The White Butterfly

by Avondster

Darkness had fallen over the fords of Isen and Snowbourn, where the Rohirrim paused their long gallop to Minas Tirith for a short rest. Most of the men, tired of the long day’s ride, embraced the opportunity and were asleep soon, save for the King and his Marshals, and the camp’s guardsmen.

The Rider who was known as Dernhelm, however, could not find rest. The slender mail-clad figure wandered through the night, not daring to come too close to where their leaders were taking counsel, but still lingering close, hoping to catch a glimpse and some words.

Éowyn had no thought of sleep, not now the battle was neigh. Yet even the King decided to have some rest, and the council was ended. The lone warrior made to walk back to her horse. Her bright grey eyes looked out from under her guise, over the sea of sleeping bodies, until her sharp gaze noticed another who seemingly had no desire to rest.

In the shelter of some bushes at the river’s bank, a small figure was sitting, hugging his knees and occasionally tossing a small stone into the foaming stream. His hunched position and tense shoulders worried Éowyn, and she went over to him.

“Can you also not find rest tonight, Master Holbytla?”
The Hobbit was startled out of his reverie and hastily made to get to his feet, but she stopped him with a hand-gesture and instead sat down next to him. His face was pale, his eyes bright and his head bowed. Éowyn’s concern increased and she asked him: “what ails you, Merry? Are you hurt?”
The young halfling blinked furiously a few times and glanced sideways at her, a thoughtful look in his eyes, before returning his gaze to the river again. “Well… no, not really,” he replied after a long pause.
“I am not so easily deceived,” said she. “And since we are riding together I must know if something is wrong with my companion. Tell me, where are you hurting?”
Merry swallowed hard, then looked into her eyes and slowly placed his hand over his heart. She could see tears forming in his blue-green eyes, and understood.
“I fear I have no medicine for this malady,” she sighed. “Though perhaps it would do you good to share your pain with one who knows it well.” She turned her keen eyes on the Hobbit, who still stared into the gloom, his tears now flowing freely.
Merry removed his helmet and covered his face with his hands. “I fear for my cousins, Dernhelm. They are like brothers to me, you see, and the thought that I may never see them again grieves me so.”
Éowyn nodded her head in understanding. “Once again, I have no remedy for your pain, but tell me of them, if you will. It may lighten your heart to speak of your memories. I heard from… the men that the Grey Stormcrow took your companion to Minas Tirith, yet you speak of more than one.”
“Yes,” said Merry. “The one that went with Gandalf was Peregrin, or Pippin as I call him.” A look of affection came into his eyes, and Éowyn was glad she had asked. The mere thought of his cousin seemed to brighten him up.
“He sometimes does foolish things, but then, he is young still, eight years younger than I am. I tend to forget that at times, though he has moments that really show his youth. He can be a bother and a nuisance sometimes, but he can brighten even my darkest day. That is why I miss him so, now that he is gone from my side.” He sighed.
“And what of your other cousin?” asked his companion.
“Frodo is his name. I do not rightly know where he is, and that’s all for the best I suppose.” He surpressed a shiver and continued: “he is very different from Pippin, but I love him as much as I love that silly little Took. Only in a different way. He is almost fourteen years older than I am, and since he has lived with our family for most of my childhood, I grew up with him as if he were my older brother. And I have always thought that he was the greatest, strongest Hobbit in all the Shire. Even after I had grown taller than him and he hadn’t won a game of wrestling with me for five years.” A small smile curled the Hobbit’s lips as he stared into an invisible distance, and Éowyn almost wished that she could see and feel what he was experiencing right now. Yet she could find no such memories now, and did not even seem to remember how to smile. She merely savoured the Hobbit’s voice and expression, as if that might bring her some comfort.

Merry seemed not to notice it, so caught up was he in his own tale. “Frodo isn’t strong in ways of strength and skill, that is true, but in wisdom and nobility. I… I wish I knew the right words to describe it, but I don’t. I can only make it clear to you by telling you a story, if you have not yet had enough of my chatter, that is.” He looked at Dernhelm, and Éowyn merely nodded her head and whispered: “please, share it.”
The Hobbit smiled. ”Well then, here’s a genuine Frodo story. I remember one sunny day in my home when we were alone. He was reading and I was drawing, and a white butterfly flew through the open window. It had been chased by a bird, which we saw fly away. I caught the distressed butterfly in an empty jar from the kitchen. ‘What are you going to do with it?’ Frodo asked me, and I said: ‘I will keep it in the jar where no bird can ever catch it.’ He frowned at me and said: ‘but Merry, how do you know that the butterfly will be happy, being locked up in a glass jar? Maybe it doesn’t like that.’ But I wished to hear none of it. ‘If it stays in the jar it will be safe. It’s such a beautiful butterfly, and I don’t want it to get hurt.’ Then Frodo took the jar from me, took me by the hand and lead me outside. ‘Why don’t you let the butterfly decide for itself?’ he said, and opened the lid. Without hesitation, the butterfly flew away into the free air. I was sad to see it go, but Frodo taught me a good lesson. No creature should have to be locked up, not even with the best intentions. Every one of us deserves freedom, to go out into the world and choose their own path, even if that means they might get hurt. And I understand that choice, Dernhelm.”

Éowyn looked up with a start at his clear emphasis of the name. Merry was staring straight at her, his gaze keen, yet there was a gentle, knowing light in his eyes. A small smile once again touched his lips, and he got up and looked to the camp, which was stirring “Well, it looks like we shall be riding again soon.”
He turned to his companion, who looked up at him now with an expression of wonder. He did not answer the unasked question that was in those eyes, but knelt and said: “thank you, Dernhelm, for listening to me. You were right, it did help me. And I do hope that maybe it has helped you a little as well. Excuse me now, I have to go find my shield. I will see you in a moment.”