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March Frost

Chapter 1: March Frost

by SilverMoonLady

March Frost

Estella sleeps lightly; she always has, so she is aware of the change in Merry’s breathing even before his muttered words break the quiet of the night. She takes a moment to stir up the glowing embers in the small fireplace, reviving warmth and light. Flames have a power against this darkness, as she well knows.

Slipping back into their wide bed, she sits beside him, listening to the familiar beginning of his nightmare, wondering how far it will proceed tonight. She no longer hopes to learn more from these unhappy occurrences. She just wants the shadows to leave off their disturbing visits, to trouble him no more with echoes of deeds long past.

“The city is aflame… It’s too late…”

Minas Tirith. The Pelennor Fields. Knowing the story doesn’t really help her, though Pippin thought it might.
His muscles bunch under her fingers, his shoulders tensed with effort and growing dread. He is hanging on for dear life, she knows, but this is the easy part. He suddenly freezes, fists wound tight into the coverlet. Estella braces herself.

“He’s coming…”

A shiver shakes through him and it seems to pass into her body too. She can taste his fear, and it becomes her own.

“He is here…”

Hollow terror now coils like a pool of darkness at the foot of the bed. Whether by force of her exhausted imagination or some vengeful spark of that cursed spirit, the nightmare has substance tonight. But Merry knows no better, eyes closed, still lost within his memories.

“Stand, fool and coward! He is dead, let them not do worse!” The bitter self-reproach she hears is almost worse than the hopeless fear it seeks to counter.

His hand searches about, tangling in the sheets, but not finding the blade he seeks. Estella catches hold, offering him a living tether to reality. This simple touch has sometimes brought him out of the dream, but not tonight.
The sense of malice that oozes from the shadowed corner by the bed redoubles and seems to gain strength from that check. Estella presses the beloved hand between her own, feeling already that dreadful chill seeping underneath his skin. She cannot look away from the nearly palpable darkness, fear feeding the phantasm, but she has no need to look down at Merry’s face to see his horror, to know that it is death that hovers near.
“She shall not die unaided or alone! Get away from her!”

His fingers, cold as ice, nevertheless tighten about her hand as force of will pushes him to his knees upon the tumbled bed. His eyes are open now, but unaware of his surroundings, seeing only the ghosts of battle long past and the enemy vanquished too late.

“Eowyn!” Her name is like a whimper, for nightmares withhold the comfort of truth, and to him it seems that she must be dead.

“Failed…” he whispers, voice strangled by grief, and he falls facedown into the mounded blankets. “I’ve failed them all…”

In the dim and flickering light of the fire, the dark miasma of despair seems not to waver as it should, but to bend and glide slowly towards his prostrate form. Estella cannot turn from its approach, but it is neither Merry’s iron grip nor her uncomprehending terror that keeps her rooted to the spot. It is anger. Blazing fury against this nameless product of undeserved guilt and ancient ill will that haunts the one she loves.

“Go back to whatever grave holds your rotted bones and trouble us no more!” Estella is shocked to hear her trembling voice cry out, unbidden, into the silence.

And, as though tipped by some unseen hand, a log cracks and falls within the flames, sending sparks showering into the night and washing the room in sudden brightness. Light dim once more, there is no blot of deeper black within the shadows of the room, no radiating dread at the foot of the bed, and Merry is quieting, breath and body relaxing again into sleep.

With a last glance about the room, Estella pulls the blankets up around them both, lying down next to him. The fire will die soon and leave the room cold by morning, but for the moment she cannot care, still too shaken to leave his side to tend it properly. She curls close against his body and Merry stretches one arm to gather her closer yet, his hand no longer touched by icy death, but strong and warm, as she has always known it to be.
They have had peace in the three months since Yule, but perhaps it is too much to hope that frost should altogether fade with the month of March…

The End

Big thanks to Ariel for the beta work, you are a treasureSmile smiley face