The Return of the King (Page 47)

‘Awake, Éowyn, Lady of Rohan!’ said Aragorn again, and he took her right hand in his and felt it warm with life returning. ‘Awake! The shadow is gone and all darkness is washed clean!’ Then he laid her hand in Éomer’s and stepped away. ‘Call her!’ he said, and he passed silently from the chamber.

‘Éowyn, Éowyn!’ cried Éomer amid his tears. But she opened her eyes and said: ‘Éomer! What joy is this? For they said that you were slain. Nay, but that was only the dark voices in my dream. How long have I been dreaming?’

‘Not long, my sister,’ said Éomer. ‘But think no more on it!’

‘I am strangely weary,’ she said. ‘I must rest a little. But tell me, what of the Lord of the Mark? Alas! Do not tell me that that was a dream; for I know that it was not. He is dead as he foresaw.’

‘He is dead,’ said Éomer, ‘but he bade me say farewell to Éowyn, dearer than daughter. He lies now in great honour in the Citadel of Gondor.’

‘That is grievous,’ she said. ‘And yet it is good beyond all that I dared hope in the dark days, when it seemed that the House of Eorl was sunk in honour less than any shepherd’s cot. And what of the king’s esquire, the Halfling? Éomer, you shall make him a knight of the Riddermark, for he is valiant!’

‘He lies nearby in this House, and I will go to him,’ said Gandalf. ‘Éomer shall stay here for a while. But do not speak yet of war or woe, until you are made whole again. Great gladness it is to see you wake again to health and hope, so valiant a lady!’

‘To health?’ said Éowyn. ‘It may be so. At least while there is an empty saddle of some fallen Rider that I can fill, and there are deeds to do. But to hope? I do not know.’

Gandalf and Pippin came to Merry’s room, and there they found Aragorn standing by the bed. ‘Poor old Merry!’ cried Pippin, and he ran to the bedside, for it seemed to him that his friend looked worse and a greyness was in his face, as if a weight of years of sorrow lay on him; and suddenly a fear seized Pippin that Merry would die.

‘Do not be afraid,’ said Aragorn. ‘I came in time, and I have called him back. He is weary now, and grieved, and he has taken a hurt like the Lady Éowyn, daring to smite that deadly thing. But these evils can be amended, so strong and gay a spirit is in him. His grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom.’

Then Aragorn laid his hand on Merry’s head, and passing his hand gently through the brown curls, he touched the eyelids, and called him by name. And when the fragrance of athelas stole through the room, like the scent of orchards, and of heather in the sunshine full of bees, suddenly Merry awoke, and he said:

‘I am hungry. What is the time?’

‘Past supper-time now,’ said Pippin; ‘though I daresay I could bring you something, if they will let me.’

‘They will indeed,’ said Gandalf. ‘And anything else that this Rider of Rohan may desire, if it can be found in Minas Tirith, where his name is in honour.’

‘Good!’ said Merry. ‘Then I would like supper first, and after that a pipe.’ At that his face clouded. ‘No, not a pipe. I don’t think I’ll smoke again.’

‘Why not?’ said Pippin.

‘Well,’ answered Merry slowly. ‘He is dead. It has brought it all back to me. He said he was sorry he had never had a chance of talking herb-lore with me. Almost the last thing he ever said. I shan’t ever be able to smoke again without thinking of him, and that day, Pippin, when he rode up to Isengard and was so polite.’

‘Smoke then, and think of him!’ said Aragorn. ‘For he was a gentle heart and a great king and kept his oaths; and he rose out of the shadows to a last fair morning. Though your service to him was brief, it should be a memory glad and honourable to the end of your days.’

Merry smiled. ‘Well then,’ he said, ‘if Strider will provide what is needed, I will smoke and think. I had some of Saruman’s best in my pack, but what became of it in the battle, I am sure I don’t know.’

‘Master Meriadoc,’ said Aragorn, ‘if you think that I have passed through the mountains and the realm of Gondor with fire and sword to bring herbs to a careless soldier who throws away his gear, you are mistaken. If your pack has not been found, then you must send for the herb-master of this House. And he will tell you that he did not know that the herb you desire had any virtues, but that it is called west-mansweed by the vulgar, and galenas by the noble, and other names in other tongues more learned, and after adding a few half-forgotten rhymes that he does not understand, he will regretfully inform you that there is none in the House, and he will leave you to reflect on the history of tongues. And so now must I. For I have not slept in such a bed as this, since I rode from Dunharrow, nor eaten since the dark before dawn.’

Merry seized his hand and kissed it. ‘I am frightfully sorry,’ he said. ‘Go at once! Ever since that night at Bree we have been a nuisance to you. But it is the way of my people to use light words at such times and say less than they mean. We fear to say too much. It robs us of the right words when a jest is out of place.’

‘I know that well, or I would not deal with you in the same way,’ said Aragorn. ‘May the Shire live for ever unwithered!’ And kissing Merry he went out, and Gandalf went with him.

Pippin remained behind. ‘Was there ever anyone like him?’ he said. ‘Except Gandalf, of course. I think they must be related. My dear a*s, your pack is lying by your bed, and you had it on your back when I met you. He saw it all the time, of course. And anyway I have some stuff of my own. Come on now! Longbottom Leaf it is. Fill up while I run and see about some food. And then let’s be easy for a bit. Dear me! We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can’t live long on the heights.’

‘No,’ said Merry. ‘I can’t. Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honour them. It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the Shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little. But I don’t know why I am talking like this. Where is that leaf? And get my pipe out of my pack, if it isn’t broken.’

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