin had risen to stand by Merry's side, and now he put his arms around his cousin. "It's all right, Merry, isn't it, Strider? His hand will get better, won't it?" Pippin's voice was a little shriller than usual.

"I don't know," Aragorn said honestly, "but I can recommend some things that might help." He showed Merry a few hand-strengthening exercises, and also advised that Merry spend some time each day practicing something that required fine hand coordination, like buttoning. After hearing numerous assurances from Pippin that Merry would do everything he had suggested, Aragorn left to attend to Frodo and Sam.

As soon as the king had departed, Merry fixed a steely glare at Gimli. "It was getting better just fine without all this fuss, you know," he began, but Pippin interrupted.

"Merry Brandybuck, I don't believe you!" he exclaimed, then recited in a fairly good imitation of Merry's Buckland accent, "Pippin, no getting out of bed. Pippin, it's time for you to rest. Don't do that, Pippin, you'll strain your eyes. No, Pippin, your leg isn't strong enough for that. Pippin, eat more vegetables, they're good for you. Pippin, no more sweets, too much is bad for you.

"Besides," he concluded, ignoring the guffawing Gimli, "you made me a promise once that you would take care of yourself just as good as you take care of me. You'd better do every single thing Strider said, and maybe I'll forgive you for forgetting your promise. But no more pretending you're all right when you're really not!"

Merry's earlier ire had vanished and now he looked remorseful. "Oh, Pip, I'm sorry," he said. "I just didn't want anyone to worry when you and Frodo and Sam are hurt so much worse. You're right -- I'd never let you act like you were all right if you weren't."

Pippin leaned over to kiss Merry soundly on the cheek. "No, you certainly wouldn't," he said affectionately. "So no more of that. I'm going to be watching you now, you know."

Merry sighed. "So it seems," he said, but he was smiling.

Pippin nodded firmly in satisfaction, then put his hands on his hips. "Now, where is Legolas with my clothes?" he demanded of his audience at large. "If he thinks I won't go to the feast like this and serve Strider, he's wrong."

"I don't know that Aragorn would approve," Gimli said tactfully.

"Oh, I'll just say it was Legolas' fault," Pippin said carelessly, just as the elf entered the tent carrying a small bundle of clothing.

"It was not," Legolas said immediately, setting the clothing on the bed. "Whatever it is, it was Pippin's fault."

"Legolas, I do believe you're finally learning how the world works," Pippin said with a touch of pride. "Now, help me get dressed."

Poor Gimli had a sudden coughing fit, but Merry and Legolas got Pippin outfitted quickly enough and they quitted the tent and went outside to discover the bright new day.

(Note: Merry made the promise Pippin refers to in the chapter "Promise Me Right" of my story "I Always Know You.")

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