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He stared out at the crashing waves, marvelling at the rush and roar of all that water, swelling and diminishing but always and relentlessly creeping closer to his feet. He had seen the ocean only one other time in his life, and that time too, it had meant loss and heartache, leavened with a sense of comfort that was hard to isolate. That was long years ago, and heíd not been so alone then. This time should be harder, he thought, but in some odd way, it wasnít. He didnít wondered why, just accepted it.
"I want to take a trip."
Pippin stared at Merry in consternation. His cousin had been ill for many months now and Aragorn had confirmed just that morning that there was little chance of him recovering.
"He is old, Pippin," The King had said, when Pippin argued against his conclusion. "He is old and tired. He is ready to go."
"Not so old as all that," Pippin had muttered angrily, denying even to himself the years that had passed.
Merry would have none of that, however. "Donít be ridiculous, Pippin," heíd rasped. "Of course Iím old. 108 years old is a perfectly respectable age and donít you go belittling it, thank you very much."
Now he was going on about taking some trip. Pippin worried that the illness had begun to affect his friendís mind. "Merry, you need to rest. You canít travel until you are well."
"Peregrin Took, you know as well as I do that Iím not going to be well, ever again." The one-time Master of Buckland paused to cough into a handkerchief before continuing. "I want to go to the sea. I want to smell the salt air and feel the mist on my face. Help me, Pippin," he rasped, voice harsh with need, "help me do this one last thing."
"Oh, Merry," Pippin had sighed in sorrow and resignation, "of course Iíll help you. How could I not?" He stood and walked about the room, restlessly poking through Merryís things. They had not brought much with them, out of the Shire, save a few odd bits and pieces of especial importance.
Pippin couldnít help smiling as he noticed a small, delicately carved wooden apple that he himself had given Merry on his thirty-third birthday, saying Merry liked the fruit so much he should have one that would last longer than a few bites. Merry had laughed and said that he had one Pippin already and didnít really need another. Nevertheless, there had been tears in his eyes and Pippin had known Merry was touched by the gift.
"What are you doing over there, you foolish old Took?" Merry asked querulously. His eyesight had been growing steadily worse the last few years and now both eyes were nearly blinded by cataracts. Pippin knew he couldnít see much more than dim shadows although the older hobbit always denied that his vision was less than perfect.
"Iím just looking out the window," he answered. "You have a marvellous view of the river from here."
"So you say, every time you come here. I donít know whatís so wonderful about it." Merry coughed again, long and wracking, and when it was done he lay back on his pillows, spent. "Please, Pippin," he whispered imploringly. "Speak to Aragorn. I havenít much time left."
"I know," Pippin whispered back, choking back the tears that were trying to smother him. "Iíll go to him as soon as I leave here." Brushing wetness off his cheeks, he turned back to his lifelong friend. Merry looked pale and shrunken, with just a hint of fever in his clouded eyes. He made sure the old hobbit was settled as comfortably as possible, with a fresh mug of water at his side, before drawing the blinds and wishing Merry a good night. Quietly closing the door behind him, he walked slowly down the hall, feeling every one of his hundred years.
The waves rolled in and splashed about his ankles, soaking and tangling his meticulously combed foot hair, bringing him back to the present with a start. The air had turned chill and heíd not brought a cloak with him. He should return to the others, now, he supposed, but he wasnít quite ready. Ignoring the icy feel of the water, he stepped a bit further into the sea, feeling the sand erode from under his feet as the water drew back, preparing for another surge.
There was a metaphor for life in the waves, he knew, but he didnít want to think about life right now. It was too difficult and he felt too numb.
The journey had to be difficult for Merry, Pippin reflected, but the ailing hobbit never complained. Aragorn had arranged for them to be taken by wagon to Osgiliath, where a ship met them. They sailed to the Bay of Belfalas, where they were provided with a house within sight of the sea.
"I...want to...go...alone, Pippin," Merry insisted, his breathing sounding harsh and painful in Pippinís ears.
"Donít be absurd!" Pippin protested faintly. "You canít even sit up by yourself. How do you plan to get down to the waterís edge?" Watching Merry struggle to breathe hurt more than anything had since Diamond had died, so many years ago.
"Pippin," Merry groped until he found his cousinís hand. "Please, cousin. Donít...argue. Men...will...help." His voice was growing weaker and Pippin knew that he could not deny Merry this last wish, but it was a hard thing.
Choking back the sobs that threatened to engulf him, he clung to Merryís frail hand. "I...I wonít say good-bye to you, Meriadoc Brandybuck." He paused to steady himself before continuing. "Iíll let you go ahead of me, this one time, but Iíll be along in a while. Donít you forget to look for me." He squeezed Merryís hand gently before laying it back on top of the light coverlet. Bending, he kissed his cousin on the forehead one last time and left the room, knowing he would not see his beloved friend again this side of the death.
Dry-eyed, now, he summoned one of the servants that had accompanied them, and issued orders for Merry to be carried down to the sea, before retiring to his own room. Closing the door behind him, he wearily settled himself in a chair by the fire and waited.
He felt the pull of the water and fought the desire to allow himself to be carried out to sea. It was time to go; the ship was waiting. He was taking Merry back to Minas Tirith, where his old friend would be laid to rest in the halls of Rath Dinen. Then, he thought, it would be time for him to rest as well.
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