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The Decoy Hobbit  by storyfish

II.


I fly with the eagles for ages upon ages of Men and hobbits, my fingers brushing rain-curtains, the endless sea shimmering clear as glass beneath me. Sometimes I feel, like a ghost of breath upon a cold windowpane, a fading memory of pain and darkness. And once I catch a glimpse of hobbits, blackened and limp, in the claws of two eagles beneath me. When I look again, they're gone, gone and away.

Here, all that stays is the warmth of sunlight on my back, the breeze playing with the curls on my toes, the rush of eagles' wings all around me.

Now here's the tickle of Gimli's rough beard brushing my cheek. "Hold on, young hobbit," he says gruffly, "don't you leave me just as I've found you again," and one lone raindrop falls out of the clear sky to land like a tear on my cheek.

Oh Gimli, don't be silly! Why would I leave this wonderful place, this place where I can at last cast off all doubt and care and fear?

Sea salt on the breeze. The wind whispers against my face.

"Peregrin!"

Strider?

"Peregrin Took!"

Oh, why are Men so fond of repeating my name again and again? There's nothing wrong with my ears, you know!

My forehead's warm, soothed, as if someone's holding his palm there, though it's a much larger palm than my Da's.

"Come back to us, Pippin!"

Back where? But I suppose Strider's being silly now, too--surprising, since he's destined to be king and all. Aren't kings supposed to be wise and stern?

"Little one, where do you wander?" he says, voice weary, but he's still not making much sense. I'm not wandering, I'm flying, thank you very much.

"Let me sit with him, Aragorn."

Ah, Gandalf! How glad I am to hear your voice again, especially since you don't seem inclined to call me a Fool of a Took just this moment.

"See to Frodo and Sam, then get some rest," Gandalf says. "I'll watch over him for a while." Wispy white clouds are reflected in the blue of the sea beneath me, and I think maybe they're Gandalf's marvellous white beard, floating with me here on the breeze.

"Very well," Aragorn says, "but call me if he begins to slip away again."

Gandalf sighs, or is that the wind in my ears? "Fool of a Took," he says, though he doesn't sound angry. He sounds like a very tired, very sad, old man. "Whatever possessed you to take on a hill-troll?"

Hill-troll?

Odd, now what's that about? It's just me and the eagles here, Gandalf--you must have the wrong Took!

I soar higher.

From far, far below, Gandalf cries, "Aragorn, Aragorn!" But for ages after, all I hear is the quiet rush of the sea upon white shores.

...

Merry's crying. The way Frodo did, sometimes, after the nightmares he'd have about his parents' deaths, the ones he was supposed to grow out of. The way you cry when you think no one can hear you.

I'm frightened. Merry doesn't cry. When he's sad or disappointed, he goes all silent and grim. No, he's mourning. Someone's died.

Frodo.

Doomed to torment in the tower. We were too late. Our bold decoy army in silver and black, all of us rushing headlong into hopeless deaths, for we were too late. I'd tried to be brave all the same, I'd tried not to think of it, but we were too late, and now he's dead, or Merry
wouldn't cry so.

A sob builds in my throat, the same one that's been lodged there ever since the Mouth of Sauron held up the limp, empty shine of Frodo's mithril shirt.

One shuddering breath and pain knifes through my ribs, so sharp that I feel myself drifting back towards eagles and forgetfulness. A whimper escapes my lips.

"Pip--?" Merry's voice is hoarse. Has he been sick? He just got over the Black Breath, you know, and if he doesn't take care--

I open my mouth to reprimand him, but nothing comes out but a short, pained noise I hardly recognise as my own. Everything's hazy; I can hear the roar of the sea in my ears. Perhaps I'm only half-alive, after all, for I think I feel sunlight warm upon my face. Where's the troll? Where's the mountain, my grave?

I swallow, try a shallower breath. This time, the pain is only a dull ache that spreads like fingers across my torso and into my right hand and leg.

"Hullo Merry," I whisper, feeling his hand tighten round mine.

A choked sound. Oh, dear Merry. He must be so disappointed in me. I go off to battle to save Frodo, but all I manage to do is kill myself (and it seems I rather botched that as well).

But this waking up is tiring. I can almost feel the sea-breezes on me again; it would be so easy to slip away, except...I wish I could see Merry again, just once, before I go.

Ah! So that's what's wrong--Fool of a Took, complaining of the dark when your eyes are still closed!

It takes a moment for my lids to remember how to open, then another few for a hazy Merry face to come into view, and behind him a billowing tent-top, shining bright and golden with sun.

Merry's shoulders are shaking like he's laughing, but his face shines wet. "Pippin, Pippin," he says, reaching a hand over to brush a curl from my forehead.

Goodness, not him too. Nobody ever tells me anything useful. Not, There's an orc behind you, duck!, nor You're unconscious and it's quite worrying, so please won't you wake up? It's always Peregrin this, Pippin that, as if I already know what's on their minds.

Enough of this.

"Merry," I say.

"Don't try to talk," Merry says, wiping his eyes on his sleeve and smiling in a mixed-up way that might fool his Riders of Rohan, but definitely not his own cousin. "Save your strength."

What strength? I almost laugh, then I remember my ribs. No, but I won't be quiet till I find out--till I know for sure--

"Frodo?" I say.

Merry smoothes the sheet draped across me, sadness and pride all mashed together in set of his jaw, the bright in his eyes. "He did it, Pip. It's all over. The Ring's gone."

Over? What does that mean? That everything bad is undone? But I think my body's broken, and Merry--Merry was crying.

Oh.

My poor dear Frodo and Sam. All over means just this--they made it there, but never, ever back again.

I turn my face away, close my eyes. T'would be a mercy now to slip away, back to the eagles. To lose Frodo after all--it's too much for me to bear.

"Pippin?" His hand on my forehead. Oh, go away Merry. It's all over. We failed him, don't you see?

"Pip, no!" Merry says, with a soft laugh that's more of a sigh. "Silly hobbit, open your eyes. They're alive, alive and asleep in the tent next to yours."

Alive! I turn back and open my eyes to the bright, bright of the tent, the swirling of fresh and green on the breeze, the scent of pipe-weed and sun-warmed grass that's Merry.

"Truly?" I breathe.

"Aye," he says, "truly."

I meet his eyes and smile, never minding how my dry lips split, nor the ache in my head. It's as if something dark's scattered from inside me, something I didn't know was there till now. I feel lighter than eagles, as if I could twirl apart into song, but I don't. I don't have to.

To find I remember how to smile, really smile, the kind of smile I thought was only possible when I was young and carefree and running cross long Shire grasses--that's better than anything, except perhaps the word alive.

Now Merry's returning smile stretches all through the tent, warmer than sunshine, his silhouette and tent-fabric and light all misting together, all aglow, all fading. I'm fading....

But there's one more thing I need to know before I can rest. With an effort, I raise my left hand and trace one finger down the damp still on Merry's cheek.

"Then why?" I ask.

Merry leans in and grips my raised hand with both of his. "Oh Pip," he says, "do you even have to ask?"

Is that all it was, then? Silly Merry.

I take one brave, deep breath. "I missed you too, Mer," I say, and squeeze his hands back.

And now I slip back into dreams of green forests and spongy red logs stuffed full of mushrooms, but only for a visit. For even the lowliest decoy hobbit can be more than that when you've got someone who loves you awaiting your return.





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