Day Nine, April 3:

A soft yellow light hit Pippin in the face and he turned his head away. Light of any kind would wake him from the half-dreaming state he was in, and he was not willing to leave it just yet. He squirmed under the blankets, seeking further warmth from Merry, and was somewhat disappointed when he found he was alone. A deep breath, that was not quite a sigh, escaped him. He knew the scent of this place. It was tantalizingly familiar but he could not recall it. There was a decided lack of movement about him so clearly they were no longer on the road.

Curiosity drove him to open his eyes slightly. He was in a tent of some sort, on a pallet with a real mattress, albeit a lumpy one, with the flaps open to permit the gently perfumed breeze to enter. There were long shadows from the soft light, indicating the time was either early morning or late evening. But somehow, the feeling was of a day beginning and not of a day ending. This puzzled him as it had been late in the morning when Aragorn had bound his injuries and pressed on his the sleep-inducing drink.

"Well, I give up," Pippin muttered to himself. "I haven't the faintest idea where or when I am."

"You are in Ithilien, Master Took, at roughly half past seven o'clock on the morning of April third, by Shire reckoning," Gandalf replied, causing Pippin to look up in surprise. It was indeed Gandalf, smoking his pipe and looking quite composed in the morning light.

"Good heavens, Gandalf, how you startled me!" Pippin sat up slowly, and was pleased to note the pain from his injuries was greatly reduced. "But wait. April the third you said?" His brow furrowed. "That does not add up rightly. The Ring was destroyed on March the twenty-fifth, was it not?" Gandalf confirmed that it was so. "And I have been awake for three days and Aragorn gave me the draught midmorning on the fourth day. By rights it should not be April yet, even if I did sleep away the fourth day."

Even as Gandalf opened his mouth to respond, Pippin stiffened with a sudden realization. "But we were more than a day's journey from Ithilien the last time I was awake. So tell me, Gandalf, what sort of magic did Aragorn put over me to make me lose five days?" he concluded, folding his arms though hampered by the sling.

Gandalf managed to look exasperated and amused without losing much of his placid countenance. "To begin with, you have only lost a day and a half since we began the journey to Ithilien. The journey would have brought you more pain and discomfort, and the treatments were in short supply. It was simpler and kinder to have you insensible to what was happening."

"But the draught . . ."

"It was not the draught alone but a healing sleep from the hands of the king," Gandalf said curtly. "They may wake those in a dark sleep or put into sleep those in need of curing."

Reluctantly Pippin acknowledged the wisdom of this, for he did indeed feel much improved from when he had awoken two days ago. "But what of the other days I cannot recall?"

"The final battle was on the twenty-fifth of March," said Gandalf, more gently, "and you were found beneath the troll that evening. But it was not until the twenty-eighth that you awakened."

"Oh," said Pippin and his voice was small. He had not been told of the events subsequent to his rescue, nor had he asked before. A thought occurred to him that he knew very little of what had happened. "It was Gimli who found me?"

"It was indeed Gimli, aided by Legolas," Gandalf confirmed and puffed gently on his pipe while he waited for the hobbit to come to the point.

"And when they found me, I . . . " Pippin faltered. He worried his lower lip with his teeth and finally plucked up enough courage to go on. "I was . . . not . . . living. I-I remember the last moments and Aragorn told me it was so. But he never said how . . ."

Gandalf laid aside his pipe and gave him a kindly look. "You have to thank the combined efforts of Gimli and Legolas, elven knowledge in revival, and the virtues of athelas. And, of course, your heritage from the Old Took and the Bullroarer."

This brought a slight smile to Pippin's face, as Gandalf had planned. "I have not yet thanked them," Pippin replied softly. "Gimli and Legolas, that is. I meant to but somehow it kept slipping my mind."

Gandalf returned to his pipe and blew a leisurely ring of smoke into the morning air. "You shall have your chance shortly. Legolas is resting but will be by later and Gimli is nearby, tending Frodo and Sam." He nodded to a cloth hung up to partition the tent in twain. "We were forced to hide them from view to provide them a little privacy, so many would come to look upon the Ringbearers."

"The Ringbearers?" Pippin asked confounded. "I thought Frodo was the only one. How did Sam come by it?" He caught his breath in sudden fright. "What happened to Frodo?"

"A great deal has happened to them," Gandalf replied, "but they are recovering quickly and will be up and about within a week. Much the same time you will be allowed up and about," he added with such firmness Pippin knew there would be little benefit to arguing. Instead, he turned his attention to breakfast, or rather a lack thereof.

"If I have been asleep so very long, I have missed a good many meals," he began.

"Indeed you have," Gandalf agreed, "and though hobbits are rare this far east Merry has done well to acclimate the cooks to your needs." He gestured to a plate of fresh bread and fruit nearby, to which Pippin eagerly claimed.

"Where is Merry?" he asked between bites.

Gandalf exhaled a second smoke ring. "Outside, fulfilling his duties to Eomer, king of Rohan. Merry is still pledged to him, you understand."

Pippin nodded, eager to be up and out of bed. "May I join him then?"

At that, Gandalf laid aside his pipe and manipulated the still-bandaged ankle slowly. Pippin gasped and winced a short time into the examination. This brought upon him a sharp look from the wizard and a gentle but firm denial of his request. Gandalf was prepared to deal with a cross hobbit, which indeed might have come to pass, when Merry entered with two persons Pippin recognized immediately: Beregond and Bergil of Gondor. Beregond carried his arm in a sling as well and there was a long red line crossing Bergil's face that had not been there before but they seemed hale enough otherwise.

Pippin quickly introduced them to Merry, and inquired as to their welfare.

"We are both well, thank you," Beregond replied. "I am in your debt, Ernil i Pheriannath, for saving my life at the Gates," and he bowed his head briefly.

Bergil followed suit, adding, "I suppose I must apologize now our first meeting. It would not be right to stand my father's rescuer and a fellow man of Gondor on his head."

Pippin laughed through his embarrassment at the praise. "So you are a recognized soldier of the White City as well, Bergil? Is that how you came by that scar?"

"Indeed. It came to me during the siege," Bergil replied, and ran his fingers along the red seem with more pride than shame as boys are wont to do. "It is a mark of valor and bravery, my father says."

"By how did you come by it?" Pippin inquired and thus stories of combat flew fast and thick, from not only the soldiers of Gondor but also from Gimli, who had joined them, and from Merry and Gandalf.

At length Beregond noted the position of the sun. "The morn is nearly gone. We have tarried overly long but I think no company would have been better enjoyed," he said. "Even so, I regret that we must depart though we will be certain to return." With words of farewell, he and Bergil took their leave.

Luncheon came and went, through which Pippin grumbled a little bit but good- naturedly over the spare rations he was allotted. It was understood by all, himself included, the plain food was to inhibit further harm after the internal bleeding. It was more from a desire to be somewhere other than bed that motivated Pippin's petulance.

Understanding this, Merry showed Pippin the exercises Aragorn taught him, lacing the fingers of their weakened arms and cautiously pushing against one another for resistance. They worked on this for a little while until the exercises built into a competition that Legolas broke up.

Legolas had taken over Gandalf's shift sometime in the afternoon and, having missed Gandalf's stipulation not to worry Pippin about Frodo and Sam, warned the restless hobbits that their noise would disturb the Ringbearers. Immediately Pippin came to attention, pleading to see them.

Legolas realized his mistake. "They are asleep now and would not be aware of your presence, Pippin. Furthermore, you know you are not allowed out of bed. You must give them and yourself more time."

"I have given and been give time, Legolas," Pippin answered quietly. "I am through waiting. They must have undergone terrible struggles as we all have. Are they so changed that you fear to let me look upon them?"

Legolas hesitated and Pippin's face grew anxious. "No one has told me anything, Legolas," he pleaded. "Please. It is torturous to be left to my imaginings."

"They are quite changed, Pip" Merry said. "They have lost much weight and bear the signs of toil in infinite ways but deep down they are the same old Frodo and Sam."

"Descriptions are all very well and good but I will not *know* until I can look at them with my own eyes," replied Pippin. His eyes softened, doe- like. "I have not seen them in over a month and that is hard on cousins. Please, Legolas?"

Without Gandalf with him to remain impregnable in the face of such tactics, the elf prince found himself weakening. "Say nothing of this to anyone," he muttered as he picked up Pippin and furtively covered him with a blanket. "Not Aragorn, not Gandalf, not Gimli – no one."

"I promise," the incorrigible hobbit replied, too happy to have won the argument to mind.

"Just know that they are changed," Merry concluded, "and not all changes are for the best sometimes."

"I know they have undergone hardships," Pippin replied. "I will be all right. Some changes are for the better." Merry sighed and hoped his younger cousin was prepared for what lay ahead. His fears were confirmed as Legolas set Pippin on a stool and allowed him view of the two hobbits on the cots.

The determination in Pippin's face drained away and was replaced with sorrow and shock. To Merry, having seen them shortly after their rescue, the sight was cheering but Pippin had not looked upon them since they passed the Pillars of the Kings. Very hesitantly he reached out a hand and touched Sam's thin shoulder, then caressed Frodo's bandaged hand. He frowned at it a minute, confused, and suddenly realized what was different. He squeezed shut his eyes and when he opened them again, his face was very still and his eyes were filled with an unrelenting pity and sadness.

"They have healed much and are still healing yet," Legolas assured him softly.

"How much more worse off could they have been?" whispered Pippin hoarsely.

Merry began to give some words of comfort but Pippin abruptly shook himself and made a feeble attempt at his old cheerfulness. "But they will recover soon, won't they? Several good meals and they will be back to their old selves?"

"Certainly," Legolas said but met Merry's eyes over Pippin's head. Neither said, though they both knew, some changes are irreversible. *****

Late night

Pippin sat bolt upright with his heart pounding hard and his breath coming in fast gasps, snapped out of a sound sleep. His eyes widened, trying to adjust to the dim light. Fine tremors coursed through his body while he adjusted to the waking world.

Legolas took note of this and crouched by the pallet. "What has disturbed you?"

Pippin could not answer at first for the terror still had him in its grip. He took several breaths, as deep as he could manage, staring into the ageless eyes of the elf. At last he was calm enough to speak, though it was scarce above a whisper. "I held the Seeing Stone again. It swirled red, as it had before, but this time it showed me Frodo and Sam tortured by orcs and minions of darkness, surrounded by the fires of Mount Doom. They screamed in agony and I cried out too and the orcs laughed, Legolas. They laughed at our pain. It was the most horrible thing." Pippin ended nearly in tears and clutched at the fabric of Merry's sleeve.

Legolas smiled gently and smoothed back the sleep-tangled curls. "You have such a great heart, Peregrin, that the hurts of your loved ones hurt you nearly as much as they. But while their bodies are easily healed, it takes longer for your worries to be dispelled. Just as Merry's fears for you trouble him more than his injured sword arm. It is true that Frodo and Sam were in grievous conditions but they are on the mend now."

Pippin sighed. "I understand that with my head but I cannot seem to grasp it with my heart."

"Then perhaps you should allow your head to guide your heart this time," said Legolas. "Close your eyes and put yourself back to that terrible dream place. See Frodo and Sam, and hear the Enemy's voice. Now – command the voice to cease. See the orcs stop in surprise. Behold the dawning hope in the eyes of your friends. Raise the stone and smash it in front of you and watch it shatter into shards of light. And when the dazzling light clears you will see Frodo and Sam in front of you, whole and unharmed. But Pippin, you may repeat these images as many times as you need until the dream loses its hold of terror of you and sleep becomes sweet for you again."

Legolas watched the hobbit's face reflect his imaginings through fear, determination, and triumph. The cycle seemed to start over, though at a lesser magnitude, and after some time Pippin became peacefully still and curled up next to Merry.