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Fate and the High King's Falcon  by Baylor

Day 21 of the New Year (April 15 SR)

Merry was not quite halfway back from the mess tent when he realized that he might have overestimated how much food one hobbit could carry on one tray. Carefully balancing the overflowing tray with his left hand, he reached for a teetering tart with the right. The passing of a horse-drawn cart threatened to disrupt this delicate balance, causing Merry to hold his breath for a moment, but then he managed to find a particular tilt to his body that righted everything. Unfortunately, the particular tilt that balanced the tray made moving forward awkward.

"Ahem," a familiar voice coughed above his head, just before the king reached out for the tray. Merry kept possession of the tart.

Aragorn looked down at the contents as the two began to move toward the tent. "Really, Merry, you are only two hobbits, you know," he said.

"We are four hobbits, thank you very much," Merry replied, quickly dispatching the tart, "and one of us slept through breakfast and I'd like to see him make up for it at second breakfast. Building up strength and all. Not to mention that the other two haven't had six square meals a day since I don't know when."

Aragorn dipped his head apologetically. "Your pardon, Master Brandybuck. But I would suggest you draft someone to help in the delivery of elevenses. And luncheon, and tea . . ." he said, and Merry grinned.

"Aragorn," he asked, "when you are the king and living in the fine palace at Minas Tirith, will you serve second breakfast and elevenses and afternoon tea? It would be a fine tradition to introduce to the people of Gondor."

"They will be served only to hobbits, Merry, only to hobbits," was the answer, followed by, "How is the hand?"

Merry held his right hand out in front of him and touched the tip of his thumb to the ends of three fingers. His aim failed on the ring finger, but Aragorn noted that the hobbit moved his fingers with much more ease and confidence than he had just a week prior. "It has been working much better," Merry said, "though sometimes when I am tired it is still cold and numb."

"That may never go away," Aragorn said. "I am afraid that it is often so, that great deeds come with a price. But I do not have to tell you that. Still, if you are able to use it the majority of the time without difficulty, I am satisfied. And I believe a month from now, it will be improved even more."

"I am faithful about those exercises, you know," Merry said. They had come to the hobbits' tent now, and paused outside.

Aragorn smiled at the hobbit. "I know you are, and I know that there is no lack of persons about to make sure that you stay that way," he said. "Now, how was Pippin this morning?"

"He wants to get up," Merry said flatly, just as a petulant voice was heard from within.

"Frodo, I can lie about all day in real clothes just as easily as I can in this silly nightshirt. I don't see why I can't get dressed."

"Because you can decide to go strolling about the camp in real clothes much more easily than if you're in that silly nightshirt, as you proved when you gave us the slip yesterday. It is your own fault you can't get dressed, and you know it."

There was the distinct sound of a small body being tossed in frustration against pillows. "I just wanted a bit of fresh air. Do you know how tedious the inside of this tent can become after days on end?"

"As tedious as your whining?" Merry asked, jerking open the tent flap and going inside. "I am sorry you find recovery so dull, Pippin. Perhaps you would prefer another bout of illness brought on by disobeying your healers."

Pippin stuck his tongue out at Merry, then abruptly retracted it as Aragorn came in behind his cousin with the laden second breakfast tray. "Good morning," the king said. "Is everyone in fine spirits today?"

No one looked to be in particularly fine spirits, with Pippin fretting to be up and about, and Frodo and Merry exasperated with Pippin's fretting, and Sam put out to hear his Mr. Frodo spoken to thus, even by his beloved baby cousin. Still, the arrival of food does amazing things for hobbits, and being well-versed in their ways, Aragorn decided to join the four for second breakfast before examining Pippin.

An empty tray and a half-hour later, everyone was in a much better mood, and Aragorn let Merry and Sam (with Frodo supervising) clean up the scant remains of the meal while he sat on the edge of the bed to look at his patient. He found Pippin to be bright-eyed and without the low fever that had plagued him the first days after the hand had been reset. The hand had not shown further signs of infection, but the constant fever had worried Aragorn more than he had said to the other hobbits. He had feared that the poisonous infection in Pippin's hand had spread to the hobbit's bloodstream and that he could still worsen and die. But the fever had broken early the previous day, and the change in Pippin had been almost instantaneous. After nearly three weeks of forced inactivity, the young hobbit was beside himself to be abroad.

Satisfying himself that all signs of illness had indeed dissipated along with the fever, Aragorn unwrapped the bandage on the broken hand, then each of the broken fingers, one by one. Pippin was quiet and cooperative, as he always was during these examinations, though Aragorn knew they pained him. Sometimes he could scarce believe this was the same little hobbit who had made such a fuss over his midge bites on the road to Rivendell.

"It looks better, doesn't it?" the hobbit in question asked, and Aragorn nodded.

"It does indeed. The bones are healing nicely, and I think I can take those stitches out in a couple more days," he said. The hand certainly looked battered, but the telltale redness and swelling of infection were nowhere to be seen, and the mending bones were now aligned correctly. Aragorn turned the hand palm down and studied the back of it, looking at its structure. "Pippin, I do believe you may regain normal use of this hand once it is fully healed," he mused. "I will not promise you anything, but this is remarkable. I would not have thought it possible when I first examined you, and certainly not after the complications."

Frodo laughed, and both healer and patient turned toward him. "It is good to know we hobbits are still surprising you, Aragorn," Frodo said, eyes twinkling with amusement.

Aragorn smiled wryly at him. "Do you find me a slow learner, Master Baggins?" he asked.

Merry, having finished with his part of the clean-up, set the tray aside to be returned to the mess tent and came to stand at Frodo's side. "That's really not fair, cousin," he said to Frodo. "Certainly not when he's finally figured out how all the meals work. Just this morning he told me he's going to serve second breakfast and elevenses and afternoon tea at the palace."

Pippin giggled, and Aragorn gave him a look of mock sternness. "You will not enjoy six meals a day so greatly, Master Took, when you are required to bring each of them to me and not partake of your own until I am finished," he said.

Pippin giggled some more and Aragorn began to splint the broken hand again. "Let's just wrap the fingers together, if that suits you, Peregrin," the king said. "You should find that much less cumbersome while the four of you are about today."

"So I can get up?" Pippin asked in delight.

Aragorn nodded. "If Sam remembers where he hid your clothes," he said with a wink to Pippin.

"When would I ever forget a thing like that, Strider?" Sam said, a bit stung, but Frodo soothed him with a hand on his shoulder.

"Come on, Sam, let's go retrieve Pippin's things before he decides to tear through camp in that nightshirt," he said, steering the gardener toward the tent flap. "We'll be back directly, Pip, and I promise you an entire afternoon of wanderings and fresh air."

Merry edged closer to the bed. "So, he is better then?" he asked, managing to sound hopeful and frightened all at the same time.

"For good, I think, this time," Aragorn replied, putting one hand on Pippin's head and the other on Merry's shoulder. Merry let out his breath in a gust and gave the king and his knight a lopsided smile.

"It is about time, Pip," he said to his cousin. "I was beginning to think you so dreaded the thought of having to do everything Aragorn tells you to that you were contriving ways to stay in bed."

"Merry," Pippin said with exasperation, "when have I ever not done what Strider told me to do?" He looked slyly at the High King out of the corner of his eye.

"Yes, Merry," Aragorn said mildly, "I think he is all better now." As an afterthought, he added, "May the Valar protect us."

"Oh, they do, Strider, they really do," was Pippin's sincere answer.

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