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Bedside Chatter

Chapter 1: Bedside Chatter

by SilverMoonLady

Bedside Chatter

“So very valiant for one so young…” Eomer murmured softly, surveying the small battered form that lay before him.

He had returned, exhausted, to the fields of Cormallen after several days of chase in the Black Lands, and had found his uncle’s young esquire Meriadoc distraught and despairing at his cousin’s side. That the Ringbearer and his companion lay senseless but quiet nearby made Peregrin’s case seem all the more precarious as he struggled for breath, his fair skin bruised and scratched where it was visible between the healers’ salves and bandages. Despite Aragorn’s assurances and a profusion of threats, orders and appeals from them all, young Merry had refused to leave his side but briefly until today. The hours and days had stretched out and the man of Rohan had been witness to the amazing depth of faith and feeling the halfling bore his fellows, and had been afforded a glimpse of the happy past that these two in particular shared. He took a turn again tonight to watch over them both, the elder stretched out in the deep sleep of exhaustion to his right and this other, still frail, upon his left.

Shallow but even breaths whistled past creaking ribs and swollen throat, and Peregrin looked even younger than he had in the few instances Eomer had crossed paths with the little traveler in the turbulent weeks since legends had stepped forth from myth to walk the green earth. So like a child he seemed, despite what he was said to have done, and certainly too young to suffer Fate’s heavy hand.

“So very young,” he murmured again, suddenly moved to gently brush back the wayward curls from the high forehead, as he had seen Meriadoc do so often as the lad had slept.

“I am older than you…”

The murmured words whispered upon a sighing breath, and Eomer now noticed the green gaze that fixed him from beneath sleep-heavy eyelids. His charge was awake again.

“What did you say?” the tall man asked, settling closer to the small figure stretched upon the cot.

“Heard you talk today… To the healer, the pretty one…” Peregrin said, breathless, as the shadow of a smile pulled at his mouth. “I am older by a year… No child, by your own measure…”

“I am sorry, I did not mean to offend.”

“You did not…” the halfling murmured with a small wave. “Better to be thought a brave lad than a fool of any age I suppose… How is Merry?” he asked, glancing past him towards his sleeping companion.

“Resting at last. He would not leave you.”

“I know.”

Eomer shifted restlessly, uncertain where to take the conversation.

“Do you need anything? A drink, perhaps?” he finally asked.

“Only if you can procure a well-drawn ale.”

The response floated to his ear, hopeful and teasing despite its speaker’s condition, and he wondered again at the brave levity these little folk still showed in the face of hardship. He considered a moment the request before reason made its dry censure known.

“I would, but I know better than to tempt the wrath of the healers, not to mention that of your cousin.”

“Then I will have to settle for your good company, my lord… Tell me, what has happened to Frodo and Sam? No one will say anything, save that they live, yet with such grim faces that I know not what to believe…”

Eomer hesitated. If neither Aragorn nor Meriadoc felt him strong enough to hear the uncertain truth of the Ringbearer’s state, who was he to disregard their judgment? His thought must have raced plain across his face, for the halfling wrapped strengthless fingers about his own.

“Please… They fret and waver and coddle, but I am sure to imagine worse than the reality. Tell me…”

The telltale hardness of an archer’s calluses blurred with the newer marks of the sword upon the hand in his grasp. This was no child; he would bear up even under the weight of unpleasant news.

“I… In truth, I know very little. The Black Land tried them sorely, and I understand it was a hungry trek with bad air and little water. They are very weak. They sleep much, quietly… But they have the best of care, and what few wounds they had are healing well. That is all I know.”

“They will live, then… Frodo…”

The blond warrior watched him blink back tears, of relief and fear and joy perhaps, and he found himself again caught in that forest gaze.

“Frodo is my cousin also, you know. I have known him all my life… I had lost hope…”

“We all did. And yet we stood tall, at the last, as did you.”

“And I would again gladly if you promise me no trolls rude enough to fall so heavily upon their slayers…”

The twinkle of mirth did not quite disguise the pride and terror in his eyes, and Eomer managed a weak chuckle in response. Dissembling was not a skill he had ever mastered, but Peregrin possessed either too much polish or too little strength to notice, and he watched wordlessly as the small soldier let his eyes drift shut with a tired sigh.

After some time of silence, filled only with the slow rush of the halfling’s pained breathing, Eomer leaned close again, his hand still clasped among the slender fingers of his sleeping charge.

“Honor and valor truly have no age or size, and that is well proved, Master Peregrin of the Shire. Even if by your cousin’s loving heart you were deemed too young to die here in this place…” he murmured, and was startled by the whispered response.

“So were we all…”