The Eve of Battle by Lbilover

Originally written in 2005 for Marigold's Talechallenge 17. The genesis of this story came from The Field of the Cormallen. In that chapter, Gimli says of Pippin, “I love you, if only for the pains you have cost me, which I shall never forget. Nor shall I forget finding you on the hill of that last battle.” I got to wondering about those pains that Pippin cost Gimli, and this is the result. This is most definitely book canon, not movie canon. Many thanks to Marigold for the beta!


“Well now, lad, and where do you think you might be going?”


Merry Brandybuck froze. He had been so certain that no one would be about in the halls of the Houses of Healing at such a late hour: the healer on duty was with the Lady Éowyn, and the servants had gone to their pallets to rest. “To find Pippin,” he said brightly, trying to disguise his weariness, but the droop in his posture gave the lie to his words.


Gimli the Dwarf, who had come bearing a message from Aragorn for the healer, looked down at the hobbit, concern in his dark eyes. He set a bracing arm about Merry’s shoulders. “What mischief has that young rascal been up to that drives you from your sick bed? You should be resting, Merry. You were up and abroad several times already today, and you know Aragorn left strict instructions that you should not go anywhere alone and unaided.”


Gimli gently turned Merry about and began to walk with him back to his bedchamber. Merry sagged against him, the small store of energy that had sustained him had drained away, and he was weary beyond measure. “No mischief, Gimli,” he replied, “but I’m worried about Pippin. He went to meet a company of the Guards several hours ago and he’s not returned. They were taking him to the Sword and Shield, a tavern on the third level, to eat supper.”


“And what is wrong with that?” Gimli asked. He helped Merry undress and resume his nightshirt, carefully replacing the sling that held his wounded arm in place, and then held back the coverlet for him as the young hobbit slid into bed. “He’s supped with the Guards before, surely.” He tucked the blankets about Merry as carefully as any mother with her child, then sat on the edge of the bed and regarded him curiously.


Merry looked up at the Dwarf with an anxious expression. “But not on the eve of battle. He won’t say so, because he’s a stubborn Took, but he’s frightened, Gimli.” Merry’s face looked heartbreakingly young against the snowy white linens, Gimli thought, except for his eyes: the haunted eyes of one who had recently witnessed battle and death first-hand.


“So we all are, lad, or should be. We’re walking straight into the dragon’s den while he’s sitting atop his hoard of gold. Only a fool would not be frightened.” Gimli smiled through his beard, a flash of white. “And while Gandalf may sometimes call him a ‘fool of a Took’, I daresay young Pippin has wits enough to know we are likely marching to our doom.”


Merry shook his head. “He knows that well enough, Gimli. But he’s worried that he may not get his chance to equal my deed, or prove as brave as Frodo and Sam, going off to Mordor alone. I’ve told him he’s being ridiculous, but he won’t listen. And he knows I’m fretting at having to stay behind, so he’s all the more anxious to uphold the honour of the Shirefolk.”


Gimli stroked his beard in a thoughtful manner, “So he’s gone off to the tavern to drown his worries? Is that it?” he asked shrewdly.


“That’s what I’m afraid of. He told me the Guards like to play drinking games. And you know Pip- he’s ripe for any challenge. But his heart wouldn’t be in it.” Merry sighed. “I should never have let him go, Gimli, but I thought it might do him good to get away from my fretting. It’s all my fault if he’s got himself in trouble.”


Gimli snorted. “Drinking games! A pox on Men and their foolish ways. A waste of good ale if you ask me, and like to do naught but make Pippin march off to war in the morning with a sore head and a queasy stomach.”


“He shouldn’t be alone, Gimli,” Merry pleaded, tears starting in his eyes, “It’s not that the Guards are not fine company in their way, but they don’t understand hobbits. Pip hasn’t ever really been drunk, save once, and that was in my company. Who knows what may happen to him, without me there to watch out for him?”


“Don’t fret, lad,” Gimli laid one strong, scarred hand over Merry’s where it was twisted in the coverlet, and held it in a comforting grip. “I’ll find young Pippin and bring him back to you. You’re right; he shouldn’t be without his friends this night.”


“Thank you, Gimli.” Merry spoke with quiet gratitude, knowing that the Dwarf would not fail in his trust.



***


“Ho! Ho! Ho! to the bottle I go,To heal my heart and drown my woe…”


Pippin was fuzzily aware that he was singing, but the words seemed to be coming from a long way off. He wondered why everything around him seemed to be swaying. Wasn’t he the one doing the dancing? And where was Merry? He should be dancing with him, surely.


He weaved in an awkward circle, peering into the crowd around him, searching for his cousin, but all he saw were Men: tall, laughing, red-faced, some in the uniform of the Guards. It was hard to focus, but he was certain that Merry had to be among them somewhere. “Merry?” he called, but his words were lost in the tumult of noise around him. He called again, more urgently. “Merry?” There was no response. Oh, if only his eyes would focus, and he didn’t feel so dizzy…


A hand suddenly appeared, thrusting a tankard at him; there was froth spilling down the sides and the heady tang of hops rose from it. Pippin took it automatically, but felt a rush of nausea at the smell. He’d been drinking ale, mug after mug, that much he knew. He did not think he could manage another drop.


Another hand fell heavily on his shoulder. “Come, Master Peregrin, drink up,” a voice boomed in his ear. “The game’s not over yet.”


Game? Pippin recalled dimly that he was participating in a game. What was it? Oh yes, a drinking game. Last one standing would win, but he felt with certainty that that would not be him. “I don’t think…“ he tried to say, but hands were coming at him, pushing the mug to his lips; voices were laughing, shouting, “Drink! Drink! Ernil I Periannath! Drink, Prince of the Halflings!”


“I can’t…” he felt his stomach roil as drink was forced past his lips. He choked and swallowed, but most of the ale spilled down his chin and onto his surcoat. He shouldn’t soil his Guards’ uniform, he thought hazily, Lord Denethor would scold him. But Denethor was dead, he remembered with an ache in his heart, burned alive on his pyre. Burn, burn, they would all burn, Denethor had said so…


Pippin dropped the mug with a clatter, drenching his feet with ale. He barely noticed. He needed to get out of this hot, stuffy room, away from the suffocating presence of the Men looming over him. He needed Merry, Merry who always knew the right thing to say, who would tell him not to be silly, that they weren’t going to burn and die like Denethor.


Even in his befuddled state, Pippin noticed when a gradual silence descended upon the common room; the raucous sounds of merriment faltered, faded and ceased. In the resultant silence, a grim, purposeful voice could be heard, saying loudly, “Out of my way!” Pippin gazed blearily around. He recognized that voice.


The crowd parted as if the owner of the voice had cleaved it with his axe. Gimli appeared, his short, sturdy form moving with its usual stately deliberation even as his elbows were hard at work clearing a path. His shrewd dark eyes fell at once on Pippin and lit with satisfaction. “There you are, lad. I’ve been looking for you. It’s time to return to your lodging now.”


Pippin nearly sobbed with relief. “Gimli,” he said, and never had he been so glad to see his friend’s stern, bearded visage.


Gimli strode straight to him and took gentle hold of one of Pippin’s arms, glaring at the Men around them, until they fell back and gave them space. “How are you, lad?” he bent his head to inquire in a low voice.


“I- I think I’m going to be sick,” Pippin whispered in response as the roiling sensation in his stomach reasserted itself with a vengeance.


“Ah, lad, you smell like the inside of an ale barrel; if you’ve as much ale in you as you have on you, then it’s no wonder you feel sick. Let’s get you outside in the fresh air.”


Pippin went gratefully, if unsteadily, with the Dwarf, glad of his sturdy form to lean on. He could hear the metallic chinking sound made by Gimli’s steel mail with each step, and the soft click of the beads woven into his long braids. They were familiar, soothing noises that Pippin recalled well from Moria, where Gimli’s calm acceptance of the darkness pressing down upon them had been such a source of strength to the rest of the Fellowship.


Outside in the cool air, Pippin’s stomach rebelled at last. “I’m sorry,” he gasped, and, bending over, was thoroughly sick in the gutter. He fell to his knees as he retched, feeling as if he was bringing up every meal he had ever eaten in his life. Gimli’s strong hand was there to steady him, though, and even through his misery, Pippin felt gratitude for the Dwarf’s kindness. His stomach finally subsided but he remained kneeling, one hand resting on the ground to support himself, welcoming the feel of the cold stone beneath his palm. Tears were streaming down his face and his head ached abominably, but he felt somewhat better, and clear-headed enough to know that he had been a fool- again.


“Have a drink, lad.” Gimli handed Pippin a water skin. Pippin took it and rinsed his mouth several times to rid it of the foul taste, before taking a long draught. He returned the water skin to Gimli with a quiet ‘thank you’, then rose to his feet, standing a little unsteadily it was true, but on his own.


Gimli pulled a large pocket-handkerchief from his tunic and wet it with the water. “Here, Pippin,” he said, and pressed it into his hand. Pippin wiped his clammy, tear-streaked face, feeling an almost overwhelming desire to laugh. Why it should seem so funny that Gimli would carry a pocket-handkerchief about his formidable person, Pippin couldn’t say, but it did. He remembered Bilbo’s tale of running out the front door of Bag End without so much as a pocket-handkerchief, and Gandalf later turning up with a dozen of them. Had the Dwarves learnt about pocket-handkerchiefs from Bilbo? It was an absurd thought; Pippin knew that the edge of hysteria was near and that if he started laughing, he might not stop for a long time. He drew a deep breath, clenching his fist around the damp cotton, willing himself to calm. “I’m sorry,” he said again, looking up at his friend with contrition in his eyes.


In the golden light pouring from the windows of the tavern, Pippin could see that Gimli’s dark eyes were filled with sympathetic understanding. “Nonsense, lad; there’s naught to be sorry for. You had too much ale on the eve of battle, that’s all. ‘Tis common enough for soldiers to seek forgetfulness in drink at such times.”


“But you don’t do it,” Pippin pointed out in a small voice, feeling ashamed of his behaviour.


“Ah, but I’m a Dwarf, Pippin; we don’t crave forgetfulness before battle. We look forward to it, for there is honour and glory to be found in fighting our enemies, whether it leads to our death or no.” Gimli smiled down kindly at the hobbit. “Come, let us walk. The evening grows late, and Merry will be worrying.” He turned and began walking up the cobbled street that led through the gate to the fourth level.


“Merry?” Pippin’s voice sounded even smaller and more subdued as he hurried to keep up with the Dwarf’s longer stride.


“Aye. ‘Twas Merry sent me in search of you, lad. He wanted to come himself, but I was having none of that. Aragorn would cut off my beard if further harm came to your cousin.”


“He didn’t want me to go, Gimli,” Pippin confessed wretchedly. “I could see it in his eyes, even though he didn’t say a word. But I went anyway, and it would have been my fault if he’d come to harm looking for me.”


Gimli made no reply; Pippin knew there was nothing he could reply, for it was true. His head hung with shame. When would he learn to control his impulsive nature?


Pippin and Gimli walked in silence for some time, climbing ever upward. They were well away from the tavern now, and other than the stamping feet and jingling armour of the soldiers on duty as they passed on their rounds, all was quiet. But it was not an easy quiet; it was the tense, breathless quiet of battle’s eve. On the morrow, much of the population of Gondor, including its newly discovered King, would ride away from the City on a mission from which, rumour had it, they were unlikely to return. In houses and inns, in barracks and wards, all through and about the City, few would sleep this night.


“I’m not afraid, you know,” Pippin blurted out suddenly. “Not of dying, at any rate.”


Gimli slowed his pace. “I never thought you were, Pippin,” he answered kindly, “I’ve seen you Shirefolk in battle, remember. You have stout hearts.”


They had passed through the gate to the fifth level and thence through the arched tunnel that cut through the great pier of rock. After emerging from the tunnel, they stopped, as of one accord, and turned to face the East, looking across the Pelennor toward Mordor. There was a glimmer of stars overhead, and the waning moon cast a pale light over the fields below where campfires glowed among the tents and Aragorn waited for the final throw of the dice in the conflict with Sauron. But in the distance, an oppressive dark loomed and no stars could be seen. In Mordor, the darkness was relieved only by the ominous red glow of Mount Doom, restless in its uneasy sleep.


“It’s just that…” Pippin began, but paused, seemingly unable to continue.


“What, lad?” Gimli prompted him in a gentle voice. “Come, whatever it is, you can tell me. Did I not confess to you the shame that I felt at the threshold of the Paths of Dead, when I could not bring myself to enter that dread place?”


Pippin walked to the parapet and leaned against it, staring out into the dark. He thought about Frodo and Sam, somewhere out there in the shadows that lay over Mordor, struggling toward the fiery mountain; he thought about Merry, nearly meeting his death on the vast plain that he could dimly see spread out before him. Would his courage equal theirs? Would he be given a chance to prove it? What if he failed the test?


Gimli stood beside him, silent and enduring as the stones of the once-great City. He waited patiently for Pippin to speak.


“I’m the youngest, you see,” Pippin said at last. “Frodo and Merry have always looked out for me. I never imagined, when we started out on our Journey, that I would ever be without them to care for me. They are so brave, Gimli, so brave and strong. As is Sam.” Pippin clenched his fists, and said with quiet fierceness, “I want them to be proud of me. It was easy to be brave when I was fighting with them beside me. I knew they would always protect me, look out for me as they did when I was a child. But now I’m going into battle on my own. What if…” his voice broke, “what if I’m not so brave without Merry beside me?”


As he had done earlier with Merry, Gimli laid a comforting hand over Pippin’s where it rested atop the parapet. “I may not be a hobbit, Pippin, but I know truesilver when I see it. I’ve no doubt at all that when you are put to the test, you will bring honour to all your kin, though your foe prove to be a great troll-chief.”


“I mean to, or die in the attempt,” Pippin vowed.


“Hush,” Gimli spoke quickly. “Speak no words of ill-omen, Pippin.” He added in a grim voice: “And do not go looking for trouble on the battlefield, for it will find you soon enough.”


Unexpectedly Pippin laughed, the sound almost shockingly light-hearted in the oppressive quiet. “You sound just like Sam’s old gaffer,” he said, and suddenly the homely image of Sam’s father, standing in the Bag End garden and leaning on a hoe while he scolded Pippin and Merry for running through the vegetable garden, sprang into Pippin’s mind, and the weight of worry began to lift from him, like mist rising from a pond in the morning sun.


“Indeed? For a hobbit he appears to have uncommonly good sense.”


“He does,” Pippin agreed, “and a store of improving sayings to go with it. You’ve heard some of them from Sam.” And Hobbit and Dwarf laughed together, such a peculiar sound in that hour and place that a passing sentry stopped and stared in amazement, before continuing on his round.


“But we shouldn’t laugh,” Pippin said soberly, when their laughter had ceased. “Sam is out there right now with Frodo,” he gestured with a sweep of one mail-clad arm, “in who knows what danger? Shall we ever see them again, do you think?”


Gimli was silent for a long moment, his gaze fixed on the distant flicker of red that marked the unseen mountain. “I wish I could say, lad. But we must trust in Gandalf and Aragorn, and their plan to keep the great Eye occupied while Frodo and Sam fulfil the quest. As for our laughter,” he looked down at Pippin, “I don’t think Sam would mind. You hobbits seem to delight in light speech and laughter when things look most grim. ‘Tis your way.”


“Yes, and so Merry told Aragorn; but never has it been so hard.” Pippin sighed, and turned away from the parapet. “But your words lighten my heart, Gimli. Thank you.”


“If your heart is lighter, I am glad of it, Pippin.” He led the way back to the street and up to the sixth Gate, Pippin following close behind him, and they finished the remainder of their walk in companionable silence.


They went first to Pippin’s lodging, where Gimli waited while the young hobbit changed his soiled clothes and hastily washed away the worst of the odour of ale and sick. When he was satisfied that he would pass muster, and not unduly alarm his cousin, Pippin rejoined Gimli and they hastened to the Houses of Healing to find Merry.


At the entrance, Pippin stopped. He said, “Gimli, thank you; thank you for your kindness, to me and to Merry, and thank you for helping me to find my courage.” He leaned forward and hugged his friend tightly. The Dwarf hugged him back with some awkwardness, patting Pippin on the back and muttering in an embarrassed yet pleased voice, “Nonsense, lad, there’s naught to thank me for.”


***


Merry was watching the door anxiously when Pippin and Gimli appeared, and he sat up at once, exclaiming, “Oh Pip, you’re all right! I’ve been so worried.” He held out his good arm.


Pippin flew to his cousin and was gathered into a tight, one-armed embrace. For a long moment they held each other, brown curls mingling, while wordless apology and forgiveness were received and given.


Pippin raised his head at last from Merry’s shoulder and looked straight at Gimli, who stood in the doorway, watching them with suspiciously bright eyes. “Of course I’m all right,” he said, smiling in his old, carefree manner, “You sent Gimli to find me, didn’t you?”


~end~