West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
They Shall Stand Again
Struggling back to consciousness on the Pelennor Field, Merry has an unexpected conversation.
This story was written for the 'What Dreams May Come' Challenge at the hobbit_smut Live Journal community.
"Merry..? Wake up, Merry, or we're going to be late."
"Late for what, Pip?" He answers by reflex, his eyes still shut, the colours behind his lids showing sharp greens and golds. Kingly colours, and he wonders why that makes him want to smile, and then to weep.
"Late, it's all too late. It has been so for a very long time."
And Pippin's voice is a whisper, and Merry has never felt so cold. That's strange, isn't it? Pippin is always a furnace, his cheeks round and red on a cold winter's day. Merry blinks, and his lashes are weighted, it seems, because it is so very hard to open his eyes. Or maybe it is because they are stuck shut? Merry tries to wipe them then, but tries to only, because his hand will not move, his right arm will not move at all. And that is also very strange.
Is there a ringing in his ears? It seems there might be. Merry uses his left hand then, which twinges in dull remembered pain, and rubs it across eyes that are gritty and dry. It feels like sand is caked to his face, and he wonders if he's playing with Freddy in the holes near Scary. Freddy likes to play sandcastles in the softly spilling powder, a chubby child sat in the midst of his tiny kingdom, and Merry tries to make snowballs with handfuls of the wet stuff, but it never works. They come home covered in muck, and Freddy's mother clucks her tongue, before she laughs and draws them both a bath.
Merry rubs his eyes, and the sand comes loose, stuck to his face by more than water this time, he somehow knows. And he can open his eyes now, like he wishes to, except he doesn't want to, not really, he knows that now. Pippin whispers to him here in the dark; it's safe here in the dark, even if it is cold, with his flesh so numb and heavy. If he opens his eyes there will be more pain, Merry thinks, and so, thinking of that, of course, he does. He must always face everything, mustn't he? Mustn't he? He has always been able to do that. Has always made himself.
The world is strange too, and Merry wonders then if he still dreams. For should there be ghosts abroad in the sunlight that pools through and between each lightly curved rib, each enamel tooth? Should the sunshine turn green as glass as it arcs and jitters in the refraction from the smoky carapace of ancient armour? Should Merry be lying at the feet of this ancient knight? Shouldn't he instead be kneeling?
The noise of the battle is tinny and hollow. They could be encapsulated in a bubble, so far away it seems. Men fight and die, and other warriors of greenish smoke tear out the guts of living creatures and pass themselves unharmed. Merry watches thin bones as they clasp the aged sword; they would finger it, if they had flesh left to do so, and he wonders distantly why the phantom hasn't yet struck him down. Why does he stand there with ancient eyes, watching Merry, as though contemplating the balance of eternity?
"Is it too late? Too late for you..." the creature asks, and Merry wonders how he ever could mistake that dusty creak for Pippin's voice. He had been dreaming, and that almost gives him comfort, to know he can still dream of him, of Pip, and warm things, like playing mud pies as a lad, and buttered crumpets served up by Mrs Bolger on a summer's afternoon.
He opens his mouth to ask it what it means, or to do it courtesy at least, but no sound emerges. His lips are nearly as numb as his right arm, and he licks them to try and free their words. He's always had words too, until now. He wonders if he should be more afraid.
The wight leans forward, and Merry is reminded suddenly of another place, another walking dead, and he coughs, his throat rasping in the dry air. But he does not sense the prisoning greed of that other, he senses only ancient sorrow, and ancient pain.
"You are tainted, you know. Did you know that?" The revenant could almost be tasting him, as it bends low, almost to the ground, and reaches a skeletal hand, trailing it down Merry's chest in wisps of pale green fire. Merry would feel cold, if he doesn't already feel so cold he does not think he will ever feel warm again.
"I know," he manages, in a harsh croak, like the cawing of the crows over winter fields. And he might have laughed too, at that poetical analogy, if he had the breath. He's tainted, is he? Tell him something he doesn't know.
"You stink of darkness," it says this time, and Merry looks into its gaze as it changes from a shadowy socket, to an eye that slowly blinks, that suddenly flashes more than livid green, and Merry gasps then, as something greater than the cold touches him at last.
"Tell me why I shouldn't rip your flesh from your bones?" it asks, "For we are summoned. Isildur's heir commands us to fight. Should I fight you?"
"No," Merry whispers, but his heart is numb. He has plunged his sword into the fire and has seen it burn away. He is burned to nothing too. He cannot feel his arm, he cannot feel anything anymore. He is dead, and the spectre merely asks for permission to prepare the way.
"Give me a reason why I should not destroy the evil within you," it asks again, and Merry cannot. Théoden-king lies dead and gone, and fair Éowyn who was so brave. His blow meant nothing, nothing at all, and he is less than the worms that crawl under the earth. It would be better if he had never lived at all.
"Thrice have you tasted the Black Breath, mortal. You must be very strong. But still you must give me a reason."
And it comes to Merry then, slowly, as his mind drags itself through churning mire, holding his thoughts whether he will or no, that the creature is not asking. It is begging. And that is the strangest thing of all.
"I..." he croaks, not knowing what he says, only knowing he must still fight, he must do what he can, if only for the comfort of this spectre, that was once a man. "I miss..."
"Yes..." it hisses, leaning down further, its bony chin nearly brushing his hauberk, "Tell me who will miss you, mortal. Tell me who will mourn."
Light flickers through the bones of its skull, as Merry blinks again, his mind filled with images. His father laughing, his ruddy face flashing in the sun; his mother's baked apples, sticky with sugar, and a hand smoothing through his hair. Frodo smiling, simply smiling, and Merry wants to cry, although he doesn't quite know why that should be... Pippin's kisses, heady and sweet in his memory, as he watches Pip sleep by the fire, tangled in his scarf and nothing else, rosy, warm, and oh so very dear...
"Pippin..." Merry breathes, and it is, it's true, the darkness does lift a little, he is sure of it.
"Ahh..." sighs the spirit, its rictus grin fading into flesh once more, fading into a glimmering smile. "I remember..."
It stands abruptly, and reaches out behind. There is a shadow there, a dark shape looming, but it screeches more inhumanly than any ghost, as the revenant casually dispatches it, with one simple twist of its hand.
It should be odd, Merry thinks, dizzy now, and fading. It should be odd to see such a body fall forward, through another that still stands, it should be odd, and yet... He is still cold, he is still numb, but the frozen rivers of his heart have moved a little. A very little. A tiny thaw.
"I will remember," the apparition says to him, one last vault-chill whisper in his mind, as the body falls on top of him, cloak fluttering to the ground. "I will remember such love. And so should you..."
Is it the voice that fades now, or is it him?
"For he will find you, little mortal. Do not doubt him."
He doesn't. He never has. But Pippin is behind high stone walls, and does not even know he is here...
"He will find you."
And that, inexplicably, is enough. Comforted by such cold certainty, Merry sleeps.
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