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Day 15 of the New Year (April 9 SR) Merry found Sam on a hillock behind his and Frodo's tent, contentedly smoking his pipe as his gaze aimlessly wandered over Ithilien. The younger hobbit hesitated for a moment, wondering if perhaps Sam preferred his privacy, but then the gardener turned and smiled at him.
"Mr. Merry, do you know that someone found a pipe somewhere around here and set it out for me, along with a pouch of what I could swear is Longbottom Leaf," he said. "It was right nice of whoever that was, but I can't for the life of me figure where the leaf came from, seeing as how all of ours was gone long ago."
Merry grinned lopsidedly at Sam as he sat down beside him, pulling out his own pipe and pouch as he did so. Sam watched as Merry lit the pipe, noting with some concern that he used his right hand merely to steady the pipe.
"Your senses do not deceive, Sam -- it is Longbottom Leaf," he said. "Pip and I scavenged it at Isengard. I imagine it was meant for Saruman, and it's troubled me on more than one night how it got there. You know, Lotho bid me out of some pipeweed land in the Southfarthing two years ago. I thought at the time he did it to spite me, but now I find myself wondering what has happened to those crops."
Sam's face darkened. "That's a troubling thought, Mr. Merry," he said. "However this weed came into that Saruman's hand, it wasn't a good thing. I hope folks at home are farin' all right -- I do worry about my poor Gaffer."
Merry put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "I know you do, Sam. I miss my folks too, and wonder about them. But we Shirefolk have done all right by ourselves in these grand affairs -- I'm sure that those at home are managing quite fine without us."
Sam smiled. "Aye, I reckon." The two sat in companionable silence, smoking, for a bit, until Sam roused himself and looked about. "Where is Mr. Pippin hiding at? I thought he'd be along right after you. Is Strider keeping him busy?"
Merry coughed nervously. "No, no, actually, he stayed in bed today. I think yesterday may have been too big a day for him. He's not been allowed up at all for but for the past couple days, and he was tired and cranky and a bit feverish this morning. So we tucked him back into bed, and I imagine he's still sleeping."
"Well, then, what are you doing here?" Sam asked in surprise, and then turned furiously red when Merry looked at him, open-mouthed. "Oh, Mr. Merry, I'm sorry, I was just so surprised, knowing how particular you are about Mr. Pippin --"
"It's all right, Sam," Merry said, laughing. "I am particular about Pippin, aren't I? In fact, there are some who might say I'm a little too particular. And there are others, especially among dwarves, who might say that I'm enough to drive one mad and that I ought to go have a walk and a smoke and leave the saner people to some peace."
Sam laughed. "Well, I'm sure that those people are keeping a good eye on Mr. Pippin in the meantime," he said, then sighed. "It sure is good to be with everyone again -- you and Mr. Pippin and Legolas and Gimli and Strider and all. And Mr. Gandalf! He was the biggest surprise of all. You don't know how we missed the sound of friendly voices, Mr. Merry."
Merry didn't answer, but took Sam's hand in his and squeezed gently. Sam squeezed back, then let go to brush at his eyes. Merry looked away for a moment, and when he turned back, Sam was complacently smoking his pipe, no sign of damp eyes.
"So now I'll ask -- where is Frodo? He is not ill today, is he?" Merry asked.
"Oh, no, just taking a nap," Sam said. "I ought to be able to hear him from here when he gets up. I suppose I am rather particular about him, meself."
"Are you, then?" Frodo said from behind them, startling both younger hobbits. "I suppose I'll believe that, though it seems you overestimate your sense of hearing, Sam."
"Mr. Frodo, you should ought to have called for me," Sam sputtered, but Merry only mildly said, "Hullo, Frodo. Join us?"
"I will pass on the smoke, for now, but I will sit with you," Frodo said, stretching out beside Sam. "The fresh air tastes too good for me to desire pipeweed, I find, though I would thank whoever found us some pipes and set that weed out for us."
"I'm sure it was no trouble for him, cousin," Merry said. "In fact, I'm sure that he is so happy to see you again that it was a pure pleasure to do any little thing for you."
Frodo smiled at Merry, who was ducking his head and looking at him from the corner of his eye. "Well, thank you anyway," he said softly. "Now, did I hear you saying something about Pippin while I was getting dressed?"
Merry answered with frown. "Oh, he is not feeling so well today," he answered. "A little feverish and overtired. I think he tried to do too much yesterday. I should have paid more attention, but he was just so excited about seeing you and serving Aragorn at the feast that there wasn't much reining him in."
Frodo smiled affectionately, but his eyes were troubled. "He was hurt very badly, then, wasn't he?" he asked softly, and Merry nodded.
"Yes, he was -- yes," Merry said. "But he's much, much better, Frodo, truly. That sword hand is a mess, and Aragorn says it still needs something done about it, and he tore a muscle in his left thigh -- that accounts for the limp -- but it is healing nicely. And there were . . . other problems, that are over and done. I am trying not to worry anymore, and you should try not to start worrying, for he has had the best of care and treatment. It could not have been better were he the king's own son."
"I believe you," Frodo said gently. "And what about my dear Merry? How is he healing? I am worrying a little about him, for he doesn't use his sword hand much these days."
Merry held the hand in question in front of him and frowned at it as he flexed it. "It is healing some," he said. "Aragorn has given me some things to do every day to help it, and I've been dutiful -- especially with Pippin asking me about it every five minutes. I am sure it will be fine in a couple of weeks."
"It seems Sam and I have not fared so poorly after all," Frodo said. "Aragorn's only instructions to us have been to sleep and eat and drink, all as much as we can."
Merry laughed shortly. "Now there are some healing instructions," he said. "Throw in being served your meals by the lasses down at the Green Dragon and it's an idyllic existence."
Frodo threw back his head and laughed, a real, genuine, from-the-belly laugh, and it spread to Merry and Sam, who felt themselves warm from toes to curls at the sound of Frodo laughing, at the sight of Frodo's blue eyes sparkling.
In a nearby tent, the High King and the great wizard Mithrandir paused in planning the ordering of the reunited kingdom and the onset of the new Age, both turning their heads to better catch the sound of hobbit laughter drifting over the hills of Ithilien. The king smiled softly to himself, but the wizard threw back his head and laughed in pure delight, a fountain of joy overflowing.
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