<b>Title: The Nasturtium-Friendship Paradigm</b>
<b>Theme: "Fix the Movies"</b>
<b>Elements: Flower- Nasturtium</b>
<b>Summary: Merry experiences a myriad of emotions when Pippin is forced to leave for Minas Tirith, but a gift from a new friend helps him to see the light at the end of the tunnel.</b>
<b>Word Count: 2,657</b>
Pippin sat with his back against the stone wall of the Golden Hall, his bowed head shining red in the midmorning sunlight. It was such a lovely day- all the days seemed lovely here in Edoras- and they really ought to be enjoying it together while they still had the time. And each other.
His friend knew that he was angry with him, Merry was perfectly aware of that. Pippin could nearly always tell what other people were feeling; it was one of the many aspects of his character that made him such an excellent companion and confidant, despite his various idiosyncrasies. But then again, Merry supposed that he was making the fact rather obvious. It could even be said that he was overdoing it a bit; but, though young Brandybuck was quite prone to temper flares, he nearly always made an exception for the little cousin who had always possessed the ability to melt his heart with one innocent glance. Even as a temperamental tween, when cookies had been stolen in mass quantities from the pantry or elaborate pranks pulled and somehow he had ended up with the blame, Merry had never been excessively cold or harsh with Pippin.
Merry’s fiercely pragmatic mind told him that this treatment was justified this time. It wasn’t just that Pippin had done something incredibly foolish; he had forgiven him many a time for actions that merely fit that harmless description. This time he had placed himself in true danger, an intimate tangle with the one whose feared name was on the lips of all as of late. And Pippin didn’t even seem to realize the grave situation in which he now found himself.
Merry heard a small rustling noise to his left and instinctively turned his head just in time to see Pippin shooting a tentative glance at him. Merry scowled and quickly averted his eyes, summoning his willpower to its fullest extent to block out the stab of pain in his heart at the small, betrayed whimper that his action produced. The sound brought back unbidden scenes of the past to the eye of his sharp mind: A small lad diving under the covers next to him, trembling at each crash of thunder in a brilliant summer storm; Pippin lying sweaty with fever, looking up at him through glassy eyes that held hope because Merry was there to see him through it; and, much more recently, sobbing in his arms when the reality sank in that Frodo and Sam had gone to Mordor and reality screamed that they would never see them again. And there had never been a time when Pippin had not been willing to drop everything and rush to his side whenever Merry was in pain of any sort. A couple of years back, he had fallen asleep on the couch at Brandy Hall and some well-meaning but under-informed cousin had covered him with a woolen blanket. Pippin had stayed with him for hours that time, washing and rubbing salve on the angry hives that had broken out all over Merry’s arms and the back of his neck. Fresher and more sharply acute was the memory of less than one year prior, when he and Estella had come to the impossibly difficult yet unanimous conclusion that they ought to spend some time apart and perhaps see other people. Merry hadn’t in any way wanted to admit the necessity of the act, and he had come home sullen and silent. The visiting Pippin had crawled up silently beside him and sat there with his hand on his arm, emerald eyes saying that he did not need to know what had happened unless Merry chose to impart it to him- he was prepared to offer all of himself for nothing in return. And thus the rigid wall around Merry’s heart had crumbled, and after an evening of comfort and story-telling, he had felt able to pick up the pieces of what he had thought was his ruined life.
He turned his head once more to lay eyes upon his cousin. This time, Pippin did not gaze back at him- the lad’s knees were pulled up to his chest, his face pressed against his legs, his tiny body trembling.
And suddenly Merry couldn’t take it anymore. Grudge forgotten momentarily, he leapt to his feet, hurried to his friend, and enclosed him in an embrace. The startled Pippin glanced upward momentarily, and then collapsed, sobbing into Merry’s shoulder.
“Gandalf’s going to take me away, isn’t he, Merry?” Maybe he knew after all. The bitterness and utter hopelessness in his tone pierced Merry to the very soul.
Merry’s voice trembled as he whispered back.
“I’m afraid so, Pip.” Now that he had Pippin back, Merry never wanted to let go again. They were going to take his Pippin away from him, and this realization made him feel utterly alone. He stiffened unintentionally. Pippin instantly picked up on this change in posture and whimpered,
“You’re still angry with me, aren’t you?”
Yes, as a matter of fact, he was. But it was a different sort of anger now. Rather than cold fire, it was the remorse of someone who has been separated from something they love. The overwhelming heat of it seemed to momentarily possess him.
“How could you do this to me?” Merry watched as the fierceness of his tone and the flames that leapt in his keen blue eyes caused Pippin to pull away from him, tears soaking his pale face and his bottom lip quivering uncontrollably.
“I said I’m sorry, Merry, what else must I do?!” His exasperation was evident. “It’s like He was pulling me toward Him! I couldn’t stop myself; I would have gone mad if I hadn’t done it!”
“Is going mad worse than dying?” Merry’s sharp words pierced the peaceful Edoras breeze like a wildfire set loose in a forest. “Because that’s where you’re headed now! Don’t you understand, Pippin? Sauron’s armies are going to invade Minas Tirith, and you’re going to be there when they do! And I…I won’t be there to protect you… What if you get hurt, or ill… you came so close on Caradhras, what if it happens again?” He swallowed back the tears that his fierce Brandybuck pride refused to let fall. “You’re all I have left, Pippin…everyone else is gone, they’ve all left me…I’d have nothing to live for if I lost you.”
“Oh, Merry-dear.” Merry felt himself encased in Pippin’s arms as he went limp, feeling all his anger drain away. “You think I haven’t thought about this, but I haven’t stopped since the moment Gandalf pried that awful thing out of my hands last night. And if I had the chance again, I would resist. I’d throw all my heart and soul into it; I’d go mad if I had to, if it would keep us together.”
Merry gazed into his cousin’s eyes and saw nothing but earnestness there. There was an honesty, a maturity to that expression stronger than the lad had ever before exhibited. It was then that Merry realized that Pippin wasn’t making a hypothetical conjecture- he meant it, with every bone in his body.
“Oh Pippin, I’m so sorry…” Merry pressed himself into his cousin’s embrace, his whisper cracking as he uttered it. He felt small fingers entwine themselves in his cloak, and knew that Pippin was hurting just as much as he was.
“You’ve nothing to be sorry for, Merry. I did a stupid, foolish thing, and now you’re having to pay for it. That isn’t fair.”
No, it wasn’t fair, but Merry could no longer blame Pippin for it. Not when it was so obvious how much he regretted his actions; not if he would be willing to literally lose his sanity if he could somehow do it over. How brave his little lad had become!
<i>My little lad, my dear, dear little lad… What if I never see you again?</i> The thought made Merry choke with worry and grief, and he finally lost his battle with the tears. He longed to bid his cousin to be strong, to reassure him as he always had, for his own sake if not just for Pippin’s, but he found this impossible- how could he not, when he felt so utterly helpless?
“We’ll see each other again soon,” Pippin whispered into Merry’s ear.
“I don’t know.” Merry’s voice shook with his tears. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“No, Merry.” Gently but firmly, Pippin pushed his cousin away from him by the shoulders, and gazed directly into his face with tear-filled emerald eyes. And Merry realized that it had not been a question. “We <i>will</i> see each other again soon.” As the tears overcame him, he managed to whisper, “Wherever we may end up, we’ll be together.”
Merry nearly gasped at how readily his cousin was accepting their grim fate. His doubts had been proven null- Pippin understood precisely what was happening. He knew that the card he had played, however accidental, was irrevocable. And there was nothing that they could do live out whatever cruel role destiny had in store for them.
“You’re right. Somehow, some way, we’ll find each other.” They then embraced each other tighter than ever before, but even the unprecedented strength was no match for the hands of fortune that interrupted them.
Neither of them had heard Shadowfax come up beside them, so intent were they on cherishing their last moments together. Merry barely had enough time to press a pouch of leaf into Pippin’s palm before his dearest friend was lifted away from him and set upon the white steed. Merry gave a cry at the separation, but it was stifled by the agonized look on Gandalf’s face. He knew the amount of pain that the Hobbits were feeling, and all of his previous anger at Pippin was now replaced with apology, regret, and even guilt.
But these sentiments were no match for the necessity of haste. The wizard dug his heels into the snow-white flanks, and the majestic stallion launched into a full gallop, sending Pippin flying forward and tearing at the long mane for support. By the time he regained his balance, his Merry was nearly out of sight. He turned and yelled with all his might to the diminishing dot in the distance that he knew was his very best friend.
At that cry, something was awakened within Merry, who had previously stood dazed with disbelief and anguish. He took off across the grounds of the Golden Hall, down the dirt roads of Edoras, past the Royal Stables, and up the steps of the guard tower, pushing past the sentries with more strength than he knew he possessed. Gasping for breath, he flung himself at the railing of the tower’s highest point and stared after the vanishing horse and its riders. Pippin was but a small gray dot amidst the unbroken whiteness of Shadowfax’s coat and Gandalf’s robes. Ripples still ringed outward in the puddles of Edoras’s lowlands from where the stallion’s hooves had pounded.
And then the ripples vanished. And with them did the stallion, the wizard, and the little Hobbit.
His adrenaline spent, Merry suddenly felt drained of every ounce of strength. His legs shook and gave out from under him; only a pair of strong hands kept him from collapsing onto the wooden floor of the tower.
“Easy, Merry-lad.” Aragorn’s voice was gentle.
“He’s gone,” was all Merry could say. “He’s gone, Strider, just like Frodo, and Sam…” Anything else he had meant to convey was lost in his tears. Aragorn knelt next to him and held him close, rubbing his back until the sobs subsided. Finally, he gently hoisted the Hobbit, who was exhausted from his grief, and, ignoring the curious stares of the guards, bore him back to the Golden Hall.
Evening in Edoras was just as beautiful as the midmorning had been, here from the front steps of the Golden Hall, Merry’s consciousness told him. But it was a statement of the mind, not the heart. How could he possibly enjoy the beauty of this magnificent sky of purples and reds when his heart ached so?
He sighed and drew his knees up to his chin and closed his eyes for a moment. Deprived of his vision, his heightened hearing was aroused, and he was aware of approaching footsteps. He opened his eyes and was surprised to see the Lady Eowyn striding toward him, her white dress blowing in the wind. In her hands, she held… He squinted. A clay pot?
Merry rose and dipped his head respectfully. The action was out of more than courtesy- he genuinely liked the Lady. She was sweet of voice yet brave of heart, and reminded him a bit painfully of Estella.
She smiled warmly. “Hello, Merry.” Following her motion, they both sat down on the step, her placing the pot on her opposite side.
“I got a bit worried when I didn’t see you for so long after dinner.” She stated, turning to him. She seemed to understand how difficult and awkward it was for him to speak to her.
“Yes… well, I had come out here for a smoke, but I suppose that was quite a long time ago. I just stayed to watch the sun set.” He winced inwardly at the unintended sentimentality in his voice.
Suddenly, Eowyn turned sharply to face him and spoke with nearly frightening intensity.
“All will be well soon, Merry. I know it does not seem like it now, but it will.”
Quite taken aback, all Merry could do was nod as she fell silent again. It suddenly occurred to him that she, too, had recently lost someone very dear to her, and to a fate much more certain and permanent than the one that he and Pippin were facing.
After a brief period of silence, Eowyn reached over, picked up the pot, and held it out to Merry.
“This is for you.”
Hesitantly, unable to refuse a gift from this unshakeable yet vulnerable noblewoman, Merry reached out and accepted the pot. In it was a plant with flowers of the brightest, most magnificent colors he had ever seen- red, orange, and yellow. It nearly hurt his tired eyes to look at them, but yet he found that he could not pull his gaze away from their captivating beauty.
“They’re nasturtiums,” Eowyn clarified, obviously pleased at the awed look on Merry’s face.
Of course! He recognized them now. “My mother used to grow these in her garden at Brandy Hall, when I was a little lad. She loves bright colors. So does Pippin. All Tooks do.” He was unable to hide the pain that crossed his face at the unplanned mention of his friend’s name. Eowyn did not fail to notice his, and laid a hand on his arm.
“I do not know how long you will be staying here in Edoras, but they are yours until you can no longer keep them.”
He raised his eyes to hers and smiled. “Thank you, my Lady. They are much appreciated, truly.” Indeed, looking at the brilliant colors helped to mitigate a bit of his pain at Pippin’s departure. “But what will happen to them when I must leave?”
She smiled knowingly. “That is the true beauty of them. They grow the best with a little bit of neglect.”
Giving his arm a final squeeze, she rose and reentered the Hall through the massive doors, leaving Merry pondering over her concluding comment.
<i>With a little bit of neglect.</i> He sighed and lightly caressed one of the vibrant petals, his mind turning to his friend, now miles away. They were being forced to neglect each other… but perhaps, just maybe, as long as they held one another in their hearts…
<i>Oh, Lady Eowyn,</i> he thought. <i>How I hope that you are right.</i>