West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
A Song To Hold Off the Dark
Gandalf and Pippin watch over Merry in the Houses of Healing. Even under the Shadow, Pippin never gives up hope.
"But what is wrong with him, Gandalf?"
Pippin knelt next to the cot, quite low by Men's standards, but even on his knees with his back straight, he could easily rest his chin on the wooden edge. He looked very much a Prince of Halflings in the silver and black livery of a knight of the Citadel, but the look on his face was the same as when he was a little hobbit-lad just out of skirts and he came to his elders with some puzzle beyond his understanding, or a hurt that needed tending. Before him lay his cousin, in an overlarge shirt donated by some departed soldier of Gondor. He looked very small, shrunken and ill, and his sleeping face was beaded with sweat. He muttered to himself, and his left hand twitched and plucked at the coverlet. The right hand lay beside him, sickly gray and icy cold. "He told me he was not hurt or wounded, yet here he lies, and no one will tell me what this illness is, or how it may be cured."
Gandalf turned away from the window. Outside the sun was sinking in a sullen gloom, tinged with scarlet, and only a few fingers of light escaped through the unnatural darkness that lay over the land. Somewhere beyond the shattered gates of the White City the battle went on, and though the rain had quenched all the fires in the lower levels, a thin veil of smoke still lingered in the still air. Aragorn had come on the black ships of the Corsairs and in the nick of time, but where was he now on the field, and how did he fare? There lay all hope, and word had not yet come.
"It is called the Black Shadow," Gandalf said at last. "And it is brought by the Nazgul. Those who are stricken with it sink slowly into an ever deeper dream they cannot wake from. Have you seen this?"
"I think so," Pippin whispered. He had seen row after row of cots and pallets in the main ward, filled with Men who lay sallow and still, lost in some deep sleep, but he hadn't given a thought to what their ailment might be. He had had his own worry for Faramir and Merry, and for Frodo and Sam, and other friends in danger and far away, and he had thought it must be some fever brought on by battle or fear, or some hidden wound. "And Captain Faramir, and the Lady of Rohan, and Merry, they have fallen under this Shadow?"
"Though Faramir was the more badly wounded of the three, it is on Merry and the White Lady that it rests most heavily."
Pippin said faintly, "But you could make him...make them well, couldn't you?"
Pippin's eyes searched his face with such trust and faith that Gandalf wept in his heart. "In Gondor there is yet no cure," he said.
Pippin read in his eyes words of doom unspoken. His lip trembled a little, but his jaw was set and hope did not die in his eyes.
"All shall fade," Merry moaned in his sleep. It was a hopeless whisper weighted with sorrow; the sound of someone lost in a dark place far from shelter and safety, and wandering farther and farther from the light. "All...all shall fade."
"Poor Merry!" Pippin said. It sounded like one of Old Bilbo's walking songs, but the words were wrong somehow. Would all his dreams be so dark until he...until...but no, he dared not follow that road of thought to its end. "Poor old Merry! But I won't believe that nothing can be done for him, or for Faramir and the Lady, either, Gandalf. I can't believe it. Something will happen, or he will hang on until some physic is found, I'm sure of it." He reached out and placed his hand on Merry's head: His hair was damp with sweat, yet his skin was cold. "You'll be well soon enough, Merry, won't you? You were always the healthiest hobbit in Buckland, hardly ever caught cold, never got a case of the Spots, or broke a bone. You're just a little tired and sad now, and no wonder, poor old lad. You just need to rest."
As I was a-wandering
In the month of sweet May
I heard a young hobbit-lad
To sing and to say
And aye as he was singing
These words he did say
There's no life like a young lad's
In the month of sweet May....
Gandalf stood by the cot and leaned heavily on his staff. He looked at Pippin sadly as he sang into Merry's unhearing ear, a song of hope to hold off the dark. Ah, Peregrin, if great love alone could hold the dying in this world, there would never be another parting, he thought.
The room was very quiet, but for the low cries and moaning of the wounded down the corridor, and from farther off the distant clash of arms and din of battle. Far away, bells rang announcing the hour. Even in the midst of war, time would not stand still: Soldiers must go to their duty, and the weary find rest.
Pippin's voice broke off in the midst of his song. "There is the time," he said, sounding a little surprised. For a while he had forgotten his troubles and his grief, and he had walked in his thought in the green hills of the Tookland, far away from war. "Five o' clock, or near enough: I am on duty. But what am I to do now, Gandalf? Who commands me? My Lord Denethor is dead, and Captain Faramir is in no condition to give me my orders. Do I go to the battle? I would not be much use there, I'm afraid, and I don't want to go too far away from poor Merry while he is like this, but I will do what I must."
Gandalf felt pride as he looked at Pippin's small face, pinched with weariness and worry, streaked with ash and dust. Yet he had not wept, this small soldier of the Citadel. He had watched his sworn Lord perish in flames, he had stood firm in the face of madness and horror, and he had never run from his duty. Many a tall warrior of Gondor could not say as much. "For now I believe the Prince Imrahil would be considered Lord of the city, while his kinsman Faramir lies ill, but since he is not here I must take command upon myself, and my orders to you are these: To look in on your Captain Faramir, and the Lady Eowyn, to see that they are being made as comfortable as possible and then report back to me on their condition. Then you may act as doorwarden outside Faramir's room with Beregond, if you wish. I will stay with Merry while you stand at your post."
"This is your order?" Pippin said gravely. He stood up and put his helm under his arm. His hand was on the hilt of his sword.
"It is indeed," Gandalf said, just as seriously, but his eyes smiled. How he had grown, his dear little fool of a Took! "If Merry wakes, or there is any change, I will send for you at once, duty or no duty."
Pippin smiled and let out his breath, suddenly a hobbit again. "Then I'm off!" He seized Gandalf's hand and kissed it. "Thank you, Gandalf."
Gandalf laughed lightly and ran a hand over Pippin's curly brown head. Pippin leaned over the cot and gently lifted Merry's cold hand, and just for a moment he closed his eyes tight and pressed it against his cheek. "I'll be back as soon as I can, dear Merry."
He put on his helm and left the room. Gandalf listened to the rapid slapping of his bare feet on the stone floor as he hurried away. He propped his staff against the wall, found a chair in the corner of the room and pulled it close to the bedside, then bent over Merry and placed a hand on his brow. It was cool, too cool, and the last rosy bloom was fading from his skin even as he watched.
"Cold," Merry whispered, and turned his face toward the window and the setting sun, a withering flower unconsciously seeking warmth and light. "So cold."
"Yes, yes, my poor brave boy," Gandalf sighed. "I know."
He should summon a Dame of the House to fetch more blankets, or perhaps heated bricks, but that would require him to rise up, and he was aged not in appearance only: His back was aching and in truth, he had not felt so weary since before his old life burned away. Pippin would return soon enough, and he would be happy to be of use, if asked. Gandalf hesitated a moment, then bundled Merry in the blanket and pulled him out of the bed and into his lap. His old knees were as warm a place as any, and perhaps the kindly touch of familiar hands would do the lad just as much good.
Gandalf held Merry close, wrapped in the blanket from curly head to furry toes, like a mother holds her swaddled babe. He placed a hand on his chest to feel the beating of his heart: Strong, yet weary and slow, a small, determined drumbeat that would tire until it stopped. Fading, fading, the poor lad was, along with the Lady of Rohan and Faramir, and so many others, and truly there was little that could be done for them, unless the king should return to bring them out of darkness.
"Unless the king should return," Gandalf mused quietly, half to Merry and half to himself. "Well, where there is life, there is always hope, as a certain young Took has pointed out to me, through his words and through his deeds. The king is coming along as quickly as he can, and the wind tells me that all the enemy is flying in rout from the field, but there is still much to do before Aragorn can enter into the city. For now, Hope's hands are busy elsewhere; he cannot come to this House, and I cannot go forth to seek him out until the battle is done. And when it is over, what then? He will not know what has befallen the Steward and his son, and he will not enter in unbidden: He does not wish for strife with Denethor, or Denethor's kin." Gandalf paused and looked down at Merry's ashen face. His beard bristled, and for an instant, had anyone been there to notice, they might have seen the shade of old Gandalf the Grey peering out of his eyes. "But he had best make haste, or by heavens I will fetch him here myself, and be none too gentle about it! There is little time for him to linger in doubt beyond the walls, whether he feels welcomed or not!"
Merry stirred restlessly at the sound of his voice, and groaned. Gandalf patted his chest. "Now then, rest easy. You are right, I should not grumble so loud. Perhaps you miss the sound of our young Master Took's gentle chatter. My voice is not so clear as his, or so fine, but I believe I can keep the tune..."
The lark is a bonny bird
And flies off her nest
She mounts in the morn air
With the dew on her breast
She flies o'er the hobbit-lad,
She whistles and she sings
And at eve she returns home
With the dew on her wings...
Merry relaxed, the lines of pain in his face easing away. Gandalf wished he could give such small comfort to his other dear lads as they walked under the Shadow, on their own dark road far from help. He saw them in his mind's eye, though he was not sure if it was a true vision or merely the wish of his heart: Side by side they lay, ragged and cold and shelterless on the bitter ground, and in the dark, in their troubled sleep, the small hands that held the fate of the world searched and found each other, and clasped tightly together. May the stars shine upon them, and the Valar ever light the path before their feet!
With the dew on her wings
With the dew on her wings
At eve she returns home
With the dew on her wings....
So Gandalf sang soft and low, until his voice faded and his head bowed. The last light of the sun began to disappear and shadows crept into the room. If any had looked in they would have been hard pressed to tell if he was asleep or merely deep in thought, and the great Mithrandir looked no more than a tired grandsire nodding before the fire, and the small soldier of Rohan a sleeping child upon his knees.
And a little Author's Note: I wish I could say this was my song, but alas, I'm not that talented, and I actually found it here: http://www.contemplator.com/folk.html, It's called The Ploughboy-Lark in the Morn, and I rearranged a few words here and there to suit myself. I encourage anyone reading this story to go to this truly excellent folk music website and listen to the beautiful (and very Shire-like) melody.
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