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The Vine  by Auntiemeesh

The Vine
Disclaimer: The Shire and everything else in Middle Earth belongs to Tolkien. I just get to visit from time to time.

At the tender age of sixteen, Merry was sure that he was invincible. Up till now, nothing had challenged that belief and this confidence had led to an escalating series of stunts over the summer. Stunts that culminated in his current predicament.

About a mile and a half north of Brandy Hall, there was a tree in the middle of a field. Not just any tree. A particular tree that had been entertaining the youth of Buckland for generations. At some time in the distant past, this tree must have been lush and green with widely spreading branches. Now, it was a stark white spear thrusting up into the sky. No branches protruded from the naked trunk of this particular tree, an odd fact that Merry had never questioned. (In point of fact, some daring and enterprising young Brandybuck ancestor had gone at the branches with a saw long years ago.)

A vine had been tied around a stubby branch which had been left on the trunk for this very purpose, up high, near the top of the tree. This vine hung down to within about three feet of the ground, ending in a small loop, just the right size for a hobbit foot. The vine was put to good use by the youth of Buckland, who would climb up until they were standing with one foot in the loop. Building up momentum, they would swing around the tree in a wide arc, daring each other to go higher or faster.

This is what had led to Merry’s current situation, suddenly doubting his invincibility. It had started innocently enough, as these things are wont to do. The Three Terrors, as Merry and his cousins Merimas and Berilac were called (or at least liked to think they were called), were feeling bored and searching for something to do.

"We could go swimming," Massey suggested, only to be promptly shot down by the other two.

"It’s too cold for swimming," Berry complained. Unlike most Bucklanders, Berilac had, at best, an uneasy truce with the Brandywine. He could occasionally be convinced to swim in the shallows, but he never felt entirely comfortable doing so and frequently came up with a reason why they should do something else instead.

Merry shot his cousin a withering look but, not really in the mood for swimming himself, went along with the excuse. "It is a bit cool today, Massey," he said, pretending not to feel the blazing warmth of the late August sun. "Let’s explore the Old Forest, instead." He had recently become fascinated with the Old Forest, but had not yet been afforded a good opportunity to sneak past the High Hay.

Berry and Massey both objected to this plan and there was silence for several minutes as the three cousins wandered aimlessly along the river and tried to come up with an idea. Finally, Merry tossed aside the core of the apple he’d been eating and turned to the others.

"Well, I’m going to go swing on the vine," he announced. "That’s got to be better than this, anyway."

The others agreed with him and they took off at a run, each trying to beat the other two to the tree. Laughing breathlessly, Berry, who had the longest legs and almost always won their races, touched the trunk of the tree just a breath ahead of Merry, with Massey a few seconds behind.

"How’s it look?" Massey asked as Berry gave the vine an experimental tug.

"Seems fine to me," the older cousin answered with an indifferent shrug. They always checked the vine for sturdiness, but having never had any trouble with it, had become rather careless in their precautions.

At some time in the distant past, someone had rolled a large rock over to the base of the tree, which served as a mounting block. Berry, by right of having reached the tree first, was the first to hoist himself up to the vine. He swung out and around, arcing back and forth for several minutes, finally allowing his momentum to die and coming back to the trunk. Merry went next, pumping his body to make the arc as wide as he could before letting Massey have a turn.

Massey, the youngest of the three friends, had only come out to the tree with them twice before and was still a little awkward and hesitant, but with a bit of fumbling managed to get a decent arc going for a few minutes before losing the rhythm of it and coming back to the trunk, laughing.

They continued taking turns, daring each other to higher arcs. It had come around to Merry’s turn again, and he decided to make it a little more interesting. "Hey, Berry, help me with this knot," he said as he climbed up the rock. Working together, they managed to loosen the knot in the loop at the end of the vine, and then Merry retied it, making a much larger loop. Tugging on the new knot to be sure it would hold, Merry grinned in satisfaction and climbed up.

Sitting in the enlarged loop, he began swinging himself back and forth until he had a good arc built up. Then he let go of the rope with his hands and slid down to hang by his knees as he continued to swing. The world swung by in an upside down blur and Merry shouted in exultation, the blood rushing to his head. This rush lasted for three complete arcs of the vine, and then it happened.

As Merry came to the end of the arc, there was a sickening lurch from above, and before he could do more than gasp in dismay, the vine tore free from the trunk of the tree, dropping Merry rather precipitously to the ground. Unfortunately for him, he still possessed all of the momentum he’d built up while swinging. When he hit the ground, on his shoulder instead of his head, luckily, he rolled and bounced and slid across the field for a good twenty feet before finally coming to a halt in an untidy heap.

Merry lay stunned, head still spinning and not entirely sure if he was still swinging through the air, sliding across the ground or finally unmoving. The pain hadn’t hit yet, but he knew without a shadow of a doubt that there would be pain in plentiful amounts in just a moment. By the time Berilac and Merimas had reached him, the pain had as well, every bit as plentiful as he’d expected.

"Merry, Merry, are you dead?" Massey asked in a panic, eyes huge in a white face.

Berry, only slightly more self-possessed, dropped to his knees next to Merry, assessing his blood-streaked friend in dismay. "Merry?" he asked hesitantly, "can you hear me?"

"Uhn," Merry articulated cleverly, gasping against the pain, "I...think...the vine broke."

Several hours later a drained Merry was lying limply in his bed, swathed in bandages and dosed with a tonic to ease his pain and help him sleep. He had a large lump on the back of his head, which made resting said head on the pillow very uncomfortable, a broken collar bone, a dislocated shoulder and bruises and abrasions covering a large portion of his body.

"Oh, my Merry," his mother said in a soft voice as she sat in a chair pulled up to his bedside, "I hope you learned something from all this."

"Mm," Merry mumbled, more than half asleep, "next time I’ll make sure the vine isn’t fraying before I start to swing." He drifted off to sleep, already planning where to find another vine to tie on the tree, so he could do it again. Invincibility was overrated, anyway.



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