Cranes and Wishes

Disclaimer: Faramir, etc. are not mine.

Written for Kaka, previous beta-cum-dear friend-cum-Latin studybuddy. Happiest of happy b-days!! I tried to write it for your appreciation, but I had to make a few slight changes, so yeah... Hope you enjoy it!!

At last, he had finally gotten his arm out of its sling. True, it had only been on for two days, but it was two days too long. (Not from the healers' point of view, though, as they so often reminded him.) He hated slings – they were so restrictive, and he was bored out of his mind whenever he wore them, for the simple fact that he couldn't do anything but sit there and be idle. An idle mind bred idle thoughts, and he could not risk any of those, not now. Idle thoughts were dangerous, because they were all too often painful. And, though distracting, they weren't the sort of thoughts that he wanted to think. Beyond that, he need only look out his window to preoccupy his already idle mind with the growing Shadow in the east. That was even less pleasant. So he came up with a project to keep his mind active, if not his body.

For the past few days, whenever he had not been walking with Eowyn or speaking with Merry, he had been painstakingly tearing pieces of paper into little squares. It was hard to do properly, what with one arm almost complete immobilized, but he had managed to get it done. The archivist, and the healers too, they had looked at him so strangely when he requested the paper be brought to him, since he was not allowed out of the Houses of Healing. Fortunately, paper was not an expensive commodity in Gondor as it was in Rohan, or many of the other places of Middle-Earth. Scholarly pursuits not being as favoured as the more physical arts, it was quite easy to find sheaves of paper at a cheap price. Besides, it wasn't as though the archivist was going to be needing that much. Chances were that paper was going to become a thing of the past once the King reached Cormallen.

So he ripped up a thick stack of paper into small squares, 1005 of them to be exact. The healer removed his sling. And he was ready to begin.

There was a tradition in Gondor that originated from the isle of Cair Andros. If one were to fold 1000 cranes, and then give them to 1000 different people, he could make any wish and it would come true. His old governess had taught him this, as well as how to fold the cranes. He had never attempted to make 1000 before, but the memory had come to him while he had been watching the last cranes in the Anduin. They were fleeing from the Shadow, and from his sickbed in the Houses of Healing he could look out onto the River and watch them slowly and gracefully fly away.

Though he had been slightly worried that he would not remember how to fold them, he found that it was just one of those things that you never forget. In fact, his first crane came out almost perfect, both symmetrical and tightly-creased. Judging by the amount of time that passed to make one crane, it would seem that this project was going to be very time-consuming, which made him smile. While folding them, it was hard to think about something else, as he always tried to make this crane better than the one before, and all his thoughts were bent on that one purpose. To his own surprise, however, he found that the folding required a lot more arm motion than he had ever imagined, making his sore shoulder (which, the healer insisted, should still be in a sling) even sorer, but he had already started folding them, and it was quite addictive. He wasn't going to stop until he had folded 1000.

He spent that whole day in the garden folding cranes, the breeze gently ruffling both his hair and the little squares of paper. Oblivious to his surroundings, he had hardly noticed the small creature that sat down beside him, staring up at him with a smile. It was only when a small poke interrupted his concentration that he looked to see Merry sitting next to him, his back also up against the tree.

"Forgive me, Master Merry," he said, a little shaken by the sudden jolt back to reality.

"I was wondering when you were going to notice me sitting here," he replied with a smile. "I just decided to make it faster. I suppose that you know that the healers have been searching for you high and low throughout the Houses? You've missed dinnertime, you know." There was a twinkle in his eye.

He was surprised that they had not tried the garden while searching and he mentioned this to Merry as his albeit poor excuse.

Merry laughed, well, merrily. "You're sitting in the most obscure corner of the garden. I had to walk quite a ways before I could even see your boots sticking out from the tree."

The truant had the good enough manners to look slightly embarrassed. "Well, I wasn't very hungry, anyway," he replied. "And I had to sit here so that there would be less wind off the River to blow away the paper. No resident here is in quite the physical state to be chasing little squares across the lawn."

"Yes," Merry said, as if reminded suddenly of something. "What are you doing anyway?"

"Folding cranes," he answered, puzzled that Merry would not have known. "Do you not have such traditions in your Shire?"

"No, we don't." There was a short pause, before Merry asked, "Can you teach me?"

Well, if today's lack of progress was anything to go by, he would have to spend just about every waking hour folding cranes if he wanted to finish before Mordor covered Minas Tirith in darkness for the second time. Yet the object of his project was to keep himself occupied, and he really didn't think that finishing was that important. It was the effort, after all.

Smiling back at Merry, he nodded. "I would be most pleased to do so." Merry moved closer so that he was now sitting right next to him, and was much more able to see the different steps.

"Well, first you fold the square in half, this way..." he began.

The two of them spent the next hour sitting there in silence, contentedly folding cranes together. Only when it was becoming too dark to see by did Merry finally lay back onto the grass, his last crane safely deposited in the small chest that was being used to stow them and the papers. "Funny how no matter how many cranes you fold, you can't fold them with your eyes closed or in the dark."

He nodded in agreement. "Yes. But you need to see where to line up the wings, though. It's near-impossible to do that without looking."

The healer interrupted any further conversation. "My lord, where have you been all day? We have been frantic with worry; some even thought you had endeavoured to follow the Captains!"

He looked up at the man from his reclined position against the tree. "I am sorry, Master Healer, for any trouble I have caused you. I have been sitting here all day."

"Doing what?" the man asked, clearly exasperated.

Lifting up the lid of the chest, he revealed the fruits of his and Merry's labour. He knew he wasn't the best of patients, but he couldn't recall ever seeing the healer's face quite that shade of red before. It took a bit of effort to cloak the smile on his face.

"My lord, come inside, I beg you. You are still very ill, despite what you may think, and I swore to..." he listened as the man droned on about duty and responsibility. He stood, slowly, but with dignity, and lifted the chest. With a last bow to Merry, he strode inside the Houses, and made his way to his room.

The next morning found him sitting by his tree again, folding cranes, though this time he had told the Healers where they could find him if necessary. Merry had joined him early that day, as well, and once more they sat in silence folding cranes. It was a time before either of them spoke.

"So – how many of these are you making?" Merry asked, as he dropped yet another crane into the chest. They couldn't have made more than 200 between them yet, so the chest was not very full at all, at least not as compared to what it would be with 1000.

"One thousand," he replied. "If you make 1000 cranes, and then give one to 1000 people, any wish that you desire will come true."

Merry pursed his lips. "But you are not making 1000 anymore. I've been using your paper, and putting them in your chest... so now you can't make a wish, can you?" he asked ruefully. "I'm sorry; I wouldn't have done any if I had known that." Sadly, he put back the piece of paper he had started to fold once more.

"No, please, take it," he replied. "I wasn't going to have the time to fold them all anyway." Merry looked doubtful. With a firm look in his eye, he put the paper back into Merry's hand. "Besides, I know of nothing in the tale that says that two people cannot make 1000 cranes together, and share a wish."

"Thank you," Merry said, his smile returning. "Then we'll just have to think of a doubly good one then. One that will help us both."

Now, instead of silence, they talked of the wishes they might make. He suggested that they wish for long life or happiness, while Merry thought of a coat with an unlimited supply of Old Toby in its left pocket, and strawberry tarts in the right. They were laughing hard, and so engrossed in one another that they had not even noticed the approach of a third person. Though she did not make herself clear by poking his ribs, as Merry had done, but rather by a large and significant cough.

"I hope I am not interrupting," the Lady Eowyn said. "But Merry had promised to lunch with me, and I could not find him."

Merry looked up with a start, then smiled sweetly at her poor excuse for a scowl. "I'm sorry, Eowyn, but I completely forgot all about lunch, actually."

He couldn't resist a laugh. "A Hobbit forget about his lunch! That must be something new."

Eowyn smiled softly at this as well, and he was glad to see her do so. "Whatever you're doing must be something of great value, then."

"Hardly," Merry said. "We're folding cranes." She looked confused, as Merry held up the one he had been working on. "In Gondor, they say that if you make 1000 cranes, and then give them to 1000 people, you can make a wish. We're making 1000 of them, and then we've been trying to come up with a wish that we can share."

"Would you care to learn, my lady?" he asked politely, not wanting her to find any subtle meanings in his words that did not exist.

She looked dubious, but quickly agreed when Merry begged her to. Sitting down gently, she looked on as he once again made the explanation, and then gave her a piece of paper.

"Try it with me," he said gently. "It will take a while before you're quite comfortable with all of the steps."

She eventually made her first crane, though it took her longer than the others because her shield-arm was still in its sling, and it was harder for her to hold the paper properly. She stared in wonder at it. "'Tis a marvelous little thing," she said, awe in her voice. "Such a pretty little thing. I can hardly believe I made it with my own hands."

"It came out very well," Faramir said, as he folded the head of another one. "A very good first try. And you will certainly get better the more you make."

She placed her crane in the chest. "Can I make another one?" she asked softly, as she gazed at the chest of cranes.

"Please, do," he said, reaching over and placing another paper in her hand. She looked at him softly, with thanks in her eyes, then with a slight toss of her head began to fold her next crane.

After a few more minutes of silence, Merry moaned loudly. "I've ruined it," he cried, as he angrily stuffed the paper into his pocket.

He looked at the Hobbit. "What is it?"

"I accidentally pulled on it, and ripped the crane in half! So now I have to go make another square of paper so we can still have 1000."

He smiled warmly at the Hobbit, who was wearing a terrible look of dejection. "That's why I made 1005, not 1000. I knew I would miss a few, or fold them badly, so I made some extra. Don't worry," he explained.

Merry looked so relieved that it made him laugh slightly. "Oh, well that's all right then," he said, blushing slightly. Glimpsing over at Eowyn, he could see her fighting to keep her smile off her face too.

"Well now," he said at last, after many more cranes had been folded. "What shall we wish for?"

Eowyn seemed confused again, so Merry began to explain. "We figured that since there were two people making the cranes, then they should share a wish. Now that there's three people, the three of us should share a wish."

They spoke on the topic for a while, as they continued to meticulously fold the cranes, each trying to produce a perfectly symmetrical one. They all chose silly things, or things that had no real bearing anymore. No one mentioned that they wished for the return of dead loved ones, or the happy victory of the King over the forces of Sauron; no, those were too painful to think about. They could not decide on any, though, and resolved to only choose one when they had finished all the cranes.

They finished the cranes, finally, on the last day of the Shadow. It was dark early that evening, and the cold east wind was blowing, when they finally came on the last of the cranes. It was decided that he should fold the last one, since he had taught the both of them to, and the project was his before it was theirs. He had protested, naturally, and said that one of them should, but neither of them refused to even touch the proffered paper, leaving him to finish it. And the crane was well-folded, aye; nearly symmetrical in every aspect. They were pleased, and they all smiled when he placed the last crane in the chest.

"Now," he said, glancing at the lateness of the hour, "we must think tonight of something to wish for, and decide tomorrow." But none of them knew if tomorrow would allow them the opportunity, for the red glow to the sky was not entirely from the sunset.

The next day came, and went. So much had happened in the course of a few days: Frodo had destroyed the Ring, the King was victorious, the Shadow was ended. Merry traveled to Cormallen, Eowyn stayed behind, he took up his duties as Steward. Eowyn agreed to his offer of marriage, and the two of them spent much time together. So it was not until two days after the King's coronation that he even saw the chest of cranes, sitting on a shelf in his room, waiting for the right moment to be gifted away. And he and Eowyn met in the gardens of the Houses of Healing, and called Merry to them, and together they opened the chest, and saw the multitude of cranes.

Speaking softly, they decided on their wish, and set out to complete the task before them. They gave a crane to each of the healers, and to all the men that lie there, still wounded. A crane to Beregond, to Pippin, to Eomer, to Gimli, to Legolas. A crane for Mithrandir, and Frodo, and Sam. Two cranes were given to the King, in anticipation of the arrival of his Queen. And when they had given cranes to all their friends, they walked throughout the palace, giving a crane to the servants, and to the stablehands, and to the archivists. At last, the final crane was placed reverently in Boromir's room.

And so they had finished their task, and all that remained to them was to wait to see if their wish came true. And it had... though the wish, like all wishes, cannot be revealed. It belongs only with those that made it.

The End