1. Sailing Upriver

Tidings now came by swift riders from Cair Andros of all that was done, and the City made ready for the coming of the King. Merry was summoned and rode away with the wains that took store of goods to Osgiliath and thence by ship to Cair Andros. (JRR Tolkien, The Return of the King)

'Are you quite comfortable, Master Baggage?' the drover called up to Merry, a twinkle in his eye.

As it was, Merry felt sure he looked ridiculous, perched atop the pile of cargo like the driver of an Oliphaunt headed to battle. But he was used to being a spectacle of sorts here in Gondor, and if people wished to stare and wave he was perfectly content to grin and wave back. He took great joy in small pleasures now that the Darkness had been rolled back, the Dark Lord defeated, and the Ring-bearer--Frodo!--saved out of the Fire.

'Quite!' he called back cheerfully, for this cart was filled with soft goods, bolts of cloth, he thought, and blankets, perhaps. It was a bit like trying to sleep on a bed with mattresses stacked nearly to the ceiling.

No worry of falling off, though, at the pace set by the plodding oxen. Rather might he die of old age before they ever reached the landing, to take ship for Cair Andros and Cormallen. At least it would be an easy death, he laughed to himself, leaning back upon the cushiony stack and closing his eyes to soak in the sunlight.

He must have fallen asleep, for the journey was over all of a sudden, and the drover was calling up to him again. 'Master Perian!'

'Here I am!' Merry answered, popping out from his resting place. The drover held up his arms to help Merry down from the pile, setting him carefully on the ground without jarring his shoulder. 'There, you are, little Sir, and I trust you've had a pleasant journey.'

'Very,' Merry answered with a bow, then turned to the Man who was waiting expectantly.

The drover said, 'This is Captain Fargold, whose ship will bear you to the King.'

The Captain bowed deeply, and Merry returned his bow with a proper, 'At your service, and your family's.'

'Welcome aboard, Sir,' the Captain said gravely. 'The wind is with us, our ship is loaded, so if you will board we will be on our way.' Merry nodded to the drover, and walked with the Captain to the ship, one of several tied up to the quay.

The vessel was much bigger than any he'd seen before; he'd not got more than a glimpse of the black sailed ships that had arrived in the midst of the battle for Minas Tirith, being rather preoccupied at the time. Compared to the little boats of the Bucklanders, this was a whale. He looked appreciatively over her sleek lines and graceful suit of sails. Catching his look, the Captain said, 'Ah, are ye a waterman yoursel' then?'

'In a small way,' Merry said, and chuckled, to be joined by the Captain's hearty laugh. The Captain stopped long enough to point out the features of his vessel, including the ports from which oars could be thrust into the water to speed her way against the current.

'Right now, we don't need 'em, with the wind freshening as it is,' he said, 'but if you will come aboard now we will make the most of it.'

They walked up the gangway, then Merry watched as the lines were cast off, oars were put out, and the ship was turned into the River. Midstream, the wind caught the sails and the ship picked up speed. Merry felt almost as if he were carried by a white-winged bird, flying upon the water. His legs remembered the rocking motion from boating back home, and he closed his eyes the better to smell and feel and listen.

He felt the Captain touch his arm. 'It'll be enough of a journey,' the Man said quietly, 'with time for a meal and a sleep.' He looked hard at the halfling. 'The healers said you were to rest and eat.'

'Just standing here has been rest enough,' said Merry, but he obediently turned from the rail to follow the other below. Down in the mess were ship's officers eager to meet this Perian from far lands, this warrior who had conquered a Nazgul lord in battle. The food was good, the talk sprinkled with laughter, but Merry found himself nodding before the sweet course was served, and the Captain caught his eye with a knowing look.

'Thingal,' he said to an officer. 'Please show our guest to his quarters and make sure he has all he needs.' Merry rose to bow and thank his host in proper hobbit fashion. He was led to a stateroom that was small but comfortable (it was the Captain's own, had he but known it), and no sooner had he stretched out on the bed, than he was asleep. He did not even feel the blanket that Thingal spread over him, nor hear the soft snick as the door closed.

When he awakened it was dark outside the porthole, but a small lamp glowed in a bracket to guide him to the door. He made his way onto the deck, to see dimming stars above and a promise of dawn in the East.

'I trust you slept well,' said the Captain behind him, and he turned with a smile.

'Very,' he said. 'Everything has been quite satisfactory.'

The Captain pointed to a dark shape ahead on the left. 'The isle of Cair Andros,' he said. 'We are nearly to our destination.' An enticing smell wafted across the deck. 'Ah, my nose tells me that breakfast is being served,' he added. 'Would you care to accompany me?'

'A hobbit never declines an invitation to dine,' Merry laughed. 'It just wouldn't be considered proper where I come from.'

Halfway through breakfast, the Captain excused himself, but laid a restraining hand on Merry's shoulder. 'Finish your breakfast, Master Perian. I must see to our arrival, but there's no need for you to rush your meal.'

Merry smiled, 'It would be a pity to rush such a fine meal, indeed,' he said.

'This? It is a mere promise of the feasting yet to come,' the Captain smiled. He patted his stomach in a very hobbit-like gesture. 'We'll all have to have new uniforms before the celebration ends,' he said, then sobered. 'It's been a long time coming.' He nodded to his officers, and half of them rose from the table to go on duty.

'Do not worry, Master Perian,' Thingal laughed. 'We will not all abandon you, that would hardly be hospitable of us. Finish your meal and then we shall join the Captain on deck.'

Merry did not make quite as leisurely meal as he had the previous evening; it was not long before he was standing on deck, watching the Captain bring the great ship into the quay, the white sails rosy in the sunrise. Silvery wispy clouds floated high in the brightening sky, promising a fine spring day.