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SUMMARY: In which Merry is in a bad mood and Éowyn and Faramir try to cheer him…
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Marigold’s challenge was to include an irate Merry, a seashell, the Houses of Healing, and any healer…
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: The title to this story came from Marigold.
DISCLAIMER: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.
WHISPER OF HOPE
There was a timid knock on the door. “Go away!” he called crossly.
The door opened anyway. It was one of the healers--Merry didn’t know his name. “Master Meriadoc, Mistress Ioreth informed me that you did not come down to the noon meal. Is it your wish to have a tray sent to you?”
“No, thank you,” he mumbled.
The healer looked alarmed. The King had specifically told them that not eating was a bad sign in pheriannath. And Meriadoc had been eating very well indeed for the last couple of days. Perhaps it was a relapse. This was alarming, for the King was gone, and though Aragorn had prepared for them a supply of athelas himself, it was not nearly so efficacious when administered by other hands than those of the King. The healer tried again. “Master Meriadoc--”
Merry turned around, trying not to glare. In a tightly controlled voice he said “Please. I do not wish to be disturbed. Just--Please. Go. Away.”
The healer backed out, closing the door, wondering what to do next. Aside from the fact that this patient happened to be a close personal friend of the soon-to-be-King--if they were victorious--Merry had endeared himself in the last few days to the other staff and patients. In spite of his own obvious worry for his kin and friends in danger, he had kept up a cheerful front, and had done much to raise the spirits of others. Especially the Lady of Rohan and the new Steward.
Ah, that was an idea! The pherian had arrived with the Rohirrim, and with the Lady Éowyn. Perhaps she could help. He thought she might be in the gardens…
He found her there, looking among the beds of herbs. He was surprised not to see the Steward--they had been much together in recent days. His surprise must have shown, for she looked up at him and said:
“If you are looking for Lord Faramir, he was called away a few minutes ago to deal with some problem or other.”
“Actually, my Lady, I was searching for you. I know that you are good friends with the halfling Meriadoc--”
“Hobbit. His people are called ‘hobbits’.” She had begun to feel Merry’s own indignation at his being called a “halfling”. (“Like I’m only half a person. I don’t know if it would be the top half or the bottom half. Or maybe the right half or the left half.” He had laughed, but she knew it rankled, nevertheless.)
“Yes, yes,” the healer said impatiently. “But I am concerned. He will not come from his room, and he refused the noon meal.”
Now Éowyn definitely began to feel alarmed. She knew very well what a hobbit appetite was like. “Thank you. I will go to him at once.”
She rapped at his door.
“I said I don’t want any luncheon. Please go and leave me alone.”
“Merry! It’s Éowyn!”
She heard a thump, and then the door opened. “Éowyn, I am not very good company right now.”
Éowyn guiltily looked at the unaccustomed furrow in Merry’s brow; she had a feeling that his foul mood had as much to do with her as it did with the ever-present gloom outside the Houses of Healing.
The day before had been difficult for her. Her arm had been paining her, and Faramir had some things he had to attend to for the City, something that seemed to happen increasingly as he recovered. She had sat alone, getting more and more melancholy, and more and more angry.
Merry had found her there, sitting on one of the walls, overlooking the battlefield. With his usual good nature, he had done his very best to cheer her up.
At first, she had rebuffed all his efforts. But he had persisted, telling her funny stories about his cousins, and their growing up in the Shire. And he insisted that between Gandalf, and his cousin Frodo--in whom he had the utmost confidence, though he was canny about what Frodo’s mission was--that somehow, it was possible to prevail.
“After all, my Lady, they were certain we would lose the battle here, weren’t they?”
And she had finally felt the gloom begin to lift for herself. But now, she feared, she had simply cast her bad mood onto him, a poor reward for his efforts to help.
She flushed. “As poor company as I was yesterday?”
He gave a rueful and mirthless chuckle. “At least.”
“Come out to the garden with me, Merry.”
“I wouldn’t want to be in the way…” he muttered.
“Never that!” she exclaimed. “Lord Faramir enjoys your company as much as I! But even so, he is not there right now.” She knelt to put herself at his level. “Please? Or else I shall think that you hold my surliness of yesterday against me.”
“No, of course not! Very well, I will come.” But his voice did not hold much enthusiasm.
They walked side by side in silence, and Éowyn tried to think of what she could say that would cheer him. She had no such store of funny stories as he did, nor could she tell the ones she did know in such a droll and entertaining fashion. And though her mood was much improved from the day before, she really did not know how to hold out hope to him, if his own had failed.
They walked about among the herb beds, and Merry would occasionally comment if he recognized a plant, but he clearly had no enthusiasm. The sky was as dark and dismal here as indoors, and Éowyn began to despair of a way to cheer him up. A miserable hobbit was almost unnatural. Even on their ride to battle, when they both thought they were going to certain death, he had somehow found hope and humor. She sighed.
“I told you I was not very good company, today,” said Merry ruefully.
She was saved from having to reply by a familiar voice. “My Lady Éowyn! Master Meriadoc!” It was Faramir approaching. He smiled at the hobbit. “It is good to see you!”
For the life of him, Merry could not summon up an answering smile, but he responded politely enough. “I am glad to see you as well, Lord Faramir. You are looking much better.”
The Steward looked at Éowyn in puzzlement. He had never seen the hobbit in this mood. She shrugged, and asked “Did you get that business taken care of?”
“Simply a question of allotting space to many of the reinforcements that have arrived from Pelargir and Lossarnach.” He reached into a pouch and brought forth a seashell. “One of the captains from Pelargir is an old friend, and knows I have an interest in such things. He brought me this.”
He held it forth for their inspection. It was fairly large, filling his hand, creamy white with some bands of golden brown on the outside, and rosy pink within. It was a perfect specimen.
Éowyn looked at it with interest. It was lovely. She had seen one or two before as curiosities, brought to Edoras from those who had visited the sea, but none quite as nice as this one.
Merry’s eyes grew large and moist. He held his hand out, as if to touch, but did not quite do so. In a soft voice, he said “Bilbo had one of those, almost exactly like that, at Bag End. He had it as a gift from his Uncle Isengar, who had travelled and gone to sea.”
Faramir’s eyes met those of Éowyn, and though he was not sure what had been transpiring in his absence, he realized that for some reason this was important. “Go ahead, Meriadoc. You may hold it.”
Merry looked up at him, and he nodded. Picking it out of Faramir’s hand gingerly, the hobbit hesitantly held it to his ear. For the first time that day, a smile lit his features. “I can hear it!” he said. “Bilbo would allow Frodo and I to listen--you can hear the sound of the sea in it.” He held it out, and Éowyn put her own ear to it, and then laughed delightedly.
“Is that what the sea sounds like? It sounds like the wind through the grasses on the plains!”
Faramir nodded. “I am sure that it is just some trick of the ear, but for some reason, one can hear the sound of the sea in a shell.”
Merry had it once more against his own ear, smiling reminiscently. “Frodo would listen to it, and he would get a far away look in his eyes, and then he would tell me stories of the Sea, and of the great Kingdom of Men that was in the Sea and of Elves who sailed magic ships…”
Faramir looked thoughtful, as he remembered Frodo and their encounter in Ithilien. Perhaps it would make up a little for his initial treatment of Frodo and Sam if he could do something for Frodo’s cousin.
“Would you like to have it, Master Meriadoc?” His generous impulse was immediately rewarded by the proud and joyful look Éowyn gave him, and the look of surprised delight on Merry’s face.
“Oh, thank you!” the hobbit exclaimed. “Thank you so much! Would you mind awfully, if--no when--Frodo comes back, if I gave it to him?”
“Not at all, Meriadoc. I would like that very much indeed.”
Merry looked up at his two companions. “Is anyone hungry? I do think that I missed lunch.”
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