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This and That  by Lindelea


This story comes from a challenge thrown out on the PippinHealers yahoo group, on the event of the group’s anniversary.

Write a story where each line or paragraph starts with a letter from the phrase “Happy Anniversary, PippinHealers!”

Being busy (what’s new?) I had set the idea aside, but after reading Dreamflower’s wonderful contribution I began to think about what might be done. I thought then about a scene from Flames where Ferdi’s father has just died, and young Faramir has wandered from his bed during the uproar over one of his father’s “breathless fits” (an asthma attack, or bronchitis, or something like), and he and Ferdi have a talk about fathers and eternity.

So for the sake of background, here’s the excerpt from the chapter in Flames from which this “Happy Anniversary, PippinHealers” story springs.

Later, he found his steps turning towards old Ferdinand's room. He entered, to find all much as it had been, his father's pipe on the mantle, the knitted blanket neatly folded on Ferdinand's chair as if waiting for him to be moved there from his bed for the day. He took the pipe from the mantle and sank down in his customary place, cradling the pipe in his hands. When he closed his eyes, he could smell the lingering richness of pipeweed smoke, could imagine the crackle of the little fire on the hearth, keeping the little kettle warm, could even imagine that he and his father were sitting in one of their comfortable silences... until a small voice broke into his thoughts.

'Is this your da's room?' Ferdi opened his eyes. As he expected, it was the son of the Thain.

'What are you doing out of bed?' he asked.

The little lad shrugged. 'They're all too busy to notice,' he said. 'It's all a-bustle right now, healers shouting for things and people running in and out.'

This news caught Ferdi in the pit of his stomach, but he managed to say calmly enough, 'And so no one's watching out for you?'

'No,' the lad said.

'Has anyone fed you since tea?'

'No,' little Faramir repeated.

'Sit down here a moment,' Ferdi said. 'Will you stay put if I tell you?'

'I know how to follow orders,' Faramir said.

'Do that,' Ferdi said. 'I'll be right back.'

He returned soon with bowls of stew from the pot the old aunties kept warm in the depths of the Smials, and crusty bread to go with it. He sat Faramir down in Ferdinand's old chair and the two fell to their meal without much to say.

Finally, Faramir showed his empty bowl, and Ferdi nodded gravely. 'Job well done.' He collected the bowls and laid them by the hearth, then he and Faramir sat regarding each other. The lad broke the silence.

'What's it like to die?'

Ferdi blinked. 'Well,' he said slowly, 'I've never died, myself, mind...'

Faramir nodded encouragingly, and Ferdi went on, '...but I've heard tell that you go beyond the Sundering Seas, to a land where there's no hurt or sorrow, and you walk in peace, all griefs forgotten.'

'That doesn't sound so bad,' the lad mused. 'Why are folk so frightened of death, then?'

'Because once you die, there's no going back,' Ferdi said.

'So you're stuck?'

'Aye,' Ferdi answered. They sat in silence awhile longer.

'There's no hurt?' the lad asked at last.

'Aye, and all that was ever taken away is restored to you,' Ferdi answered.

Faramir thought this over. 'So...' he said, still thinking, 'So your da's got his arms and legs back? The ones that were burned away in the fire?' Ferdi nodded. 'And he's got... he's got his brother back, what the fire took away?'

'How did you know about that?' Ferdi asked.

The lad shrugged again. 'People talk,' he said simply. Ferdi nodded. He knew how people talked.

'And my da will have his breath back?' Faramir continued. 'And he'll be able to run, and laugh until he has to hold his tummy, and chase little hobbits and catch them and throw them in the air and catch them again?'

Not trusting his voice, Ferdi only nodded. Faramir considered a moment more.

'That's not so bad then,' he said softly. 'I was afraid it would be all cold, and dark, and lonely, but... I suppose it's not so bad after all.'

The two sons sat quietly for a long time, thinking of their fathers, until the son of the Thain fell asleep, and Ferdinand's son bore him gently to the Thain's quarters, where things had quieted down, and the Thain slept, propped with pillows, healer on watch by the bedside, Diamond dosed to drowsiness and put back to bed to nurse her headache.

No one had missed Faramir or even noticed that he'd crept from his bed. The healer's eyes widened at the sight of Ferdibrand and his burden, but the head of the Thain's escort merely jerked his head towards the lad's room. Woodruff nodded, and Ferdi took the lad to his bed, smoothing the covers over him as gently as his own father might do.

'Good night, lad,' he said softly.

Faramir stirred in his sleep and smiled. 'Night, Da,' he murmured. 'Take me fishing tomorrow?'

'Well,' Ferdi whispered, 'I'll be a bit busy on the morrow, but I'll put Ferdi on it. I'm sure he'll take you if I ask him nicely.'

'Will you?' Faramir asked, still in his pleasant dream.

'You can count on me,' Ferdi whispered, smoothing back a stray curl. 'Sleep now.' He watched the lad's breathing become deep and even, and then stole from the room.

--From Flames

A Breath of Fresh Air

He remembered the feeling: dark, suffocating, crushing pain, struggling for just one breath, just one little gasp, but the Troll was too heavy... too heavy... too great a weight upon his chest.

At his last gasp, he thought, rather irreverently perhaps, but his thought lingered long enough to laugh a little within him, so great was his relief that all was done, the burden of fear was lifted, and he could, at last, rest. To rest, to sleep, perchance to dream... Last gasp, and I cannot even gasp! I thought that I would at least get the dying part right...

‘Pippin!’ he heard, close at hand, a familiar voice that somehow did not fit, here in the darkness beneath the hill troll. Beregond’s voice, yes, or Targon’s, or even Gandalf, shouting amidst the faint and muffled muddle of battle, something about Eagles, but a feminine voice? Here?

‘Pippin!’ came the cry again, and it seemed to him that sharp nails were digging into his arm, clutching at him – perhaps someone was attempting to pull him out from under the troll. It would take the strength of a dwarf to do that, he mused, oddly detached, but peaceful now that the first struggle was past, and he felt himself sinking into the darkness, and the darkness a soft and welcoming place, not hard and harsh, no longer frightening but somehow offering more comfort than anything. Peace. Rest.

‘You called, Mistress?’ A bland and unruffled voice broke in, another that did not fit on a battlefield or under a troll, so to speak. It was the voice of a hobbitservant of long experience, one who greeted every scenario with no more than a raised eyebrow, who always presented a face that was “correct”, a silent rebuke to his “betters” when they grew excited over this-or-that trifle. Sandy, he thought in surprise. What was Sandy doing here, under the troll?

‘A healer!’ she gasped. ‘Fetch a healer at once!’

Now that was a capital idea. A healer, and so convenient, on the spot and under the troll, so to speak. But how did a healer come to be here, in this terrible place?

None of your nonsense, Pip, he could almost hear Frodo say. Frodo? Or was it Merry? Or perhaps Regi or Ferdi? Of course there’d be healers on the battlefield. The healers had marched to the Black Gate with the rest of the armies of the West, swords hanging at their sides, soldiers like the rest, though their swords were more intended for defence, yes, for defending their own lives, and the lives of those they’d tend during and after the battle. If a healer saw a man fall, he’d make his way to the spot and stand over the fallen to keep the blades of the enemy from hewing him as he lay. And then if the attack could be beaten off, if a respite could be won, then the healer would be on the spot, to bind up the wounds. Most convenient.

‘I’m here, Mistress.’ A bit out of breath, but Pippin recognized the voice of the healer he’d known most of his life. Well, all his life, he supposed, since she’d attended at his birth, only a healer’s apprentice at the time, but she’d become a full healer in her own right when Pippin was still a very small lad.

‘Very good, Woodruff,’ he whispered. ‘I don’t know how you manage it, to be here and under the troll and all.’

Even Pippin could not hear his own voice in his ears, but somehow the healer did.

‘Relax, Sir,’ she said. ‘Steady breaths. In... out... in... out...’ He wanted to ask how one managed steady breaths, crushed under a troll, but it would take too much breath to do so, and air was one thing that was definitely lacking in this time and place. They were sitting him up – someone was, anyhow. He felt himself lifted, propped more upright, softness behind him – pillows? – and bodies on either side, pressing close, one of which was soft and cushiony and warmly familiar – he knew every curve of that body, every nook and cranny, in a manner of speaking. But this was neither the time nor the place...

‘Sandy!’ Woodruff snapped. ‘Build up the fire. We need boiling water – steam! Herbs... in that bag there; when the water boils we’ll set them steeping.’

‘A draught?’ Diamond said, and yes, Pippin knew now that it was Diamond, and that he was in the Great Smials, and that his cold had turned into something rather worse than better. He was drowning, yes, that was it, drowning, his lungs filling with fluid. Fancy that he’d dreamed of being under the troll, rather than of falling into the Brandywine. A drowning dream seemed just the thing.

‘Right,’ Woodruff said crisply, and then Pippin felt the chill of the night air on his breast as someone pulled his nightshirt open, so quickly that he heard some of the buttons pop, and then there was a pungent smell, a familiar one that he remembered first smelling in Ithilien, something Strider had used on him as he was recovering from the battle before the Black Gate, something Merry had learned the making of, had brought back to the Shire for Pippin’s sake, to be used when shortness of breath returned for any reason, whether caused by dust or illness.

‘You’ll be wanting a blanket,’ Sandy said quietly at his elbow.

Pippin nodded. A blanket was just the thing! He was hot and cold by turns, undoubtedly a fever to go with the breathless fit, but definitely in the grip of a chill at the moment.

‘I -’ he managed, though with the shudders that seized him it came out sounding more like, ‘I-I-I-I-’

‘Pippin!’ Diamond said. ‘Save your breath, my love. Don’t try to talk...’

Pippin’s face screwed up in puzzlement. How does one save one’s breath, when one has no breath to speak of?

‘I think the kettle’s boiling,’ someone said. Pippin wanted to comment that they’d not been watching the pot, evidently, for everyone knew that old saw about a watched pot.

‘None of your nonsense, now, lad,’ Woodruff said firmly, to Pippin’s surprise. He must have spoken the thought aloud after all.

‘Healers,’ he muttered.

‘Exactly,’ Woodruff answered, and Pippin wanted to protest that now it was Woodruff speaking nonsense. But the healer was occupied about other things, one of which was placing the blanket to her satisfaction. The other voices became muffled, only Diamond’s and Woodruff’s low tones clear in his ears, and he realised that the blanket had been thrown over the top of the three of them, forming a tent of sorts, and a weight was on his lap, and Woodruff was urging caution that the steaming water not be tipped out onto Pippin’s nether regions.

‘And I’ll thank you for that,’ Pippin muttered. Another pungent odour arose, somewhat different from the first, but also familiar. This was not the same as the balm they’d smeared on his back and chest, that he could feel tingling as it worked, that could likely be smelled by hobbits in the next room, so strong it was. No, this was something else, something that you scooped into steaming water, to melt, to send fumes into the air, to ease the breathing of a young hobbit afflicted with the croup, or someone struggling with lung fever or the like. Yes. Pippin understood now. The blanket formed a tent to trap the medicinal steam, and Diamond on one side and Woodruff on the other propped Pippin between them, holding the basin that he might breathe (to the best of his limited ability, as it was, at the moment) and be eased.

‘Let it work,’ Woodruff murmured. ‘That’s it, Sir, steady breaths. In – out – in – out – in - ’

Eternity passed, or so it seemed to Pippin, and likely to those who watched and waited, anxious.

‘Right,’ Woodruff said again, at last, and this time her voice was not crisp and authoritative, but laced through with relief. The spasm was easing, and Pippin realised that he was drawing deep breaths once more. His head was clearing, and opening his eyes he saw a brief darkness that melted as the blanket was drawn away, and then Woodruff was taking a cup from the hand of her assistant, and holding it to his lips, and urging him to drink, and he was too limp and weary with the effort it had cost him to keep on breathing through the entire ordeal, and so he drank, feeling the warmth of the steaming draught spread through him, adding to the languor he was feeling. Odd, how one took breathing so much for granted, until the ability to breathe was taken away.

‘Sleep now, Sir,’ Woodruff whispered, and truly, his eyelids were so very heavy he could scarcely keep them open. He sighed – such a luxury, to be able to sigh! – and felt Diamond nestle against him, a wetness on the cheek against his own, either perspiration from being bathed in steam, under a blanket, or lingering tears of fear for him, or more likely tears of relief, but there was no time for wondering as he skidded towards sleep. His thought lingered a moment, laughing a little within him, and then fluttered away into the welcoming forgetfulness.

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