A Father To Me, For a Little While

by Auntkimby

A Story for Merry

I would like to thank Marigold for her invaluable beta assistance and input, and Shirebound for the bunny that inspired this tale and creative advice as well.

“I don’t think that I can manage it.” Pippin leaned back in his chair with a deep sigh of fullness, his hands folded over his stomach. “I cannot eat another bite.”

“Nor can I,” Frodo admitted, setting aside his own empty plate. “No one can make fish and chips as you can, Sam.”

Sam blushed with quiet pride, and Merry looked up at him with a slight smile. “You certainly haven’t lost your touch.”

The smile did not reach Merry’s eyes, however, and Frodo put a hand on his arm.

“Are you all right, Merry-lad?” he asked softly, using his old pet name for him.

Merry nodded but kept his eyes on his half-empty plate. “I…I am all right.”

King Theoden had been buried three days ago, laid to rest in a crypt befitting a king of Rohan, and now there were eight mounds on the east-side of the Barrowfield. Merry had been part of the honour guard who followed the bier, and he would also stand with the Rohirrim for Eomer’s coronation the following week. Merry had been very quiet ever since their arrival in Rohan, and for most of the journey from Minas Tirith; even Pippin had been unable to draw a true laugh or smile from him. This evening was the first time in several days that the hobbits had time away from their numerous travelling companions, and Frodo was not going to let the moment pass without learning what troubled his beloved younger cousin.

“I can see the lost look in your eyes, Merry, and I’ve seen it only one time before-the day that I left Brandy Hall to go and live with Bilbo. Your friends and family are here...is your sorrow for King Theoden?”

Merry looked into Frodo’s kind blue eyes, and his own eyes welled with tears. He swallowed and his mouth worked, but no words came. Frodo waited for him to speak, gently stroking each of Merry’s fingers as he had when Merry was a wee lad in need of comfort. Sam and Pippin watched in silence, their hearts aching for Merry but not understanding why his sorrow was so great. He clearly had loved Theoden very much, but he had known the king only a brief time. Merry had never been one to lightly show emotion, nor did he form attachments easily or quickly.

The young Brandybuck wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and Sam quickly offered his own clean pocket handkerchief. Merry smiled and thanked him. “I am sorry, my friends, but this is the first chance I have had…”

“Don’t be sorry, Merry!” Pippin interrupted earnestly. “You know you will have no judgment from us for mourning openly.”

Merry looked at his younger cousin with love. “I do not apologize for my tears, Pippin. I meant that I have not had the opportunity to share with any of you…why the loss of Theoden King affects me so. Many times I have wanted to share with you…but I could never find the words that would not cause you pain.”

Frodo’s brow creased worriedly. “Why would your love for Theoden cause us pain, Merry?”

Merry folded and refolded Sam’s handkerchief. “I see the expressions on your faces. You are thinking that it is unusual for me to grow to love a Man, or anyone, in such a short time, because it is not like me to do so.” Merry looked at each in turn. “I love each of you dearly, and I love all our Fellowship and our new friends. But my relationship with Theoden King…while short, was so special to me because he…because he was the first person since we left the Shire to truly value my opinion, and who believed in me.”

Pippin started to speak, but Frodo silenced him with a gentle shake of his head.

Merry seemed barely aware of them as he spoke, continuing to fold the square of cloth in his hands.

“At home in Buckland, I am the son of the Master, and I am used to my words being heeded, my advice taken, my position noticed. I…I need to feel needed, and to know that what I have to contribute is useful.”

The three hobbits listened in silence, knowing that Merry was opening his heart to them as he never had before.

“From the time we left the Shire…all my careful planning came to naught, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not fulfill my role as… caretaker of my family and friends. I do not mean that you were not capable of caring for yourselves without my help- I meant that I like to be prepared for every instance, and plan well in advance. My ability to do that at home…” Merry’s voice trailed away.

Frodo squeezed his hand, his own throat too tight for speech. Merry took that as encouragement to continue.

“I felt badly enough about getting lost on the Downs, the lost ponies in Bree, Frodo’s wounding on Weathertop…I spent endless hours studying the maps in Rivendell to understand the routes we might take on our journey, to prevent such a disaster from happening again.”

“Oh, Merry,” Frodo said softly. “You could not have prevented any of those things from happening.”

Merry looked at him, a single tear trickling down his cheek. “My head knew that, Frodo- but my heart did not. I felt responsible for our safety. Then in Moria, I thought I had redeemed myself by figuring out the word to open the entrance to the cave. Then Gandalf said, ‘Merry, of all people, figured it out.’” Merry swallowed hard. “I…I don’t think anything ever hurt quite as much as that did.”

Sam cleared his throat and spoke for the first time. “I know for a fact that Gandalf thinks a lot of your intelligence, Mr. Merry- he remarked on it once to Mr. Bilbo while I was stokin’ the fire in the parlour at home, an’ I overheard him tell Lord Elrond in Rivendell that you were the ‘brightest of the group’- not even excludin’ Mr. Frodo.” Sam glanced guiltily at his master, but Frodo nodded in agreement. Merry smiled gratefully at them both.

Pippin put his arms around Merry and hugged him tightly. “You never said a word, Merry,” he said softly. “I was upset when Gandalf said that, but you didn’t seem to mind so I didn’t say anything.”

Merry returned the hug. “And just as well, for you were far more often the subject of his wrath than I!” He sobered again. “Then Pippin and I were separated from the rest of the Fellowship, and eventually, I lost Pippin too. By the time I met Theoden, I had been separated from all whom I loved, and I was powerless to help any of you. I was among strangers, not a familiar face to be found, and my name and word meant nothing.”
He fell silent for a moment. The teakettle began to whistle, and Sam quietly rose and fixed four mugs of tea, very sweet and bitter-strong, the way they all liked it best. While he worked, Merry resumed his tale.

“I travelled with Theoden and his Rohirrim to Dunharrow, and we stopped to rest at Helm’s Deep. I know I must have looked rather lost. He spoke to me kindly, and asked me about my home, and said that he looked forward to being able to sit down with me once the battle was over, and we would share a pipe and he could hear my stories of the Shire. My heart was suddenly filled with love and gratitude for him, and I went to my knees and offered him my sword in service.” Merry swallowed hard before he continued. “I said, ‘Like a father you shall be to me’, and he replied, ‘For a little while.’”

Pippin said gravely, “When Merry woke in the Houses of Healing, he told Aragorn and me that he could not bear to smoke because of the promise King Theoden had made to him. But what was even harder for me was when I found him wandering in a dark dream through the streets of Minas Tirith, and he asked me if I was going to bury him too…” The tweenager’s voice broke.

Frodo gasped and Sam nearly dropped the tray of mugs he was bringing to the table. Neither Merry nor Pippin had told them this story before, and their hearts were wrung with grief.

“My encounter with the Black Breath was as much the cause of my state of mind as Theoden’s death when you found me, Pippin…but seeing you was a balm to my heart, even though I was unable to say as much.” Merry managed a smile and brushed a stray lock of hair from Pippin’s eyes. His cousin smiled shakily in return and he rested his head on Merry’s shoulder.

“We are so sorry, Merry,” Frodo spoke softly. “I wish I had known King Theoden; any Man who captured your heart and your loyalty so readily must have been truly magnificent.”

“Merry is rather magnificent too,” Pippin said, “or else King Theoden would not have been immediately drawn to him.”

Merry smiled at each them, his eyes wet with tears. “That is why my feelings for Theoden were so deep, and why I am so proud to wear the armour of Rohan. He reached out to me, in a time when I most needed assurance that I mattered to someone, and that I could make a difference to that person. I treasure the bonds of friendship I have also formed with Eowyn and Eomer, because of my loyalty to their uncle and to Rohan.”

“Thank you for sharing your heart with us, Merry,” Frodo murmured, placing his hand against his cousin’s cheek. “We know what it cost you to do so.”

The four hobbits shared an embrace, their arms encircling each other, and held it for a long moment. When finally they broke apart, Frodo took the handkerchief from Merry’s hands, unfolded it, and gently dried his tears. “You have carried that pain inside you for weeks, dear Merry, and now that you were finally able to open your heart to us, your true healing can begin.”
“And we will be here to help you,” Pippin added. Merry smiled at his cousins and squeezed their hands hard.
Sam cleared his throat. “Do you think you’ll want to finish your supper then, Mr. Merry? It won’t take a moment to reheat it, or fix some nice an’ fresh.”
Merry laughed, for the words were Sam’s way of saying what Frodo and Pippin just had. “Sam, I think you and Pippin had best fetch your gear and catch some more fish, for now I think I could eat enough for all four of us.”